The stray dog issue in Kerala has been hitting national headlines of late, after a slew of cases of dog bites raked up a debate whether the administration should take the initiative to cull dangerous/rabid dogs. The matter came to a head when a section under the banner of ‘Stray Dog Free Movement’ started openly encouraging culling of dangerous dogs by announcing cash rewards for those who could get rid of the dogs. The Animal Welfare Board of India, under Maneka Gandhi’s Ministry of Environment & Forests, sprung into action calling the move a “shockingly blatant act of abetment of crime and a brazen attempt to undermine the authority of the Government.” Different voices emanating from the top administrators only made matters worse. The Director General of Police asked the police to take action against illegal culling; state Home Minister lost no time in clarifying that no action would be taken against those who killed dangerous strays.
Putting a lid on the issue, at least temporarily, was the Kerala High Court which in a recent ruling ordered that local bodies should take steps for effective control of stray dogs, adding that rabid and diseased dogs should be killed. Before getting into the meat of the matter, it would do well to consider some statistics: Kerala has an estimated stray dog population of 2.5 lakh; more than one lakh people in the state have been bitten by dogs in 2014-15.
The entire debate seems to be built around an attempt to gauge the relative importance of humans over dogs and vice versa. Lost in the din is the real cause behind the presence of such a huge number of strays across the state – the open dumping of waste, especially meat waste in cities and towns. Add unauthorised slaughter houses to the uncontrolled dumping of meat waste in open spaces and you have the net result: a breeding ground for the strays, which move and hunt around in packs, behaving almost like wolves. Surely, there can be no permanent solution to the canine woes of Kerala unless the fundamental issue of unchecked dumping of waste, especially meat, gets addressed. Meanwhile, rabid dogs should be eliminated just as the alarming rise in the number of strays be addressed through sterilisation.