Caring for strays: On the impact of the Animal Birth Control Rules 2023

Without purpose-built shelters and formal adoption of dogs, the 2023 Animal Birth Control Rules could worsen India’s canine crisis 

April 21, 2023 12:10 am | Updated 12:10 am IST

According to the World Health Organization, 36% of the world’s and 65% of Southeast Asia’s rabies deaths happen in India. The National Rabies Control Programme has recorded 6,644 clinically suspected cases and deaths of human rabies in 2012-22. There have also been several media reports of the young and the old being attacked by packs of stray dogs, fatally in some cases. At the centre of these narratives is how India is responding to the stray dog menace. On April 18, the government announced the notification of its Animal Birth Control Rules 2023, which are likely to become as much a bone of contention as the earlier Animal Birth Control (Dogs) Rules 2001, were. They purportedly respond to three stimuli: strays cannot be relocated, as the Supreme Court of India has held; must not face cruelty; and must be cared for. Stray dogs are a nuisance by spreading disease; injuring and/or killing humans and wildlife; and by keeping people from accessing public spaces. The 2023 Rules require strays to be caught, vaccinated, neutered, and released back. Under the 2001 Rules, neither effort succeeded because the entire dog population (or at least a large fraction) needed to be treated at once. But the programme was implemented in piecemeal fashion, allowing some dog populations to supplant others over time and the menace to continue. Neutering and vaccination also do not prevent dogs from forming packs and harassing passers-by.

The 2023 Rules also ask residents’ welfare associations to care for stray dogs and feed them away from the children and the elderly, at fixed intervals. This could further the dogs’ homelessness, and thus susceptibility to disease, injury, and discomfort. In the process, the Rules also transform “stray dogs” into a new class of “community animals” — a contrivance whose purpose is not clear. Instead, the Rules must prohibit the improper disposal of solid waste and casual feeding of dogs, and require them to be adopted and directly cared for, to eliminate canine homelessness altogether. The Animal Welfare Board of India Secretary also told The Hindu that local authorities “will be held responsible for any violation [during birth-control procedures] and animal-human conflicts”. As under the 2001 Rules, these authorities will be in a pickle without more funds and staff, the requisite infrastructure, and proper coordination. Without otherwise housing dogs in purpose-built shelters and promoting formal ownership, the 2023 Rules potentially create more points of failure at the level of local governments and residents’ welfare associations while dressing up the cruelty of dog homelessness.

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