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April 10, 2012

In Ahmedabad, a Model for Resolving Human-Street Dog Conflict

Humane Society International/India

  • Stray dogs have found a safer alternative to the streets in India's manifold university campuses. Rahul Sehgal/HSI

  • While far from ideal, life on campus is easier for these animals. Rahul Sehgal/HSi

  • The presence of strays on university campuses does however pose multiple challenges. Rahul Sehgal/HSI

India’s sprawling, government-owned university, college and research campuses are scattered across the nation. As odd as it may sound, these, along with leading space research centres, engineering hubs and global management institutes, make safe havens for the country’s stray dogs. Acres of tall, green trees provide shade and comfort through sweltering summers, and food sources are aplenty, thanks to onsite residences, cafeterias, and poor garbage disposal systems.

However, dog and man don’t necessarily coexist in harmony, due in part to the poor implementation of the Animal Birth Control (ABC) program by local municipal bodies, uncontrolled breeding of the animals, and short-term measures such as displacement (which never works!) taken by campus authorities.

A call for assistance

HSI/India was called upon to help out on one such campus, the Indian Institute of Management in Ahmedabad. The IIMs, as they’re known, exist at several locations throughout the country, and the one in Ahmedabad, in the west Indian state of Gujarat, has been called “the Harvard Business School of India.” The institute’s authorities had been struggling with a dog issue for several years. “The municipal authorities could not solve it, and obviously, there was nothing we could do directly,” said campus official and Group Head Mr. H.J Vadher

“The huge campus is located in the centre of the city, surrounded by the worst congestion of vehicular and human traffic. Naturally, the dogs are looking to find safe spots and almost every dog in the area attempts to get onto the campus and stick around,” said Rahul Sehgal, Ahmedabad resident and director, HSI/India.

Getting into action

Upon receiving the call, our team immediately began work on the problem. Several initiatives needed to be undertaken at once, including investigation of complaints, documenting the dogs’ conditions and their locations, and most importantly, setting up feeding stations.

Just before we stepped in, the number of dog bite and dog attack reports had skyrocketed. We started with a thorough investigation of the situation, probing every complaint more deeply. We found that many could be attributed to fear and phobia, which had deepened in recent times. This was especially true for reports of attacks. However, the problem could not be denied entirely as the dogs were indeed turning aggressive for a variety of reasons.

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One of the first things that we did was to work with campus staff to set up feeding stations. These served multiple purposes, including reducing aggression and allowing us to monitor the animals on a daily basis. “At the feeding stations, the team notes new entrants and observes the dogs for injuries or changes in behavior,” explained Sehgal. The stations also help the staff befriend the animals, so they are more compliant when the time comes to transfer them to the on-campus sterilization and vaccination centres. In some cases, humane catching methods like blow pipes are also used.

Keeping the dogs healthy and busy

Things, of course, are far from perfect. To controlling the dog population, ensure the animals’ constant welfare, and minimize conflicts requires a long-term commitment. Thankfully, campus authorities are aware of this. The current chief administrative officer of the institute, Mr. Manoj Bhatt, started work on the campus a few months before the first year of the project was nearing completion. “I had heard from my team about the situation with the dogs and I was glad to note that this project had been initiated. Reactions are mixed about the results, but it takes time to resolve a problem of this nature,” he said.

Mr.Vadher echoed Mr. Bhatt’s point of view: “Opinions may vary on how successful the program has been so far, but for us, as people in-charge on the campus, it a huge relief that there is an agency we can call to deal with the matter in a scientific manner. I would say there has been 80 percent improvement since the problem was at its peak in 2007. Complaints of bites and chasing have dropped dramatically.”

Many people who are generally anti-animal have hardly changed their stance, says faculty member Professor Navdeep Mathur. “The problem is not going to be solved immediately or forever… the notion of animal birth control has to become part of an institute’s ecology,” he said, adding emphatically, “although nobody will say this programme has not been a success.” Professor Mathur shared figures [note: these could not be verified] to complement our team on their efforts: “Where there used to be complaints of 10 bites a week, now there’s probably one every month. That’s a vast improvement,” he said.

A haven and an identity

As of February this year, our team had also completed a geotagging project with all the dogs on the campus, so we know the exact location of every dog, and since the pictures are tacked onto virtual maps, new team members and staff can easily identify the animals.

With more than 100 dogs sterilized, vaccinated, treated, fed and now being monitored, this pioneering welfare project is off to a fabulous start. The second year, our local team promises, will see the fruits of their efforts, with results expected to be unprecedented compared to any solutions attempted before.

“IIM-Ahmedabad has proven that it’s among the nation’s most forward-thinking institutes by taking an intellectual and humane approach to stray dog welfare. We’re so very proud of this partnership,” said Sehgal.

“It’s such a relief not to see dogs being chased or beaten with sticks or sick ones simply being heartlessly ignored,” said Professor Mathur, who, like many of us, is an animal lover, and for whom these things alone are half the battle won and a giant leap forward.

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