Animal Birth Control gains speed

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, July/August 2009:
CHENNAI, DELHI, MUMBAI –Indian minister of state for
environment and forests Jairam Ramesh served notice in July and
August 2009 speaking appearances that he means to put wheels under
the Indian national Animal Birth Control program.
Now Chinny Krishna, who engin-eered the ABC program, needs
to put new wheels under the Blue Cross of India surgical team to keep
up with increasing demands for service. “We have been inundated with
requests from municipalities asking us to undertake ABC,” Krishna
told ANIMAL PEOPLE. “In addition to the cost of doing more
operations, we are handicapped for want of enough vehicles, since
all these new areas are some distance from Chennai,” where the Blue
Cross of India is based.

“Each vehicle costs approximately $21,000,” Krishna said,
“and we need at least two most urgently. We applied to the Animal
Welfare Board of India for an additional vehicle over a year ago.
Our mobile surgery bus is 13 years old and we are using it to pick up
and drop off dogs for ABC. Our newest vehicle, of seven, is
almost five years old. They have all covered well over 100,000
kilometers, many over 200,000, and are becoming prohibitively
expensive to run. We are yet to get reimbursement for last year’s
operations,” Krishna added–a common complaint of ABC program
operators. “We have been able to pay all the salaries,” Krishna
said, “about $6,000 every month,” mostly donated by Krishna’s
electrical engineering business, “but we do not have pockets deep
enough” to buy new vehicles.
Chennai mayor M. Subramanian on August 4, 2009 provided two
new vehicles to the Chennai city ABC program, operated by People for
Animals, but that did not help the Blue Cross of India or the
outlying suburbs. Subramanian estimated that Chennai still has
about 126,000 street dogs left to be sterilized.
Krishna and the Blue Cross of India surgeons have for 43
years demonstrated that ABC is the most effective way to control
street dogs. Also among the engineers of the Indian space program,
Krishna first presented ABC as a 1966 concept paper. For the next 30
years the Blue Cross under Krishna’s direction tested ABC techniques
in Chennai, inspiring the formation of the PfA program and similar
programs in other cities. In 1996 the city governments of Chennai
and Mumbai adopted ABC in place of electrocuting dogs.
ABC was accepted as Indian national policy in December 1997,
in the last days of a Congress Party government, but was implemented
by the Bharatija Janata Party government elected in early 1998. The
BJP cabinet minister in charge of ABC was for five years People for
Animals founder Maneka Gandhi. That made ABC a frequent target of
Congress Party politicians trying to return to power.
Paradoxically, Congress Party chair Sonia Gandhi–Maneka
Gandhi’s former sister-in-law–also endorsed ABC. Equally
paradoxically, ABC was and remains opposed by factions aligned with
the BJP which have used dog-catching as a source of patronage jobs
and favor animal sacrifice, also opposed by both Gandhis.
Eventually the anti-dog and pro-sacrifice factions, aligned with
biomedical researchers, forced Maneka Gandhi out of the BJP cabinet.
Ramesh, a prominent member of the present Congress
government, has been among Sonia Gandhi’s inner circle since circa
“ABC is equally important as other projects of the ministry,”
said Ramesh on July 10 in New Delhi. Ramesh appeared with Animal
Welfare Board of India chair R.M. Kharb to announced publication of
Standard Operating Procedures for Sterilization of Stray Dogs under
the Animal Birth Control Programme, a new official protocol.
“This is long overdue, in that good intentions are simply
not enough. A minimum infrastructure and required levels of hygiene,
asepsis and surgical skill plus necessary aftercare are essential to
ensure minimum trauma for the dogs,” said Krishna, who was in the
Krishna noted that Greater Hydera-bad Municipal Corporation
commissioner S. P. Singh had already announced that Hyderabad would
implement the Standard Operating Procedures, 24 hours before they
were made public. “The Hyderabad ABC program was in a shambles, with
unacceptably high rates of mortality and post-operative complications
and terribly inhumane pound conditions,” Krishna said.
Earlier, on June 9, “The Kerala government directed that
all villages and municipalities should stop killing stray dogs and
should implement ABC in letter and spirit,” reported Animal Welfare
Board of India member A.G. Babu.
This followed a ruling firmly favoring ABC from the Bombay
High Court in December 2008. Similar verdicts were later issued by
the High Courts of Madras and Delhi.
ABC programs have so far mostly been introduced through
humane initiative, usually against municipal resistance. As ABC
succeeds, cities often set up their own ABC programs, some of them
conspicuously corrupt, inept, or mere fronts for traditional dog
extermination, as has been alleged in Hyderabad and
Thiruvanathapuram, the Kerala state capital.
Sikkim state in April 2009 took a different approach. The
Sikkim Anti- Rabies and Animal Health Program, known as SARAH, is
now an official part of the state Animal Husbandry, Livestock,
Fisheries and Veterinary Services Department. Formed in March 2006
as a partnership among the Sikkim government, the Australian charity
Vets Beyond Borders, and the Brigitte Bardot Foundation, SARAH had
in three years done 16,000 dog and cat sterilizations and
administered 29,000 anti-rabies vaccinations, achieving an 85%
reduction in human rabies cases.

Rabies-Free India

The initial national ABC target was to eradicate rabies
nationally by sterilizing about 10 million street dogs between
December 1997 and the end of 2005. That goal was not approached.
Funding for prophylactic rabies vaccination was not initially
included in the ABC budget, and the Indian humane community
struggled to build the capacity to sterilize dogs in high volume.
Even in Delhi, including New Delhi, the national capital,
building capacity has taken much longer than was initially hoped.
Delhi created the Society for Stray Canine Birth Control to manage
local ABC efforts in 2002. The nine humane societies performing
sterilizations in Delhi averaged under 1,000 surgeries apiece in
their first year of work, and took five years to reach 2,000 apiece,
despite modest gains in productivity in each year.
Yet ABC has had some spectacular regional successes.
Combining ABC with prototypes for Rabies-Free India, a new
Animal Welfare Board program, Chennai, Jaipur, and Visakhapatnam
had all eradicated rabies and achieved marked dog population
reductions by mid-decade. Bangalore achieved similar results in the
inner city, until a 2007 political backlash exploiting two dog
attacks in outer suburbs halted the Banglore programs for months and
killed hundreds of dogs who had already been sterilized and
Animal Help showed in Ahmedabad that Indian surgical teams
using up-to-date methods could sterilize as many as 45,000 dogs per
year. The Ahmedabad program was dismantled by political opposition,
then restarted under other operators who fell short of the Animal
Help achievements. Ahmeda-bad still has about 200,000 street dogs at
large, according to city officials. The Animal Help team is now
working in the outer Bangalore suburbs, and is conducting an ABC
demonstration project in Bhutan, sponsored by the Humane Society
International subsidiary of the Humane Society of the United States.
The net accomplishment of the first dozen years of ABC was to
reduce the Indian street dog population by 20%.
The Rabies-Free India campaign will seek to vaccinate every
dog in India against rabies, a longtime goal of the Indian humane
community and often mentioned by Kharb as a priority. “Ramesh has
also promised the necessary funding to start the RFI campaign
[nationwide],” Krishna said. “Ramesh asked Kharb for a detailed
roadmap to achieve this within 15 days. I left Delhi on the
afternoon of the 10th after the meeting,” Krishna told ANIMAL
PEOPLE. “When I reached home at 9 p.m., I was delighted to find the
outline of the roadmap for the RFI campaign in my e-mail.”

Attacks challenge

“The dogged battle is won–but the war is still on,”
cautioned A.G. Babu, welcoming the new official support for ABC,
but citing continued resistance from “bureaucrats, ministers,
megalomaniac politicians of various hues and colors, and above all
the hostile media, hellbent to prove that killing strays is the
only way out.”
An example of how quickly dog massacres can be incited if the
humane community fails to respond effectively to attacks occurred in
the first week of August.
Awakening at two a.m., creeping outside, and trying to make
his way to his uncle Rohidas Patil’s house, five-year-old Avinash
Patil of Bhiwandi met a pack of as many as 15 dogs, said the
neighbors who rescued him. Losing much of his scalp and suffering
deep wounds to his stomach, hands, and back, Avinash Patil was
turned away from the first two hospitals he was taken to, after the
doctors on duty claimed they had no emergency facilities and no
post-exposure rabies vaccine. A third hospital provided
post-exposure vaccination and sutured his wounds nearly two hours
after the attack.
“This incident took place under the jurisdiction of Thane,”
a northern Mumbai suburb, reported Lata Mishra of the Mumbai Mirror.
“However, in Mumbai more than 50,000 dog bites are recorded each
year. The Bombay Municipal Corporation has stepped up sterilization
to control the dog population and reduce attacks on humans.”
“We sterilized 33,000 dogs in 2008 as compared to 13,000 in
2007. This year, in the first six months, we reached 20,000,”
said Mumbai health officer Gourish Ambe.
“I was asked by a news channel to comment on the Patil
incident,” recounted Thane SPCA spokesperson Shakuntala Majumdar.
“I was at a loss for what to say. On one side there is this little
child fighting for his life, half his face, his thighs and legs
chewed away. He could very well have been my child. On the other,
there were these dogs, probably hungry and foraging for food.
“In the last three or four years many of us actively involved
in animal welfare work have noticed a disturbing rise,” Majumdar
said, “in cases of stray dogs behaving in a vicious manner,
especially in packs.”
The Patil attack was misrepresented to some extent in
sensational reportage.
“When India TV carried this news,” recounted Rishi Dev of
Citizens for Animal Rights in New Delhi, “I was shocked to see
video of my pet dog, which they took a few years back for some show,
being aired as the ferocious dog who bit the child. Within 15
minutes I sent India TV a legal notice by e-mail. The owner of the
channel and their all-India wildlife correspondent communicated to me
and apologized.”
But the tendency for the most dangerous part of a dog
population to be the last to be reduced through either sterilization
or extermination efforts has been observed for decades, and will
have to be addressed by ABC service providers.
ANIMAL PEOPLE guest columnist Margaret Anne Cleek explained
the phenomenon in November 1993. “Our efforts have created an
overnight change in the evolution of the dog,” Cleek wrote. “We are
seeing not an across-the-board reduction in the dog population, but
rather a restriction of range, skewing the distribution toward
larger, more aggressive dogs.” This occurs, Cleek pointed out,
because the people who keep, feed, and breed large, aggressive
dogs tend to be most resistant to having dogs sterilized, and
because the least socialized street dogs are the most difficult to
catch and handle.
On the streets, as other dogs vacate habitat, the most
evasive and aggressive dogs take over the food sources–and those in
the largest, fastest-moving packs enjoy an edge that they did not
have when resident dogs were plentiful enough to keep roving dogs out
of their neighborhoods.
The safest approach to introducing the Animal Birth Control
program would have begun with catching the most hostile and elusive
dogs first. However, ABC programs have always been pressured to
prove themselves by reducing the numbers of dogs as rapidly as
possible, so have usually concentrated first on the easiest cases.
Likewise, goondas hired to kill dogs, paid by the head,
focus on the dogs they can most easily catch, leaving the most
dangerous part of the dog population at large.
Within days of Ramesh’s pledge of support for ABC, ANIMAL
PEOPLE received reports of goondas hired by local officials
massacring dogs in the cities of Chickballapur, Jamalpur, Siddapur,
Uppal, Mallikarjuna Nagar, and Peerzadiguda. But the killing was
blamed on lack of effective ABC programs, not praised as inevitable.

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