DOGS, DOGS AND MORE DOGS
Anywhere you go in India, one thing you’ll see a lot of, in addition to people, is dogs. Some estimates put India’s roaming dog population at 35 million, but no one knows for sure. What we do know for certain is that with dogs’ high fertility rates, and large amounts of edible waste available for scavenging, India’s dog population will only continue to increase failing large-scale intervention. The increasing incidents of human-dog conflict in various parts of the country, resulting in occasional tragic consequences such as human rabies deaths and brutal dog culls, demand an immediate, aggressive response.
Although street dogs play a valuable ecological role as scavengers in societies in which waste management is not adequately developed, an over-abundance of roaming dogs can lead to problems. Their welfare is often poor. Nursing canine mothers in areas with a high human population density may bite passers-by while trying to defend their pups. When dogs challenge each other for dominance of turf, or during mating season, people may get bitten in the crossfire. Dogs that reside near meat shops or slaughterhouses may become aggressive in their efforts to protect their high-value, nutrition-rich food sources. And too many dogs in areas with high vehicular traffic can result in tragic accidents that injure both people and dogs. Finally, the rabies virus, fatal if contracted by humans, is transmitted largely through the bites of infected dogs. The scale of the problem is large, and the time to address it is now. The good news is that street dog populations can be managed in a humane and scientifically proven manner, and rabies can be eradicated.
HOW CAN WE SOLVE THE PROBLEM?
India’s free-roaming dog population can be successfully managed through ABC, or “animal birth control”, a process by which dogs are surgically sterilized so they do not reproduce. At the time of surgery, the dogs are vaccinated against rabies. It is against the law to kill dogs in India. The only legal way to address the issues of an over-abundant dog population is through the implementation of ABC. In order to prevent further population growth and stop the spread of rabies, it is necessary to sterilize and vaccinate 70% of the dog population. If the goal is to decrease the population and eradicate rabies, then more than 70% of the dog population must be subject to the intervention. Dog population control will be achieved more quickly if female dogs are the focus of sterilization efforts.
Through rigorous implementation of ABC at a high standard and on a large scale throughout India, we can achieve the goal of decreasing the street dog population in a scientific manner and without cruelty. We can also eradicate rabies. These are our goals at ABC India.
WHY HAS THE ABC PROGRAM BEEN OF LIMITED SUCCESS THUS FAR?
It can be reasonably asked why, if the program has been in place for some time, it has not yet yielded better results. Historically, ABC has generally been taken up in India here and there as a small-scale animal welfare measure in order to prevent dog culls by the authorities, rather than as a serious animal population control and rabies eradication strategy. Although it is crucial when implementing ABC to adhere to the highest animal welfare standards, and although ABC contributes immeasurably to the welfare of dogs by reducing their suffering on a massive scale, to push the program ahead ABC should be viewed principally as dog population control, rather than as animal welfare.
Further, in order for dog sterilization and anti-rabies vaccination to be successful in eradicating rabies, reducing numbers of dogs, and decreasing the incidence of dog bite, it has to be implemented on a large scale and in a systematic and sustained manner. The public also has to be educated about how to avoid conflict with dogs, and what to do to prevent rabies infection should they happen to get bitten. For an assortment of reasons, from plain old politics to lack of resources, these conditions have not yet been adequately met in enough parts of India.