Addressing pet dog attacks: A balance between regulation and compassion

Government intervention is necessary to prevent indiscriminate breeding and trade of pet dogs, and more shelters are needed for abandoned pets.

Recently, two pet Rottweiler dogs attacked a five-year-old child and her mother in a  Corporation park in Nungambakkam, Chennai. Based on a complaint following the incident, police arrested the owners of the dog for negligence and endangering the lives of others (IPC Section 289 and 336).

As General Manager-Administration of the Blue Cross of India, I have seen several Rottweilers over the years. While there are laws to address such situations, there needs to be adequate awareness among pet owners that dogs like Rottweilers should be taken for a walk only on a leash. A major portion of the responsibility also lies in how the dog is raised.

Additionally, the State government can put in place rules mandating training and proper upkeep of pet dogs. Authorities should ensure people are educated about how to raise these pets, and also crack down on illegal breeding of dogs and their use in dog fighting.

The procedure after such an incident

Following such incidents, the typical protocol is that the pet’s guardian is held responsible for the dog’s actions, as Section 289 of the IPC outlines. In this case, the police filed a case against the owner, who was released on bail.

Read more: Chennai falters in street dog management despite two decades of ABC

However, this law would be effective if the owner had instigated the dogs to attack someone, which may happen sometimes. When the instigation is unclear or may not have occurred, it’s essential to carefully consider and examine whether the dog was provoked in any way or if the aggression was unprovoked.

If it was an unprovoked attack, the procedure is to isolate them for 10 days, during which time, they are kept under observation to see if they suffer from a rabies infection. Usually, rabies-infected dogs die within 10 days of a biting incident.

If the dog dies, the carcass is sent to the Government Veterinary Hospital, where the brain is examined to determine if the dog contracted the Rabies virus. If the dog doesn’t die, it must be sent back to the owner after being administered the Anti-Rabies vaccine.

Whenever a dog bite incident occurs, there is a clamour for the dog to be taken away from the pet parent. When dogs are abandoned or separated from their owners, they are likely to become depressed. They long for their owner, they are confused by their sudden absence, sometimes they don’t even eat, and I have also seen cases where they lose their life due to depression.

No shelter for abandoned dogs

dog attacks
The author at his office in Blue Cross of India, Chennai with dogs being taken care of by the organisation. Pic courtesy: Vinod Kumar

Often after dog biting incidents, pet parents are harassed to abandon their pet dogs, especially if they are living in rented homes. The government and society must act with greater consideration towards dogs and their bonds with their owners.

There is a dearth of public infirmaries or state shelters to take care of abandoned dogs and often they are left on the streets without being rehabilitated. Currently, the law requires a District SPCA (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) to have an infirmary but none of the District SPCAs have a shelter or infirmary to hold abandoned or distressed dogs.

The dogs are taken care of by NGOs, sometimes funded through Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) projects and individual contributions. Those dogs, which are not rescued will become stray. So, please donate to animal welfare organisations when you can.

The case of the Rottweilers

Rottweilers are known to be aggressive dogs — they are formidable and can overpower others given their large size. While they are usually kept as house pets, there are certain ways to raise them that would prevent such incidents. For example, they should be kept on a leash if they are taken outside for walks or to public spaces.

In addition, owners can engage trainers, who have experience handling aggressive pets, to work and interact with the dogs. The Government can also necessitate that people raising these dogs ensure that they are trained. Rottweilers are often a one-person dog, which means they will only listen to one person. So, owners have to be careful who their dogs interact with when let out of their leashes.

Ultimately, owners can do a lot to prevent such incidents. They need to be aware that the way their pets are with them, is not necessarily the way they will behave with other people, especially small children, who these dogs can overpower.

The status of the ban on sale and breeding of ‘ferocious animals’

On March 12th, 2023 the Animal Welfare Board issued an order to ban the sale and import of ferocious dogs, including Pitbull Terriers, American Bulldogs, Rottweilers and Mastiffs, amid rising instances of pet dog attacks.

Read more: How Vadodara managed to sterilise 80% of its street dogs

The Pet Lovers Association was one of the organisations that challenged the notification. They alleged that the authorities did not conduct adequate consultations with pet owners and animal welfare activists to impose such a ban.

The ban has been stayed by the Karnataka High Court currently. While the ban could be well-intentioned in its goal to prevent accidents such as these, it is also vague about the fate of dogs that are in the care of the pet parents.

While state intervention in the breeding and trade of animals is a welcome move, the government should take action against people engaged in illegal activities such as ‘dog fighting.’ Many of these dogs, such as Rottweilers and Pit bulls are bred and imported from Europe for dog fighting in India, specifically in parts of Northern India.

Despite the ban on dog fighting in India under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, of 1960, there is an active trade of animals for this specific purpose. The government should ensure a proper crackdown on such activities to back up the ban.

This incident underscores the urgent need for education and support for socialising pet dogs, particularly those with a reputation for aggression. The authorities must recommend methods for training these dogs and actively monitoring instances of dog bites. Mere legal interventions may assign blame or prevent certain illegal practices but may not address the underlying problem.

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