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The Strays of Manipal

The sun breaks through the clouds as Pao rests at the footsteps of the glass building. The sirens blare, and Pao stirs to life. It was time. She runs to the first batch of students coming out of the building. Her efforts for attention aren’t ignored, and she wags her tail excitedly as they pet her. She nudges a pair of jeans incessently until the person in them throws down some biscuits. Life was good.

Surrounded by a student population with an overwhelming love for dogs, the strays within the MIT campus live a relatively good life. Outside these boundaries, however, it is a different story. It’s a struggle for survival and territory that brings these animals into conflict with humans and others of their kind, and it is here that the problems begin. As adored as they might be as a species, large stray dog populations pose a threat to the people living in the area. Apart from the diseases they carry, such as rabies, there have also been instances of dogs attacking people and mauling them to death. Even within this campus that generally has a soft spot for them, complaints about being chased and menaced by the rising number of dogs have been voiced.

Drawn by their love for the animal, humans generally tend to overlook the repercussions caused by the lack of hygiene in them. A study by PLOS in 2015 showed that 1 in 143 Indians had been bitten by a dog at some point in their lives. According to a survey conducted by WHO, India contributes to about 36% of the world’s rabies death count—roughly 20,000 deaths out of an estimated 55,000 globally, every year. Furthermore, a significant portion of it constitutes children below the age of 15.

The stray dog population in India remains to be alarmingly high (Image source: socialcops)

The solution lies in reducing or controlling the population of stray mutts. Communities are often quick to resort to the culling of these dogs to resolve the issue, which is ineffective. Most street roaming dogs in India belong to an ancient canine race of scavengers called the Pariah Dog, which is primarily a territorial animal. They are constantly looking to acquire new territories and food resources. Thus, when one dog is eliminated from its area, other canines around the periphery rush in to occupy that space. So, even humanitarian qualms aside, mass-killing of dogs does not solve the problem.

The most potent method to circumvent the problem at hand is mass sterilisation and immunisation of the dogs. Albeit not a perfect solution on its own, successful sterilisation programmes have left areas rabies-free and thus made the streets safer. This procedure further triggers a chain of positive results. Since these dogs no longer mate, spontaneous fights erupting reduce significantly. This, in turn, reduces the risks of humans getting bitten by dogs, and even if they do, the vaccinations mean that the consequences are less dire. To cite an example, Jaipur has been running successful mass sterilisation/vaccination programmes for more than two decades. Help in Suffering, a charitable trust, kicked off the Animal Birth Control programme in parts of Jaipur in November 1994. An indicator of the NGO’s efficiency was that there were zero incidences of rabies reported in areas that underwent the drive in 2002, in stark contrast to the areas that did not.

We, at The MIT Post, had the opportunity to sit down with Captain’s Animal Care Trust, an organisation that, among other things, runs mass sterilisation drives in Manipal. Founded in 2007, this benevolent and self-funded trust began as a rescue organisation but soon expanded into treating and neutering dogs as well. Since 2013, CACT has had thirteen neutering and treatment programmes, with the first programme alone reaching up to 289 dogs.

The team of Captain’s Animal Care Trust

While curbing the rise of the stray population is of paramount importance, the tools employed in this endeavour have to be sensitively selected, for mass culling is not only unethical but inhumane as well. According to CACT, neutering thus remains the only viable option and has proven effective in controlling the population to an extent.

These techniques, however, do not essentially eradicate the problem. The situation stems from the streets of India that are piled up with garbage. The littered streets function as a source of food and breeding grounds to these dogs. Owing to the lack of public hygiene, India now harbours around 30 million stray mutts.

Stray dogs in a pile of garbage (Image source: permanentwalkabout.com)

CACT’s camps generally last from five to six days, with close to ninety dogs treated every day. Since 2017, they have been a monthly affair barring the monsoons. Dogs from the peripheries and surrounding areas are brought in, along with the strays caught by CACT themselves with the help of a purposed net and van. After being treated at the camp, the dogs’ ears are trimmed and clipped for better identification of neutered dogs. The van goes around the town with five catchers to safely and harmlessly capture the dogs from specific areas and also returns them to the same place after the government mandated three-day observation period.

The net used by the team to catch the puppies for their treatment.

These camps, that cost upwards of two lakh rupees, are a herculean effort by all measures. “We’re all dog lovers here, but that doesn’t mean we ignore the situation at hand. Dogs do not belong on the streets around societies. It’s extremely unsafe for both the dog and the humans residing there,” said Dr Shubhageetha, the brain behind the project, while talking about the necessity of mass sterilisation of dogs. “Inviting strays into your homes is a grave mistake as they are easy carriers of harmful and infectious germs,” she added, insisting that hygiene was of prime importance. As a general note to students, she requested them to avoid adopting dogs off the streets without getting them treated by a veterinarian and do so, only if one can keep up with the permanent responsibility it imposes. She further instructed students to never, under any circumstance, care for a diseased or dying dog themselves. While this might not seem like much, it is imperative that the masses are educated of these nuances as the affection so generously showered could actually be harmful.