The Shimla Municipal Corporation has decided to leash the problem of stray dogs without putting a bite on the residents.
But animal lovers say such schemes lack compassion for raising an orphaned one that requires some time, money and work if they really want to help the new arrival grow up healthy and happy.
Adopt a stray and don’t pay for the household waste appears to be the motto of the Shimla civic body, as it has exempted collection of garbage fees from those who adopt a stray dog. So far many residents have stepped in and 155 dogs got new ‘shelters’.
This scheme, launched in November last, will help ensure the streets of this popular hill resort, once the summer capital of British India, become free of stray dogs.
The stray dogs have been adopted by residents and various social and charitable organisations, said municipal corporation veterinary officer Neeraj Mohan.
According to rough estimates, there are 2,000 to 2,500 stray dogs within the municipal limits of Shimla. In localities like the Mall Road, the Ridge, Jakhu, Tutikandi, Summer Hill, Tutu, Boileauganj, Chhotta Shimla, Sanjauli and Khalini, it is common for free-roaming dogs to growl at pedestrians in a menacing manner, especially during night time.
State epidemiologist Omesh Kumar Bharti, whose path-breaking research in rabies brought down the cost of treatment for dog bites globally, said the Intra-Dermal Anti-Rabies Clinic and Research Centre in Shimla gets 1,500-2,000 dog bite patients annually.
The dog bite cases involving pets are also abnormally high and a large number of patients are children, he said. Most of the time, the pet dog bite injuries are grievous and serious.
Bharti, who was conferred the Padma Shri for research on rabid dog bite, said the population of domesticated dogs in Shimla is quite high compared to other cities. In Srinagar, there is no pet dog. According to him, adopting a stray dog is not a substitute to its population control.
“Their number will come down for the time being in the streets with such schemes but their overall population will not decline. Mass sterilisation like monkeys is only method to check the growing numbers of street dogs,” Bharti said.
Around 59,000 persons die of rabies globally every year, out of which 20,000 deaths are reported in India alone. Most of these deaths occur due to high costs and unavailability of the medicine.
Shashi Thakur, a housewife who was bitten by a stray dog outside her house in the Jakhu area last month, said someone in the locality scared the dog off. “It pounced on me and badly injured me,” she said.
Octogenarian Ramesh Diwan said he never stepped out of his house without a stick, and sometimes he filled his pockets with stones to shoo the stray dogs away.
Another resident Kavita Sud, who has adopted two street dogs long back, said such adoption schemes are not everlasting.
“Some people may get allured to adopt a stray dog just to save a few pennies but they have no companionate love for that animal. If the scheme comes to an end after some time, then they will start feeling them as a burden. A pet is adopted by compassion, not through such alluring schemes,” she said. “If the adopted pet is homeless again, it will be a traumatising moment for that animal,” she added.
Civic body officials say the problem of stray dogs in Shimla was aggravated by the stoppage in 2011 of the corporation’s animal birth control and anti-rabies programmes.
In 2006, the corporation had set up a stray dog birth control society. Till March 2011, over 5,500 dogs, almost 80 percent of their total population, were sterilised.
“When the birth control programme was stopped due to lack of resources in 2011, at that time their number was around 2,500. Now their number could be almost double than what their population was in 2011,” an official said.
Officials are also mulling over capturing the dogs from various parts of the city and releasing them in nearby areas. “Dog is a territorial animal. It establishes its territory. Once the animal is killed or
translocated, other dogs would occupy that space. So, shifting is not the solution. The solution is mass sterilisation,” a wildlife official said.
In 2009 and 2011, the state High Court twice slammed the municipal corporation for showing reluctance to handle the stray dog problem.