I know I've stated in the blog introduction (white panel, right) that this is not a welfare or animal rights blog, and we are not going to discuss the "stray dog issue" here because there are many other sites and blogs doing that. I do make some exceptions though. Welfare and rights issues inevitably pop up from time to time when free-roaming dogs are discussed. Recently the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation stirred up a lot of controversy over their barbaric dog control methods and persecution of animal rights activist Lisa Warden (whose posts have appeared in this blog several times). I've written something about that controversy at the end of this post.
Here are FAQs about street dogs I wrote several years ago, for the animal welfare NGO I used to work for at the time (WSD). We printed them as a leaflet and also put them in the NGO website. I was informed that the organization is going to rework their site and I'm not sure they'll retain this, so I decided to copy it here. All questions and answers were based on feedback from the public, documented facts and my personal observation of thousands of dogs over 14 years of hands-on work. I've updated a few of the answers. You might find some of this useful if you have to answer similar questions at any time. You can currently also read the FAQs in this WSD web link.
Q1. Why are there so many stray dogs here anyway? Why aren’t there any in London and New York?
A1. The urban environment in India has two features that encourage stray animal populations – exposed garbage and slums. Neither of these exists in developed countries.
Stray dogs are scavengers and garbage provides an ample source of food for them. In the absence of this food source, dogs would not be able to survive on the streets. Moreover in India and most other south-east Asian countries, stray dogs are also kept as free-roaming pets by slum-dwellers and street-dwellers such as ragpickers.
There are stray dogs in developed countries too – but they are abandoned pets, or feral dogs (meaning dogs who were once pets but now live like strays). They are unable to survive or breed on city streets since they can find nothing to eat. Most are captured, housed in animal shelters and rehomed.
Q2. Why did the municipal corporation stop killing dogs?
A2. Mass killing of dogs as a population control measure was started by the British in the 19th Century. It was continued on a large scale (up to 50,000 dogs killed every year) after Independence by the municipal authorities all over India, with the aims of eradicating human rabies deaths and the stray dog population. By 1993, it was admitted to be a complete failure, since human rabies deaths had actually increased, and the dog population was also perceptibly growing.
Studies by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Animal Welfare Board of India (Ministry of Environment & Forests) show that dog population control measures which work in developed countries are unsuccessful in third world developing countries, since urban conditions are very different. The urban environment here encourages breeding of stray dogs, so no matter how many dogs were killed, they were quickly replaced by more.
That’s why in January 1994, the killing programme was replaced by mass sterilisation of stray dogs. The sterilisation programme is carried out by non-government organisations in collaboration with the municipal corporation.
Q3. If stray dog population control is the issue, wouldn’t it make more sense to kill the dogs or take them away?
A3. Removal or killing of stray dogs seems to be the most obvious method of controlling the population, but it has actually proved to be completely useless. This is because even when large numbers of dogs are killed, the conditions that sustain dog populations remain unchanged. Dogs are territorial and each one lives in its own specific area. When they are removed, the following things happen:
The food source – garbage – is still available in abundance, so dogs from neighbouring areas enter the vacant territories.
Pups born and growing up in the surrounding areas also move in to occupy these vacant niches.
The few dogs who escape capture and remain behind attack these newcomers, leading to frequent and prolonged dog-fights.
Since they are not sterilised, all the dogs who escape capture continue to mate, leading to more fighting.
In the course of fights, dogs often accidentally redirect their aggression towards people passing by, so many humans get bitten.
Females with pups become aggressive and often attack pedestrians who come too close to their litter.
They breed at a very high rate. It has been estimated that two dogs can multiply to over 300 in three years.
Since dogs who are removed are quickly replaced, the population does not decrease at all. The main factors leading to dog aggression – migration and mating – continue to exist, so the nuisance factor remains.
Since removal of dogs actually increases dog-related problems, the effective solution is to sterilise the dogs, vaccinate them against rabies and put them back in their own areas.
Q4. But what’s the point of putting the dogs back after sterilisation? Doesn’t the problem just continue?
A4. No, when dogs are sterilised and put back in their own area, the population and the problems caused by dogs both reduce. Here’s how:
Each dog guards its own territory and does not allow new dogs to enter.
Since they are all neutered, they no longer mate or multiply.
The main factors leading to dog aggression – migration and mating - are eliminated. So dog-fights reduce dramatically.
With the decrease in fighting, bites to humans also decrease.
Since females no longer have pups to protect, this source of dog aggression is also eliminated.
Over a period of time, as the sterilised dogs die natural deaths, the population is greatly reduced.
Please remember, there is NO overnight solution to the stray dog issue. It is simply not possible to wish all the dogs away. With sterilisation, the population becomes stable, non-breeding and non-rabid and decreases over time. It also becomes largely non-aggressive. On the other hand, when dogs are removed or killed, new dogs keep entering an area and the population is continuously changing, unstable, aggressive, multiplies at a high rate and carries rabies. Which method makes more sense?
Q5. Why don’t you dog-lovers just keep all these stray dogs in your own homes?
A5. Dog-lovers have not created the stray dog population. They merely try to minimise it through sterilisation, and to keep it rabies-free through vaccination. Moreover, even if a lot of stray dogs got adopted, the basic problems of vacant territories and dog replacement would remain.
(By the same logic, people who love children could be asked to keep the entire population of street children in their own homes!)
Incidentally, our organisation does promote the adoption of pariahs and mongrels - so if someone you know is planning to buy a pure-breed dog, try and persuade him to adopt a stray instead. Although it won’t provide a large-scale solution, you will have the satisfaction of knowing you got one dog off the street!
Q6. Can’t some of the dogs be released in another place?
A6. Since they would be entering the territory of other dogs, there would be a lot of fighting in the area in which they are released, and in the process more humans would get bitten. Their original territories would also be left vacant, so new dogs would enter… and the stray dog problem would go on forever.
Q7. What about rabies? Don’t they all spread rabies?
A7. Only rabid dogs spread rabies. Healthy ones don’t.
The World Health Organisation recommends mass vaccination of dogs as the only effective way to eradicate human rabies. Mass vaccination has led to a significant decrease in human rabies deaths in Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Jaipur and Mumbai itself. Recently Fethiye in southwestern Turkey implemented this programme and dog-related problems have reduced.
The sterilisation programme includes anti-rabies vaccination. Our organisation also annually vaccinates a large number of stray dogs on site. Between 1993 and 2005, we have vaccinated over 37,000 stray dogs.
Q8. But didn’t dog-killing help in controlling rabies?
A8. Dog-killing was ineffective as a rabies eradication measure, since the catchers only captured healthy dogs and the rabid ones were left to spread the disease. Official sources also claim that half of human rabies deaths are caused by unvaccinated pets, so once again killing stray dogs is of no use.
The killing method has failed to control rabies in developing countries worldwide – including Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Cambodia, North Korea, Bhutan, Afghanistan, Jordan, Syria, Yemen, Bangladesh, Nepal, Ukraine and Uzbekistan.
Q9. I sometimes see dogs with skin problems and hairless patches – aren’t they all rabid?
A9. Skin problems and fur fall are not symptoms of rabies. Rabies affects the central nervous system, not the skin. Probably the confusion occurred because there is a skin disease called scabies. Strangely, this question is asked quite often in India.
Q10. How exactly do you sterilise the dogs? Are both males and females sterilised?
A10. Both males and females need to be sterilised, because while the females actually give birth to more dogs, the males are more aggressive and have much higher nuisance value. Complaints from the public are almost always about males.
Both males and females are surgically sterilised at our centre, under general anaesthesia, by qualified veterinary surgeons. The process is also called neutering. In the case of females the ovaries and uterus are removed, and in the case of males the testicles are removed. Therefore both mating and breeding cease. The dogs are kept for post-operative care for a period of 8 days and then released in their original location.
Q11. Ok, so the birth rate of dogs comes down over time…but what about dog-bites?
A11. As explained earlier, most dog aggression occurs during mating time, as dogs cross territories to mate and fight with other dogs whose areas they enter. Humans passing by get accidentally bitten in the course of these dog-fights. This problem ends when all the dogs from a neighbourhood are sterilised.
As testosterone levels come down after sterilisation, male dogs also become less aggressive. Stray dog females are usually aggressive only when they have puppies to protect, so with sterilisation this problem ends as well.
Q12. Dogs bark and howl the whole night – how can you solve that problem?
A12. Barking and howling occur during dog-fights, which take place at their mating time, so with sterilisation the problem disappears. Dogs bark when new dogs enter their territory, and as these migrations cease with sterilisation, the barking largely ends too. They also howl when they live and move in packs. When the dog population dwindles in size, pack behaviour also declines.
Q13. How would I know if a dog has been sterilised?
A13. Nowadays all NGOs make a triangular notch in one of the ear flaps, making it very easy to recognize a sterilized dog. The notch is a sharply cut one, quite different from a natural tear in the ear.
Q14. The dog problem may have reduced in South Mumbai – but there are still so many dogs in the suburbs. What’s being done about that?
A14. The human population and the number of high-rise buildings are growing very fast in the suburbs, leading to suddenly increased amounts of garbage, leading to a large population of stray dogs.
Organizations in South Mumbai have been working consistently for many years in South Mumbai, which is why the dog population has reduced there. Animal welfare organisations working in the suburbs started operations much later, and will need some time to show results. It's very important to cover slums because these are the main breeding areas for dogs. Also market areas and the rocky seaface all along the western side of the city.
Q15. How did stray dogs originate anyway?
A15. India has long been home to the Pariah Dog, one of the world’s oldest canine breeds. In slightly varied forms, the Pariah Dog has existed for over 14,000 years all over Asia and North Africa. Most rural families own at least one. As villages and rural areas turned into cities, these dogs became stray dogs. As explained earlier, they survive by eating garbage and are also kept as pets by slum-dwellers.
The stray dog population is regularly increased by callous owners who abandon their pets on the street. Many irresponsible pure-breed owners also allow their pets to mate with strays, producing a large population of mix-breeds or mongrels.
Q16. What is the difference between stray dogs and mongrels?
A16. Stray is merely a legal term indicating an animal who is ownerless and homeless. It does not refer to the breed of the dog. When pure-breedsare lost or abandoned on the street by their owners, they also become strays.
A mongrel is a dog of mixed or indeterminate breed. Both the terms stray and mongrel are commonly – and erroneously – used to denote a Pariah Dog. Pariahs are a distinct breed of dog, coming under the category of primitive or aboriginal breeds. Since they are not commercially recognised, this fact is not widely known.
In India, most strays are Pariah Dogs or mongrels. Once a Pariah or mongrel gets adopted as a house-pet, it ceases to be a stray.
Q17. My building society wants to remove all the dogs from the premises and release them in another area – is that legal?
A17. No, it is absolutely illegal and punishable. Under the Bombay Municipal Corporation Act only the staff of the BMC or people authorised by them can capture stray dogs. The guidelines for dog population control approved by the Mumbai High Court in 1998 also prohibit the permanent removal of stray dogs from their original location.
Q18. Some people go around feeding stray dogs. Doesn’t that increase the stray dog problem?
A18. No. Stray dog populations are created and sustained by garbage, not by handouts from kind-hearted ladies! In fact, people who feed dogs generally get them vaccinated and neutered as well, so the population would actually decrease where dogs are being fed. However, feeding should be done in a responsible manner so that it does not cause any disturbance to the public.
Q19. Isn’t it sad that stray dogs have to eat garbage?
A19. Archaeological studies indicate that wolves started living near human settlements so that they could eat the garbage thrown outside. Dogs evolved from these wolves, and have always been scavengers. Unlike humans, they do not view garbage with disgust. In fact, even a well-fed pedigreed dog will often make trips to the dustbin when his owners aren’t looking. Of course, eating garbage has its risks, since once in a while a dog may eat something poisonous – but many strays lead long and healthy lives with no other source of food.
Q20. What should I do if I want the dogs in my area sterilised?
A20. You should contact NGOs in your city. A few NGO sites are in the links in this blog (bottom right of page).
Q21. If I want stray dogs vaccinated against rabies what should I do?
A21. Many NGOs vaccinate dogs on site, so contact them.
Q22. If I see a sick or injured dog, what should I do?
A22. This would vary from one city to another, but some nowadays have first-aid groups or helplines for animals.
Q23. Do I have to pay anything if I want any of those services?
A23. Policies vary from one NGO to another. Many Mumbai organizations provide first-aid and other services free of charge.
The street dog issue is also explained with pictures here.
Do you recognize the red canine model by the way? It's Lalee! I was accused of nepotism at the time for putting Lalee's pictures throughout the site, but what could I do? She was just the best looking INDoggy I could find!
The Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation's persecution of dogs and Lisa Warden:
This is an appropriate place to mention the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation's methods of dog control, which are both illegal and unsound and are not based on scientific understanding of canine behaviour or rabies eradication.
Many readers of this blog and Pariah Club members already know about this through Facebook and my emails. For those who don't know about it, here is the link to the petition demanding justice for the dogs and Lisa:
As a result of the crisis, the corporation has now agreed to follow the laws and dog control rules and have signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Animal Welfare Board of India (Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India). They have not dropped their unjustified charges against Lisa though. You can follow this case through the Facebook group