Younus Al Saba
Survival of the fittest is one of the most abiding laws of nature, which keeps the world in a steady state in all spheres- be it ecology or economics. Humans beings, at the top of the ecological and the economic chains (or pyramids) have always manipulated and flaunted with the natural laws to create a space for ‘His Kind’. There is a paradoxical move to this very human nature in my land, where we are inhibiting the laws of nature to actually work against the human kind.
We have provided positive feeding, protective and breeding environment to stray dogs, which constitute a dire threat to society in multiple ways, both directly and indirectly. We have seen a humungous increase in the population of the dogs in Srinagar in the past few years. Packs of dogs, roaming in and around almost every nook and corner of the city, give an impression that the city has been taken over by dogs. We see dogs chasing people of all age group, s all around the day especially during the early mornings when people venture out to offer morning prayers or for morning walks and during the late evenings when people are out mostly because of emergencies.
The number of dog bite cases has gone up stupendously in the past few years, creating a fear psychosis among the people, which is barring them venturing out of their homes, even for the morning prayers (as if it is the eighth form of Iblees). The most vulnerable sections of the society are women, children and the elderly.
As per an unofficial report referred to in a news item by a regional English newspaper on rge11th of Feb 2017, there are around 1 lakh stray dogs in Srinagar; however no official figure is available to confirm this. A census is being carried out in all the wards of the Srinagar municipality as per the statement of SMC Commissioner Riyaz Ahmad Wani. In the statement, SMC spokesperson said that MOU on sterilization of dogs has been revived with SKUAST to increase the capacity to 90 per day, by creating an additional unit at Alochi Bagh, six months later. Going by the numbers, it would take around 1200 working days (equivalent to about 6 calendar years or even more in Kashmir) to sterilize the current number of stray dogs. The average growth rate of free-roaming dogs varies between 15-20%. With the rate of population growth and the number of sterilizations planned per day, it would be almost an impossible task to achieve.
In order to control and reduce the population of stray dogs, a multi-pronged strategy would be required at various levels. The onus is on the administrative and governance levels but there is a lot to be done at the individual and community levels as well. The increase in the number of stray dogs can be attributed to a lot of factors and one of the most important is the ample availability of food. Srinagar, on an average produces about 20000 kg of non-vegetarian food waste. This is often dumped at open garbage site across the city, given the poor state of waste management. This proves a great feast for stray dogs to feed upon, flourish and multiply.
A much greater role is to be played by administration in this sphere and in different directions. Firstly, SMC needs to pull up its socks and mend its waste management business. There is a need to ensure that there are no open garbage dumping sites, ensure installation of the dustbins in localities and business centres and most importantly timely and efficient pick up and disposal of garbage from the source sites. It is also essential that segregation of the waste at the source and for that there is a need for sensitization and education of the masses. SMC may conduct awareness camps in different localities and in schools, for example. They may trust the little shoulders of the students to carry the change into the society.
On March 6, 2018, the honorable High Court directed the Housing and Urban Development Department (H&UDD) to provide the financial support to SMC to control of the dog menace. Besides these, all other stake holders need to work in collaboration to end the menace. These stake holders would include the Department of Tourism. We are not supposed to greet our guest by the threat posed by the packs of canine beast prowling in every nook and corner of our city. Other stakeholders are the people, as individuals and as a community. At an individual level, we must ensure that we don’t litter openly and, at a community level , we must ensure the use of dustbins, segregation of waste and proper disposal. All of us must march together against this menace and make efforts to put it to an end.
Biting by stray dogs may cause rabies, a viral disease that causes acute inflammation of the brain. Each year, 15 million people across the globe are treated with post-bite rabies vaccines, while about 55000 people die of rabies. More than 99% of rabies cases occur in Asia and Africa, with India accounting for about 36% of the worldwide rabies deaths, highest in any country. This high occurrence of rabies deaths is attributed to sheer higher number of stray dogs and the poor treatment for rabies. Most of the local clinics and hospitals don’t have stocks of the rabies vaccines.
The anti-rabies vaccines are available free of cost at SMC, while as human rabies immunoglobulin, an important medicine required for the treatment, is yet to be incorporated in the list of drugs needed by the hospitals for unknown reasons (news report GK, 6 Mar,2018). A consolidated report on the availability of anti-rabies vaccines and human rabies vaccines, revealed that while as there was a surplus of these drugs at some hospitals, at others, these were totally out of stock. For example, there were no anti-rabies vaccines in Sub Divisional Hospital, Bijbehara, Block Hospital Larnoo, District Hospital Qazigund and other dispensaries and hospitals. It is evident that there is no proper management of anti-rabies vaccines. Thus, the health department is also an important stake holder in tackling the dog menace.
Many animal welfare organizations propose spay-and-neuter model – where both males and females dogs are taken from the street, sterilized and returned to their original area. They argue that one of the main reasons of the dog attacks is stray dog migration and breeding, which leads to competition for area, food and mates. But sterilization has proved ineffective because of the sheer number of dogs and lack of resources. The WHO recommends promotion and enforcement of pet control laws, undertaking sustained re-immunization, and removing (sheltering, re-homing and euthanizing) the unwanted canines.
We, as a society, need to look beyond the conventional or laid down methods of controlling the dog population. We need to analyze the problem of dog menace and try to find a solution within the ambit of current regulations and humanity that would be tailor made for our society and redound to the benefit of all. The need of the hour is to experiment and innovate; we need to collaborate and cooperate, and being responsible co-dwellers and a civilized community, we need to remind friends turned foes that this is our space and our yard!
—The author, whose twitter handle is @alsaba_younus, can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org