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Irresponsible Feeding to Stray Dogs: Don’t be a burden to the voiceless animals

With love and care for animals comes responsibility, ownership of their overall health hygiene especially with stray dogs. 

“An animals eye have the power to speak a great language.” — Martin Buber

And we undoubtedly fall for those puppy eyes, wagging tails and raised eyebrows which tends to invoke unfiltered compassion; and the content one feels while feeding strays is unparalleled. 

India, with its estimated population of 35–40 million stray dogs, accounts for the highest number of rabies cases in the world with about 20,000 people (or around 36% of the 59,000 deaths worldwide) dying from it every year; half the cases are children below 15 years of age. With the largest number of stray dogs and the highest number of rabies cases in the world, India definitely has a problem. Sadly, there’s no way to get out of the prevailing situation. 

Delhi has witnessed on average 120 cases of dog bites every day since 2017, revealing reports from three municipal corporations. Over 1.5 lakh people received treatment in various corporation health facilities and dispensaries in the south, east, and north Delhi areas between 2017 and June 2020, according to the TOI report. 

In March 2016, civic authorities from Mumbai disclosed in the Supreme Court that dog bites in Mumbai have taken 434 lives in the time period 1994 to 2015. According to reports, more than 1.3 million people were bitten by dogs in Mumbai during this period. According to data from the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), Mumbai recorded 24,285 cases of dog bites in the year 2020 between March and September. Compared to this year’s daily average of 90 cases of dog bites in this period, the daily average in the corresponding period in 2019 was 180 cases. Between March and September 2019, the city had recorded 48,706 cases of dog bites.

The stray dogs and the incidents of rabies have not seen a declining trend for a decade now, and the cases reported possibly highly underestimated because in India rabies is still not a notifiable disease.

A little bit of food, an affectionate pat does no good for the voiceless strays — they don’t get vaccinated nor are sterilised — become dangerous to the people living there. These dogs in the neighbourhood bark and chase away passers-by, be it someone carrying their regular activities or someone returning home late at night. Yet, the people who feed these dogs take no responsibility for a person getting chased or attacked at night. 

In a report 2019 report says that there are more than 1.5 lakh stray dogs roam the streets of Calcutta, mayor Firhad Hakim said. There is always a prevailing polarising debate over how to protect these animals while ensuring their burgeoning population due to an indolent sterilisation drive. Activists in the city blame the administration for not pushing animal control policies, including spaying and neutering, which perhaps would help cope up with the current problems. Similarly in other parts of the country where the civic bodies fail in administering sterilisation and other vaccinations to reduce the population or implement policies for their wellbeing.

The figures cannot be underestimated and are highly problematic. Along with the lack of fewer government and NGO services that deal with a stray dog, we on an individual level contribute to the problem. Our two minutes of compassion defined by feeding two parle G in a day in random neighbourhoods have larger consequences which we conveniently sideline. Feeders need to be compassionate as well as responsible. Despite being harmless “guarding” animals in any locality surrounded by irresponsible compassionate animal lovers leads to instances of human-animal conflict, a human-human conflict which sometimes takes an unfortunate turn.

According to a report from 2020, in May there were two fights, days apart, between members of two different residential complexes in Noida against feeders from within the complex. In each case, residents reportedly witnessed aggressiveness in street dogs that were being fed or felt threatened by dogs that would bark and follow them for food. We cannot ignore the fear that the dogs can cause and the aggressiveness they can display.

Sadly, whenever complaints are being made against individuals feeding dogs, there is often a counter-complaint of harassment and physical violence that is foisted on the hapless victims of dog attacks.

Likewise, a video is going around on social media where a mother-daughter duo is seen indulging in physical violence with a girl feeding animals in their neighbourhood. The duo claims that the dogs often bite and bark at the people who pass by, however, the case ends with the woman apologising to the feeder as the case involved violence and had other dimensions to it. Nevertheless, the one thing to note here accumulating all such cases is the constant human-human conflict that rises from the situation. 

 One thing we need to reinstate here is that dogs are not born aggressive, it is the survival instinct they develop while living in any neighbourhood. Irresponsible feeding, beating, pelting when scavenging for food makes them aggressive followed by barking and following. 

Who is at fault here? Not the feeders, not the people of the neighbourhood, but irresponsible so-called ‘dog lovers.’ A person looking after the strays doesn’t exhibit such irresponsible behaviour making it difficult for dogs to find shelter in a neighbourhood after manifesting their momentary compassion. 

“Every day along with the happy dog faces and tail wags, I also face the hateful stares and comments of people around who find taking care of animals an offence! But as Anoushka aka The Modern Mowgli said “Please be passionate, have perseverance and have a purpose.”, I continue to serve these voiceless souls because my intentions are right. At this point, I have come to realise that one must know how to choose his/her own battles, you can not argue and fight every single person, sometimes it’s better to politely put forth your point and move forward.”

“Also, if you wish to be an animal feeder, there are certain things one must keep in mind, you should be responsible when feeding them like fixing a certain time and place. Second, you should be aware of all the rights that one can exercise like an animal feeder. Third, the animals should be vaccinated and sterilised in order to prevent any mishap in the future. And lastly, if the animals are present in a community where they are not taken care of and ill-treated there comes an add on responsibility because once we as animal feeders go in the safety of our houses they are the ones who have to stay out and face the consequences.” Animesh Tomar, an animal lover and a dog feeder. 

Compassion is not just feeding dogs, it is also taking care of their health and hygiene, whether or not they are vaccinated and sterilised and most importantly to ensure that they don’t suffer the irresponsible consequences of your actions. The aforementioned are the few characteristics of a compassionate dog feeder and animal lover. Only feeding a biscuit or two randomly just because it melts your heart does them more harm than good. Feeding stray dogs is serious and dedicated work, with almost karmic devotion. Many of them even carry certificates as “Colony Animal Caretakers” issued by the Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI) as well. 

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