A Menace Left Unchecked

  • Ubeer Naqushbandi
  • Publish Date: Feb 26 2018 12:57AM
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  • Updated Date: Feb 26 2018 12:57AM
A Menace Left Unchecked

The state’s dog sterilisation project has lost bite and that is bad news


On February 5, Hadiya returned from her evening Quran lessons and found her mother was not home. “Where is my mummy?” she asked. Her grandmother pointed her to the riverside, where the 7-year-old’s mother had gone to dump garbage. The child ran towards the riverside but didn’t find her mother. But she saw their kitchen dustbin lying near the garbage mound. Presuming her mother had forgotten it, she picked it up and started towards home. No sooner had she walked a few steps that a pack of dogs pounced on the little girl.

“She was dragged around 200 meters to a solitary spot, where they ripped apart our child,” recalls Mehraj Ahmed, a relative who lives in the same village, Wadoora in Baramulla district. Turned out Hadiya’s mother had been attacked as well but she somehow saved herself and, in fright, left the dustbin behind. The incident has shocked people in the area. They are all asking the same question as Hadiya’s father, Mushtaq Ahmad Dar: “For How long will government’s obsession with dogs cost us our lives?”

Perhaps, there is no immediate solution to deal with the valley’s canine crisis, as it has come to be called. But the utter disregard with which the government seems to be dealing with it is worrying.

On March 12, 2013, the Jammu and Kashmir High Court had directed the state’s Animal Welfare Board to constitute a team of experts within a week to work out a solution to the dog crisis in Srinagar. The solution decided upon was sterilisation. Accordingly, a dog sterilisation centre was set up on some 20 kanals of land on the sprawling campus of the Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences and Technology at Shuhama village in Ganderbal later that year. Called the Animal Birth Control and Rabies Centre, it cost Rs one crore and was backed by the Animal Welfare Board of India. It boasts 50 dog kennels and a state of the art operation theatre. In the first six months, the centre performed around a thousand sterilisations. That is when the first problem arose: SKUAST realised it would be paid as per rates fixed by the AWB in 1964.

“For 600 rupees, we had to provide for the dog’s food, care, medicines before and after the surgery. We also had to pay 60 rupees as fee to the vetenarian for performing the sterilisation,” said Dr Jalalludin Parra, who headed the center at SKUAST, adding that it was also not “economically viable” for a veterinarian since only three-four sterilisations could be performed in a day.

To make the sterilizations viable, Parra said they mooted a proposal to the Srinagar Municipal Corporation, which paid for the centre, in 2016.They asked for the SMC to send them 14-20 dogs a day. “It would have been hassle free,” Parra said.

Prof Dil Mohammad Makhdoomi at SKUAST feels the Animal Welfare Board has fixed the rates keeping in mind dogs from outside Kashmir. “They presume dogs in Kashmir are the same as in Jaipur or Delhi, which isn’t the case. A dog in Kashmir weighs up to 35 kg on average while a dog outside weighs just 8 to 10 kg. Dogs in Kashmir also have different dietary patterns than those outside the valley,” he said.

When the SMC cold-shouldered their proposal, SKUAST stepped away from the project. The government then appointed an NGO, Human Society International based in Gujarat, to carry out sterilisation at the Shuhama centre. “They did only a few sterilisations and left after the 2014 flood,” said a professor at SKUAST who has followed the project since the beginning.

This was followed by another agreement between SKUAST and SMC, but that also didn’t work for long and sterilisation stopped again, said an SMC official.

Questioned about it, SMC commissioner Riyaz Ahmad claimed that the sterilisation center was running. “There was an issue raised by SKUAST of increasing the rate of sterilization for a dog from Rs 450 to Rs 600. We have already done that. We have appointed two veterinarians as well,” he said.

A visit to the center, however, revealed it was defunct.

The commissioner further claimed that Srinagar’s dog population had declined to below 49,000 last year. “It has come down from 77,000 in 2013. Even dog bite cases have fallen from 9,000 in 2013 to 5,000 in 2017,” he added.

But records maintained by the SMHS Hospital’s Rabies Clinic show that it gets 20 dog bite cases a day on average, mostly involving children. In the year until April 2016, the clinic recorded 7,023 such cases and in the following year it received 6,048 cases. From April 2017 until the end of last month, the clinic received 5,531 dog bite cases.

Clearly, this is a major problem, compounded by the fact that dogs can increase their population fast. A bitch can start reproducing at just six months of age and give birth twice a year, delivering five-six pups at a time.

This, according to Makhdoomi, presents a major challenge in curbing canine population. “If we assume that there are 30,000 bitches in the current canine population and 80% can become pregnant, imagine the manifold increase in the canine population within a year?”

Is there a solution, though? Experts such as Dr Sarfaraz Ahmad Wani, dean of veterinary sciences at SKUAST, vouch for what is known as the Block Level Sterilization Model. “It is a modular system,” Wani explained. “It is a system wherein we will involve all veterinary centers of cities and villages in the dog sterilisation process. The cost of dog sterilisation will be incurred by the particular center, while monitoring and training will be provided by SKUAST.”

After all, Wani pointed out, it’s not possible to sterilise the entire dog population at the SKUAST center alone. Only when all the centres are involved, he said, “will we be able to put this canine population under check”.

As per global standards, the dog-human ratio of a place should not exceed 1:14. In Kashmir, it’s 1: 14, the upper limit, experts at SKUAST said.

At a public meeting in Ganderbal last year, Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti was left embarrassed when a delegation told her SMC workers were bringing truckloads of dogs from the city in the dead of night and setting them loose in their villagers. “They have unleashed terror over here,” a senior citizen from Gangerhama village who was part of the delegation recalls telling the chief minister.

But with animal rights activists seeking protection of canines at all cost, sterilisation is deemed to be the only feasible solution to the canine menace. But the question raised by Justice Khalifullah Mir at that hearing in 2013 remains unanswered: “Will a dog stop biting after sterilisation?”