Chennai falters in street dog management despite two decades of ABC

Five Animal Birth Control centres; 22 years since ABC; 2 crores spent on ABC every year. Yet, Chennai is failing in street dog management.

A few weeks ago, Kottur Gardens resident Badrinath MP’s 91-year-old father went for a walk in the area. During the walk, he was almost bitten by a street dog but managed to escape unharmed. Badrinath was himself chased by street dogs a few days later.

Several such instances of dogs chasing two-wheelers or going after pedestrians have left many residents wary of street dog management policies in Chennai.

Despite the existence of an Animal Birth Control (ABC) Programme in Chennai, the street dog management practices on the ground leave much to be desired.

While the Greater Chennai Corporation (GCC) puts out numbers of street dogs being sterilised regularly, many residents have raised complaints about conflicts with them, especially due to their rising numbers.

Citizen Matters organised a panel discussion to examine viable policy solutions for the conflict between residents and street dogs.

The panel comprised Dr P Kuganantham, former City Health Officer at Greater Chennai Corporation; Shravan Krishnan, Animal Rights Activist who runs Besant Memorial Animal Dispensary; and Badrinath MP, a resident of Kottur Gardens.

Read more: Stray dogs and the Animal Birth Control programme in Chennai

Street dog management in Chennai

“Street dogs or other animals do not belong on the roads. There are only two kinds of animals- wild and companion animals. There is no space for street dogs in a city,” says Shravan.

Shravan says that there are many reasons animals should not be on our roads but in shelters. “They could spread rabies and other diseases like distemper to other animals and humans. They attack humans. These animals also do not have a safe life on the roads and are prone to accidents and diseases with no proper shelter. But culling of animals is not the solution to these issues [in Chennai].”

Until 1996, street dog management involved inhumanely killing dogs in Chennai. But it did not reduce the street dog population. So, in 2001, the ABC programme came into being.

As part of the programme, the civic body traps street dogs, vaccinates and sterilises them. Then the dogs are sent back to the same areas.

“It is a humane way to control street dog numbers,” says Shravan.

Dr Kuganantham explains that in order to manage street dogs, it is important to understand their psyche.

“So, GCC started sterilising dogs to control their population. Then they educated the public about how to handle the dogs. Community vaccination was done in areas like Pulianthope, Tondiarpet, Ennore, T Nagar and Tiruvanmiyur.”

In the early stages of the ABC programme, they used to remove the uterus and testes of dogs completely. However, GCC has modified the process such that male dogs can undergo vasectomy, which is easier to perform and has a lower fatality rate.

Reasons for ineffectiveness of ABC in Chennai

Even though it has been two decades since the launch of ABC in Chennai, the street dog population has not reduced.

Chennai is also not rabies-free.

Shravan has come across instances of eight cases of rabies among dogs from core city areas in the last two months. In the last five years, over 120 cases of rabies among animals in Chennai has been found.

The ABC programme in Chennai has lacked teeth for various reasons.

ABC procedure is not scientific: “Currently, ABC is done unscientifically. The dogs are caught inhumanely and the surgeries are botched up sometimes. They end up coming back with infections like parvo or distemper, which are spread to other dogs,” says Shravan. “GCC vaccinates dogs only for rabies and not for other diseases.”

The quality of surgeries carried out by the civic body has been called into question. Those caring for community animals choose to carry out the sterilisation with private service providers because they have been sceptical about the quality of operative care at GCC’s ABC centres.

“Every year, GCC allocates Rs. 2 crores for the ABC programme. Despite this the street dog population has not reduced,” says Shravan.

Dogs do not always come back to their original areas: According to the ABC rules, the dogs taken from an area for sterilisation and vaccination must be returned to the same area. However, they are sometimes relocated to other neighbourhoods if influential residents complain.

For instance, if a resident bribes a dog catcher to not bring the dog back to their original area, then dogs are relocated at times.

“This is because the ABC programme in Chennai is complaint-based and not community-based,” says Shravan.

two street dogs lying on the road
Sometimes dogs are relocated in Chennai, against the rules of ABC. Pic: Siddharth Subramanian

The number of ABC centres is not enough: Even though the number of ABC centres has increased from three to five, it is not enough to cater to the sterilisation and vaccination needs of the street dog population in Chennai.

Experts flag that ABC programme in Chennai is still centralised and top-down, which may not serve the purpose.

Dog census needed: “As a first step, taking a city-wide dog census is important,” says Badrinath. “This will help GCC take stock of the percentage of dogs sterilised and the rate of increase in the dog population.”

“We also mapped the locations where the street dog population was higher. In the places where food disposal was not effective, dogs were found to be more in those places,” says Dr. Kuganantham. However, a count has not happened in the last few years.

Community involvement key to controlling population

People who feed dogs must also be responsible to ensure that the dogs get properly sterilised and vaccinated.

“When people constantly feed dogs, they become very healthy and they eventually multiply, giving birth to eight to ten puppies,” says Shravan, urging that feeders must ensure sterilisation too.

For example, if there are two dogs living in a particular street, they can take responsibility for sterilising them. These two dogs will not reproduce and will not let other dogs come to the street because of their territorial nature.

Dr. Kuganantham says, “Animal activists can shape the attitude of the community toward street dogs. Apart from ensuring sterilisation, animal lovers and activists must create awareness among other members of the public about the psyche of dogs, how to identify diseased dogs through observation and also help them shed their fears about street dogs.”

Badrinath recommends that animal activists share the policy suggestions for ABC with the RWAs in Chennai.

“RWAs must also become aware of the types of diseases and must support street dog management,” he says.

Suggestions to improve street dog management in Chennai

Shravan stresses that apart from scientific ABC, there must be other interventions to protect street dogs in Chennai.

Shravan, Dr. Kuganantham and Badrinath provide suggestions to improve the ABC programme.

  • a stricter policy against people who abandon adopted dogs
  • providing shelters to aggressive dogs is also important in reducing human-animal conflict
  • increasing the number of ABC centres
  • use of CSR funds for street dog management
  • ensuring proper waste disposal to prevent dogs from feeding on dumped garbage
  • roping in private veterinary surgeons to carry out a few ABC surgeries every month with support by the community

Read more: Why I segregate waste at source despite a broken waste management system in Chennai

Following the Sri Lanka-way: In Sri Lanka, ABC camps are set up in public schools for a few weeks where all the neighbourhood street dogs are sterilised and vaccinated in a go. Then, the camp goes to another school or other public building to follow the same process.

Even though the ABC policy has its strengths on paper, the implementation has faltered in Chennai. The lack of political and bureaucratic has impeded its execution.

A revamping of the policy to keep up with changing times, fresh census, decentralisation and involvement of residents are necessary for Chennaiites to be able to coexist with street dogs.

Follow the complete discussion here.

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