BANGALORE, India––Taking a unique approach to dog bite prevention, the Bangalore municipal government on June 21, 2015 announced that it will begin compensating the victims of bites by street dogs at the rate of 2,000 rupees per puncture wound: about $31.50 in U.S. dollars.
The compensation scale is to increase with the severity of the injuries suffered, peaking at $787 for the death of a child and just over $1,500 for the death of an adult––about the average per capita income for Karnataka state, including Bangalore and the surrounding rural area.
Dog bite victims have sometimes been compensated by the municipal government in the past, but inconsistently.
Cost to society
The payments under the new scheme are so low, and will involve so much bureaucracy to collect, that they are not expected to attract a great many bogus claims. The scheme will also require victims to aver that they were bitten by street dogs, not dogs for whom someone was responsible as owner or keeper.
But the compensation scheme advanced by the Bangalore municipal government, officially called the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike, will for the first time establish a cost to society from dangerous dog behavior, apart from the costs of administering free post-exposure rabies vaccination to victims who seek it, and of providing palliative care to rabies victims.
As rabies has rapidly receded as a public health threat in India, an ever-lower percentage of dog bite victims are believed to be seeking post-exposure vaccination. At the same time, the numbers of owned pet dogs have increased in recent years to 40%-plus of the total dog population. Many more dogs are fed by particular households who do not claim further responsibility for the dogs’ behavior and well-being, so do not get the dogs sterilized and vaccinated.
Pet & fed dogs
Pet dogs and other fed dogs demonstrating territorial behavior are believed to be responsible for the majority of bites within the Bangalore municipal area. The dog bite compensation scheme may produce hard data to affirm this belief, leading to stronger regulation of dog-feeding and pet keeping.
It may also produce stronger political support for the federally subsidized Animal Birth Control programs operated by the municipality and local animal charities––if the proponents of those programs are able to demonstrate that sterilization works to reduce the cost of dog bites to society––or may increase opposition to the ABC programs if the perception grows that they are merely putting dangerous dogs back on the streets.
The Bangalore municipal government estimates that about 500,000 dogs are at large in the city, among more than 4.1 million people, inflicting an average of about 15,000 reported bites per year.
Rabies threat recedes
The bite compensation scheme was produced by a seven-member committee in response to a ruling from the Division Bench of the Karnataka High Court in the case of a boy who was attacked by six stray dogs in front of his house on July 6, 2010.
Among the committee members was M.K. Sudharshan, of the Rajiv Gandhi Institute of Public Health and Centre for Disease Control, who directed the 2003 World Health Organization-sponsored National Multicentric Rabies Survey. This survey found that contrary to commonly made claims that India has upward of 20,000 human rabies deaths per year, human rabies deaths appeared to be “endemic and stable” at 235 per year, based on data collected from government hospital isolation units.
Following up with annual surveys, the Central Bureau of Health Intelligence has subsequently found 274, 361, 221, 244, 260, 162, 223, 212, and 138 human deaths, for a national total of 2,330, with an average of 233, median of 229, with four of the five lowest annual counts coming in the most recent four years from which data is available.
High Court allowed dogs to be killed
The Karnataka High Court ruling, issued on December 7, 2012, held that dogs who “are a menace or cause nuisance, irrespective of whether there is evidence of them having mauled or bitten children or adults, could be exterminated.”
Problem dogs may be killed “even if they are vaccinated, sterilized and free from diseases,” summarized The Hindu.
But the ruling stipulated that “dogs cannot be culled en masse,” the Times of India added. Endorsing the intent of the national Animal Birth Control program, the court “asked the Bangalore municipal corporation to verify the activities of nonprofit organizations involved in sterilization and vaccination of stray dogs,” and directed the Bangalore city government “to ensure clearance of garbage to keep stray dogs in check.”
The court prescribed that problem dogs should be killed “in a lethal chamber,” The Hindu said, “as prescribed by the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1960 and the Animal Birth Control Rules 2001.” A “lethal chamber,” in the animal control terminology of 1960, was either a gas chamber or a decompression chamber.”
Neither killing method is now commonly used in India, and decompression is not known to be used at all. The ABC Rules 2001 allow the use of lethal injections.
Limited role of animal welfare orgs
“A Division Bench comprising Chief Justice Vikramajit Sen and Justice B.V. Nagarathna delivered the verdict while disposing of a batch of public interest litigation petitions––some complaining about stray menace and seeking culling of such dogs, and others seeking protection against their killing,” The Hindu added. “The Bench made clear that animal welfare organizations have no role to play in the decision with regard to culling of such dogs, except to ensure that they are destroyed in a humane manner.”
The Karnataka High Court ruling, though focused on the July 2010 case, came days after dogs severely mauled a five-year-old girl and a 23-year-old housewife, in separate incidents in Bangalore suburbs.
The four major Bangalore ABC programs had reportedly reduced dog bites from about 32,000 in 2003-2004 to 19,000 in 2010-2011, and cut human rabies fatalities from 20 in 2002 to just one in 2010, but failed to reduce fatal and disfiguring attacks by non-rabid dogs.
Pit bull proliferation
Non-rabid dog attacks appear to have increased following pit bull proliferation, documented by Times of India writer Ameen Khan in February 2010, but suspected by humane investigators since January 2007, when the first of three unwitnessed fatal attacks inflicting wounds on children characteristic of pit bulls occurred.
In mid-2011, fearing that two fatal dog attacks on children in the Bangalore suburbs might again provoke massacres of dogs and disruptions of the city ABC program, as occurred in 2007, Bangalore humane societies, the Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organizations, and Bangalore animal control chief Parvez Ahmed Piran closed ranks in to amplify denials–against the weight of eyewitness and forensic evidence–that the fatalities were in truth inflicted by dogs.
Media notice of a fatal dog attack the day before was blamed for the July 3, 2011 death of a 10-year-old girl named Manjamma, who ran in front of a concrete mixer while trying to escape from a dog.
ABC providers blamed
Unlike in 2007, dog massacres by frenzied mobs did not follow the 2011 fatalities, but reports circulated about mysterious vans picking up dogs, supposedly for vaccination and sterilization, who were never seen again. Private contractors hired by landlords or local residents associations to impersonate ABC personnel were suspected.
Though overt dog massacres were averted, the alliance of nonprofit ABC providers, FIAPO, and Piran appeared to cost the humane community some credibility with politicians and media, not least because Piran blamed animal advocates–who were his erstwhile allies–for the failure of ABC to eliminate dog attacks..
“Whenever our dog catching vehicles approach an area from where complaints have come in, animal activists protest and force us to leave,” alleged Piran to Yacoob Mohammed of the Bangalore Mid-Day.
“Poor are greedy”
Asked about his alleged indifference toward dog attacks on the children of poor families, Piran responded to Sheetal Sukhija of Mid-Day, “Poor families are greedy and the compensation [then sometimes paid to families of attack victims] motivates them. They are up to some mischief,” Piran asserted, “and in most of the dog mauling cases, the dog attack is not the reason for the death of the child. So either the parents are not responsible enough to take care of their infants, or they are plain greedy for compensation money.”
Sukhija interviewed Piran after a dog reportedly bit five people and dragged a three-year-old down a street in the Baggalagunte district of Bangalore on August 10, 2011. Bystanders rescued the child by killing the dog,
The first of the 2011 fatalities occurred on January 12, near the Bangalore International Airport road. Sukhdeep, 50, and his wife Kyheye, 37, had gone to work at a brick kiln, leaving their six daughters and 18-month-old son Prashanto asleep on the floor of a nearby hut. Kyheye chased away several dogs kept by foreman Gonti Yadav Chandrasen before leaving the hut at about 4:30 a.m. Prashanto may have tried to follow her. His sister Neera woke, saw dogs dismembering him about 80 feet away, and screamed for help at about 5:00 a.m. Gonti Yadav Chandrasen was reportedly charged with illegally possessing dangerous dogs.
“Dogs didn’t do it”
Though the attack was witnessed, Piran asserted that Prashanto was not the victim of a dog attack because, Piran claimed, dogs do not dismember their victims. But, according to The Hindu, Piran also argued at a January 14 meeting with Bangalore senior counselors that the Indian national law establishing ABC programs should be amended to allow dogs to be culled.
The second 2011 fatality came on the morning of July 2, near a government hospital in the Bangalore suburb of Yelahanka. Sanjay Prasad, an itinerant worker, had taken his wife to the hospital to give birth. Afterward Prasad and their son Sandeep, 30 months old, slept in the basement of one of the hospital buildings.
Like Prashanto, Sandeep Prasad apparently wandered outside. His remains, dismembered and partially degloved, with skin and flesh peeled from his skull, were found several hundred yards away at about 5:30 a.m., between the hospital and a refuse heap frequented by dogs.
Multiple bleeding wounds demonstrated that the injuries occurred before Sandeep’s heart stopped pumping blood–in other words, before his death.
Resembled earlier case
The injuries to both Prashanto and Sandeep Prasad paralleled those suffered by Sridevi, age 8, the daughter of itinerant workers, who was killed by dogs at about 7 a.m. on January 5, 2007 in a Bangalore suburb called the Chandra Layout.
Within hours of Sandeep Prasad’s death, Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organizations listserv participants amplified and perhaps originated rumors that the boy was the victim of child abuse, a crime of vengeance against his father (though police found no evidence that Sanjay Prasad had any enemies), tantric sacrifice, or perhaps a traffic accident, after which the remains were scavenged by dogs. Similar rumors were posted, but less aggressively circulated, after the deaths of Sridevi and Prashanto.
Denying, amid ensuing discussion, that feeding free-roaming dogs can incline them to rush up to pedestrians and bicyclists in a dangerous manner, Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organizations attorney Anjali Sharma on July 7 wrote, “I insist on feeding street dogs. Only around four of the 19 I feed, apart from the seven that I share a home with, know that they’re supposed to chase cyclists because they’re being fed by me.”
Piran again contended to media that dogs do not dismember their victims.
As the anti-ABC organization Stray Dog Free Bangalore took the opportunity to blame the fatal attacks and other biting incidents on failure to cull dogs, longtime Blue Cross of India chief executive Chinny Krishna and Blue Cross of Hyderabad founder Amala Akkineni flew to Bangalore to try to rebuild the credibility of the humane community.
Three different newspapers reported that Krishna and Akkineni cited Singapore as an example of a city with few dog attacks which does not kill dogs, though Singapore currently kills about 2,000 dogs per year. Both Krishna and Akkineni later denied mentioning Singapore.
Rejecting the official postmortem, which found no reason to suspect Sandeep Prasad was killed in any manner other than dog attack, Piran “sent images of the incident to his friends and to forensic odentologist Ken Cohrn for a second opinion,” reported the Times of India.
Cohrn, a Florida dentist whose specialty is identifying the dead by examining their teeth, enlisted the help of James Crosby. Crosby has a consulting business called CanineAggression.org, which has often advanced alibis for pit bull terriers who were involved in disfiguring or fatal attacks.
Cohrn admitted that dogs had mauled Sandeep Prasad, but claimed he was dead first. Cohrn and Crosby also asserted that the degloving head injuries Sandeep Prasad suffered did not resemble those inflicted by dogs–but Crosby had seen similar injuries in at least one other case he spoke to media about, suffered by fatal pit bull attack victim Mary Diana Bernal, 63, of Deltona, Florida, in June 2007. That attack was witnessed by three people, another of whom was seriously injured in trying to rescue Bernal.
The Bangalore nonprofit ABC providers Compassion Unlimited Plus Action and Animal Rights Fund posted links to the denials by Piran, Cohrn, and Crosby that Sandeep Prasad was killed by dogs.
Dog attack injuries resembling those suffered by Sridevi, Prashanto, and Sandeep Prasad are described and illustrated in at least three medical journal articles: “Pit bull attack: case report and literature review,” Texas Medicine, November 1988; “Head and neck dog bites in children,” Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery (2009); and “Mortality, Mauling, and Maiming by Vicious Dogs,” Annals of Surgery, April 2011.
The Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organizations blocked postings of the forensic information to membership. Founding FIAPO listserv moderator Erika Abrams was replaced by a three-member committee. FIAPO also introduced a listserv rule against postings discussing any matters “which are before courts or are being adjudicated before any authority.”
Pit bulls in Bangalore
Dismemberment and degloving injuries are characteristic of attacks by pit bulls and other large dogs such as mastiffs and Rottweilers, but are rarely seen in India, where the typical street dog is less than half the weight of an average pit bull, which is in turn smaller than a Rottweiler or mastiff.
But Times of India writer Ameen Khan in February 2010 warned that pit bulls are proliferating in the Bangalore suburbs.
“There are breeds and breeds of the woofy variety,” Khan wrote, “but for those who love life on the wild side, it’s the pit bull terrier. There is a growing fancy for this ferocious dog among Bangalore’s dog lovers. Mohammed Ezra from Ezra Kennels told the Times of India that buyers of this breed keep them on their farms, and in big bungalows on the outskirts of the city. According to Ezra, Labradors are the highest in demand in Bangalore, but pit bulls are also moving fast.”
Piran, however, told Khan that pit bulls should not be seen as a risk. “All dogs, dangerous or not, can be taken for walks in crowded public areas if they are on a leash,” Piran said.
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