by Syed Shadab Ali Gillani
SRINAGAR: A little girl’s playful afternoon turned into a nightmare when she was viciously attacked by a group of stray dogs in the south Kashmir’s Kulgam district. In her desperate attempt to escape, she fell into the water and suffered life-threatening injuries. She was shifted to Shri Maharaja Hari Singh (SHMS) Hospital where she is battling for her life.
Dr Salim Khan, the head of Community Medicine at GMC Srinagar, took to Twitter to express his sorrow regarding the recent dog attack. He wrote, “Another dog-bite victim, a 7-year-old girl from Kulgam under intensive care at Children Hospital Srinagar, having septicemia as she fell in water while running away from attacking stray dogs.”
The alarming rate at which the dog population is increasing in Kashmir has resulted in frequent incidents of dog bites and attacks. Over the past few years, a large number of such incidents have occurred, with children under 10 years of age being the most vulnerable group. As a result, there has been a significant increase in anxiety disorders among children, which has had a direct or indirect impact on the quality of life of the Kashmiri population.
According to the records from SMHS in Srinagar, an average of 30 to 35 cases of dog bites are reported daily to the anti-rabies center. Shockingly, the Kashmir valley recorded a staggering 6,800 animal bite cases between April 1 last year to March 31, with more than 80% of them being caused by stray dogs. This is the highest number in the past three years, and it has raised concerns among experts who question the delay in completing the much-awaited animal birth control (ABC) centers in Srinagar city.
The Anti-Rabies Clinic at Government Medical College (GMC), Srinagar’s SMHS, has treated 6,855 animal bite cases from across the valley during this period, with 4,912 of them being reported from the city alone. The number of cases in 2021-22 was 5,629, and it was 4,798 in 2020-21. Over the past six years, there have been 37,467 animal bite cases in the Kashmir valley, with 72% or 26,742 cases occurring in Srinagar alone.
Speaking to Hindustan Times, Dr. Mohammad Salim Khan revealed that out of the 6,855 animal bite cases treated at SMHS; approximately 5,700 of them were caused by dogs. Recent data from the Anti-Rabies Clinic at the Shri Maharaja Hari Singh (SMHS) Hospital indicates that from January 1, 2022 to December 31, 2022, there were 4,695 dog bite cases in Kashmir. Srinagar alone reported 2,890 cases from January to December, with Ganderbal district reporting 269 cases, Budgam 218, Baramulla 131, Bandipora 126, Kulgam 10, Pulwama 106, Shopian 107, Kupwara 64, and Anantnag 43.
According to a recent study conducted by the Department of Community Medicine GMC Srinagar, dog-bite victims in Kashmir are not only physically injured but also suffer from profound psychological and emotional instability. Many of them experience depression, feelings of defeat, and social disgrace. The study, titled ‘The Lived-In Experience and Psychological Recount of Dog Bite Victims Visiting the Anti-Rabies Clinic in Kashmir: A Qualitative Study,’ sheds light on the emotional toll of dog attacks on victims.
The study aims to draw the attention of policymakers and planners towards the importance of implementing low-cost mass dog vaccination programs in order to reduce the incidence of dog bites and prevent the psychological distress faced by the victims.
The study further states that there is a need to pay attention to the dog bite victims’ lived experience, and health care professionals need to support them through education, and counselling. “The policymakers should devise other supportive programs to minimize the psychological trauma caused by the dog bites, apart from enhancing measures towards elimination of dog mediated human rabies,” States study.
Srinagar Municipal Corporation’s Veterinary Officer, Dr Tawheed, said, “We have to function according to the law. We cannot kill dogs nor can we shift them from one place to another. We are following the Animal Birth Control and Anti-rabies Vaccination Programme (ABC&ARV), under which we are sterilizing stray dogs and giving them anti-rabies vaccines as well.”
The sterilization facility at Shuhama, which is running in collaboration with Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agriculture Science and Technology (SKUAST), is functional. “We are performing 10-12 sterilizations a day at the Shuhama centre, and our second centre in Srinagar at Tengpora, with more than 200 kennel capacity, is also completed and will be operational soon. Our ABC centre at Chattarhama is also under construction,” said Tawheed.
He further remarked that those involved in the meat and poultry industry engage in irresponsible disposal of waste, despite the fact that SMC offers free waste management services.
The alarming increase in dog bites and attacks in Kashmir has become a major concern for the local population, especially children who are the most vulnerable group. The emotional and psychological distress experienced by dog-bite victims has highlighted the need for policymakers to implement low-cost mass dog vaccination programs and supportive programs for victims. While the Srinagar Municipal Corporation has initiated an Animal Birth Control and Anti-rabies Vaccination Programme, it is imperative to promote responsible waste disposal practices and create awareness among the public to ensure the safety and well-being of the Kashmiri population.