Do you consider street dogs to be a barking, snarling, stinking menace? Do you wish they would all just get hauled off somewhere and be made to disappear? Perhaps you're even one of the many people who support the poisoning of dogs. If so, then you are doing yourself and your family a distinct disservice. This is why:
People still die every year in India from rabies, the majority of those due to bites from infected dogs. Death from rabies is completely preventable; it's a disease that has been eradicated in many parts of the world. Ironically, the best defense against rabies is not the absence of dogs, but their presence – the presence of vaccinated dogs, that is. Dogs that have been vaccinated against rabies actually serve to protect the human inhabitants of their neighborhoods from the disease.
How? Simple. Dogs are territorial creatures. They do not allow new dogs to migrate into their areas. If, in addition to anti-rabies vaccination, the dogs have been sterilized, they will not reproduce, and the dog population in your area will decrease naturally over time. The average life expectancy of a dog in urban India is only 3.4 years.
The killing of dogs does not work as a population control policy. It has never worked anywhere in the world that it has been undertaken, even when the numbers of dogs killed are in the tens of thousands. This is because dogs are so fertile that they simply repopulate the existing habitat in the subsequent breeding season.
Furthermore, in cities like Srinagar, where public sanitation is still a work in progress and there is ample garbage lying around, dogs perform an essential service, that of waste processing. Garbage is habitat. If there are no dogs in a place with lots of uncollected waste, nature will fill the vacuum with some other scavenger, inevitably one that is more problematic in its relationship to humans. Take what happened in Surat in 1994. The municipal authority made the decision to kill thousands of dogs. Cause led to effect: the rat population, all of a sudden blessed with a massive increase in available food (garbage), and thousands fewer predators (dogs), exploded. Bubonic plague eventually arrived on the scene, and hundreds of people were infected. Fifty-seven people died.
Are dogs ever a menace? Yes, and those that engage in bonafide, unprovoked, biting attacks on humans need to be removed from the population. This needs to be done by qualified animal welfare workers. However, the two most significant factors that result in dog bites – migration and mating – are actually exacerbated by killing or removing dogs, and failing miserably at the sterilization project.
Let me reiterate, if Kashmiris are serious about addressing the "dog menace" in their cities, killing dogs categorically will not work. This has been proven time and again the world over. The only solution that has been scientifically proven to eradicate rabies and decrease the street dog population has been large-scale sterilization and anti-rabies vaccination. Further, it is essential to the success of any intervention that the dogs be put back in their original locations following sterilization and anti-rabies vaccination.
Whether you love dogs or hate them, it is in your best interests to let your neighborhood dogs live in peace exactly where they are. You just need to ensure your municipal authority does its duty by sterilizing and vaccinating those dogs. Things will not get better until 75 per cent of the street dog population of Srinagar has been sterilized, vaccinated against rabies and left in peace, and until the municipal authority implements proper waste management reform.
(The author is founder and director of DOGSTOP, a non-profit advisory group dedicated to rabies eradication and street dog population management in India. She also serves as advisor to ABC India, a pan-Indian organization devoted to the control of street dog populations throughout the country via large-scale sterilization and anti-rabies vaccination.)