Should free ranging dogs on the streets, feeding at garbage bins, be treated as a public health threat?
Opinion is divided among veterinarians and wildlife conservationists on whether such dogs, often seen in packs, are prone to aggressive behaviour and therefore pose a threat to people.
The issue came to the fore with the reported killing of 90-year old man in Kerala by a dog pack and an alumni association offering a gold coin to civic bodies that kill the maximum number of stray dogs.
R. Jayaprakash, Director of Clinics, Tamil Nadu Veterinary and Animal Sciences University (TANUVAS) asserts that “A pack of dogs attacking a man unprovoked and killing him is a lie. Very rarely do dogs form a pack. Even if they do, they do not develop the tendency to kill people. In my career as a veterinarian I have not come across a single case of dogs killing a man.”
Some breeds like Rottweiler and Doberman, trained for security purposes and confined to a particular area would attack human beings as they are wary of strangers and possessive about their territory, he adds.
“Also, rabid animals bite without provocation. Rabid dogs are usually alone. Normal dogs chase and on some occasions, bite strangers. But the argument that they attack people due to scarcity of food is unacceptable,” says Dr. Jayaprakash. A well-run Animal Birth Control (ABC) programme could easily bring down their population.
Naturalist and writer Theodore Baskaran has a contrary view. Ethological studies have established, he says, that dogs that are neglected by human beings for a couple of generations could regress into a feral or wild state.
The ethologist Desmond Morris, in his book, The Ultimate Dictionary of Over 1,000 Dog Breeds , says “feral breeds are made up of population of dogs that have been abandoned or have left their families, and have started to fend for themselves.”
“Faced with the unfair challenge of competing with wild species, these stray dogs are now at a great disadvantage. They raided our refuse, ate any filth they could find, and did their best to survive,” Mr Morris wrote, but made no reference to the animals attacking humans due to lack of food.
Mr. Baskaran said the Kerala situation was the result of negligence on the part of the government, animal welfare groups and veterinarians.
“Even the World Health Organisation pays attention to only outbreak of cholera and other communicable diseases and not to rabies and its victims are people in the lower strata of the society. Their death is not even recorded,” he lamented.
Dr. Jayaprakash argues that the population of stray dogs in India is high, warranting investment by State governments in adequate pounds to keep them before launching birth control programmes.
“We should target the male dog. Surgery is very easy for the male and we can cover more numbers in a day. Volunteers and animal welfare groups can help us,” he says.
Mr. Baskaran counters that just one pair of free-ranging dogs can proliferate. “How are you going to prevent rabies after birth control,” he asked. Even countries such as the United Kingdom that care for dogs euthanize them if owners fail to claim them after four days.