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Why The Kerala Government’s Plan To Cull Stray Dogs Is Just Plain Wrong

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By Arati Nair:

For the health conscious early risers in the state of Kerala, the rabid menace of stray dogs serves as a dampener to their morning exercise routine. Over the past month, more than 300 cases of dog bites have been registered in the state capital, Thiruvananthapuram alone, majority being joggers and morning walkers. Official records state that over 40,000 people have been bitten by strays in the last eight months. Buoyed by widespread public outrage, the state administration found a quick fix solution to control the fast escalating crisis- large scale culling of ‘aggressive’ stray dogs in the state.

For representation only. Image source: wikipedia.org
For representation only. Image source: wikipedia.org

Aghast at the inhumane decision to exterminate wandering street dogs, animal activists joined the fray to convince the government to reverse its stand. However, unlike the usual Malayalee practice of protest marches and hunger strikes, they’ve adopted an unconventional method to besmirch the state’s public image and hit it where it hurts most, Kerala’s prized tourism industry.

For several days now, the global #BoycottKerala movement has gained traction, with nationwide demonstrations being held, against the state and its seemingly knee-jerk reaction.

While public opinion in Kerala remains sharply divided with those bitten by dogs baying for blood and animal activists rallying in alarm, an objective analysis, sans myopic emotions, would help understand the situation better.

Why has the problem of stray dogs become so rampant?

Way back in 2007, Bangalore suffered a similar problem and roped in ‘expert’ dog catchers from Kerala to control the situation. For a region adept at containing its own dog population and offering support to those in need, the recent incidents of dog bites betray a larger civic malfunction than mere accelerating canine birth rate.

As per a government survey, the number of meat consumers in Kerala has increased rapidly even when the cattle and poultry population show a declining trend. Of all the slaughter houses and meat stalls in Kerala, 75.3% are operating without a license, while about 5000 stalls do not have adequate facilities for waste disposal. Often, these shops operate in the open, under unhygienic conditions, and become feeding grounds for stray dogs. Ill-equipped, without any rule to crackdown on these illegal structures, the municipal and state authorities have inadvertently facilitated the dog menace in the state.

The story of open garbage dumps, teeming with organic and inorganic wastes, in an urban locale is common to most Indian cities. In a highly urbanized state like Kerala, the civic bodies are hardly grappling with the issue of waste management. With limited land fill options, the municipal corporations, in association with households have tried domestic organic waste treatment with little success. The overflowing garbage on roadsides is overrun by stray dogs, who feed and breed around it.

Moral and Ethical Constraints Overlooked

Amidst the nationwide furore against the Kerala government’s decision to kill away ‘dangerous’ canines, one of the most vocal has been the protest organised in Kolkata by animal activists. One of the organizers of “Boycott Kerala! Kolkata Protest”, Ms. Atrei Chatterjee, underscores the moral and humane constraints of culling street animals in such large numbers. Foremost in her contention with the state’s decision, is the statistics provided by the General Hospital in Cochin. According to a news report, of the 1074 dog bite cases registered at the hospital, 75.6 percent were due to pet bites. Strays accounted for only 24.4 percent. This fact lends credence to the argument against the government’s skewed decision.

Additionally, the term ‘aggressive/dangerous’ used in the new ruling issued by the state administration is largely ambiguous. It leaves a wide scope for people to kill away dogs on a whim for barking loudly or baring their fangs. It calls for closer examination of the rule to avoid misuse by the general public.

IMG-20150730-WA0002
The order is in violation of the Supreme Court order of Feb 2015

It would behove the state government to understand the long term ramifications of its actions. Culling stray dogs in an area will lead to migration of canines from the surrounding region into the vacant niche left behind. In essence, newer unknown entities will be added on, exacerbating the situation further.

The cyclic process of poisoning, electrocuting and other torturous methods of killing dogs does not require especially skilled manpower or trained personnel. The menial task of dog killers open few doors and offers little job satisfaction. The people involved in the exercise take it up as a last resort for livelihood. So, their actions are coloured by frustration which does not bode well for dogs.

The state’s lack of tenacity to adopt scientific and humane methods like sterilization and vaccination reflects in its haphazard approach towards the dog problem. The failure to arm its civic bodies with the requisite tools, or workforce to perform scientific sterilizations, is another reason for the quick decision. Most of these humane practices require greater funds than the present amount allocated by municipalities and corporations, which has been conveniently overlooked.

Therefore, in a bid to shirk its moral responsibilities, the government adopts the simplest and most populist of escape routes–culling of stray dogs. The real and online backlash is yet to come, if the obstinate stand continues, and it may lead to an irreparable global image crisis for the state.

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  1. MajorBS

    Many things you have said in this article is true. But the so called stray dogs in Kerala has been sterilized for more than a decade. Most often they may have mated before sterilization was done. Secondly this is not a practice followed only in Kerala. TN, Karnataka and AP have been doing it for years. In Kerala it was stopped after the some protests led by Maneka Gandhi. Finally for people like you who never had to be a victim of such attacks, it is easy to sit up there are act like a higher moral being. But these are not you regular stray dogs anymore. They are showing their natural instinct of hunting in packs. People have sustained life threatening injuries, school kids have been attacked multiple times and some have died. Rendering some parts of the streets unsafe at night, some even during day time. I find it pathetic that you would judge people of this state without even considering what they are going through. Again you look at the statistics of one hospital in Kerala. Stray dog bites are usually much more severe and life threatening than your regular pet bite. And I am sure if you look at the whole statistics it will tell a different story.

    1. Arati Nair

      Manoj,

      I agree with you on all counts, but allow me to offer a different perspective. How has the pack mentality developed among the strays here? Why is there an increase in the dog population and why indeed have they gone feral? These questions are more pertinent for a long-term solution. Suppose the government moves to kill aggressive dogs in an area, what do you suppose will happen? Would the dog problem be solved then? Remember dogs are a highly evolved species and an ecological vacuum in one area will lead to migration of other unfamiliar dogs from the surrounding region. We feed them, they roam around garbage dumps, and one fine day they turn against us. We repeat the cyclic process of putting them down. When does it end?

      The Supreme Court has allowed killing of rabid/terminally ill dogs. However, the Kerala government circular of 14/07/2015 says, “There is no legal issue in killing dogs suffering from rabies and ‘violent’ dogs”. What’s a violent dog? A governmental order ought to be free of ambiguities so that it cannot be misused. My issue is that the root causes of improper waste management and illegal meat stalls are hardly addressed by the government. There is scarcity of anti- rabies drugs in hospitals. People are panicked. The government conveniently offers an unviable short-term solution. The use of the word ‘violent’, left undefined in the circular, is my only problem.

      I am sure the statistics of the entire state will tell a different story. But who is keeping check? Who has offered a calibrated solution to the crisis? Not the government, for sure. Why have they allowed the situation to escalate this far? What fraction of funds have been set aside to solve the issue at hand? When numerous alternatives exist, the state decides to leave a convenient loophole to cover-up any untoward killing of random strays. Who’s going to check if the dog was ‘violent’ enough for certain death to befall it. Who cares for street dogs, anyway? I don’t, but I care for any blunder by my government that earns a bad name for my state.

      I elected a government that has a plan for long-term resolution of civic malfunction, not circulate orders based on knee-jerk reactions or kill vaguely defined violent/dangerous/aggressive dogs.

    2. MajorBS

      Arati, first of all thank you for engaging and at least attempting to see the other side. However you seemed to have missed my point.

      If you think culling of stray dogs (not to mention Govt intends to kill only rabid and violent packs in specific areas) is wrong, why do you target Kerala alone? Do you know how many other states practice this? In the north east, in parts of Nagaland, they even eat dogs. I seriously do not know if you deliberately ignored this, or if you are subscribing to the general idea of sensationalized journalism, but you must also write about the other states which practice culling of stray dogs. (For your information Kerala has abstained from doing this for more than decade which has led to the current situation.)

      Secondly this is a knee jerk reaction, which I agree, but desperate situations call for desperate measures. When people are being attacked and kids are being killed by packs of dogs, I do not think it is time to think of long term solutions. It is time to act immediately and put a stop to it as it warrants an emergency response. After that we can think of a long term solutions.

      The word violent being “undefined” is a technical problem and I will leave it to intellectuals. Meanwhile as a citizen I would really appreciate a government which attempts to restore some safety to the streets with violent packs of dogs. I would appreciate any attempt from the government to keep school kids from being mauled to death and people being attacked in the streets. I will not appreciate a government which hangs on some technicality of law to delay necessary actions.

      There is no scarcity of anti rabies vaccination in Kerala. I have never heard of someone going to a govt hospital in Kerala after a dog bite and being told they do not have the shots for rabies. It is a myth. Kerala Medical Services Corporation spends precisely Rs 10.31 Crores each year for rabies vaccination (IDVR).

      I am pasting a link to The Hindu article which should enlighten you on the truth of rabies related deaths in the state. It clearly sights that the reason for rabies related deaths is because people did not seek medical attention after the dog bite

      http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/tp-kerala/rabies-is-a-clear-and-present-danger/article5067087.ece

      In 2005 the famous statistician Hans Rosling in his famous TED Talk specifically mentioned Kerala and compared its health with that of different states in USA, he pointed out that it is healthier than Washington and matches USA in terms of health. If you do not believe me, here is the link to that TED talk

      Seek to 9 mins and 25 seconds to hear what I mentioned

      http://www.ted.com/talks/hans_rosling_asia_s_rise_how_and_when?language=en

      And it has only gotten better since 2007. So government may not be doing everything right in Kerala, but there is no lack of medicine for highly contagious diseases in Kerala which I can tell you with confidence. And it is available for free in all govt clinics and hospitals

      Do you know there is a hunting season in many developed countries specific for each species, even in countries known to treat its animals with utmost care like USA and Canada. It is a measure to control their population from exploding beyond the limit its habitat can handle.

      Population of dogs in Kerala has reached such a situation that, they can no longer sustain without directly conflicting with the humans.

      Also it will be a great idea to not quote misleading statistics as it will reduce your accountability as a writer. So if you are quoting statistics, quote the whole statistics and interpret it the way you feel is right. Because you can openly interpret things, but statistics is a measured version of facts, please do not twist facts.

    3. Arati

      Manoj,

      Since you’ve included a news piece from The Hindu, I’ll assume that you consider it credible and believable. Please go through this link in reply to your “I have never heard of someone going to a govt hospital in Kerala after a dog bite and being told they do not have the shots for rabies. It is a myth.”

      http://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/kozhikode/shortage-of-antirabies-vaccine-starts-to-bite/article6703863.ece

      This was after (check the dates on both reports) an affidavit was filed by the Kerala State Medical Services Corporation in the Kerala High Court, saying there is no shortage of ARVs

      http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/kochi/No-shortage-of-anti-rabies-vaccine-in-Kerala-Report/articleshow/43189561.cms

      Now, “The word violent being “undefined” is a technical problem and I will leave it to intellectuals”. This technical problem is the root cause for all the hate campaign going on. When this order directly contradicts an SC ruling (mentioned in the article), voices of dissent are bound to rise. In essence, it is a license for the state to cover up any incidents of unintentional dog killing (non-rabid and not terminally ill or mortally wounded) that might take place in the course of tackling the menace in the state. Therefore, every citizen must take cognizance of a shoddy order being passed by the administrative body. What really irks me is that the government has hardly laid down a blueprint to address the larger issues of waste management and regularization of meat stalls that will cut the food supply of strays and keep their population in check. Why are we not up in arms that the government wants to get away with a non-viable short-term solutions? Is it so wrong to point this out (which is what I have done in this article)?

      You say, I’m targeting Kerala when many other states follow culling and even dog-eating practice. So? Does that justify the haphazard stand of my state government? We pride ourselves in being an informed, literate society. We should become role models through good governance practices and scientific methods of civic management. What do we do instead? Release a circular with ambiguous wording and say , ‘Oh, that’s a technicality. I don’t care about those. Let the whole world ridicule us, our government knows best.’ Sorry, but I do not subscribe to the ‘blind sheep’ mentality.

      ‘Hunting’ season is not permissible in India. Our state, last I checked, was part of the Indian Union and has to comply with the guidelines of the apex court which, as I have repeatedly mentioned, DOES NOT allow killing of non-rabid dogs. A government is elected to analyse an issue holistically and device long-term, permanent solutions. If it does not do that, I have a right to register my anger/dissatisfaction.

      And, I am least bothered by those who perceives that my accountability is reduced. I have nowhere in the article endorsed the senseless, racist hate campaign. If voicing concern against the adventurous designs of the ruling class that plans to wash its hands off with some pesky circular (carelessly worded to boot) is a crime, then yes, I am guilty. Also, I have not interpreted anything based on mere statistics. There is no mention of pet dogs in the government order, only stray/street dogs (Do you really think pet dogs, no matter how ‘violent’, will be culled?) Therefore, it is incomplete and ambiguous.

      That’s all I wish to say. Thank you for your response.

    4. MajorBS

      Your absolute impertinence to the safety of people who are attacked by these dogs and complete ignorance of the fact that the population control methods have failed and the situation has escalated from being a morality issue to a safety concern baffles me.
      Again governments are responsible for both long term plans and emergency action plans to solve peoples problems.

      THERE HAVE BEEN DEATHS BECAUSE OF DOG BITES – OF SCHOOL KIDS

      And you are more interested in joining the crowd and delaying the action plan, while more and more people get bitten and kids mauled to death. Because the word “dangerous” is not defined well enough for you.

      Let me just put this into perspective,
      There have been more than 1 Lakh reported dog bites in Kerala the past year, and recently a girl was mauled to death. Apparently this situation does not warranty emergency and desperate measures in your opinion.

      THAT IS JUST YOUR OPINION

      It does not make the government’s plan to cull stray dogs – JUST PLAIN WRONG. (I can’t imagine someone who can be so arrogant, how can you justify this title).
      It is partly right to do so is all I am saying, and the situation warrants it.

      I am not saying we should continue to kill every stray dog in the state. But we have to take immediate action and neutralize dangerous packs in specific regions.

      Hunting may be illegal in India, but it does not mean we cannot control population of stray dogs directly or indirectly because we have to. And indirect methods have failed, so we are forced to resort to direct methods

      Yes may be there is a drug shortage. Notice that the article in Hindu includes no figures or facts, just random statements from officials in one district. The times of India article mentions “Despite these hurdles in procurement, there has been no reported shortage of ARV in the state” – which is a verifiable fact, which is what I mentioned in my earlier comment. All dangerous dogs are not rabid – first of all get that into your head.

      State has in fact adopted the “humane methods”, either it did not implement it well or it did not work as expected (animal mating patterns can be quite bizzare). State should be blamed for it, but people should not pay for it

      And stray dogs are not products of bad waste management. I would like to acknowledge that it is in fact a problem in Kerala (it is a problem but we have the entire population of Australia squeezed into one coastal state and I hope we are more responsible with our waste management at individual as well as state level), but bad waste management does not lead to dog bites.

  2. Rohan K

    At the same time, tell us why the blind hatred exhibited by a network of so-called activists towards the state and its populace isn’t just plain wrong!

    1. Arati Nair

      Hello Rohan,

      The despicable hate campaign doing the rounds on online fora is an attempt to hurt the image of the state. The herd mentality of some people involved in such racist exercises is, frankly, disturbing. I concede that some ( or quite a few) of these individuals have an ulterior motive. But, who is giving them fuel to fire their ire? The state government through ambiguously worded circulars that sanction the killing of ‘violent’ dogs. The Supreme Court order of Feb 2015 allows killing of rabid /terminally ill stray dogs. Why issue an order against the ruling and allow tongues to wag? Responsible governance dictates that no scope be left for misinterpretation. What exactly is a ‘violent’ dog? Clarify beyond all doubt, follow humane civic procedure to put them down. A counter #VisitKerala campaign can only go so far. The government ought to step up its game.

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