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The Indian Stray Dog Caught between the Pandemic and Elitism

The greatness of a nation can be judged by the way its animals are treated

Mahatma Gandhi

It was disappointing to read a biased and poorly researched article published on July 27, 2020, that wrongfully targeted dog feeders as the problem behind the overpopulation of stray dogs in what seemed to be a personal rant that overlooked legal, scientific and social debate surrounding the issue. The article indulges in demonizing these individuals in a cavalier fashion, claiming that one neighbourhood is a ‘microcosm of what is happening in India today’ and casting all dog feeders as irresponsible ‘vigilantes’.

This is a counter-article that addresses the issue in a more informed and compassionate manner, talking about the root of the problem and the solutions, and present an alternative perspective.

In today’s urban India, the stray dogs are attempting to survive alongside the human population despite the attempts of some people to destroy them in the name of human concepts such as ‘land ownership’ and ‘taxes’.  The Constitution of India casts a fundamental duty on every citizen of India to improve the natural environment and have compassion towards living creatures. The people taking care of the street dogs are fulfilling their Constitutional duty towards the community animals by ensuring their right to thrive and maintain the local ecosystem.

Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, Section 11 clearly identifies that harassing dog feeders or hitting/ threatening the animals can be deemed cruel towards animals.

The Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI) is a statutory advisory body whose job is to bring together animal welfare policies and laws in accordance with public wellbeing. Therefore, it is not judicial overreach when courts identify and clarify the role of the AWBI with respect to street dogs. The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, Section 11 clearly identifies that harassing dog feeders or hitting/threatening the animals can be actions deemed cruel towards animals. The role of courts in our civilized society is to interpret the law and the functions of other bodies like the AWBI.

On some level, the article recognizes the issues created for the stray dogs due to their feeders being locked inside their homes due to the pandemic, and in the same breath, chooses to depict the feeders as the problem. The approach is somewhat counter-intuitive and does not account for the abandonment of pets by their owners that peaked at the start of the pandemic. To criticise the Animal Birth Control (Dog) Rules 2001 without equally condemning the violations of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act seems like a premature effort to refute the ‘victimhood’ of stray dogs.

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It is unclear what ‘scientific methods adopted by neighbouring countries’ have proven to be effective population control, but the capture and slaughter of strays by dog squads, as was done in India before, is inhumane and scientifically unwise.

There is enough evidence of things going disastrously wrong whenever humans have tried to manipulate eco-systems, either by introducing or removing species locally. Instead, we suggest looking at the progress made by the Netherlands in resolving its stray dog issue. Netherlands took no short cuts in the elimination of strays but strategically followed Animal Birth Control (ABC) protocols and adoption drives, with the government strongly funding these initiatives. We doubt there can be a more scientific approach to the problem.

Removing stray dogs from a locality into shelters is also not a practical solution majorly because of two reasons. Firstly, the existing shelters are overcrowded, and, secondly, in an estimated population of 60 million strays, an evacuated territory is only waiting to be colonised by the next herd who may not be as familiar or tolerant of the humans nearby. In that, it makes sense to sustain and regulate the current herd in the locality by implementing sterilization and vaccination drives locally.

AWBI encourages community feeding, and this is also upheld by other the courts of law, including the Supreme Court.

The army of dog-feeders and stray dog-lovers are not all oblivious to the ground realities nor do they mean to be intentionally cavalier of the safety of other humans. However, it is problematic if the solutions come at the cost of animal suffering or from a place of privilege for human convenience. Some people object to dog-feeders on the account that they are not fond of the dogs barking or chasing cars in their neighbourhood, an annoyance that their hefty maintenance fee should immunize them against, nor do they pay taxes for the funds to be redirected to feeding and spaying dogs. Feeding strays does not create the problem. The problem already exists, i.e., overpopulation of strays. Feeding them alleviates aggression amongst these territorial animals. If there are several sources of food in a territory, the canines get accustomed to an abundance of food supply and generally behave less aggressively.

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This is why the AWBI encourages community feeding, and this is also upheld by other the courts of law, including the Supreme Court. This does not disregard the 20,000 incidents of dogs attacking humans but it would be short-sighted to canonically pin the reason to dog-feeding in the community alone. There are nearly 150,000 fatalities due to road accidents and 48,000 people die due to workplace incidents in a year, yet we do not see people condemning driving vehicles on roads or not going to work. The way to resolve this issue is not by doing away with dogs or dog-feeders, but by having designated feeding spots and times.

It is disappointing that the same publication that had reported on the Delhi attack on NGO workers trying to catch dogs for sterilization has now chosen to publish a tone-deaf opinion piece that demonizes the same community of caretakers and NGO workers. These incidents are proof of harassment and criminal intimidation of dog feeders to which ‘threats’ of FIRs are a meek countermeasure, if at all.

Citizens will have to come together, unanimously and humanely, to demand adequate funds for effective sterilization drives.

In a troubling time where thousands of stray animals are dying of starvation on the roads, such an opinion only fuels the common apathy and animosity towards the street dogs, their feeders, and caretakers. If the intention was to comment on the ineffectiveness of the sterilization and vaccination drives, the author has certainly thrown the baby out with the bathwater.

It is true that the AWBI internal audits have discovered mismanagement of funds, but this is an issue of accountability that should be addressed at the Ministry level. In no way does it undo the efficacy of the ABC programs or the role of dog feeders and caretakers who are the only ones to ensure that the dogs are caught. If India is to meet the WHO’s goal of being free of dog-mediated rabies by 2030, then the citizens will have to come together unanimously and humanely to demand adequate funds for effective sterilization drives!

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are of the author solely. TheRise.co.in neither endorses nor is responsible for them.

About the author

Poulomi Bhadra is Assistant Professor and Assistant Director at the Jindal Institute of Behavioural Sciences, Sonipat, Haryana

Malvika Seth is Assistant Professor and Assistant Dean at the Jindal Global Law School, Sonipat, Haryana

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