The Government should support research to explore inexpensive, non-surgical options for dog sterilisation
On a misty winter morning of the year 2021, I was drawn to a commotion in the front-lane parking area of my residence in a South Delhi colony. A female dog had appeared from somewhere at night and delivered a litter. The people around appeared with all means to feed the mother and make the family comfortable in cold winter weather.
The mother made the nearby area her permanent abode. She was a very scared stray and would even come near the food after being fully assured that no one was around. Given her very fast movements, I named her “Firki” and she is known by this name all over the place. Out of the six pups, one got crushed under a speeding car and another got injured by a bike. In due course, we arranged for the adoption of five pups.
Efforts began to get Firki sterilised to stop further breeding. True to her name, it was a harrowing task catching her. After repeated requests to MCD, they were able to catch her on the fourth attempt. There was a big sigh of relief which did not last long as after 3 days she was dropped back by on the pretext that her blood tests were abnormal. That was the lost opportunity as she is still at large, managed to deliver three more litters with three surviving dogs each from the second and third litters. We managed to get the second litter picked up for sterilization with great effort and it was discovered after a few months that they too were dropped back without any surgery (for unknown reasons).
Firki has grown smarter with time, hiding in the big drain with her family during the day and coming out for meals in the morning and night only. The overenthusiastic residents have employed dog feeders for dozens of strays in the vicinity and also ensure continued feeding from their homes. Repeated calls and visits to the South Delhi MCD office, personal requests to the vet, social media posts tagging senior MCD officers, and messages to RWA did not fructify in catching Firki. Many times, when we managed to corner Firki and inform the MCD team, their approach was very casual and pathetic resulting in failed attempts.
On advice from a private vet, I could manage to sedate her but the attempt failed again. My desperation and helplessness knew no bounds, to the extent of announcing a reward of INR 10,000 to catch her. This followed dog catchers, colony guards, garbage collectors, cleaners, and some NGOs making attempts to catch but Firki evaded every attempt. We also got the male dogs in the surrounding area sterilized but there was always some unsterilized dog who would mate resulting in a new litter. So, from a stray dog-free part of the lane, we now have seven dogs all over the place, chasing vehicles and barking throughout the night.
The presence of unvaccinated free-roaming dogs (FRD) or street dogs, amidst human settlements is a major contributor to the high incidence of endemic Rabies in India. Stray dogs chasing morning-walkers, cyclists, and two-wheeler riders, have resulted in serious injuries and death of innocent persons on innumerable occasions.
The National Rabies Control Programme in India has been under implementation for more than a decade. The “National Action Plan for Dog Mediated Rabies Elimination from India by 2030” is being implemented jointly by various stakeholders. Successful Rabies control programmes have been implemented throughout the world, demonstrating that elimination is technically feasible.
Dog-mediated Rabies has been eliminated from Western Europe, Canada, the USA, Japan, and some Latin American countries. Even low-income countries such as regions of sub-Saharan Africa and Asia have been able to reduce the burden significantly by mass dog vaccination strategy. Non-surgical methods have existed in the past, however, they have not been widely adopted due to a lack of will and coordination among concerned stakeholders, lack of research, cost-effectiveness and other reasons including rampant corruption.
There is a need for more concerted efforts including ownership and enhanced coordination among concerned partner agencies. In addition, the Government should support research to explore inexpensive, non-surgical options for dog sterilization. RWAs should be more sensitive and help with monitoring count and anti-rabies vaccination of stray dogs.
(Dr Jagdish Kaur, is a public health expert; views are personal)