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March 30, 2012

In India, the Fight for Street Dogs Goes On

HSI assists local authorities in Hyderabad to ensure humane population control

Humane Society International/India

  • Concern over humane animal population control is on the rise in India. HSI

For at least two decades, India’s official policy has outlawed killing of stray dogs and has gradually established Animal Birth Control (ABC) programs throughout the country. The program is funded and overseen by the Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI) at a federal level. However, local authorities (municipal corporations) are responsible for ensuring its success by following central guidelines and, as is required in such programs, going the extra mile to ensure animal welfare.

Unfortunately, the application of the program guidelines routinely falters at several locations. The most recent case of such failure, in Hyderabad, capital of the south Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, was appalling. One of the major IT hubs in the country, it is no backwater but a vibrant, teeming city. Nevertheless, the animal shelters where the dogs were housed before and after spay/neuter surgeries were in terrible condition. Pictures released on the Internet showed carcasses of dogs half-eaten by their starving fellows.

Additional problems included derelict shelter buildings, neglect, and unsterile treatment and surgical conditions. Animal lovers around the world were shocked and mails and calls to relevant authorities ensued.

Reaching out

The Animal Welfare Board of India has the most authority to question the manager of the five dog pounds in Hyderabad—the Greater Hyderabad Municipality Corporation (GHMC). “The Animal Welfare Board of India had to step in on receipt of numerous complaints against GHMC for gross mismanagement of their ABC/Anti-Rabies program and inhumane treatment of stray dogs in the dog pounds,” according to Dr. R.M. Kharb, the chairman of Animal Welfare Board of India.  

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Among the major concerns were the poor surgical procedures followed by the local vets, which needed to be addressed quickly. Dr. Kharb immediately got in touch with our team in India to request that we conduct training programs, both on-location and at our fully-equipped training center in Jaipur. HSI teams were also dispatched to assess the conditions at the pounds, where we advised staff on following certain basic rules and systems that would help ensure the welfare and safety of the dogs.

Talking about how the training was received, Dr. Chawla said, “The vets seemed very enthusiastic to learn about this technique. And, they did seem genuinely interested in applying their new skills. They also had to relearn a few basic surgical skills, like the right gloving techniques to reduce risk of infections for the animals and so on. We were happy to train them.” Our team also helped train the GHMC paravets and dog catchers in humane catching and handling techniques.

Change is never easy...

The local authorities did cooperate, but remained defensive. After the completion of the program, however, the chief veterinary officer of GHMC expressed appreciation for our efforts. “The training provided by Humane Society International was excellent and should be a model for the entire nation. It is important to upgrade our knowledge and infrastructure," said Dr. P. Venkateswara Reddy.

Amala Akkineni, the co-founder of Blue Cross of Hyderabad, shared her reaction as well. “We have seen the dog pounds convert from killing pounds to ABC centers. It has taken decades to change attitudes and bring improvements. To then hear about something like this was very sad,” she said, adding, “HSI was the first organization to offer to train the vets. While the Animal Welfare Board of India makes recommendations, somebody has to step forward and implement them. I am glad that HSI has a training center and could offer this service. It is the most practical help that one can give—training the vets, so they can do the job properly.”

With monitoring from local organizations like Blue Cross and supervision by the Welfare Board, coupled with practical assistance by HSI, hopefully conditions for stray dogs in Hyderabad will improve. We will keep working to ensure that they do.

But in the end, it's about saving lives

Dr. Kharb said, “I must commend HSI/India and Mr. Rahul Sehgal [its director] for conducting an excellent spay/neuter training program for GHMC staff and assembling good infrastructure at a short notice. I am sure the HSI/India training facility at Jaipur will go a long way in meeting the much needed requirement of creating skilled pools of vets, paravets and dog catchers.

"This will help expand the AWBI’s ongoing ABC/Anti-Rabies program. Controlling the population of stray dogs and managing rabies in a humane and scientific manner is indeed a big challenge ahead of us.” Finally, he said, “My sincere thanks to HSI/India for accepting the challenges and doing an excellent job.”

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