Defending Animal Birth Control after a fatal dog attack

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, March 2007:
Defending Animal Birth Control after a fatal dog attack
by Poornima Harish

None of us are as smart as all of us. This was illustrated
in how the animal welfare organizations of Bangalore handled a recent
fatal dog attack.
Bangalore electrocuted street dogs until 1999, killing about
200 dogs per day, yet still suffered nearly 40 human rabies deaths
per year, plus dog population growth commensurate with the rising
human population.
Finally, in keeping with the Indian national policy adopted in
December 1997, the city opted to stop the killing and instead
support an Animal Birth Control program.
Beginning in October 2000, Banga-lore was divided into three
zones for ABC, to be handled by the Animal Rights Fund, Compassion
Unlimited Plus Action, and the Bangalore SPCA. At about the same
time the Krupa 24-Hour Helpline for Animals was commissioned to
counsel people about animal welfare and the ABC program.

Two years into the program, several anti-animal (and
anti-people) groups mounted a cheap and offensive tirade against ABC.
This proved to be a good learning experience for us. Using the
arguments of the opposition to reinforce our requests for the
resources to do ABC on a larger scale, we increased the pace of dog
sterilization to 3,000 per month.
The meaner, more bitter, and more unreasonable the
allegations against us were, the more credible our efforts appeared
by contrast–because our words were reinforced by tangible action.
The media frenzy over the most recent dog attack offered
another opportunity for the animal welfare community to become
stronger and better organized, and especially to get the
municipality to acknowledge the importance of solid waste management
to prevent congregations of street dogs.
The fatal attack occurred on January 5, 2007 in a part of
Bangalore called Chandra Layout. The victim, a nine-year-old girl
named Sridevi, was killed in broad daylight by a pack of dogs in a
busy residential area.
Street dogs do not have a natural predator/prey relationship
with human children. Bites occur, but unlike in the U.S. and other
nations where dogs tend to be much larger and more territorial,
incidents of dogs attacking and killing children in India are almost
unheard of.
The attack occurred around 8 a.m. when people in the area
were up and about. Although large dogs can quickly inflict fatal
injuries, passers-by should have been able to save the girl from an
attack by ordinary street dogs. We question why no one intervened,
and why the dogs attacked in the first place when there was plenty
for them to eat.
We believe Sridevi began running, stimulating the dogs to
attack as a pack.
We immediately visited the scene, which we at the Animal
Rights Fund had identified as high-risk in 2002, due to casual
disposal of meat scraps. We had identified 1,215 illegal meat shops
and other high-risk areas in 35 wards of south Bangalore alone. We
repeatedly requested the municipality to take strict action against
the offending shops. Unfortunately, nothing was done.
Within the Chandra Layout a vacant lot had become a dump for
the meat waste of illegal butchers. The municipality had not cleared
the lot for many months, leaving it thick with chopped bones. We
photographed the evidence.
Residents we questioned as to why they had done nothing to
control the dumping admitted that they did not want the issue to
become “communal,” meaning that they did not want to incite tensions
between Muslim butchers and their Hindu neighbors.
After Sridevi was killed, the municipality closed some of
the illegal meat shops, but most are again doing business as usual.
After two days of reactive cleaning, the situation reverted to the
former state. Most of the illegal meat shops are again doing
business as usual.

The media

The media in Bangalore, as elsewhere, includes responsible
and irresponsible sectors. The responsible media took care to ask
for our perspective, and fairly represented our comments. Some of
the media publishing in Indian native languages, however, did not
publish accurate reports, even after being fully informed about how
the meat waste attracted the congregation of dogs who killed Sridevi.
Some newspapers stationed photographers day and night in the
Chandra Layout area, capturing dog movements and giving whatever
color they wanted to the story.
Some residents basked in the media attention. One particular
lawyer gave false complaints and accused us of not responding. The
next night when he complained of dog barks or bites, we got him to
open the locks of his house at 3 a.m., to collect his signed
acknowledgement that we had visited the area and searched for the
alleged troublesome dog.
We smothered Chandra Layout with more customer service than
the residents expected. This effectively stopped the false and
exaggerated allegations.
Meanwhile, screaming headlines brought mayhem to innocent
dogs. Any sight of a dog seemed to bring complaints to the Krupa
24-Hour Helpline. Personal rivalries were reflected in complaints
against neighbors’ dogs, and there were hoax calls galore. We had
to respond positively to every call. Often the callers were happy to
have someone to vent their anger on, or to receive help to find
their missing dog, or just to be reassured by a personal answer.
Our staff worked in shifts, with scheduled breaks to keep up
their spirits and energy. Their role was akin to that of the many
call center employees in India who often hear racist slurs from
frustrated people abroad.
Dogs all over Bangalore were killed, most of them non-biters
and totally innocent. All of the dogs in the Chandra Layout were
killed, even those who were previously sterilized and vaccinated.
New dogs immediately moved in, biting more people and livestock. We
warned that if a rabid dog arrived and began biting, the result
would be catastrophic.
We encouraged animal lovers to write to all media,
expressing their anguish. Most of their letters were published. Yet
this was not enough.
The newspapers were full of big articles. The letters were
buried in small print on inside pages. Effectively countering the
big articles required responses from influential people. These
required much more effort to obtain than we anticipated. Many
celebrities and busy people are cranky and come with egotistical
baggage. Some, however, were very sweet, and were prompt to
issue statements in our support.
Our site visit to get first-hand information was followed by
one camera crew who took footage of our visit, distorted it,
complete with obscene voiceovers, broadcast it, then contacted us
and told us that they were “ready for a compromise,” for a fee!
They said that otherwise they would agitate the public to stop our
ABC “business.” We told them to go ahead if they felt that ABC did
not benefit Bangalore.
Animal welfare organizations must understand that the world
will not necessarily recognize our good deeds.
Yet times of intense opposition and media pressure are often
when the best results for animals can be obtained from an apathetic
bureaucracy, if animal advocates keep focused and push for the right
things at the right time.
We asked for the introduction of intradermal administration
of human post-exposure anti-rabies vaccines, regulation of pet
markets, breeder licensing, investigation of which areas might be
at high risk for rabies, and expansion of the ABC program to the
unincorporated outskirts of the city.
Our survey of high risk areas in 2002 proved to be of immense
help in 2007, as we demonstrated that the risk associated with the
illegal meat shops could have been avoided.
During our first bout with anti-animal groups in 2002, we
realized that our opponents were purposely misleading the public
about the local incidence of rabies. This also proved useful in 2007.
Bangalore has an Epidemic Diseases Hospital. People living
in communities outside Bangalore are referred there when local
hospitals are unable to handle a patient, including in rabies cases.
Those patients’ deaths are then recorded as Bangalore deaths.
We also discovered that the anti-dog activists counted as
dead people those who were “discharged against medical advice” from
the Isolation Hospital, usually because their families preferred to
have them treated in better facilities. As the Isolation Hospital
relied on clinical diagnosis rather the laboratory tests to define
rabies cases, some of the alleged victims turned out to be suffering
from other conditions with superficially similar symptoms. This
continues today.
We persuaded some city hospitals to change their format for
reporting dog bites, to distinguish between bites from street dogs
and pet dogs. The city hospitals now give modern post-exposure
anti-rabies vaccinations free of cost. Many people who are bitten by
their pet dogs avail themselves of this service. The system of
recording the sources of dog bites still needs to be improved, but a
beginning has been made.

Who can help

Such work on specific aspects of problems can only be done by
serious organizations whose people make the effort to understand how
every involved agency operates. Highly reactive advocates whose
chief preoccupation is venting their own feelings are more likely to
get in the way than help. Yet there are other contributions that
they can make, appropriate to their abilities.
We strive to welcome whatever anyone is willing to do to
help, and to encourage our colleagues with other organizations to
target the issues that they are best equipped to address. Social
“butterflies,” for example, are often quite effective at
fundraising and public relations.
Even lethargic and lazy organizations can sometimes be of
help, if only by contributing their inert mass to the visible weight
of the pro-animal cause. Aligned with us, we can hope they will
become inspired to be more active.
It is vital for municipalities to fund ABC work, but city officials
do not always understand the need for the work to be done in a
professional manner.
We would have liked Bangalore to follow the Jaipur model of
implementing ABC in target sectors, after a thorough dog census.
Before we received city funding, we were able to focus on specific
areas. We would complete a sterilization and vaccination sweep in
one area before moving on to the next. This was no longer possible
after the terms of city funding required us to attend to complaints
all over south Bangalore.
As we write, Bangalore has expanded. The city which was 220
square kilometers when we started is now 741 square kilometres. We
are looking at more of the same problems. We have to find more
effective solutions.
We might move toward mobile surgery and same-day release,
following the model of Animal Help in Ahmedabad, whose six mobile
units and 28 veterinarians sterilized 45,011 dogs in 2006. This
would require considerably expanding and retraining our veterinary
staff. We don’t know yet what our approach will be, but we are
keeping all options open.
In 1999, as a new organization, operating only on private
funding, we rented a dilapidated building that became our animal
hospital, and otherwise developed our program in advance of
receiving public contracts. We learned that public officials like
organizations that seize the initiative. If they think an
organization is capable of handling important projects, they will
come looking for help.
Amid the brouhaha over the fatal dog attack in Bangalore, we
received a request to start an ABC program from Belgaum, located
eight hours from Bangalore.
We recommend that animal welfare groups be prepared to
respond to such opportunities. If experienced personnel get a local
program started, local people can be trained to run it, whereas
local people without experience may stumble, causing public
officials to lose confidence in their approach.
All is not well yet in Bangalore. We are facing an inquiry
panel headed by a man who has written that ABC is an animal welfare
tyranny foisted on the ignorant urban poor. We are also fighting a
court case in which a man who asked three years ago for all
slaughterhouses to be shifted out of Bangalore is now saying that
since the city has not managed to move the slaughterhouses, the dogs
they attract should be killed.
Under pressure from the organized foes of street dogs,
Bangalore municipality on February 2, 2007 called a public hearing on
the dog issue. They expected the anti-dog people to turn out in
In past statements, however, the anti-dog people had linked
their opposition to street dogs to a demand that all dogs be
debarked. ARF, Krupa, CUPA, and Karuna (the new name of the
former Bangalore SPCA) amplified their statements to the dog-loving
public through cell phone text messages and direct calls. This
ensured a turnout the likes of which Bangalore had never seen before
on any animal issue. As many as 1,000 people packed the meeting hall
to speak for dogs, with many others standing outside.
A few days earlier we had joined in a protest against a
scheme to serve eggs to school children for their mid-day meals,
aligned with Akhila Karnataka Prani Daya Sangha, a charity which
promotes cow protection and opposes animal sacrifice. For eight
years the AKPDS left dog protection entirely to us. On February 2,
however, they supported us.
After the crowd left, one of the commissioners asked me,
“Poornima, why were the people so emotional? What is it about dogs,
that these people left their work to be here?”
I told him that it is simple: with animals we get
un-conditional love. Dogs are happy with whatever we give them.
The commissioner, who has two dogs of his own, asked me to
repeat this to four of his officials. He pointed out to them that
while to the officials the dog issue may be just another problem of
civic administration, to us it is a matter of passionate commitment.

[Freelance journalist Poornima Harish is among the most
active volunteers for the Animal Rights Fund and Krupa 24-Hour
Helpline for Animals. Contact her c/o Krupa, #6, 1st Main,
Sripuram, Seshadripuram, Bangalore, India 560 020; telephone
91-98801-94757; <>; <>.]
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