“Tong wars” in Ahmedabad make dogcatching methods an Indian national issue
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, June 2010:
AHMEDABAD–“Tong wars” in Ahmedabad, India, in mid-June
2010 made dog-catching methods a national issue, hotly debated in
multiple articles in the Times of India, Daily News & Analysis,
The Mirror, The Express–in short, most of the leading newspapers
covering northwestern India.
The issue exploded out of the ongoing efforts of Ahmedabad
resident Lisa Warden, a Canadian citizen, to bring the city into
compliance with the Standard Operating Procedure Manual for
Sterilization of Stray Dogs, published in 2009 by the Animal Welfare
Board of India.
Ahmedabad, the scene of deadly riots in 2001, remains one
of the more intensely politicized and factionalized cities in India.
The animal control and Animal Birth Control program contracts,
allocated at the ward level, have often been managed as political
patronage, and as cover for routing money to supporters of the
people in authority, without verification as to whether the
contracted work is actually done.
One Ahmedabad-based organization, Animal Help Ahmedabad, is
nationally recognized for performing high-volume, high-quality dog
sterilization surgery, and has become a major Animal Birth Control
program contractor in other cities–and even in the neighboring
nation of Bhutan.
But Animal Help Ahmedabad, after sterilizing 45,000 dogs in
Ahmedabad in 2006, ran afoul of violence from rival organizations
seeking ward ABC contracts, and had worked in Ahmedabad on only a
limited scale until Warden arrived. Taking advantage of being
obviously not part of any of the Ahmedabad ethnic factions,
Warden–with the prominent support of Animal Welfare Board of India
chief General Rammehar Kharb–in 2008 set about seeking reform in an
unusually public and aggressive manner.
In March 2010 Warden observed that the use of long-handled
iron tongs by Ahmedabad dogcatchers appeared to be unacceptably
violent. And the tongs are prohibited by the Standard Operating
Procedure manual, which constitutes the enforcement regulations for
the Indian national dog control law.
“Of the dogs caught by the Ahmedabad dogcatchers with tongs
who reached the Animal Help Foundation still alive, 20% had to be
put down due to internal bleeding,” Warden e-mailed to Kharb and
ANIMAL PEOPLE. After Animal Help complained, Warden wrote, the
dogcatchers quit bringing the dogs they caught to Animal Help for
sterilization, and instead dumped them amid rubbish heaps on the
outskirts of the city.
Warden was scarcely the first to seek an end to the use of
iron tongs to catch dogs, a method common in India for more the 80
years, but rarely seen anywhere else. The tongs were introduced by
the British for use in capturing actively rabid dogs, but came to be
used to catch any and all dogs.
Delhi, Kolkata banned tongs
In January 2005 the Delhi-based Society for Stray Canine
Birth Control ordered all dogcatchers there to “immediately
discontinue the use of tongs in catching of stray dogs for
spay/neuter,” summarized the Delhi ABC provider Samrakshan in
relaying the directive, because “This method has been known to cause
a lot of injuries and at times even proved fatal for dogs.”
Debdwaipayan Chottopadhyay, chief municipal health officer
for Kolkata, in March 2007 banned the use of tongs there. The
Calcutta High Court refused to ban tongs outright, but “did instruct
the municipality that if there were any other feasible methods for
restraining dogs, that should be looked into,” recalled
Compassionate Crusaders Trust founder Debasis Chakrabarti.
“I find it difficult to condone catching terrified dogs with
tongs,” commented Blue Cross of India chief executive Chinny
Krishna, citing “photographs of at least two dogs with torn
midsections and entrails hanging out” after Chennai dogcatchers used
tongs to catch them.
“In general,” Krishna said, “the catching process is the
most traumatic portion of the street dog ABC program, and the use of
tongs makes this so extremely traumatic that it may be kinder to just
kill the animals on sight by shooting.”
Responding to the evidence that Warden provided, Kharb on
April 20, 2010 warned the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation that
continuing to capture dogs with tongs and dump them in rubbish heaps
would “constitute an offence under the Penal Code.”
After six weeks of back-and-forth, Warden told ANIMAL
PEOPLE, “The Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation contacted me on June 14
to come and pick the tongs up, according to an unofficial deal we
worked out. A television crew accompanied us and the whole episode
was filmed, both on my video camera and on that of the TV station.
The Ahmedabad official,” who was to surrender the approximately 20
sets of tongs, “refused to sign the agreement I had prepared for
him,” Warden said, “which stipulated that he agreed to abide
henceforth by the laws of India, that he agreed never to use tongs
again, never to dump or dislocate dogs, and so forth.
“We did finally manage to persuade him to write a statement
in his own words,” Warden continued, “agreeing never to use tongs
again, and to abide by the laws of India. I have the statement in my
possession. The official then instigated a mob to try to get the
tongs back out of my vehicle. They attempted to block my vehicle and
stopped us from getting in. A scuffle ensued, in which I peeled
them off my car one by one and told them in no uncertain terms to sod
The Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation subsequently charged
Warden with obstructing government. Warden– receiving largely
favorable media coverage–responded by posting video of dogcatchers
allegedly injuring dogs with tongs to prominent social networking web
“Congratulations, gentlemen,” Warden wrote in an open
letter. “You have succeeded in putting Ahmedabad and Gujarat,” the
state within which Ahmedabad is located, “on the map as the world
capital of state-sanctioned human savagery against innocent animals,
and the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation is the chief villain. You
can be certain that as a result of your barbarism,” Warden asserted,
“you have successfully derailed once and for all any hope Ahmedabad
ever had of winning UNESCO world heritage status,” a long coveted
goal of the city government.
“I have sent in my statement to the police and am cooperating
fully with the investigation,” Warden told ANIMAL PEOPLE. “They
want me to return the tongs. Ever so sadly, I cannot do so, as the
tongs have been destroyed.”
In apparent indirect retaliation, the Ahmedabad Municipal
Corporation meanwhile withdrew tenders it recently offered for
bidding on the ward animal control contracts, after Animal Help
proved to be the only qualified bidder.