Canine Terror

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Free-roaming dogs in Kashmir bite thousands every year. Though the authorities assert that they have been sterilising the dogs and managing the waste food, the availability of a lot of free food is a key factor in the dog population surge, reports Syed Samreen

Azhar Manzoor who was bitten by stray dogs so severely that he died. KL Image: Special arrangement

On a bright Saturday afternoon in early March, Azhar Manzoor, 8, accompanied his mother to the market to shop for his school uniform.  He was going to school two days later following a year of ‘literal confinement’ to his home due to Covid-19 lockdown.

Little did Manzoor know that he wouldn’t survive seeing his school again? Back home, when he went out to play with his cousins, the neighbourhood dogs mauled him to death.

Manzoor’s father, Manzoor Ahmad Rather, a daily wager in the Power Development Department in Pingelan, Pulwama rushed to the district hospital Pulwama with his injured son but unfortunately, the doctors declared him brought dead.

“We can’t get over the incident. Manzoor went away from us too soon,” Imtiyaz Ahmad, his uncle, said. “His mother isn’t able to get out of the trauma.”

Earlier in December 2020, Abdul Majeed Rather, a noted lawyer hailing from Dewan Bagh Baramulla succumbed to multiple dog bite injuries at the SMHS hospital.

Surging Numbers

Dog menace has been growing in Kashmir. From the older generation to children, everyone has become vulnerable to the growing population of canines in Kashmir.

Lawyer Abdul Majeed Rather eventually landed in a coma after the pariah dogs attacked him in November. He died on December 7, 2020.

According to the records maintained at the Department of Community Medicine, Government Medical College (GMC), close to 60,000 cases of dog bites were reported in Kashmir in the past decade.

From April  2020 to February 2021, the number of dog bite cases from different districts stood at 4101. Of these cases, 3039 belonged to Srinagar alone. Similarly, 194 cases came from Budgam, 140 from Baramulla, 65 from Kupwara, 156 from Bandipora, 169 from Ganderbal, 127 from Pulwama, 54 from Shopian, 54 from Kulgam, 50 from Anantnag and 53 from other districts.

Managing Bites

The severity of a dog bite varies from person to person, according to Dr Hilal Ahmad Rather, registrar Anti-Rabies Clinic SMHS Srinagar who is a demonstrator and carries out procedures on the injured.  A dog bite, he said,  is of three types.

Category one or Class one case is when a human comes into contact with a dog. However, there is no cut or a scratch and the skin is intact. In this case, Dr Rather said, there is no need for a procedure.

In Class two bite cases, there is a cut on the subcutaneous membrane which can be in the form of a scratch. While as in the third and the most acute case, the skin is torn with blood oozing out.

Dogs snooping around as two friends try to strike a conversation in Lal Chowk.

“If it is a class-three bite, then we wash the wound with soap water or betadine. After fifteen minutes, immunoglobulin is injected locally into the patient’s body after a test dose. We inject 40 international units per kilogram of the body weight,” Dr Rather said. This is the first step of the procedure which is immediately performed on the patient.

“After this, the patient has to get vaccinated as per the 0, 3,7, 28 schedules. This means the first vaccine will be given to the injured on Day 0 of the bite, second on Day 3, third on Day  7 and the last one on Day 28. This vaccine is injected in the bilateral deltoid of the patient by means of intradermal administration,” the doctor added.

The patients usually recover from the canine knock-downs but in some cases, the patients succumb to the injuries.

“If the bite is near the brain or the spinal cord, then there are chances of death. But it also depends on how soon the patient is rushed to the hospital,” Dr Rather explained.

Free Food

The numbers are soaring because of two primary reasons; the availability of household and poultry waste on roads, and the fast-breeding of dogs.

The Municipal veterinary officer, Dr Javaid Ahmad Rather said that work is being done to curb the dog population within Srinagar municipal limits.

Since the last few years, many strategies adopted by the municipality resulted in a gradual decrease of dog bites from over 4000 cases alone from Srinagar, to over 2900 last year.

“We are tirelessly working on minimizing the availability of garbage on the roads,” Rather said. “Almost 450 metric tonnes of garbage is generated by Srinagar daily, from which 200 metric tonnes include waste from households and hotels. Besides, 100,000 poultry birds are slaughtered in the city which generates 40,000 Kg of poultry offal every day. If this isn’t managed properly, each dog will have an availability of 1 Kg poultry offal.”

A pack of dogs follow an unsuspecting passerby outside Partap Park in Srinagar.

The availability of the offal or any other leftover food material is directly proportional to the breeding efficiency and the lifespan of the dogs.

Srinagar Municipal Corporation has deployed vehicles for door to door collection of waste.

Once the waste on the roads is reduced, Dr Rather said, the breeding efficiency and the life span of the canines will gradually decrease.

In Kashmir, the breeding efficiency of dogs is alarming. If there are about five to ten thousand breeding females in the dog population, they will add around five puppies each every year. This would mean, ten thousand females will add another fifty thousand dogs to the population, Dr Rather added.

Commissioner’s Response

The SMC Commissioner Athar Aamir Khan said the matter was being handled with the utmost sense of urgency and importance. “We are trying to come up with a proper plan of action,” Khan said. “All this needs a lot of hard work. Our objective is to sterilise 75% of the dog population in Srinagar so as to flatten the growth curve. The pace of sterilisation has to be increased along with proper adherence to government protocol and Supreme Court guidelines on the globally known practice of sterilisation. We are working on the modalities and the logistics part of it”.

Apart from that, the commissioner said that waste management was being prioritized.

“The idea is better management of poultry waste and sterilisation. As far as waste management is concerned, we have started door to door waste collection in four wards in the first phase of the pilot project. With this, there won’t be dumpsters full of waste on roads which will reduce the availability of food to dogs,” he added.

An Unchanged City

Claims apart, the dogs rule the streets in Srinagar. Bashir Ahmad, a resident of Bemina, goes for a morning walk. Normally, all he should require for the morning walk is a pair of walking shoes and himself. But he carries a thick wooden stick to shoo away any dog that would otherwise attack him if he were unaided.

A huge number of stray dogs in Srinagar (KL Image: Bilal Bahadur)

“Feral dogs are dangerous. My wooden stick protects me in the morning. Otherwise, I can be easily knocked down by dozens of dogs roaming around,” Ahmad said.

Dogs are territorial animals and mark their boundaries within 1-2 km in a particular area. They are familiar with their clan and do not let any stranger enter their area.

When a dog enters or is forced to enter a different area other than its own, the ‘native’ dogs become aggressive resulting in a territorial dispute between the two.

In some areas, people have complained that Srinagar Municipality Cooperation transports dogs from Srinagar to the city outskirts. 

However, the Municipal Veterinary officer (MVO) Srinagar Dr Javaid Ahmad Rather denied the claims. He said that a complaint had been registered in the High Court in the past as well regarding the issue but the allegation was baseless.

The officer said the SMC Srinagar has limited dog catchers and can catch a maximum of 15 dogs per day for sterilisation. “The question of transporting hundreds of dogs overnight to the city outskirts and far off villages is absurd,” he said. “We don’t run such programmes that are illegal and unauthorised.”

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