Ground Reports

The Long-Running Human-Canine Conflict: Where Does The Solution Lie?

As reports of deadly street dog attacks surface all over India, the rift between human and canines widens. With citizens being mauled to death by a pack of dogs gone rogue to Delhi residents allegedly beating a street dog to death, concerned Indians wonder where the solution to this human-canine conflict lies.

By Zaina Azhar Sayeda, 29 Apr 2023

Bengaluru’s Seshan Iyer is one of the many fearing his safety as he steps into the midst of half a dozen street dogs living inside the gates of his otherwise highly-secure apartment complex. Iyer says his freedom of mobility has been completely curtailed by the dogs’ presence.

Being quadriplegic, all the Whitefield resident really wants is to be able to freely move around the premises in his wheelchair but is constantly in fear of being pounced on by the dogs as soon as he steps out of his home. Even after multiple pleas by the concerned residents to come up with a humane arrangement that works for both the dogs and the habitants, he says Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) has failed them.

The ‘issue’ started when some new residents who’d moved into the community started feeding street dogs inside the gates, leading to the dogs permanently setting camp there, Iyer said. “The reason we pay such a high price for where we live is to make sure that we have a peaceful time, but our security has been compromised. There are a lot of kids, senior citizens and people like me and having unleashed dogs in the community is a threat to security. It’s not just the humans, cats and pigeons have also been mauled by the dogs.”

While pets inside the premises have to abide by certain safety and cleanliness rules, Seshan Iyer says, the street dogs seem to have been exempted. “The kids have been chased by the dogs multiple times and they have now stopped going to the play area, they are traumatised. This one time I fell off my wheelchair trying to get away from the dogs in a hurry and three to four people had to pick me up. When I’m in my wheelchair, I have no defence.”

When a group of residents approached the BBMP, their requests fell on deaf ears. “An aggressive dog bit a resident and residents pleaded with BBMP to take the dog away, sterilise and spay and keep it under observation as per law. Instead, one of their officials yielded to the pressure from ‘higher up’ and the dog was released against the rules within two days.”

Iyer and the other protesters have met with resistance from one of the dog feeders with her using powerful government contacts to instil fear in the complainants and get them to stop trying to move the dogs out of the community. “Multiple false FIRs have been filed with fabricated facts to intimidate honest tax paying citizens and police are being forced to keep the FIRs open again by powerful sources higher up.”

“The dog that was released, died within a week under suspicious circumstances, and was surreptitiously taken away to a private clinic to declare its death certificate instead of a government Vet Hospital. The dog was exhibiting symptoms of Rabies and residents’ plea to BBMP to investigate the same had fallen on deaf ears. Other dogs have been exhibiting strange symptoms and inspite of multiple mails BBMP has refused to act and take the dogs away for monitoring. Nearly 5000 residents are running the risk of being bitten by infected dogs anytime,” Iyer said.

What’s The Rule

Under the latest Animal Birth Control (ABC) rules, the sterilisation and immunisation of stray dogs is to be carried out by the respective local bodies/ municipalities/ Municipal Corporations and Panchayats. The 2023 rules implemented on April 18 by the Centre superseded the 2001 rules with the aim of controlling the growing dog population all the while ensuring they aren’t treated cruelly.

“They’re claiming that dogs are getting sterilised and vaccinated but I really don’t know where all that funding is going,” Iyer said.

Director of the Humane Foundation for People and Animals (HFPA) Meghna Uniyal believes the latest ABC rules “are a recipe for disaster”.

“In contravention of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals act (PCA) and State Municipal Acts, the ABC Rules also require stray dogs to be necessarily maintained and fed on the streets and in all public and private premises. Alarmingly, the rules prohibit the removal of stray dogs that have attacked and even killed citizens and forcibly maintain them in the same place,” she said.

The PCA act 1960 under which the ABC rules are made is a central statute for the protection of animals, mandating the sheltering and humane euthanasia of stray dogs as the Act recognises their suffering as homeless animals, Uniyal says. “The ABC Rules are rules made under the PCA Act. As rules their only mandate is to further the Act. However, no part of the PCA Act is implemented by the rules.”

“The rules require the sterilisation of dogs which makes them aggressive as studies have found, and their feeding on the roads which makes them territorial about those places, both leading to fatal attacks on citizens. Unless the rules are scrapped with immediate effect, this problem will only increase.”

The not for profit set up primarily to work on man-animal conflict is a party to the Supreme Court case on the issue. “The ABC Rules were first passed in 2001 by the Ministry of Culture under Maneka Gandhi, a ministry that has nothing to do with public health or disease control. As stray dog attacks increased, many cases were filed in High Courts and the issue reached the Supreme Court in 2009. When the Supreme Court was finally going to decide on the legality of the ABC Rules, the government amended the rules and came up with the ABC Rules 2023, which have made the situation a hundred times worse,” she said.

Citing the stray dog population to be a “staggering 60 million”, the HFPA director believes it to be a huge concern. “The issues to be looked at are why subordinate rules in contravention to its parents Act have been allowed? and why is the Ministry of Health not involved in a public health safety issue and the issue is under the Department of Animal Husbandry instead?”

Human-Canine Conflict

Sanchita Rodrigues from Goa has been working in the space of human-canine conflict since 2004, trying to resolve issues to ensure “everyone has a happily ever after”. The Goa resident believes the most humane fix for India’s growing dog population is birth control on war footing. “We have failed in our duty of doing animal birth control and if we start now, we’ll see the effects in about five to seven years. Because the old will die and the new will not be born, there will be a healthy balance,” she said.

Discussing the increase in reported dog attacks, Rodrigues says, human-canine conflict has been ever-present in the society but with the boom of social media, it means people are hearing more about it. “I’m sure human-canine conflict was always there, will always remain also so can we not look at working together? Human safety always comes first though.”

“There are ways of handling these conflicts. Feeders have to be a bit more sensitive and feed away from the people movement areas. In a society if you’re feeding dogs, make sure you do it in a place where least humans are walking.

By changing the dogs’ feeding site, she says, one can lure the dogs away from residential areas. “How you change the place of a dog feeding is today you feed at a particular site and tomorrow feed five metres away, day after feed 10 metres away, the dogs will follow you.” Rodrigues believes the reason we are seeing more and more dogs outside homes has to do with the cities becoming bin-free.

“Remember cities are becoming bin-free, earlier dogs were around the garbage dump and humans don’t go to garbage dump so it was a cohesive living. As the bins have disappeared from the roads now, feeders have taken over feeding the dog,” she adds.

Talking about dog behaviour, the Goa resident said most of the times the reason why a dog attacks humans is territory. “Dogs think it’s their territory and you are an outsider there, you just need to make friends with dogs. Making friends with dogs is very easy, just carry some Tiger biscuits in your pocket initially and then you see how they protect you. Even if you are not dog friendly, just to have peace between you two, talk to the dog, feed them.”

Rodrigues adds she often gets chased by dogs when she’s riding her bike and that has to do with the bike tyres smelling of dog urine. “It’s primarily because they smell urine on your bike, urine by some other dog and they think another dog has come into their area. Whenever I’ve been on a bike, I basically continue and maintain a safe speed and till today I’ve never felt threatened.”

“Dogs understand the tone of authority so many times if I’m being chased, I just turn back and ask them ‘what do you want?’ and it works. They also understand when you’re scared and the more you start screaming, the louder they start howling. Suppose you have a particular route you take everyday from home to work or wherever, try and talk to the dogs on your way. You don’t have to feed them but just try and talk to them, slowly you make friends,” Sanchita Rodrigues said.

The Goa resident believes the dogs in Panjim are very well-looked after by the corporation with every dog sterilised. “In Panjim, corporation has this shelter run by a society called PAWS. If there is an incident reported, in 15 minutes, the stray dog is picked up because feeders, well-wishers and citizens have all come together. Pups in Panjim are well taken care of, they are fostered, sterilised and put up for adoption whereas five kilometres away it is a different story.”

To get the dog population under control, Rodrigues says, there has to be a citizens’ movement. “You cannot really blame the government saying the government is not doing enough for ABC, what are you and I doing? It has to be a citizens’ movement and if we start today we will see the result in five to seven years.”

“I’m not expecting people to pick up the dogs in their own hands, I’m just saying make that phone call and be available when the officials from the corporation come to your lane to take the dogs for sterilisation. Unless you report that my lane has three bitches who are littering every three months, how will the government know where to come and pick them up. Or at least offer your garage where the dogs can be lured in to be picked up,” she said.

Above all, Sanchita Rodrigues said, humans need to be more tolerant and find a way to peacefully coexist with the canines. “I think we are also becoming very intolerant. We go out with sticks, we are screaming at dogs and obviously the dog will retaliate. But having said all of that, human safety comes first. Occasionally there might be one odd dog who is really crazy like one odd human who always screams so that one particular case needs to be seen in isolation on what has to be done.”

The Rule Maker’s Take

In an opinion piece run by The Hindu last month, Lok Sabha MP, environmentalist and animal rights activist Maneka Gandhi made her views known about the street dogs-human conflict. “If we claim to be the superior species, we must act responsibly, scientifically and humanely,” the article read.

“Resident Welfare Associations (RWAs) are often the instigators of violence. The person who stands for election in these societies knows that he has no real power: no control over maintenance, electricity, building, sale, rent, or water. What he can control is the choice of guard at the gate, and whether dogs should be allowed inside.”

Gandhi cites the reason behind the fatal dog attack which killed a 4-year-old in Hyderabad earlier in February to be the child’s mistreatment of the dogs. ”Residents have told the police that the child who was bitten to death in Hyderabad would constantly beat and tease three animals. The residents repeatedly warned the child’s father. On top of that, the father, the watchman, had refused to let anyone feed the dogs for three days. Then, the society chairman/ secretary targeted the humans who fed the dogs and made the community safe.”

Maneka Gandhi says reports of dog attacks must come with proof to prevent “outrageous speculation” by people. “Recently, it was reported that two children had been killed by dogs in Vasant Kunj in New Delhi. The Mayor clarified that the autopsy report had not been obtained and that the chances of the children being killed by dogs was slim.”

The BJP minister believes conflicts with dogs can be avoided by being kind to them and following the management rules which have “clearly” been set out by national and State governments and various courts, “ dogs get aggressive when they perceive a threat. They want to protect themselves or their litter from attacks if they are unwell or hungry, have been forcibly relocated, or have witnessed abuse and neglect.”

Killing dogs to get the numbers under control, Gandhi says, is a method of the colonial times which “did not work then and will not work now”.

“Nature allows animals to have as many offspring and as frequently as there is space in the environment. If there is a vacuum, it will be occupied by a more inconvenient species, such as rats, mice, mongoose and cockroaches. The London Plague of 1665 was a result of the killing of 2,50,000 dogs and cats. The mice population grew and 70 per cent of the human population was wiped out by the Black Death pandemic.” Gandhi mentions a similar plague scare arising in Surat not long ago as a result of removing dogs.

While Gandhi vehemently opposes putting the dogs down, she agrees their further multiplication needs to be curtailed. Citing the 2001 ABC rules, the minister says the rules recommended by the World Health Organisation are the only way to bring about “sustained decline in the dog population, incidence of rabies, and aggression in dogs.”

The MP believes there have been many hurdles along the path since the rules were implemented in 2001, “The lack of budget and infrastructure, the prevalence of corrupt and inefficient practices, and the absence of transparency and monitoring were the challenges for two decades. Recently, the Central government issued a new set of ABC Rules that bridge these gaps.”

Adopting native dogs from the streets, Maneka Gandhi says, can serve as a solution to reduce the number of homeless dogs on the streets. “If one person out of every 100 people adopts a dog from the street, there would be no dogs on the roads. The fascination for foreign breeds keeps alive the brisk business of cruel puppy mills and dingy pet shops.”