The need for vigorous implementation of the canine birth control programme was never more pronounced than now
The recent tragic killing of a four-year-old child by street dogs in Hyderabad once again underlines the absolutely urgent need to implement the animal birth control (ABC) program for such dogs throughout the country. As has been repeatedly and authoritatively pointed out, the ABC program is the only effective method for controlling street dog populations. In its Technical Report Series 931, WHO’s expert consultation on Rabies, which met in October 2004, stated: “Since the 1960s, Animal Birth Control programs coupled with rabies vaccination have been advocated as a method to control urban street male and female dog populations and ultimately human rabies in Asia.”
The killing of street dogs serves no purpose. In its Eighth Report, (WHO Technical Report Series 824), the WHO’s Expert Committee on Rabies, which met in Geneva in September 1991, stated: “There is no evidence that the removal of dogs has ever had a significant impact on dog population densities and the spread of rabies. The population turnover of dogs may be so high that even the highest recorded removal rates (about 15 percent of the dog population) are easily compensated by survival rates.”
Dr. K. Bogel, Chief Veterinary Public Health, Division of Communicable diseases, World Health Organization (WHO), and John Hoyt, then President, World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA), as well as the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), made this clear in their joint preface to the Guidelines for Dog Population Management (Henceforth Guidelines), released by the WHO and WSPA in May 1990. They stated, “All too often, authorities confronted by problems caused by these [street] dogs have turned to mass destruction in the hope of finding a quick solution, only to find that the destruction had to continue, year after year, with no end in sight.”
It is not difficult to understand why killing does not help in reducing stray dog populations. The Guidelines clearly state,” Each habitat has a specific carrying capacity for each species. This specific carrying capacity essentially depends on the availability, quality and distribution of the resources (shelter, food, water) for the species concerned. The density of the population for higher vertebrates (including dogs) is almost always near the carrying capacity of the environment. Any reduction in the population density through additional mortality is rapidly compensated by better reproduction and survival. In other words, when dogs are removed, the survivors’ life expectancy increases because they have better access to resources”
Under the ABC program, street dogs are picked up from an area, sterilised and vaccinated against rabies, and returned to the same area. Being territorial, they keep unsterilised and unvaccinated dogs out and the authorities can concentrate on sterilising and vaccinating in new areas until all stray dogs in a city or district are covered. Killing all dogs in an area would enable unsterilised, unvaccinated dogs to come in and the authorities will have to return again and again to the same area to kill the new arrivals. Until the promulgation of ABC Rules, the number of stray dogs continued to increase in India despite the relentless mass killings.
The ABC program also serves to reduce cases of dog bites. Since sterilized bitches do not come on heat, fights among dogs over bitches, which raise their aggression levels, do not occur during mating seasons . This drastically reduces the number of instances in which a higher level of aggression leads to a greater intolerance of provocation and biting of people. Also, since sterilized bitches do not litter, one does not witness the rise in their aggression levels that occurs when they are guarding their puppies against threats—which are many, given the way in which humans treat animals. Significantly, many get bitten when they tease, hit, or try to take away puppies. Unfortunately, the ABC program is not being implemented properly. The causes include shockingly inadequate allocation of funds, corruption, inefficiency among government and municipal officials and a section of NGOs, and inadequate popular participation. Most people feel it is fruitless because sterilized and vaccinated dogs are back in their localities. The decline occurs gradually as sterilized dogs live out their biological life spans.
It is important to consider Jaipur’s experience. An ABC program, started there as a pilot project in 1994 by an NGO, Help in Suffering, was expanded to cover the entire city in 1996. Dr. J.F. Reece and Dr. S.K. Chawla, write in “Control of Rabies in Jaipur, India by the sterilization and vaccination of neighbourhood dogs”, Veterinary Record, Journal of the British Veterinary Association, “During the eight-year study period [1994 to 2002] a decline in the neighbourhood [read street] dog population of 28 percent was recorded between the peak and the last survey—an annual average of 3.5 percent”
One needs to explain to people the inevitability of the slow decline in numbers, the critical importance of returning sterilized and vaccinated dogs to their habitats, and the impossibility of finding instant solutions to issues that have been around for millennia. Poverty still stalks India over 75 years after its Independence from British rule. Street dogs are mentioned in the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. One cannot expect them to disappear overnight.
(The author is Consulting Editor, The Pioneer. The views expressed are personal)