In India, there are approximately 25 million dogs, most of whom are either strays or partly owned but free-roaming. Like it or not, dogs and people have to co-exist in our cities and villages, and sometimes there is conflict between them. Conflict includes not just the killing of dogs (like in Kerala), but also neglecting dogs in distress, beating and stoning them, and displacing them from their territories. Chances are, if you are reading this from anywhere in India, human-dog conflict exists in your city too in one form or another.
The first approach that comes to mind when most people think of resolving this conflict is Animal Birth Control (ABC), or sterilization. And rightly so – it has shown documented success in reducing dog population in several cities in India. But if after decades of ABC in your city, you still face conflict, you are not alone.
We have to ask the question: what are we missing? Even in places with successful ABC programmes with adequate budgets, competent staff, and government support, dogs continue to get beaten, neglected, displaced, and sometimes even killed. Over the last year, FIAPO consulted several of our members, and visited some of the aggrieved communities, in order to figure out why. We listened to people who have been bitten by dogs, who are scared of dogs, dog-lovers, health officers, vets, NGOs and municipal corporations alike.
We found out something that we all already know, but perhaps never fully acknowledged in our drive to mount ABC programmes: that dogs are not persecuted just because of their population. Instead, we found that people were more concerned about contracting rabies, about being able to navigate their neighborhoods without fearing packs of dogs, and if they are bitten, about being able to get support and medical assistance. Dog-bite victims need immediate help and support that the long-term solution of ABC cannot offer.
All our solutions for ending conflict situations continue to narrow down to ABC. But it’s clear that to protect dogs on the streets of India, ABC alone is not the answer. We must also start investing in other equally important and more immediately effective measures to end conflict between humans and dogs.
Studies show that in order to eliminate rabies from a dog population, 70% of dogs have to be vaccinated against it. Such large numbers are simply not possible for our struggling ABC programmes to handle, yet dedicated ARV (independent of ABC) is desperately needed if we want an end to rabies. To be able to assure people that they won’t contract rabies from a dog, it needs to be ensured that the dog is currently immune to the disease. This can happen only through a dedicated street dog vaccination programme.
Dog Bite Prevention Education
There is a dire need to sensitise the community about how to behave around street dogs. Dog lovers may respond differently to the same dog than people who are not as comfortable around them. Some of us have learnt the basics of dog behavior, while others have not. We have found that much of the ill will against street dogs stems from fear and ignorance. Education is the only way to dispel this fear, and to get people to accept dogs in their communities as the wonderful companions they are capable of being.
Counseling for Dog Bite Victims
Dog bites can be traumatic, and victims of dog bites must be cared for immediately. In the absence of proper counseling, we have found that dog bite victims, their families and their community at large become susceptible to extreme aggression towards all street animals, considering them a menace. Counseling requires more than just educating victims about how to prevent future incidents, though sharing basic knowledge such as how to treat injuries and avoid risky situations can go a long way in helping alleviate their fears and potential hatred toward dogs in their community. Counselors must act as a support system to dog bite victims and offer their services to the community to help people feel secure and safe, thereby safeguarding both human and animal welfare.
With our national campaign Rabies Free, FIAPO (Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organizations) is now working in Kerala and Karnataka to not only help implement ABC, but also carry out Anti-Rabies Vaccinations, Dog Bite Prevention Education, and Victim Counseling. We are actively seeking partner organizations in other cities, so if you want to end human-dog conflict in your city, write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Featured image credit Anil kumar B Bhatt, CC BY 2.0