Walking into the campus of Sanjay Gandhi Animal Care Centre in Raja Garden in West Delhi, we expected to meet its director Ambika Shukla in some swanky office. But one look at her in the enclosure meant for stray dogs was proof enough that she was an animal lover to the core. Clad in casual tees (which had some animal stains on it) and trousers, she was completely engrossed in looking after the nearly 2,000 animals in the shelter, including about 500 dogs.

The centre, spread over four acres, is one big home to the animals that are abandoned, rescued, injured or simply have no one to look after them. It is also one of the major sterilisation centres in Delhi with fully equipped OPD, IPD, OTs and ICUs for dogs. “We sterilise about 10 dogs every day. They are brought to us by the North and South Delhi Municipal Corporations. The New Delhi Municipal Council also brings dogs to us for short stay around Independence Day and Republic Day. We also have five ambulances to pick up the strays. After sterilisation, these dogs are kept in the recovery rooms for five days,” she said, as she showed the air-cooled rooms in which about five to six dogs each had been kept.

While the corporations provide the addresses from where the dogs had been picked, it is the Care Centre staff who drop them back. “Occasionally we find that the residents are reluctant to take the dogs back. But the law states that they should be dropped back at the same spot.”

A highly educated woman with full knowledge about animal behaviour, Ms. Shukla said the Animal Birth Control or ABC programme was actually devised in the late 1990s but only gathered pace in Delhi around five years ago.

“Sterilisation is actually good for the animals. Dogs become less aggressive. For females, it also protects them against ovarian cancer and pyometra. In the males it leads to less roaming and curbs their aggressive behaviour. Dogs don’t have fantasies about sex, they only respond to stimulus. So if you reduce their numbers and control the babies, you also reduce the number of incidents of bites and rabies. That is why they say, ‘no babies, no rabies’.

“Also,” Ms. Shukla said, “the dogs get aggressive to protect their territory, mates and offspring. So when you sterilise them and leave them near their place of residence, you do away with all these three aspects.”

As she went around the sprawling four-acre centre, patting the animals and making sure that all facilities for them were in place, Ms. Shukla also insisted that the number of stray dogs have declined sharply. “Earlier they used to be all around and so no one actually cared. Now you see them once in a while and so tend to notice them.”

Having worked with the centre since its inception in 1980, Ms. Shukla believes that to address the problem of stray dogs, a multi-pronged approach is needed. “The RWAs should approach and pay for sterilisation; it only costs around Rs.500 per dog. They should also accept them back after sterilisation and look after them. Dogs normally never bite people living in the neighbourhood. And if you feed them and look after them, they remain calm.”

She also wants a complete ban on commercial trade and breeding of dogs. Ms. Shukla believes that a time would come when all the stray dogs would have their ears “notched” or clipped at the end, which indicates that they are sterilised.