As per 2019 data Kerala’s stray dog population stands at 2.8 lakh but the state has only 78 trained dog catchers and 37 Animal Birth Control centres.

Stray dogs
news Health Monday, September 19, 2022 - 10:33

Following the recent spate of dog bite cases in Kerala, the state’s Animal Husbandry Department, on September 15, identified 170 hotspots across the state to prioritise vaccination drives. Places that reported a monthly average of 10 or more bites between January and August 2022 were selected as hotspots.

The vaccination drive is set to begin on September 20 and will go on till October 20 through the coordinated efforts of the Animal Husbandry Department (AHD) and Local Self Government (LSGD) Department. Earlier, the month of September had been declared vaccination month in Kerala and pet dog vaccinations have been conducted since September 1.

Animal Husbandry assistant director Dr R Venugopal said that 37 ABC centres and 78 dog catchers are available with the department now. “The Kudumbashree has submitted a list of 470 dog catchers. Their services will be availed soon,” he said. The dog catchers in the Kudumbashree list however need to be trained and vaccinated before they are deployed. The government intends to conduct follow-up vaccinations every September in the coming years.

The number of reported rabies deaths went from five in 2020 to 11 in 2021 and 21 in the first eight months of 2022, according to the Directorate of Health Services (DHS) data. This is due to multiple reasons that came together in the background of the Covid-19 -induced lockdown, said Venugopal. The state had a stray dog population of 2.8 lakh as per a 2019 AHD survey.

“Many dog owners failed to vaccinate their pets on time during the pandemic. The Animal Birth Control (ABC) programme for stray dogs also was affected during the lockdown, and Kudumbashree-run ABC units had to stop operations in 2021 following High Court orders. As a result, the stray dog population increased, which combined with Kerala’s high population density led to more frequent man-animal interactions and/or conflicts,” he reasoned.

Dr Kishorekumar, a veterinarian formerly employed in the AHD who was instrumental in setting up the ABC unit in Brahmapuram, Ernakulam, said that the risk mapping technique used in identifying hotspots is a step in the right direction. “Introducing preventive measures in areas with high dog bite incidents will prove effective,” he said. However, capturing a stray dog, be it for sheltering, vaccinating, or sterilising, is an extremely difficult task, he cautioned. A project such as mass vaccination of stray dogs can be successfully undertaken only with public participation. 

People for Animals trustee Sreedevi S Kartha said the initiative by the government is a welcome one but needs resources. “We can arrive at a solution only through small steps. Resources and manpower can only be developed as it progresses,” she said..

Ambily Purackal of Daya, an animal welfare organisation, said that at least four trained personnel are required to capture one street dog. Daya’s team includes experts who have received specialised training in animal handling from the National Institute of Animal Welfare. “Even with trained and experienced dog handlers, a team will be able to capture only eight to 10 dogs in one day. Given this, the government’s proposal to vaccinate all street dogs in the state’s 170 hotspots with 78 dog catchers within a single month is far from practical,” she said.

Sally Varma, an animal welfare advocate, said  sterilisation programmes for stray dogs should be conducted only after convening a meeting of Monitoring Committees, set up as per the ABC rules. An inspection of 37 ABC centres is necessary before the programme starts, as many have not been in use for a long time and are ill-equipped in handling mass vaccination or sterilisation drives, she said. “Unless a scientific approach is employed from the very beginning, the efforts may not get sustainable results,” she said.

Additionally, mass vaccinations like this should involve NGOs, animal welfare groups and also community dog feeders. “Unless NGOs working on the ground are involved, the welfare of dogs will be ignored. Unprofessional handling of dogs can lead to increased aggression and bite cases and not give the desired results,” she said. 

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