In The Name Of Dogs

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Fed with high protein leftovers, the stray dogs breed faster than their cousins outside Kashmir. Society’s efforts to get the population reduced to manageable limits has become a heady task, a matter that is now being heard by a division bench of the high court, a Kashmir Life report.

At Amira Kadal in Srinagar, a simple walk on the bridge could prove fatal.

For many people, Kashmir has gone to dogs. It might have been the metaphorical description, but now it is literally so. That is perhaps why managing dogs in Srinagar – the state’s largest urban habitation, is being decided by the highest court in Srinagar, a division bench of the high court, thanks to a PIL a young lawyer Nadeem Qadri filed on behalf of an NGO.

The people, as lawyer Qadri puts it, were tired of the official response. “It was a typical case of people barking (over the crisis) and dogs biting as officials were weaving stories for managing the crisis.”

Every season, the officials would manufacture a story to address the mounting concerns but it would rarely move beyond the newspapers. As the traditional culling of the stray dogs using poisoning triggered a howling debate involving ‘animal lovers’ in Srinagar and Delhi in 2000, the search for alternatives has so far fetched some of the best front page news stories. Hundreds of telegrams and statements were sent to the state government to stop the initiative.

At isolated spaces in Srinagar, it is a real effort to pass unscathed as dogs dominate streets. KL Image: Bilal Bahadur

Early this summer it was an officer discovering a self-claimed ‘pied piper’ Khursheed Ahmad Mir who said he would make the dogs run out of the city and never return. An agriculture graduate with an MBA degree, Mir claimed he had cleared Rajasthan’s main Jaipur city’s several areas of monkeys long back beside the National Archives and Khuda Baksh buildings in Delhi. Heading 4-H-Hub (India) with the expertise of two decades, Mir said lot many scientists work with him and he had actually driven out 150 dogs from his uptown Sanat Nagar locality already.

Mir needed no introduction for officials who worked with him earlier. In 2004 when a rat in maternity Lal Ded Hospital bit a newborn baby, officials hired Mir. He said he cleared SMHS and Lal Ded hospital of rats within 24 hours.

After a series of stories and photographs in the vernacular media, the ‘pied piper’ declined saying the government could not afford to pay him. Officials said he was seeking an “outrageous” fee of Rs 20 crores – Rs 30 lakh for each of Srinagar’s 68 wards. The intelligent man ensured the government does not get a clue of what he would have done had he bagged the contract. Now there is a lot of guesswork about his ideas and many think he wanted to send dogs to areas where dog meat is a delicacy!

With this pied piper gone, the officials said they were waiting for American experts to arrive and teach the municipal workers about how to catch dogs. By then, the Srinagar Municipal Corporation (SMC) had revived its Animal Welfare Centre in Tengpora and announced an incentive of Rs 50 for catching each male dog for castration.

It did not help as municipal workers ended up allegedly castrating the laziest of the dogs every time as the robust canine packs escaped!

For most of the year, SMC officials were talking about how their workers are learning ABC (animal birth control) from India’s Animal Welfare Board (AWB) – a statutory body set up under section-4 of Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, for promotion of the animal welfare generally, and for the purpose of protecting animals from being subjected to unnecessary pain and suffering.

Hospitals routinely cater to around 60 dog bites a day across Kashmir and the anti-rabies drug manufacturers are doing good business. Around 10 rabies-related deaths have been reported across Kashmir in the last few years. In one case a serious crisis was triggered when a south Kashmir villager fed 500 of his wedding guests with the meat of an animal that was bitten by a rabies-infected dog. Health authorities had to set up a special camp in the village to address public apprehensions that they may get the virus and die of hydrophobia.

The overall issue finally landed up in the court when an NGO filed a PIL this summer. Apart from accusing municipal officials of taking the issue with utmost non-seriousness, the PIL alleged the security forces were encouraging the dog population by feeding them their leftover food and using them as night whistleblowers.

In August, the division bench comprising chief justice F M Ibrahim Kalifullah and Justice Mohammad Yaqoob Mir, the court directed SMC to catch the dogs and shift them elsewhere. Since the petition had made almost everybody respond, all the institutions came with the response to what had been done in this regard.

AWBI has a well-stated mandate and position on the issue. It is against the incarceration of the dogs or culling them by any means. Instead, it says the sterilization is the best way out. But the larger story that its submissions to the court revealed is that SMC authorities were always double-minded in engaging them.

Major General (Retd) R M Kharb, who heads the Board falling under union forest and environment ministry, said after being informed about the crisis, he actually flew to Jammu and had a detailed interaction with the then concerned commissioner Ms NaseemaLanker on March 13, 2008. The meeting decided that a team of experts would fly to Srinagar for a fortnight-long training programme for SMC workers for dog catching and ABC from April 15, 2008. A veterinary surgeon from Jaipur-based Help In Suffering (HIS) Dr A Rais was flown in along with two paramedics.

Back home, Dr Raiscirculated a note about his fortnight-long stay in Srinagar. It offers certain insights into how the non-locals see the issue that Kashmir faces in general and Srinagar in particular.

 

Stray dogs in Srinagar are a massive population that dominate even roads during the nights. KL Image: Bilal Bahadur

“It seems to me because of religion and social taboos people always keep a distance from the dogs and when I asked people that when was the last time they put there hand on a dog to pet them and the answer is ‘never’,” the vet said in his report. “In Srinagar, almost all the municipal workers are Muslims who never like to catch the dogs or even touch them. So this might be a great problem in this programme. Because when SMC tried to send 20 of their workers to learn how to catch the dogs, they did not come and even giving threatening that if SMC tries to insist them to do the dog catching they will go on strike.” He reported some “inhuman catching” of the dogs for sterilization.

To make the programme successful, the animal husbandry department had also contributed to the expert pool by sending eight vets and 16 paramedics for training. Observed Rais: “To be true on my side most of them are not interested in doing this.”

But there were reasons for Rais to be happy. “One thing which makes me happier is the condition and health of the street dogs,” Rais reported. “They are very healthy and beautiful and even most of them are looking like pedigreed dogs.”

There were no follow-ups. Kharb banged the SMC officials in a communication. “I regret to say that SMC and none of the NGOs followed up on AWBI offer to start ABC programme in a participatory basis where 50% funding is provided by AWBI and 50% is provided by the civic body,” he said. “The entire effort of AWBI for imparting training was thus wasted.”

As pressures mounted on SMC to deliver, it revived its contact with AWBI that eventually led to the visit of another two-member team to Srinagar in March. The team reported that there were heaps of uncollected garbage lying around in Srinagar. “Garbage consists of poultry and mutton waste,” the report said, “At 9 of 10 places visited by AWBI during night dogs were on the garbage (left) uncollected.” The report quoted SMC officials saying that of the 380 metric tonnes of municipal waste that Srinagar generates daily, 60 per cent is collected and dumped leaving 40% behind for dogs. It did mention that the security forces keep stray dogs as “community dogs”.

Strictly sticking to its mandate, AWBI believes that dog bites are “an aberration and not the rule” with the stray dogs and that these have created “fear psychosis in the city”. In its response to the court, the Board does accept the “acute and ongoing crisis” emerging out of the “conflict between man and dogs” needs a “long-term and a sustainable solution” so that it results in “harmony and peace between the people and dogs of Srinagar”.

Systemic sterilization is the key to the solution, according to AWBI. But they want the SMC to ink MoU with them so that the ABC can take off. Post-agreement – which is in the process of being signed, the Board will train SMC workers in the entire system that go in sterilizing the stray dogs and vaccinating them against rabies. It wants sterilizing 70% of Srinagar’s dog population. The fresh proposal pending with SMC is that AWBI will send a 10-member team for 90 days and it would cost the exchequer Rs 17,48,520.

Late August, SMC had sent a three-member team including a veterinary professor from SKUAST, a municipal engineer to Jaipur to study HIS management protocol for the stray dogs. Its suggestions are in tune with the AWBI. Asserting that World Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (WSPA) and World Health Organization does offer alternatives to mass euthanasia methods, of strychnine poisoning or electrocution, the team reported WSPA has been funding HIS since October 1993 in mass sterilization and vaccination of stray dogs to ensure a smaller, healthier, friendly and rabies-free dog population in Jaipur.

HIS, the report said, captures dogs, surgically sterilizes and vaccinates against rabies and after helping them heal within five days leaves them in areas wherefrom they were captured. Between November 1994 and December 2002, HIS treated 24,968 dogs– 65% of them bitches, which triggered a fall of 65% in dog population and rabies declined to zero. It suggests targeting pregnant bitches first. HIS, the report says, owns 47 kennels and does 15 surgeries daily.

All these activities were going on, as the SMC was adhering to the court directions.

Initially, the government had given some land – on court directions, to SMC for constructing the dog pounds in Khimber village, on the outskirts of the constituency that chief minister Omar Abdullah represents. As the work started the local population intervened and got it stayed from the court. They say the piece of land is vital to their herds and will crumble the economy of the belt if sheds appear on it. Last week, villagers were driven to Srinagar for a meeting with SMC but it failed to reach any conclusion.

Interestingly, an official committee that government-appointed in July “to observe the behaviour of dogs kept in pounds and advise the formulation of DPR including food and number of dog catchers and caretakers required in such pounds” also was in favour of sparing Khimber. It said the spot is neither viable nor accessible where managing food and water will be impossible especially during winters.

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

The committee recommended against the permanent incarceration of the dogs because “wherever such options have been tried dogs suffered terribly and died of infection and disease.” The option will also be very capital intensive. It suggested availing the option of having pounds constructed on 19 kanls of land at Shuhama in the SKUAST’s veterinary college in Aleistaing. The college, apart from 490 kanls of land, has facilities of operation theatres, X-ray machine, all diagnostic facilities besides operative and postoperative rooms and a large number of students and interns available for ABC. It essentially will reduce SMC investment.

AWBI, SKUAST and SMC have already signed an MoU in the regard and has, by now, spent half a crore rupees in creating the shed. The money, reports said, was diverted from the grants supposed to be spent on laying drains in the city making it a simple case of public money going to dogs.

As directed SMC submitted the blueprint of its DPR for creating the pounds for Srinagar dogs to the division bench. It said it would require Rs 862.237 crores excluding the costs of 2585 kanals (313.12 acres) of land for housing 90,000 dogs and bitches. The yearly outgo would be an additional Rs 129.17 crores. The project envisages constructing 1800 pounds with every pound having 50 kennels for three categories of dogs assessed on basis of their weight mass and age. It would require 30 teams of three-member dog catching teams, generously equipped, 17 dog catching vehicles, 3600 caretakers, 1800 cleaners, 360-night watchmen.

Well before submitting the DPR the o government on September 6, SMC had floated public notices in July seeking interested candidates willing to be dog caretakers or cleaners of the kennels. They also notified the requirement of dog food including potatoes and porridge and utensils that would be required to prepare their meals.

Interestingly, all this was happening when they were not aware of the actual number of canines in Srinagar. SMC plan is based on the 91,110 stray dogs. This number is at variance with the assumption by Live Stock Development Board, Kashmir that the city has 16,437 stray dogs. Neither of the two institutions has offered an idea of how they counted them.

After going through the submission that SMC made, the division bench on September 9 directed the municipal authorities to go ahead with the sterilization plans and ensure the garbage is cleared on a day-to-day basis. On the massive project, the court observed, “it is imperative that a detailed consideration is made before issuing any direction”. The court observed, “necessary solution can be evolved as to in what best manner the sterilized stray dogs can be managed in future.”

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