THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Give a dog a bad name and hang him too is what literally happened in Kottayam district of Kerala recently where a canine, accused of attacking people, was beaten to death and then publicly strung up, in the wake of a spate of vicious attacks on humans, including children, in the state.
That was not the only incident, as more than a dozen stray dogs were found dead allegedly due to poisoning in some areas of the southern state.
While these actions appear inhumane, some believe that in the prevailing situation in the state, which is seeing a rise in attacks by dogs, the public cannot be faulted for taking matters into their own hands.
Kozhikode Mayor Beena Philip, who had opposed the mass killings of the strays, was forced to change her stand later in view of the prevailing situation in the state. She said people cannot be blamed for what they do.
"When our own children are attacked by dogs in this manner, if people react in this manner, they cannot be blamed. I am not in favour of killing dogs nor would I justify it. But in the prevailing situation, I cannot blame the people either," she told a TV channel.
She said if there were not so many dog bite cases, maybe a more humane approach could have been considered.
However, last year, when dog bites were not so much in the news, a dog was brutally beaten to death at Adimalathura beach in Thiruvananthapuram and hundreds of canines were reportedly poisoned to death in Thrikkakara Municipality of Ernakulam.
The Kerala High Court had then intervened to issue a slew of directions for proper implementation of Animal Birth Control (ABC) measures and vaccination of dogs.
Despite that, it had to intervene this time as well to remind the state of its obligation to protect the citizens and to caution the general public against taking law into their hands.
Amid mounting criticism of the government's inability to control canine population or instill confidence regarding efficacy of the anti-rabies vaccine, the state government and its various authorities have initiated steps to address the menace on a war-footing.
In an effort to allay public fears, the government has announced a slew of measures including a state-wide mass vaccination campaign from September 20 to October 20 for vaccinating stray and pet dogs and opening more Animal Birth Control centres.
"Our plan is to bring under control the canine population in the state by 2025," State Animal Husbandry Minister J Chinchu Rani said.
She also said killing of rabid dogs was not permitted as according to the Animal Welfare Board of India guidelines, they are to be tied up and kept in isolation till they die on their own within 10 days of showing clinical signs of the disease.
Various districts are also taking measures, like the Ernakulam district administration's pilot project of sterilization of canines in two blocks, to deal with the dog bite menace.
However, animal welfare organisations like Daya and Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) are sceptical about the government claims regarding the number of ABC centres and believe "they only exist on paper."
Ambili Purackal, who started Daya Animal Welfare Organisation in 2001 and Idukki SPCA secretary M N Jayachandran said killing dogs was not an option merely because some of them bit humans.
They said the solution was to properly implement ABC measures and carry out vaccination of stray dogs.
Actress Mrudula Murali is of a similar view as she recently posted on her Instagram handle against killing dogs. "The strays should be housed in shelters", Murali said.
Purackal alleged the state government or its departments instead of approaching animal welfare organisations for ABC measures, as mandated by AWBI, were attempting to carry out the exercise through the Kudumbashree organisation which has no expertise in the field.
She also spoke about the difficulties in carrying out mass vaccination drives of the strays.
"Daya along with a couple of other voluntary organisations is carrying out a vaccination drive for stray dogs in Kochi city at night presently and despite our expertise we are able to catch and vaccinate only 10-12 canines each day after several hours of running around," Purackal told PTI.
Jayachandran too said the government has not contacted any voluntary animal welfare organisation for assistance in catching dogs or ABC process.
According to Purackal, whose residence is home to around 50 stray canines, dogs cannot be blamed for each and every attack or for causing road accidents.
"There is fear among the public regarding dogs, especially strays, a fear that they might die of rabies if they are bitten. A reason for that is the deaths of some persons due to rabies despite receiving a full course of vaccine. Also, the government withdrew a batch of vaccines.
"So when they see a dog on the street, they become afraid and in that frame of mind, they might hurl a stone at it or try to chase it away with a stick which in turn might prompt the canine to retaliate," she said.
Another reason given by her for the dog nuisance in some areas is the improper waste disposal and littering resulting in dogs frequenting such places for food.
However, reports of cattle being infected with rabies in the last few days with a cow being shot dead in Thrissur district of Kerala after showing signs of the disease are not making things easy for man's best friend.
To top it, a couple of recent road accidents, one of them fatal, due to dogs running into traffic are also bringing them a bad name.
"Dogs are very careful when crossing roads. Only time they might run headlong into traffic is when they are being chased," Purackal said, coming to the defence of canines.