by Debasis Chakrabarti, founder, Compassionate Crusaders Trust (June 2003)
Kolkata (Calcutta) is the largest truly no-kill city in the world. It grieves me beyond measure to think of the possibility of a resumption of slaughter of street dogs. I would like to share our experience with everyone involved in this work, because I believe that the method we use is largely contributory to our success.
The first and perhaps most important precaution we took, was to send letters to the municipal councillors, informing them that we have taken up this program, explaining the benefits of it, and seeking their cooperation in calling us when they see an injured or troublesome stray dog. This won for us their instant approval and smoothed the way considerably.
The next step was to impress upon all our people that the calls of the councillors, other government departments, hospitals and housing complexes, and other public places must get priority.
This enabled us to convince decision-makers that our program works.
Then we made it a practice to remove sick and injured dogs from the roads, wherever our people saw them. A concentrated effort made the roads free of badly diseased dogs, and silenced many of our critics.
We also made it our practice to initially agree with dog haters when they called us to remove dogs. Our people were tutored to soothe people who had become indignant when dog lovers refused to understand their fear or dislike for dogs threatening their children or messing up the common areas in a residential complex. After the irate person was calm, and confident of our cooperation, our people gently began to ask with seeming casualness whether all the dogs in the locality threatened them or whether it was just one?
Most often, people grow adamant due to a personal grudge against a neighbour who refuses to admit that their grievance has some validity. With some understanding and pampering, they begin to agree that they have no wish to harm an animal, but it is just this one dog who is a habitual nuisance. Then our people offer to sterilize and return the rest, removing just this one villain, and they usually agree.
Such an agreement angers people who are attached to that one disputed dog. This is natural, but in the greater interest of all dogs, it is the only way out. Unless we convince dog haters that not all dogs are dangerous, they will join the killing brigade, poisoning dogs, beating them or pouring boiling water or acid on even small puppies. Dog lovers cannot guard stray dogs around the clock, and it is the animals who become targets for the hatred of quarrelling humans.
We are extremely lucky that the management of the Kolkata dog pound was handed over to us in March 1996. We have won the full confidence and cooperation of the municipality with our quick responses. The pound is very near the city dump. It is a vast area, and we are able to release unwanted dogs there after sterilization and vaccination, although it is our practice to euthanise badly diseased dogs and accident victims who cannot be cured.
A major cause for confusion are the rules of the Animal Birth Control program made by the Government of India. The Notice states that “All dogs picked up for the humane stray dog population control program are to be returned to their respective localities, as soon as they are fit.”
Most dog lovers just read this part and blame us for not returning unwanted dogs. It is tragic that they fail to accept the fact that unwanted dogs will be brutally killed and ill treated, if returned against the wish of local people. People who dislike dogs are prejudiced against all dogs. The result of returning even one unwanted dog brings suffering to many more dogs.
Exceptions in the law include Point 9, stating that incurably ill and mortally wounded dogs shall be euthanised in a humane manner, and point 10, stating that dogs having other diseases (except rabies) are to be handed over to nonprofit humane societies, who will take the necessary action to cure and rehabilitate those dogs.
This exceptions need to be understood by dog lovers who become aggressive about returning unwanted dogs, or refuse to euthanise a dog who may suffer from an advanced case of mange.
However unpleasant it is to put down a dog, it is counterproductive to avoid facing the facts. One mangy dog will infect many more, giving all dogs a bad name and adding to their suffering.
This becomes a point of contention, but I plead for rationality to supercede sentiment, in the greater interest of the greater number of strays.
We have been recommending through talks at schools that their nature clubs should raise funds to sponsor ABC for the dogs in their locality.
We have succeeded in convincing the authorities of most complexes that an unending stream of new dogs will enter if dogs are removed en masse. When a letter explaining the matter rationally is carried by a pleasant person who offers full cooperation, most people see the rationale of the suggestion and accept it after a while. Of course, this takes some time and patience, and maybe two or three trips and letters back and forth. Yet, nothing comes cheap, and it is worth the effort to make a success of this program.