Not stray but community dogs: The canines of Chennai

By Sharmita Kar and Eetika Kapoor

Chennai: As he descends from the stairs, for a minute we believe it is a new breed of a dog. His jaw is abnormally long but on close inspection, we see his almost battered face. Sunface, a stray dog, survived a butcher’s knife when he was brought to Blue Cross Hospital, Chennai.

Dog Shelter at Blue Cross of India, Chennai

The latest dog census reported that the number of strays has come down by 25,000 in Chennai.

The hostile treatment towards the dog population arises from a fear of getting bitten. There have been plenty of incidences where residents have complained that dogs chase bikers at night. According to Greater Chennai Corporation, more than 57,000 people got anti-rabies vaccination in 2017-18, as opposed to 39,000 in 2016-17.

The recent incident of mass killing of dogs in Loyola college brings into light the torture suffered by street dogs.

“Such insensitivity is not sudden and is rooted in young age. We receive about 200 calls of animal cruelty or negligence daily. If PAC (Prevention of Animal Cruelty) Act is enforced, would they even dare to commit such atrocities? They do it because they think they can get away with hurting an animal,” said Mr Vinod Kumar, Admin of Blue Cross of India, Chennai.

Mr Vinod Kumar, Former Secretary, Animal Welfare Board of India

“It often happens that the witness turns hostile. That’s what happened in the Loyola case. But due to lack of evidence, the case was shut and no culprit was found,” he said.

Section 428 and 429 of Indian Penal Code (IPC) says that it is a punishable offence to kill or maim any animal, including strays. Adding to that, Section 51A (g), which highlights the need for a humanitarian approach towards living creatures, is one of the many fundamental duties an ideal Indian citizen is bound to follow.

Chennai has five Animal Birth Control (ABC) centres, three of which are run directly by the Corporation, one is monitored by Blue Cross of India, and the last one comes under Madras Prevention of Animal Cruelty Act.

“Compared to 2014, 30 per cent of stray dog population has gone down. The corporation is primarily focused on sterilisation. Mass disappearances and killing of strays is directly handled by the police. If a dog is suspected of rabies, we keep them under observation. If the test is negative, we send them back,” said Dr J Kamaal Hussain, Chief Veterinary Officer, Greater Chennai Corporation.

Contradicting that, Vinod Kumar said, “The Municipal Corporation should have a systematic way of approaching a sterilisation drive. The places can’t be randomly chosen on the basis of complaints you have from the residents. This makes all the effort go futile.”

Mr Dawn Williams, Residential General Manager at Blue Cross of India, pointed out, “There are rarely FIRs filed against cruelty to animals. The officials themselves are ignorant of the PAC Act. Thus we urged the Home Ministry to forward all the DGPs for including a special curriculum at the police academy that makes them more sensitive towards filing reports.”

The MGR Film City road in Taramani is surrounded by bustling college campuses. This street has become a breeding ground for dogs because of the perennial presence of a huge garbage dump, stretched across 50 metres, infested with plastic and refuse from the nearby market.

Garbage dump at MGR Film City Road, Taramani, Chennai

“There are around 10 dogs in and around the campus. We can only control so much. They often wander into the girls’ hostel and they get frightened. We try our best to keep them away but you see the dumpster is so close,” said Bhaskar, Assistant Security Officer of Institute of Hotel Management Catering Technology and Applied Nutrition.

The unattended garbage menace is a leading cause of the canine hotspot in certain areas of the city.

Vinod Kumar, Former secretary of Animal Welfare Board of India said, “Due to the availability of garbage, the number of dogs increase.”

An effective solution can only come through vigilance, management and the need to even care for these four-legged guardians.

“If each family adopts a dog from the street, there would be no strays. But I am aware this is just wishful thinking,” Mr Vinod Kumar laughs meekly.