A problem that has been exercising the minds of Keralites in recent months is the increasing number of attacks on people by rabid stray dogs, making it rather unsafe to venture out. There have been horrifying reports of children and adults being viciously and repeatedly bitten.
A septuagenarian, I encounter several suspicious-looking stray dogs, some drooling, on my daily walk, requiring me to be on guard always. Indeed, the other day I saw a stray menacingly lunge at a motorcyclist who narrowly escaped being bitten by speeding away. Only a victim understands the trauma of being savaged by a rabid canine — a dreadful experience by all accounts.
Yet animal welfare activists and dog-lovers are up in arms against the culling of these pests that menace people. Existing legislation bans the indiscriminate killing of stray dogs. But let us not forget that legislation is intended to benefit the people and should be amended suitably if it does not serve its purpose. Defending stray dogs that are potential harbingers of death is a travesty of justice and implies disregard for human life. Recently, a public-spirited industrialist in Kerala, who has been actively campaigning for the culling of strays, undertook a 24-hour fast in Thiruvananthapuram to highlight the stray dog menace. His crusades have generated much public support in favour of culling, considering that the problem is worsening due to the lackadaisical attitude of the authorities.
This widespread menace is undoubtedly one of our own making. We raise dogs without bothering about such crucial basics as immunisation against rabies. It is this rank irresponsibility that has led to a burgeoning population of strays who literally have the run of our neighbourhoods, resulting in the spread of rabies. Such a lack of civic awareness is unheard of in developed countries, where owners even carry a bag in public places to scoop up their pets’ droppings.
A programme to sterilise strays (rather than eliminate them) has been launched half-heartedly state-wide. This may reduce their numbers but does absolutely nothing to prevent the spread of rabies which is the crux of the matter. Further, culling only those strays that are confirmed to be rabid (as permitted by the law) will never solve, let alone arrest, the problem.
For these strays inevitably infect other strays whose symptoms of rabidity may surface much later, maybe only after many more unfortunates have been bitten. It is for this crucial reason that all strays need to be culled summarily and, of course, humanely. The fact remains that as long as there are non-immunised strays roaming free, rabies will unavoidably spread, canine birth control notwithstanding. And since mass immunisation is not feasible, ridding our surroundings of all strays is the only practical solution — and the urgent need of the hour.
In 1960, my father witnessed the agonising death of a boy bitten by a rabid dog. He was so traumatised that, on returning home, he had Rover, our much-loved but never-immunised dog, put to sleep, keeping the safety of his four children uppermost in his mind. Why then are dog-lovers so keen to protect dangerous strays at the cost of humans? Would they be as vehement in their protests against culling if one of their loved ones had the dire misfortune to be bitten by a rabid stray?
To all right-thinking people, human life is undoubtedly far more precious than — and cannot be equated with — a canine’s.