These will inflict horrendous cruelty on stray dogs without reducing their numbers. Besides, they will be a big drain on the resources
The disarmingly benevolent air about the proposal to herd all stray dogs in India into pounds, is the result of two contentions. First, the move will end their presence in neighbourhoods without the savagery of killing them wholesale. Second, it would ensure shelter, medical care and regular meals which they lack now. The first will replace the death sentence by imprisonment for life without parole. The second reflects wishful thinking, contrary to what the existing reality indicates.
In the case of all living beings, the quest for freedom is the central driving force behind the unfolding of life, which depends on the progressive realization of a growing corpus of freedoms beginning with those to live, grow, subsist and move. To elaborate, there can be no life without the freedom to live, find and consume food, shelter from the elements, and move.
The essence of freedom is the autonomous exercise of will, which, in turn, is a function of one’s autonomous existence. Imprisonment is a denial of this autonomy; life in jails is controlled by officials who impose restrictions on the lives of the inmates. It is no different in the case of stray dogs. Humans, no doubt, have a higher level of consciousness, cognition and articulation; no other living species has developed languages. Besides, they are the only species to consciously cherish and utilize the freedoms of thought and expression. Nevertheless, it would be wise to recall Desmond Morris’ words in The Naked Ape: A Zoologist’s Study of the Human Animal, “As I have stressed throughout this book, we are, despite all our great technological advances, still very much a simple biological phenomenon. Despite our grandiose ideas and our lofty self-conceits, we are still humble animals, subject to all the basic laws of animal behaviour.”
The urge for freedom is the defining component of the psyches of both humans and stray dogs with the latter’s free-roaming lives. The agony of the loss of freedom in the pounds will not be compensated by the shelter, veterinary care and food they may receive in these. In fact, if the terrible conditions prevailing in most pounds/ shelters in India are any indication, life in these will be, with apologies to Thomas Hobbes in Leviathan, “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short,” stalked constantly by hunger, illness (often psychosomatic) and depression. Most of the money given for providing food and medicines will be siphoned into private pockets.
Clearly, the two contentions accounting for the air of benevolence around the proposal to confine stray dogs in pounds/shelters, are not valid. Hence, that air is misleading. If implemented the proposal will inflict the most horrendous sufferings on the stray dogs impounded. This, of course, will not be a consideration with those who hate all stray dogs and want them killed. Even they, however, have to face the fact that the proposal is utterly impractical and almost impossible to implement. For one thing, the existing pounds will not be able to accommodate even a tiny fraction of India’s stray dog population which, as Mr Parshottam Rupala, Union Minister for Fisheries, Animal Husbandry and Dairying, told the Lok Sabha on August 2, 2022, numbered 1.53 crore in 2019 against 1.71 crore in 2012.
A large amount of money and a huge organizational infrastructure will be needed to build an adequate number of pounds and recruit and train enough people to run them. The question is: who will do all this? A venture of this magnitude is beyond the capacity of animal welfare NGOs to implement. The Union and State governments, as well as large municipalities and corporations, will have to undertake it through their public works departments. Not many of the latter, if any, have any experience in setting up pounds, which require specialized planning and implementation. This will increase the time taken to complete constructions and, in the process, push up costs.
Even if, by a miracle, the pounds are built and made operative, the problem of catching stray dogs will remain. The present personnel with NGOs and government/municipal bodies are too few in number and poorly trained. They struggle to catch even the small numbers that are taken for sterilization. The street canines are sharp and flee at the sight of these people.
Finally, putting stray dogs into pounds will not reduce their numbers. The Guidelines for Dog Population Management, released by World Health Organization and World Society for the Protection of Animals, in May, 1990, states, “Removal and killing of dogs should never be considered as the most effective way of dealing with the problem of surplus dogs in the community: it has no effect on the root cause of the problem, which is over-production of dogs.” Further the Eighth Report (WHO Technical Report Series 824) of the WHO’s Expert Committee on Rabies, has stated, “The population turnover of [stray] dogs may be so high that even the highest recorded removal rates (about 15 per cent of the dog population) are easily compensated by survival rates.”
Ferocious, dogs that bite, doubtless, pose a problem. They should be dealt with according to the procedure detailed under Section 16 of the Animal Birth Control Rules, 2023, which is humane and comprehensive.
(The author is Consulting Editor, The Pioneer. The views expressed are personal.)