20 years of India’s national Animal Birth Control program helps to quell rabies, but not to reduce dog attacks, because feeders continue to concentrate dogs in problematic places
HYDERABAD, India––Video security cameras set up above a car repair garage in Amberpet, a 250-year-old suburb of 425-year-old Hyderabad, India, on February 19, 2023 shocked the nation and much of the rest of the world by capturing the entirety of a fatal dog attack on a hapless four-year-old boy.
The child, named Pradeep, along with his younger sister, had accompanied their father, Gangadhar, to his workplace as a watchman for the very first time.
Like many of the poorest of the poor in India, Gangadhar and family had no surname. Originally from Nizamabad, a rural village 200 miles north, Gangadhar reportedly came to Hyderabad seeking work circa 2019.
Father did not know son followed him out
The security camera itself represented recent Indian technological and economic progress. The alley it overlooked, lined with late-model cars, was conspicuously clear of trash, indicative of social progress as well.
Gangadhar, leaving his children in a guard shack, set out on his rounds of the garage property. As it was broad daylight on a Sunday, all seemed safe.
Unknown to Gangadhar, Pradeep followed his father, a few minutes behind.
Pradeep had toddled only a few parked car lengths when confronted by a very aggressive tan female street dog with distended nipples, obviously nursing.
Pradeep tried to turn away, but a second street dog, likely the first dog’s mate, blocked his path. Then another adult pack member arrived to help corner Pradeep.
As the adult dogs pulled Pradeep down and mauled him, three half-grown puppies joined the pack, watching and helping to keep Pradeep from escaping.
Normal feral dog predatory behavior
This was not the normal behavior of scavenging street dogs, either in India or anywhere else.
It was, however, at least the third fatal dog attack on a child in Hyderabad in three years, following the deaths of a nine-year-old in January 2021 and of two-year-old in April 2022 .
All three fatal attacks exemplified normal feral dog predatory behavior, of a sort ANIMALS 24-7 has seen often in videos of other attacks, both on other vulnerable humans and on livestock and wildlife.
Since there was no food waste in sight, and therefore little likelihood of the dogs finding rats to hunt, the dogs who killed Pradeep had probably been fed by someone, but erratically, and were otherwise left unsocialized, largely neglected.
Had the dogs not been fed by someone, the pack would not have still been living in a neighborhood where food was scarce. Between food handouts, probably delivered by workers on weekdays, the dogs became hunters.
Similar attack killed 3-year-old girl
A second example, also captured by a security camera, was the pack mauling death of three-year-old Pari Gangowar, a girl who was attacked 10 days after Pradeep of Amberpet by as many as 20 dogs on a street in Bandia village, Bareilly, in Uttar Pradesh state.
Lounging in doorways along an alley, apparently awaiting a feeder, the dogs leaped up to mob Pari Gangowar when she toddled by.
Knocked down by the dogs, Pari Gangowar was reportedly bitten more than 200 times, even though many neighbors rushed to her rescue.
Fatal attack on Pradeep showed both positives and negatives of ABC
Hyderabad is served by several Animal Birth Control [ABC] programs, as mandated and partially funded by the Indian central government since 2003, but none had caught up yet to the nursing female who led the pack attack on Pradeep.
The fatal attack on Pradeep, and the hue-and-cry to kill street dogs that followed, in this instance not followed by widespread dog massacres, exemplified on the one hand the successful aspects of 20 years of Animal Birth Control and, on the other hand, exposed the shortcomings of the program as haphazardly executed.
Rabies cases plummet
The most successful aspect of Animal Birth Control, which includes vaccinating all sterilized dogs against rabies, is that little of the hue-and-cry to kill street dogs amplified by local media included any mention of rabies.
Rabies killed 55 people in India in 2021, the most recent year for which the Central Bureau of Health Intelligence has published data, and has not killed more than 300 people in a year since 2006, when the toll was 361, but media, the World Health Organization, and the Global Alliance for Rabies Control continue to amplify a guesstimated annual toll of up to 60,000 rabies deaths per year, based on a 1911 survey of Indian government hospitals done by British surgeons Sir David Semple and Major William F. Harvey, just before they introduced what became known as the Semple post-exposure vaccine.
Whether one measures from 60,000 or from 361, the reduction of rabies deaths and of public fear of rabies since the introduction of Animal Birth Control is a triumph.
More personnel hired to do a half-assed job
After the boy Pradeep was mauled to death by street dogs, Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation mayor G.Vijaya Laxmi told media that 20 more vehicles with five outsourced personnel per vehicle would be added to the present city fleet of 30 vehicles.
The number of sterilizations done per day by Animal Birth Control teams would be increased from the present 100 per day to 450.
In addition, the newspaper Telangana Today reported, “The mayor instructed the sanitation staff to ensure there are no delays or neglect in clearance of garbage.”
From just this much, an observer might deduce that the Hyderabad ABC programs have been understaffed and inefficient, performing only three sterilizations per day per vehicle on average, meaning only three per veterinarian, whereas the global standard for spay/neuter specialists is from 20 to 50.
The Hyderabad Animal Birth Control programs are also perhaps underfunded. Yet if the five-member teams assigned to each Hyderabad ABC program vehicle had been working to global standards of efficiency, the present commitment of resources should have been sufficient to meet the mayor’s targets.
But cycle of hiring goondas may have been broken?
An observer might further deduce that mayor G. Vijaya Laxmi does understand that merely putting goondas on the public payroll to kill dogs, the traditional Indian response to dog attacks, accomplishes nothing except maintaining a cadre of goondas loyal to the political administration.
Historically, funds meant to subsidize ABC have often been diverted to hiring dog-killing goondas. The goondas have typically killed the dogs who have been easiest to catch, most often those who were already sterilized and vaccinated. This in turn has left food sources and habitat open to immigrant dogs from other neighborhoods. As the immigrant dogs have neither been sterilized nor vaccinated, the “dog menace” becomes worse instead of better, ensuring further employment of the goondas.
The Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation appears to have broken that cycle, and perhaps has also broken the cycle of trash heaps attracting rats and dogs and dogs to hunt the rats.
But nowhere in India has broken the common habit of well-meaning people disposing of food waste by feeding street dogs in a manner causing dogs to congregate dangerously in public places, instead of dispersing to scavenge as their ancestors did, keeping their population in any one place below the carrying capacity of the habitat.
After the death of Pari Gangowar, Bandia chief veterinary officer Abhinav Verma told Times of India reporter Bobins Abraham that, “Dogs are not being fed enough. It may be one of the reasons making them aggressive.”
Actually the situation is just the opposite. Before the introduction of the national Animal Birth Control program in 2003, fear of rabies kept direct street dog-and-human contact to a minimum. Most Indians tolerated street dogs, but did not fraternize with them, and street dogs in turn tended to keep a wary distance from unfamiliar humans.
Post-ABC, this has changed. India Today noted in 2019, for instance, that government figures showed reported dog bites in Punjab state had soared from 22,000 in 2014 to 113,000 in 2018
Worse, Animal Birth Control programs have not actually reduced the Indian dog population, either. While Animal Birth Control providers around India struggle to reach the 70% sterilization threshold necessary to slow the canine birth rate, growing numbers of feeders––and increasing social acceptance of dog-feeding as a form of virtue signaling––have stimulated a street dog population boom.
The street dog population in Orissa state, for instance, doubled from 862,520 in 2012, according to the national livestock census, to 1,734,339 in 2019, the Orissa Post reported on February 27, 2023.
“The figures show the Animal Birth Control (ABC) program has failed in Odisha and controlling the stray dogs is going to be a major challenge before the state,” the Orissa Post editorialized.
Meanwhile back in Hyderabad
Meanwhile in Hyderabad, dog pack attacks on children and even a fawn at the Jataayuvu Deer Park continued. At least three children under age 5 were reportedly badly injured just in the week following Pradeep’s death.
“Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation mayor G. Vijaya Lakshmi said there are 575,000 street dogs in the city, of which nearly 75% are sterilized” reported Hindustan Times senior assistant editor Srinivasa Rao Apparasu.
That would suggest that Hyderabad should have reached the “tipping point” at which the street dog population begins to drop.
But Apparasu noted inconsistencies in the data.
“There are still 200,000 unsterilized street dogs in the city”
“According to the official figures available from the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation,” Apparasu explained, “the authorities have sterilized 163,000 stray dogs in the last three years, including 50,091 in 2020-21, 73,601 in 2021-22 , and 40,155 in 2022-23.
“However, records released in 2020 show 199,000 dogs were sterilized,” Apparasu continued. “This indicates that only 362,000 dogs have been sterilized so far, and there are still 200,000 unsterilized street dogs in the city.
“A senior official of the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation said on condition of anonymity that the number of street dogs has been on the rise despite spending huge amounts on sterilization.”
Cost overruns & warehousing dogs
Said the anonymous official, “We are spending on an average $183 [U.S. funds] on catching and sterilizing each dog. Yet, the efforts are not sufficient due to lack of manpower and monitoring.”
$183 per dog, incidentally, is about twice the current average cost of having a pet dog sterilized in India by a private practice veterinarian.
Telangana state animal husbandry minister Talasani Srinivasa Yadav directed the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation to escalate Animal Birth Control efforts, as mayor G.Vijaya Laxmi was already doing, and “instructed the officials to identify areas having a high population of stray dogs and shift them to shelters set up under the Hyderabad Metropolitan Development Authority.”
This approach, unfortunately, is likely to result in large numbers of dogs suffering neglect in hastily built and poorly maintained pounds, with more unsterilized dogs moving in to take their places, while diverting funds away from the Animal Birth Control work needing to be done.
Crackdown on meat shops, but not on feeders
But Talasani Srinivasa Yadav correctly “pointed out that dogs gather more around chicken and mutton shops in view of the leftover raw meat dumped by shopkeepers,” Apparasu wrote, “and said a special cleaning drive at these shops would be taken up and strict action would be initiated against erring shop owners.”
The Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation affirmed that “strict action would be initiated against illegal dumping of raw meat and food waste by meat shops and hotels,” Apparasu finished.
As butchering in India is an occupation traditionally done by Muslims, who make up about 30% of the Hyderabad population, while Hindus are more than 60%, cracking down on butcher shops carries some risk of stirring ethnic division, but carries no political risk for the Hindu nationalist government.
No action, however, appears to be underway to discourage well-meaning but ecologically ignorant people, chiefly Hindus, from habituating dogs to being fed in places like the alley where Pradeep was killed.
Dogs, by law, cannot be relocated to poor districts
Hyderabad residents, reported the Hans India News Service on March 1, 2023, “have been demanding that dogs be relocated to save themselves from dog bites.
“However, the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation says that as per norms, after catching and sterilizing dogs, they are supposed to be left in the same place from where they were caught. Dogs,” by law, Hans India News Service explained, “cannot be shifted to a deserted area or the city outskirts,” which in practice would mean moving problematic dogs, those most habituated to seeking food from humans, from middle class neighborhoods to the poorest neighborhoods
2007 Hyderabad dog purge brought “monkey menace”
Oddly, no Hyderabad media appear to have recently mentioned either “monkey menace” or to have remembered that Hyderabad went through the whole “dog menace” cycle 16 years earlier, in 2007.
Abruptly purging street dogs then left the city, and surrounding suburbs, wide open to invasion by urbanized macaques, who descended from their usual habitat in trees and on rooftops to wreak havoc at street level.
The background, Blue Cross of India chair Chinny Krishna explained then to the Asian Animal Protection Network, was that, “The Municipal Corporation of Hyderabad two years ago stopped the successful ABC program carried out by the Blue Cross of Hyderabad and People for Animals, saying they would do it themselves. Close to 20,000 dogs were caught in the last two years and less than 1,500 were fixed, as per municipal records.”
Five times more dogs now than then
About 18,500 Hyderabad street dogs were covertly killed. Even more dogs were captured and massacred after a fatal dog attack in an outlying suburb of Hyderabad on March 28, 2007.
“The civic administration might be winning accolades on several fronts, but containing the monkey menace in the city is not one of them,” noted T. Lalith Singh of The Hindu on May 8, 2007.
The city response was, predictably, to hire additional goondas to kill an estimated 5,000 to 10,000 macaques.
Hyderabad and nearby Secundarabad, often identified as twin cities, as of 2007 had between them more than 100,000 street dogs, plus about 11,000 free-roaming pet dogs, said The Hindu––or about a fifth as many street dogs as now, 16 years of inept Animal Birth Control performance later.