By Diana Lopez
Every morning on Bellary Road, a skinny, sad-looking dog wanders past the entrance of the Royale Senate hotel, walking toward the neighboring businesses and back. He stops only to scratch his hindquarters. His fur long ago succumbed to mange, and his bare skin outlines his jutting ribs.
He clearly knows better than to approach the hotel’s open door, where a guard stands watch next to a pile of rocks ready to be picked up and hurled.
Similar scenes happen in almost every corner of Bangalore, where over 400,000 stray dogs wander aimlessly around the streets.
Indian street dogs struggle daily to get food, survive the chaotic traffic and coexist with humans in a society where fear of dog bites and fear of rabies are strong.
The city government provides no direct animal control services. It oversees nongovernmental organizations dedicated to animal welfare that have taken the initiative to help the dogs.
“Hopefully, we’ll make some kind of difference in the whole thing,” said Vani Shankar, a volunteer at Sarvodaya Sevabhavi Samstha, a nongovernmental group dedicated to the protection and care of animals.
Stray dogs sleep in parks, on sidewalks or inside storm drains. They feed themselves from the piles of garbage found throughout the city. Nourished by their scavenging, they breed during the rainy season, which runs from June to August.
“We need to get rid of the garbage first, and automatically the dog menace will come down,” Shankar said.
And with so many strays, concerns regarding the safety of Bangaloreans have been raised.
“He is scaring the hell out of this poor woman!” shouted Shilpa Mahbubani, the communications director at Compassion Unlimited Plus Action, or CUPA, recalling a stray dog who used to chase her neighbor’s scooter. “I found a lovely woman who is staying a little bit beyond Bangalore who came all the way to the city to pick him up,” Mahbubani added. “Now he is happy in a farmhouse, and he has all the space in the world to run around, and he is safe.”
Stories about dog attacks appear daily in the local newspapers, and the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike, the local corporation responsible for civic safety, receives a steady stream of complaints about the “dog menace.”
And although the BBMP has not done much, The Bangalore Mirror recently reported that with about 15,000 cases of dog bites reported every year, the city will soon start compensating victims of stray dog bites at a rate of 2,000 rupees, or about $32, per puncture wound.
Immediately after an attack, the victim must file a report with the BBMP, including any relevant documents and photographs. The victim receives free anti-rabies vaccines, and if necessary, a medical team will transport the victim to the nearest hospital.
The stray dog situation has created an intense public debate in Bangalore.
Many argue that the dogs must be killed. But according to the national Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act of 1960, only “incurably ill and mortally wounded dogs as diagnosed by a qualified veterinarian appointed by the committee shall be euthanised during specified hours in a humane manner.”
Local organizations such as Sarvodaya, Compassion Unlimited Plus Action and The Voice of Stray Dogs have implemented animal birth control programs in their centers to help keep the street dogs from reproducing.
Dr. Akshay Prakash, a veterinarian who works with Sarvodaya Sevabhavi Samstha, explained that street dogs are captured, vaccinated against rabies and then surgically neutered in a 10- to 15-minute procedure.
After a brief recovery period, the dogs are released at the same place where they were caught with their ears notched to identify them as sterilized. There is a very low risk for the animals in this surgery. “One out of a thousand dogs will die,” Prakash said.
Despite the efforts of these organizations, the stray dogs population still represents a big social problem for many.
“Sterilization helps calm down the dogs,” Mahbubani said. But this is true only for sexual and maternal aggression and does nothing to control aggressive behavior prompted by fear, hunger and territorial instincts.
Mahbubani said the city is divided in half on this issue. For every person who has a problem with a stray dog in the area, she said, “Another person says, ‘You know what? I’m taking care of this dog. Stay out of it.’”