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Not a man’s best friend — why Kerala is witnessing a spate in dog attacks

New Delhi: In Kerala, dogs are being increasingly viewed with suspicion and fear as the state continues to witness a rise in attacks on humans, including children.

This year alone, the state has seen 21 rabies deaths and 1.9 lakh cases of dog bites. In 2017, government hospitals reported 1.35 lakh cases of dog bites, and the number rose to 2.21 lakh in 2021.

Matters escalated this year after three children were killed, including a 12-year-old girl, who was bitten by a dog while on her way to get milk. She died at a government hospital in Kottayam, weeks after contracting rabies. The girl was given an anti-rabies shot, but her parents alleged poor treatment at the facility.

Last week, the Kerala government approached the Supreme Court to permit “culling of violent and vicious stray dogs, particularly those suspected of having contracted rabies”.

But according to government data, Kerala doesn’t even fall in the top 15 states with regard to the number of street dogs. Yet, it reports the sixth highest number of dog bites in the country.

The maximalist nature of steps proposed by the state government cannot be denied – although the menace has taken a definitive turn for the worse.

But why are dog bites increasing in Kerala? And why is the relationship between humans and dogs fraught in the state?

“The disaster stems from the tethered bond between humans and dogs. Several street dogs are those that have been abandoned by their owners. There is improper waste disposal, inadequate sterilisation and vaccination programmes,” Sally Varma, a Kerala-based animal rights advocate, told ThePrint.

These may not be issues unique to Kerala, but the state has a long-winding history of conflict with the animal. This is also not the first time the state government has asked the SC to intervene.

In 2015, a three-member committee headed by former Kerala High Court judge Justice S.S. Jagan had submitted a report to the apex court on dog menace in the state. That year, over 1 lakh people were bitten.

The issue is further complicated by other human-animal conflicts in the state. Kerala has a 30 per cent forest cover, which means there is encroachment of space from various sides, including by wildlife.

According to a report by The Hindu, over 600 people have died in conflict with animals since 2015.

Human-animal conflicts have created a tense atmosphere in the state and “dogs have been caught in this crossfire,” Ayesha Christina, founder of Delhi’s Neighbourhood Woof, an outfit that runs animal birth control, vaccination and medical assistance programme for street dogs, told ThePrint.

Also read: RWAs of Indian cities have declared a war on dogs. Pet lovers are on the back foot

What needs to be done

To tackle this menace, experts say, efficient sterilisation and vaccination programme are the need of the hour.

Radikha Suryavanshi of PETA India told ThePrint that when stray dogs are surgically neutered, these canines are also vaccinated against rabies. If these dogs are then placed back in their territories (once vaccinated), newer canines will not enter the areas, she added.

Once neutered, Suryavanshi explained, mating and breeding of dogs will also reduce.

According to the Centre’s rules, “Stability in dog population is achieved when 70 per cent of their population is sterilised. Rabies could be wiped-out and man-dog conflict controlled if the ABC (Animal Birth Control) rules are followed in letter and in spirit.”

ABC is a government-run programme, funded by the World Health Organisation, that aims to alleviate rabies.

Last month, the Ministry of Animal Husbandry in Kerala declared that five lakh vaccines have been handed to each district to bolster this process.

Ambili Purackal, founder of DAYA Animal Welfare Organisation in Kerala, however, told ThePrint that despite their work at the grassroots level, they and some other NGOs in the state have been excluded from the ABC initiative.

Christina also added, “The municipal corporation of Delhi has taken 550 dogs for sterlisation since April. Animal caregivers have sterilised 1,500.”

‘Dogs are social animals’

“Dogs are social animals who wouldn’t normally attack humans. When people abuse them in ways that make them feel severely threatened, they feel the need to protect themselves,” said Suryavanshi.

Gianna Ghaswalla, a psychologist who facilitates adoption of dogs, attested to this. She told ThePrint that stray dogs in her colony she interacts with daily are docile because these canines are treated well.

But in Kerala, the rise in dog bite cases have caused panic and killing of strays, including puppies.

Varma said the state government’s request to cull strays can also be interpreted by the public as a license to kill any and all dogs that inconvenience them.

But statistics tell a different story. Data provided by the Ernakulam General Hospital in 2015, based on a six-month study, revealed that companion dogs were responsible for 76.5 per cent of dog bites in the state.

Also read: UP: NCPCR seeks response of administration over dog bites to children in Ghaziabad

Source: The Print

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