Many solutions in sight but none so bright

Earning a livelihood is not an easy task for all. People do almost any work, be it cleaning sewage channels amidst unbearable stench or swinging on a rope to paint high rise buildings or blasting explosives in mines. Some slog in the hot sun; some brave the heavy rains and some even run behind dogs, particularly strays!

Yes, dog catchers are a class of people who are seldom recognised or attended to. Unlike the passionate wildlife experts who appear on television performing the most daring stunts in the company of deadly animals, these dog catchers go around the streets in search of strays not for fun but for filling up their stomachs.

N. Sridhar (32) of Ellis Nagar here, is a temporary employee with the Madurai Municipal Corporation. He works at a pound managed by the local body in Sellur for sterilisation and immunization of street dogs. He has been catching them for the last seven years and the wound marks on his body stand testimony to his experience.

Worst is the case of M. Jeyamurugan (26) whose right thumb is disfigured permanently due to a dog bite some two years ago. The dog had pounced on him when he was helping it get out of a van stationed outside the pound. “It was a terrible experience and I had to live with the pain for many days,” he recalls.

According to him, capturing dogs is as traumatic to the animals as it is to the catchers. The dogs tremble in fear on seeing the catchers approach them with a lariat. “They make us run behind them like hell and turn very violent. But everything changes once we bring them to the pound and serve them some milk and bread,” he says.

The dogs are made to fast on the previous night of the day when they are castrated. “We remove the testicles of male dogs and the ovaries of females. The animals are kept under post-operative care for seven to eight days before being let out to the place from where they were picked up,” says Chief Health Officer (CHO) V. Subramanian.

He, however, is not in favour of injectable sterilants used in a few western countries. These sterilants are injected on male dogs like any other inoculation. It could help in dispensing with the need for post-operative care and also exempt the animals of the trauma of undergoing a surgical procedure.

The CHO states that injectable sterilants are not advocated in India and hence the Corporation prefers to follow the conventional procedure of conducting surgeries. Sharing a similar view, veterinarian Arul Manoharan says injectable sterilants could be highly painful to the dogs. “They might also cause swelling,” he adds.

However, Peter Selvanayagam, a visiting faculty in the Department of Biotechnology, Lady Doak College, claims that injectable sterilants have been implemented efficiently in Mexico. Some drug manufacturers in that country provide training to veterinarians from other developing countries on injection techniques and also provide grants for purchasing the drugs which cost less than Rs.200 per dose.

“These injections could be administered right at the place where the strays are spotted. The dog catchers need not undergo the travails of carrying the animals to the pound and taking care of them for days together. Our Corporation could send one of their veterinarians for getting hands-on training on the technique,” he suggests.

Experts provide differing opinion when it comes to the effectiveness of injectable sterilants that could only ease and not completely obliterate the sufferings of the dogs and their catchers. But if there is any technique which finds favour with everybody it is the Bait Mediated Sterilisation.

Dr. Selvanayagam says Australian scientists have introduced a gene necessary for dog egg maturation into a dog-specific virus called Canine Herpes Virus. The virus, when given through food to the bitches, prevents maturation of the ovulating eggs needed for fertilization.

“The virus will not affect male dogs, birds, reptiles or other meat eaters if they happen to eat this viral contraceptive by mistake. But this procedure is yet to take shape fully. Once it comes into practice, the dogs as well as the catchers can heave a sigh of relief for even a small child could sterilize a dog by throwing a bait,” he concludes.

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