Animal rights activists call it a success story and, in probably a first-of-its-kind reaction, the Government agrees. Delhi has registered a sharp decline in its stray dog population with their numbers falling to less than 3 lakh in the Capital from over 10 lakh a couple of years ago.
Figures released by the city’s three municipal corporations confirm this, while cautioning that the problem still persists.
Animal rights activist Maneka Gandhi, while speaking to The Hindu, said: Previously Delhi used to see over 80,000 bites but the numbers have come down significantly with the population of stray dogs being controlled in the city. The accepted ratio has been one dog per 100 human beings but that is not the case now with the stray dog population going down. Delhi’s is a success story that can be replicated in cities across the country. The city now has a majority population of healthy stray dogs.” A survey by the North Delhi Municipal Corporation found that from January to June this year there have been 4,388 registered cases of dog bites; South has clocked 2,195 cases while East Delhi Municipal Corporation has registered less than 400 cases. The relatively low numbers are because cases of dog bites in the corporation are often referred to North and East Corporations that house medical institutes having the requisite facility.
North/ East Delhi Municipal Corporation spokesperson Yogender Singh Mann said: “A dangerous dog is an animal that has attacked or bitten or chased any person or animal. The municipal corporations have been sterilising the dogs and ensuring that their numbers remain under control in the city. Delhi has seen a steady decline in the number of stray dogs.” The “heat” months of March, April, May and June usually see the highest number of cases of stray dog aggression/attack, Mr. Mann added.
Founder of the Citizens for the Welfare and Protection of Animals Sonya Ghosh said the increase in dog lovers in the city is behind the lesser instances of dog bites: “Delhi has seen a rise in the number of people associated with the welfare of dogs in each colony. They identify dogs that need to be sterilised and take care of them after the procedure. There are now designated feeding spots for dogs in the colonies. This ensures that the dogs are aware that there is an assured food supply and the people in the area are comfortable with them too.”
She added that the only drawback has been the handing over of the veterinary units by the Municipal Corporation of Delhi to Animal Husbandry Department, which is underutilising the facility.
Meanwhile, Mumbai-based non government organisation Welfare of Stray Dogs (WSD), which is working to eradicate rabies and control the street-dog population in a humane and scientific way, states that “it is the haphazard urban planning that has led to a corresponding rise in population of stray dogs in most Indian cities”.
“Stray dogs cause rabies – a fatal disease which can be transmitted to humans. India has the highest number of human rabies deaths in the world (estimated at 35,000 per annum),” noted the information provided by WSD.
The Animal Birth Control (Dog) Rules notified in December 2001 under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960, however, prohibit the killing of stray dogs except in special cases when they are terminally ill or rabid. Besides, stray dogs can only be removed from their habitats for neutering and immunisation against rabies.
South Delhi Municipal Corporation spokesperson Mukesh Yadav added that most dog bites occur when the animals are trying to mate, or they feel that their ‘territory’ is under threat or are trying to protect their young ones. “Most pedestrians/ human beings are bitten accidentally and females will bite/ show aggression in case humans approach their litter,” he added.
He noted that there is immediate medical intervention available for those attacked or bitten by stray dogs. But for those who have been chased /attacked by a stray dog the ‘horror’ never leaves. As Shriram (name changed), a resident of Sector 4, R.K. Puram, recalled: “Last year I was chased by dogs while returning home and in an effort to run and save myself I fell and fractured my arm. Though we complained to the municipal authorities the dogs were picked up, neutralised, brought back and released in the same area. The problem thus persists and now that my mother is coming, I am petrified about her safety as her going out for walks would be fraught with danger.”
R.K. Puram in Delhi is not an isolated locality which is facing the stray dog menace. Both Jawaharlal Nehru University and the All India Institute of Medical Sciences claim to have a substantial population of stray dogs. In 2011, AIIMS reported that dogs there had bitten 22 patients, a doctor’s wife and two students at the Institute within a month. “Sadly the situation hasn’t improved very much and stray dogs rule the lanes of the Institute,” said a senior doctor at AIIMS.