At least 50 community dogs were burned alive at Keezhamur village near Melmaruvathur, about 50km from Chennai, on June 5.
The horrific incident came to light after a villager informed an animal activist, P Aswath, who uncovered the tragedy four days later.
Aswath says the dogs were sedated with food laced with pesticides. They were doused with kerosene and burnt after that. Police said a few villagers killed the dogs which allegedly attacked herds of sheep and goat.
“The defense is that the dogs were a threat to goats and sheep. I didn’t see any bites on the animals. But this mentality of a stray dog being a menace is not news. It’s been imbibed in our heads that the moment we see a stray dog, we either complain and make a big fuss about it or kill it,” Aswath said.
Killing dogs in such a manner is illegal. The ABC rules formulated under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act of 1960 mandates killing of only rabies-afflicted, incurably-ill or mortally-wounded dogs. Regarding “trouble-causing” dogs, the Act says, on receipt of a complaint, the animal welfare board shall take away a dog and sterilise it, before releasing it in its familiar territory.
In 2012, 100 dogs were found in a dumpster in Maduravoyal after having ingested cyanide pills. Dogs from the areas of Sendurpuram, Vinayaganagar and Amman Nagar were killed and brought to nearby D.R.R Nagar, where they were buried near a neglected pond. They were apparently killed under local panchayat’s instructions.
More recently, during the Velankanni festival, 50 community dogs were killed in order to simply “clear the road”. A large number of tourists across the country visit the locality around February, and local officials undertook the drive as a “beautification effort”.
“The hard wired mentality of eradicating dogs instead of spaying and neutering them doesn’t strike many because they have always been presented with the idea that stray dogs bite, stray dogs have rabies. Only 5% of dog bites have been reported from stray dogs. If a dog has bitten someone, it was either rabid or provoked with stone pelting or teasing. Higher number of dog bites are reported from pedigree dogs,” says Dinesh, an animal activist setting up a shelter for stray dogs in the city.
In villages, where many of these incidences are being reported, there needs to be stronger awareness, says Aswath. “Dogs help with clearing garbage, with killing rats. In villages, they work as wonderful guard dogs. They are quite essential to both rural and urban ecosystems. Our way of handling this by wiping them out is only going to hurt the ecosystem at large. If they’re dirty, leave them with the Corporation. They get tested, given a bath and neutered,” says Dinesh.
"It all starts by not calling them a menace. We need them just as much as they need us," Aswath says.
Based on Aswath's complaint, the Melmaruvathur police registered a case and booked Murali, Muthu, Murugadoss and Jeeva, all residents of the village in the case.