legal rights of strays & confrontations with "dog-haters"

Often, those of us feeding or otherwise caring for stray animals (especially dogs) are often the target of people’s ire.

These days, a dog is often perceived as a blood-thirsty animal, out on the prowl in constant search of its next human child to prey on.

Nothing can be further from the truth.

Note that it is human nature to fear things we do not understand. Misconceptions about street dogs abound, frequently fuelled by the dramatisation of news items in the media.

In our experience, we’ve come across two broad classes of people who have complained to us about feeding dogs –

the first group of people have misconceptions and skewed perceptions like the above, yet are still somewhat open to reason. These people can be spoken to, argued with, informed, made aware and even fought with – because there’s still hope to make them understand. A lot of people who were hitherto uncomfortable and against dogs have turned a full 180 just because I took the time to explain matters to them, in the best way I knew how.

The second class of humans are true dog haters. These people are vindictive beings who are completely closed off to any dialogue or reason. Legal action and widespread social media support is the only way to tackle such people if they pose problems.

Stray animals have certain “rights” and there is a legal basis and context for this. This has been detailed a little later in this article.

When confronted by a “dog hater” who might still be open to reason, please remember the following points with respect to dog behaviour:

Many people are of the misconception that feeding dogs somehow “invites” more dogs to the area or discourages the existing dogs from moving away. They also feel that feeding them will add to the ever-increasing population of the dogs on the street.

Any dog behaviourist would concur with me when I say the first misconception is blatantly not true. Dogs are fiercely territorial and will remain so, whether or not food is provided by a human in the area. They will also drive out any new dog that may stray into “their area”.

The second misconception doesn’t HAVE to be true if your dogs are sent for safe sterilisations (once they are of age). This is actually one of the most responsible things you can do for your house pets as well as the animals on your street.

Coming back to the first point, if there is a group of dogs living in an area with scheduled and organised feedings, they tend to be more amiable, friendly, easy to be handled (for e.g. to be vaccinated and taken in for sterilisation) and will ensure no other dogs (which may not be vaccinated or sterilised, perhaps unfriendly with humans) can stay in that territory.

It also allows the feeders to keep an eye on the general health of the dog, hence reducing the instances of bites due to health related irritation.

This also means that these dogs would see humans as friends, as opposed to distrusting us and seeing us as a threat. The thing with dogs is, even if we are perceived as a threat, A DOG WILL ALWAYS SEEK TO AVOID CONFRONTATION AND WILL ONLY BITE IF PROVOKED.

I see children, every single day, throwing stones, sticks, pulling, hitting and chasing dogs. In this context, a dog may run away from the immediate threat but not be able to differentiate between this child and an innocent one. This is the reason dog bites occur.

IN THE MEDIA, WHAT DOGS DO ARE NOT ONLY REPORTED BUT DRAMATISED BUT NO ONE IS MADE AWARE OF WHAT CHILDREN DO.

The wisest solution to this problem is to educate our children on what is acceptable and not acceptable to do with a dog. Even those of us seeing such instances in public spaces can speak to an erring child, urging him to mend his ways.

The idea of no food implies no dog is false because there is always food available to a dog. A hungry dog will basically see everything as food – hare, pet rabbit, children with biscuits, anything they can scavenge into and so on. Dogs don’t disappear, they just become less visible. The reason being, instead of sitting idle, they are now always looking for food – resulting in more clashes.

Even if a community dog that is fed and shown love by humans is somehow driven away by the others, the place of this dog will be taken by another one from somewhere else (which may be an unsafe dog). This is just how animals work.

So if the territorial nature of dogs is used to our common advantage, more reasonable and more safe situations can be created.

Additionally, it is ILLEGAL to relocate a dog or harm it any way, as per the mandate of the AWBI which is a statutory body, and the Prevention of Cruelty to Animal Act, 1960.

If someone insists something must be done about “the stray dog menace” – inform them that there is only one thing to be done. This is the most rational, scientific, practical and humane way – the WHO-endorsed Animal Birth Control (ABC) Program running in India.

According to this program, dogs must be sterilised and annually vaccinated. You can call up your local municipal corporation to find out if they run the ABC program. Some don’t, in which case any animal NGO in the area can be requested to do the needful. In case they look forward to some kind of contribution, it must be the responsibility of the COMMUNITY as a whole to donate a nominal amount per person.

This is the only lawful, scientific, ethical and workable thing to “do” about the stray dog “menace”. And often, this along with behavioural corrections of children and mindset corrections of people in the area, is much more than enough.

In fact, feeding animals is not illegal and can, in fact, be interpreted as a Fundamental Duty as enshrined in the Constitution of India.

According to the legally-enforcible guidelines of the Animal Welfare Board of India:

There is no law that prohibits feeding of street animals, and that citizens who choose to do so are in fact performing a duty cast upon them by the Constitution of India. Persons who are trying to interfere with their effort, or display aggression, can be held liable for having committed the offence described in the Indian Penal Code and criminal intimidation.

Moreover, as per Indian law, street dogs cannot be beaten or driven away.  Please remember that the only humane, legal and scientific way of dealing with street dogs is to get them vaccinated and sterilized under Animal Birth Control Programme (ABC). Under this program, stray dogs are picked up, neutered, vaccinated against rabies and released in the respective areas from where they had been captured, which is in accordance with the Animal Birth Control Rules 2001 framed under Section 38 of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1960 and as per the orders of Honourable Supreme Court of India.

Advantages of Animal Birth Control Programme are as follows:

Sterilisation helps calm the dogs down and restricts their numbers.There is scientific thought behind restoring a sterilized dog to his original habitat. Dogs are territorial animals. They mark out their territories and they do not let outsiders come in. When these local dogs are removed from their territory, other dogs move in to occupy them. These may not be sterilized so the problem continues for that locality. Dog fights increase as any new dog entering a territory is attacked by the dogs already in that area and non-sterilized dogs continue to mate and produce litters. Rabies continues to spread as none of the dogs in that area are vaccinated against it. The new dogs are hostile to the residents so problems of safety continue. A sterilized and vaccinated dog doesn’t breed, they guard their territory from intruders and new dogs, and they become docile and don’t fight with other dogs during the mating season.Getting dogs sterilized is the best form of welfare we can all do for street dogs, as these dogs will be vaccinated in the process and will not have to give birth to pups anymore, something they can’t otherwise do without human intervention. Only Dogs above the age of 4 months can be picked up for sterilisationThe right ear of sterilized dogs is notched/cut at the tip as a mark of identification.

Rule 6 and Rule 7 of The Animal Birth Control (Dogs) Rules, 2001, state the following:

Rule 6 clearly envisages that even if the Municipal Corporation thinks it expedient to control street dog populations; IT CANNOT RESORT TO KILLING OR DISLOCATING. It can only sterilize and immunize the dogs, and then leave them at the locations that they had been picked up from. Rule 7 deals with the procedure to be followed upon receipt of a complaint. Please also note, the Municipality cannot just pick up dogs, simply because some persons/administrators don’t like their being around. Even the dogs that are complained about can only be sterilized and immunized, and then left back at the locations that they had been picked up from.

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