Indian state's plans to cull stray dogs hits opposition

Story highlights

  • The government of the Indian state of Kerala plans to cull "rabid or dangerous" stray dogs
  • But the Animal Welfare Board of India urges Kerala to wait for Supreme Court ruling

(CNN)A state in India has announced drastic action to deal with its problem of dangerous stray dogs with rabies: culling. But the Animal Welfare Board of India, a statutory board that advises the government, urged the state of Kerala to hold off on euthanizing any dogs.

India has a major problem with rabies. The WHO reported in April 2014 that India has about 18,000 to 20,000 cases of rabies a year and 36% of the world's deaths from the disease are found in the country.
    After a conference on the problem last week, the government of Kerala said in a statement: "Street dogs will be injected with rabies vaccine and tagged with an identification mark. ... Current laws or court judgments do not prevent the putting down of rabid or dangerous strays."
    But the AWBI disagrees.
    In a letter to Kerala's Chief Minister Oommen Chandy, Dr. R.M. Kharb, the chairman of the AWBI, wrote: "Please immediately place on hold, the decision to cull aggressive street dogs taken at the meet, and await the outcome of the stray dogs matters pending before the Supreme Court.
    "In sanctioning the proposed cull, you will in fact be acting in the face of, and in violation of the Supreme Court view. We at the Animal Welfare Board of India trust that is not your intention to do so."
    In an earlier letter to the chief secretary of the Kerala government, a representative of the Animal Welfare Board of India, S. Vinod Kumaar, urged the state to consult a 1960 law that stipulates the proper methods for controlling canine populations. Also attached to the letter were three petitions passed by the Supreme Court of India, which await a final hearing in August.
    Some have taken to Twitter to complain about diseased, free-roaming dogs, saying public safety is a bigger concern than protecting stray dogs.
    According to the Report of Assembly Petitions Committee of Kerala, around 90,000 people in the state have been bitten by stray dogs.
    But Dr. Manilal Valliyate, director of veterinary affairs for PETA India, told CNN that many of the alarming figures on dog bites circulated by the Indian media should be treated with caution.
    "Even if it's a snake, dog or cat bite, everything is put into one; (they're) not categorized if it's a stray or domesticated animal, or with rabies or not," he said.
    He said some cities, such as Jaipur and Chennai, have been able to effectively curb the problem by running successful neutering and vaccination programs.
    Having worked as a veterinary surgeon in Kerala 15 years ago, he disagrees with the supposed birth control methods suggested by the local government. "They say they'll be killing aggressive dogs and those suspected of rabies, but to make such a judgment, you need understanding of that animal behavior and to make a discretion between whether that dog is dangerous and causing harm to people around.
    "No distinction (is being) made between the bites of an owned dog or a stray dog."
    Stray dogs are a common sight in India, many originating from the ancient pariah dogs, which are said to have accompanied the indigenous people of the country. "They are part and parcel of our society," Valliyate said. "In most of the cities, it becomes a social system; in every village you'll find a dog ... fed by the local villagers. Though they don't claim to be the owners of the dog, they are the guardians."
    India's problem with waste disposal is recognized as a key contributor to the abundance of stray dogs. "The stray dog menace can only be really solved if waste management system work fruitfully, the meeting reiterated," the Kerala government said.
    But Valliyate argues that only superficial solutions are being proposed. "Root causes are not being addressed, the outcomes are being addressed -- people complaining that they are bothered by dogs. The easiest way is to just kill them."
    Various petitions against Kerala's plans for dog control are also making the rounds.