It is dangerous to think cities are built only for people.

The Mayor of Chennai has been making a lot of noise about removing dogs from the street and putting them in permanent pounds. One does not have to be a dog lover to realise how dangerous this is to the wellbeing of Chennai’s humans. Let me explain.The first letter I ever wrote as an animal welfare activist was in the 1980s to the Municipal Commissioner of the New Delhi Corporation asking him not to kill dogs cruelly. It did not occur to me that there could be a world in which dogs were not killed at all.

In 1995, I went to the U.S. for a major conference on the subject of killing street dogs. A county called San Mateo in California had replaced the killing with sterilisation and vaccination and, within two years, had so much scientific evidence that this worked.

In 1980, there was a survey of dog numbers in Delhi; the figure arrived at was 1.5 lakhs. From 1980 to 1990, about 800,000 dogs were killed. So what was the number of dogs in 1990? The same 1.5 lakhs! Killing them — by picking up the dogs with tongs, breaking their limbs, keeping them hungry for a week, stuffed 30 to a cage lying in their own faeces and urine, throwing water on them and then electrocuting them — had no effect on the numbers.

I asked the World Health Organisation if there were any alternatives. There were. I came back, filed a case against the killing of dogs in Delhi and won. The typical bureaucrat/lower politician’s attitude — “Do you want people to live or animals? Cities are built for people, not animals.” — is outdated and unscientific.

Nature has allotted to the dog the role of a scavenger of the city. Its specific purpose is to keep garbage, rats and other pests in check. Do you think that dogs survive because animal lovers feed them? Certainly not. One pair of rats is ready for breeding within six weeks of being born — and each pair can breed 35,000 rats by the end of each year. Who keeps this potentially disastrous situation in check? No municipal corporation has allocated a single paisa for the destruction of rats. Each city has over 10,000 cases yearly of humans bitten by rats. Is there any municipal money allocated for rat elimination? No. Instead, the Corporation removes the rat eliminators: the dogs.

And which dogs? Sick dogs? Rabid dogs? No. The Class IV catchers are not going to risk their lives by catching dogs with a communicable disease. They catch only healthy, happy dogs that are owned or fed by people working as servants, dhobis, small hawkers or shopkeepers who feed them but have no space to keep them. The sick dogs, the dangerous dogs — these are the ones that survived and went on to breed.

Wolf packs decide, on the basis of available food , what each pack’s optimum size will be. For instance, if there is only so much game in an area, the pack limits its numbers. The dog too follows a similar pattern. It is as if the dogs decide a city’s food capacity is and then stay at a certain number — no matter how many we remove.

Now let us come to rabies. The standard justification for killing is that stray dogs cause rabies. In Delhi, 585,192 dogs were killed but the rabies rate continues to climb. Why?

For one thing, government records show (in a report published by the Rabies Control Programme) that 70 per cent of the people suffering from rabies had been bitten by pet dogs — not strays.

What did the administration of Delhi think of its own killing programmes? In a secret report circulated to the Delhi administration, the Manager of the Slaughter House (TU) MCD, stated that in regard to the money being allocated in 1991-92 for the ‘rabies control programme’ the indiscriminate killing of stray dogs serves ‘no purpose whatsoever.’

The Report stated that as soon as the stray dogs of one area were killed, their space was filled by an equal number from another area. It recommended that the Municipal Corporation of Delhi constitute a unit in every zone to maintain a record of the dog population in the zone and that each dog should be brought to one spot and set free after being sterilised and immunised with the anti-rabies vaccine. The Report stressed repeatedly that this is the only way to reduce both rabies and the dog population of the city.

During my 1995 trip to Chennai, it took me 45 minutes to make a presentation to the CM and the officials. They understood immediately and the killing was stopped. The dog-killing pound was given to an NGO and the ABC programme started. This was the first city in India to do this.

The Government of India came to the same conclusion in 2001, after many cities started this programme on their own. Jaipur was first to declare zero-rabies incidence. This programme has been repeatedly challenged in court — and each time the judges have seen the sense of the animal birth control programme and the sense of having the dogs back on the street after their operations.

Now we come to bites. Sterilised dogs do NOT bite.

Sterilisation removes the testosterone from the male and all sexual incentive to fight.

Cities that have employed sterilisation have shown a steep decrease in the number of bites. What continues to increase the statistics are bites from unsterilised pet dogs, which account for 95 per cent of all dog bites

Now let us come to the Mayor of Chennai and his plan for dog pounds. Let’s look at this programme:

1. Will the pounds be able to hold dogs indefinitely? Can you put five dogs in your house, feed them well and expect them not to fight ? No. The dog is a territorial animal. In a stressful situation he will fight. If, God forbid, animals escape from there, they will be wild and angry.

2. What will it cost Chennai? The cost would be over 100 times that of sterilisation. Feeding the dogs and paying the staff will mean a minimum of Rs. 50,000 a day. More would be needed to pay doctors and organise housing during the rains. Do you want to pay for this?

3. Will the dogs disappear from the streets? They won’t. A large number of the dogs that the Mayor proposes to impound are sterilised. When they are removed, unsterilised dogs from the hinterlands will pour in. So Chennai will go back to its pre-sterilisation days. The new dogs will bite, they will carry rabies.

4. What will happen in Chennai? More citizens will be bitten. There is now zero rabies in Chennai. It will come back. And rats will come back in millions. Rats are not scared of humans. They have two predators: dogs and cats. Remove the dogs, as the Mayor and Collector did in Surat, and the rats will swarm into the city with their diseases. Do you want to be menaced with rat bites and plague? And pay for dogs to loll around in government pounds while you run for your lives?

5. What is the alternative? Restart the sterilisation programme. The Chennai Corporation has left the job of sterilisation to two small NGOs — Blue Cross and People for Animals — and neither has the money to cover the whole city. You do not have to be an animal lover to understand the fraud being perpetrated and what will befall the city of Chennai once the Mayor gets his own way.In the first case against the killing of dogs in India, the judge observed: “It needs no great learning to appreciate that dogs or animals are not encroachers on earth. There is no question of eliminating them.