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GOD'S OWN COUNTRY TO DOGS' OWN HELL

  • Abhishek Raje
  • 1949

Kerala’s mass killing of dogs by private institutions and citizens, and the anti-stray dog campaigns in overdrive in Kerala is undoubtedly the burning current affair in our country’s animal welfare today. Within a span of one year, the hatred towards stray dogs in Kerala has reached dizzying and disturbing heights; Businessman Kochouseph Thomas Chittilappilly (president of Stray Dog Free Movement) has offered cash prizes for killing stray dogs, a group in Kerala began offering air-guns at subsidised prices to kill stray dogs, activists of the youth wing of a political party killed eight stray dogs and paraded the carcasses on a pole in Kottayam and the latest bizarre development, the alumni association of a prominent college has announced gold coins as 'gifts' to the civic authorities and panchayats which would kill the maximum number of stray dogs till December 10! Worse, NGOs doing sterilisation and who are releasing the dogs back, are also being attacked. Lactating mother dogs being killed and sterilised stray dogs are being killed; even pet Indie dogs are not spared.

The million dollar question is why are the stray dogs of Kerala portrayed as a ‘menace’; so much so that people are unlawfully hunting and killing the strays, while states who are facing the problem of rabid stray dogs are not taking to such extreme, unlawful means.

To understand this unique situation of growing intolerance towards stray dogs in Kerala, we need to take a bird’s eye view and more importantly, join the dots. The present day scenario in Kerala is a result of multitude of factors:

1. Misinformation and misguided paranoia of rabies: The root cause is the mass paranoia of rabies due to colossal misinformation. Kerala’s streets today are dotted with posters that condemn all stray dogs as dangerous and rabid. What is pivotal to understand here is that people are either ignorant or misinformed about the rabies virus and rabid dogs. Today, the general consensus in Kerala is ‘all stray dogs are dangerous, kill the stray dogs before they get rabies, bite you and and one dies of rabies’. They are clueless about most basic facts regarding rabid dogs. For one, a rabid dog that bites after it begins shedding (which happens only after the rabies virus has reached the brain of the dog), dies within 10 days of biting a human. Following a bite, the procedure is that the dog bite is reported, the dog is nabbed and kept under supervision in quarantine for a period of 10 days. And only if the dog has died within 10 days of biting a human, should the person who got bitten, take the rabies vaccination shot. If the dog doesn’t die within 10 days of biting a human, the virus has NOT transmitted to the human and he/she DOES NOT NEED to take the shots. In most cases, it may be impractical to locate and check if the dog has died within 10 days. In such cases, as a preventive measure, rabies vaccination shots might be taken under medical supervision. People still assume that if a rabid dog has bitten a person, the person has definitely got infected with the rabies virus. The virus is transmitted only after a rabid dog begins shedding. Rabies is a 100 % preventive disease. If a person has contracted rabies and takes the vaccination shots when required, the person will not succumb to the virus. So to blame the dogs entirely for rabid deaths is unfair if human error (like not taking the shots on time or missing the virus vaccination) has a part to play as the disease is 100% preventable. Lastly, it’d be wrong to blame the stray dogs in light of data compiled by the Ernakulam General Hospitals. As per the data, of the 1,074 dog bite cases reported at the hospital in 2015, pet dogs were the culprits in 75.6% of cases.

Image Source: Hindustan Times

2. Media sensationalization: The inflated figures of dog bites and deaths due to rabies in the media is another reason for the mounting paranoia. Media houses have their share of sensationalizing the issue and published incorrect facts and statistics. Leading Kerala newspaper 'Malayala Manorama', recently published an article citing, an aged woman was killed by a pack of stray dogs along with the photo of a temple in the background. The priest of the temple informed that the photo used in the newspaper was about a year old and taken when there was some temple renovation underway. He clarified that the woman did not die due to an attack by stray dogs. This is not to say that there haven’t been deaths due to attacks by stray dogs in Kerala but in this case, the media house manufactured the news to jump the anti-stray dog bandwagon.

Image Source: Hindustan Times

3.Lack of awareness of ABC sterilization: The people at large are not aware of ABC (Animal Birth Control) sterilization and feel that killing dogs is the most immediate solution to reducing stray dogs population. Killing of stray dogs to keep the population from growing is unlawful and the courts have prescribed ABC sterilisation as the appropriate way to keep the stray dog population in control.

Image Source: Planet Custodian

4. Open disposal of animal waste garbage for slaughterhouses: Kerala is among the states with the highest non-vegetarian population as per a survey conducted by the Registrar General of India. And the existing practice of dumping animal waste that includes intestines, innards of butchered cattle generated from numerous slaughterhouses (licensed and unlicensed) and butcher shops is another root cause. Due to unscientific dumping of garbage, some dogs are have become semi-feral and these dogs are almost impossible to catch. This is one of the main reasons that stray population has not seen a decline in Kerala. The inability of the relevant bodies, be it the local municipalities or the state pollution control board or the animal husbandry department, to curb the practice of open-dumping from slaughterhouse is an integral part of the problem. The relevant monitoring bodies and enforcement agencies must be held accountable. Trying to decrease the population of stray dogs without addressing the problem of dumping waste from abattoirs in marshlands is a lost cause. An RTI revealed there are under 30-odd registered slaughterhouses in Kerala, the rest are all illegal slaughterhouses.

Image Source: International Business times

5. Influential people with deep pockets with substantial backing from the state government: At the forefront of the state's anti-stray dog campaigns, have been people spearheading the campaigns: Billionaire Kochouseph Thomas Chittilappilly (the founder Chairman of V-Guard Industries Ltd and amusement park chain, Wonderla) and social worker Jose Maveli who runs an orphanage home, have  both spearheaded campaigns urging people to kill stray dogs. Jose Maveli is reportedly the leader of the Stray Dog Eradication Group while Chittilappilly the president of Stray Dog Free Movement.

Image Source: DailyO.in

6. Conditioning of children: Apart from announcing cash awards for killing stray dogs, even school children are being encouraged to kill stray dogs. Shockingly, Jose Maveli who runs an orphanage home, conducted a drive with school children forcing the children to take a pledge to kill stray dogs. Before the event occurred, a co-opted member of the AWBI petitioned to state-government run association for children’s rights saying the drive is against the interim of the Hon’ble Supreme Court on 4th October where the SC stated that no one can take public demonstrations against the Supreme Court order. Yet, the event was held,” said AWBI assistant secretary R. Vinod Kumaar at FIAPO's India For Animals Conference 2016, held recently..The video clip of the event where school children took the pledge to kill stray dogs is available on YouTube.

Image Source : The Indian Express

7. Corruption in handing out ABC sterlisation contracts: ABC sterilisation contracts are awarded in return of kick-backs due to corruption in the system.

With the dogs of Kerala at the mercy of the case pending in the Hon’ble Supreme Court, besides the final outcome of the case, the solution lies in increasing awareness of the truth about rabies, busting old-age myths, mass sterilisation and rabies vaccination drives, filing of litigations against illegal killing of stray dogs with complete evidence and guidance from the AWBI.

AUTHOR

Abhishek Raje

Abishek is an Honorary Animal Welfare Officer,Animal Welfare Board of India,The vegan author works for full-time with animal rights with a background as a journalist with Deccan Chronicle and the Times of India.He has conducted AWBI-authorised inspections too.

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