Spare a thought for dog attack victims

Those demanding a humane approach towards abandoned animals need to stop and think of the cost of all this, the lives that were snuffed out and the toll it takes on those left behind.

When Parag Desai stepped out of his house for his routine walk, little did he or his family know that it would be the last time or his last walk. 

Tea taster Parag Desai was Executive Director of the well-known Wagh Bakri tea brand. He was a fourth generation member of the Desai family which successfully steered the company, Parag’s great grandfather had set up way back in 1892. 

At 49, Parag’s death was untimely.

Tragedy apart, it is the cause that made everyone sit up: stray dogs. 

The ill-fated day was October 15.  Desai was trying to ward off stray dogs when he fell and suffered a brain haemorrhage. He was rushed to the hospital where he, unfortunately, lost the battle for life.  

Reports confirm Shri Desai was taking a walk in his residential society close to his bungalow when stray dogs rushed towards him. He ran but lost his balance and fell, resulting in a brain haemorrhage.  

The press note that the hospital issued confirmed that he fell down after being chased by dogs, adding that the hospital has been getting “a lot of cases due to dog bites or accidents caused by stray animals”. 

Desai’s is not the only case resulting in death due to the stray dogs menace. 

In March this year, two siblings were mauled to death by stray dogs in India’s capital city, Delhi. 

Earlier this year, a four-year old was mauled by a pack of strays in Hyderabad; last year, a baby died after being bitten by a stray dog in Noida in Uttar Pradesh; a two-year old attacked by four strays in Surat, Gujarat; while in Bihar as many as 70 people were attacked by one single dog; doctors in Punjab put the figure of dog bites to 40 per month adding that in November last year as many as 145 cases were reported.

The issue is not of deaths, dog bites or attacks; it is a menace which seems to have gripped several parts of the country. It has also reopened the debate among activists and citizens particularly those that were affected or have suffered. 

The Kannur district panchayat had moved the court seeking permission to euthanize wild dogs stating that stray dog bites and road accidents had multiplied and hence needed to be tackled. Petitions vacillated between elimination of stray dogs versus the issue being addressed according to the provisions of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act and the Animal Birth Control (Dog) Rules, 2023. 

The Animal Birth Control Rules necessitate stray dogs to be rounded up, vaccinated and then released, the focus being to control the canine population without cruelty.

The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, on the other hand, advocates prevention of inflicting pain or suffering on animals. It also defines animals as “any living creature” other than a human being. 

Courts apart, stray dogs roam the streets and more often than not, are aggressive. Efforts to control them through sterilization have come to a naught because of lack of funds and will. 

The problem, it is largely agreed, is not about policies not being in place; it is about non execution, rather inefficient execution of sterilization programmes that have led to the failure to control the menace. 

As for the people, they are clearly divided on how the problem should be addressed. The two are often at loggerheads. If dog lovers and activists say that feeding them is an “act of kindness”, others cry foul over the number of deaths due to attacks by stray dogs.  

A tweet by a senior officer best sums up the acrimony: “Carry a stick to keep safe from stray dogs on morning walks. If there are dog lover activists in your area, carry a bigger stick,” he tweeted, adding that dog lovers  need to “acknowledge and understand” that stray dogs are a problem.

In one sense, statistics substantiate this. According to the World Health Organisation, India accounts for 36 percent of the rabies deaths in the world.  

While there is no obvious solution or straight answers on how to resolve this, one must agree that a balance has to be maintained between people being safe versus caring, nurturing and loving stray dogs. 

Courts did suggest that dog lovers who feed dogs should bear responsibility for vaccinating them and footing the bill for medical expenses, but it is easier said than done because on the ground there are gaps in this Utopian measure.

It is no one’s case to say “abandon the animal” or advocate an indifferent approach but a line needs to be drawn: love must come with a sense of responsibility.  

 Of course activists have come up with weird suggestions about do’s and don’ts when a dog approaches you: “Don’t run, don’t scream, don’t jump. That will lead to a reaction. Simply stand still,” is what an activist has suggested. 

Absurd to say the least, because when a dog approaches you, fear grips and logic fails. And what about kids being attacked? Their normal reaction on seeing a dog is to run which can trigger a reaction and lead to a disaster, to say the least. 

Another suggestion, equally absurd, is the task of identifying aggressive dogs from the docile with the help of the local people: “A dog”, said a naysayer, “is a dog and all this glib talk fails in the face of an attack. Ask those who were attacked or have lost a loved one and all this sounds gibberish”. 

Quite right, because loving a dog is one thing but being victim to one, quite another. And looking at the number of deaths and attacks, this is a problem that goes beyond love for an animal; it is one about human lives and often about a bread earner in the family; it is one about losing a child or crippling a teenager.  Therefore while sensitivity to an animal is a given, it is time to weigh the cost of a human life and the trauma of those left behind versus the love for a dog. 

In the face of tragedies which in the case of dog attacks seem to be multiplying by the day, solutions which are in the public domain are miniscule. The blame game between administrators and activists will continue but the ground reality stares and stares hard as loved ones, be it Parag Desai’s wife and daughter, or a parent whose child was mercilessly mauled, perform last rites fighting back tears.

Therefore those demanding a humane approach towards abandoned animals need to stop and think of the cost of all this, the lives that were snuffed out and the toll it takes on those left behind. They sure can profess their love for animals, dogs or any other, but they should also shoulder responsibility and accountability for untoward incidents. So even while their hearts beat for the dogs, they should spare a thought for victims and human lives. And in this all of us, the activists, the naysayers, dog and animal lovers, those who do and those who don’t must stand together.