Dog day afternoon (and early morning)

September 27th, 20102:37 pm @

Indian street dog

Holi street dog - one canine not causing an international incident for India.

The image of muddy paw prints stamped across a mattress in the Commonwealth Games village was a fantastic symbol of the mess organisers found themselves in during the lead-up to the event.

Stray dogs are a fixture of most urban centres in India – although Games organises have started a drive to round up and remove strays from the village, which should mean no more canine-soiled bedding for athletes and officials. So far nearly 170 have been rounded up and removed.

For the rest of New Delhi’s long-suffering residents, however, it’s a different story, with packs of strays a common sight – and sound – across the capital.

While they aren’t gallivanting on the beds of Commonwealth athletes, the city’s strays entertain themselves by keeping would-be sleepers awake throughout the night with their howling, or holding up traffic at Indira Gandhi International Airport as they take time out on the runways.

It is another member of the Gandhi dynasty who, many say, is responsible for the city’s stray dog infestation. Animal rights campaigner Maneka Gandhi has long championed the cause of the city’s strays, advocating their sterilisation, but campaigning vigorously against any moves to euthanise them.

Proponents of putting the strays to sleep say they’re a social menace and a health risk – never failing to point out that Gandhi himself advocated the destruction of urban strays. Those opposed say the danger is overblown – most bites are from pets – and the dogs help keep the rat population down.

Either way, the High Court has come down on the side of the dogs, ruling that they can’t be euthanised. Which leaves highly overworked and under-resourced NGOs to round up and sterilise the animals. It’s a losing battle and means residents often take matters into their own hands.

Dog lovers also take matters into their own hands, feeding the strays and – in some cases – vaccinating and sterilising the dogs while they’re at it. They’re often the subject of local residents’ ire, however, when they choose to feed the animals outside homes in the early hours of the morning. If they’re ever late, the assembled dogs let the whole neighbourhood know they want to be fed.

Their howling sets off the pet dogs of residents (nearly every house has a dog), which then starts the street dogs barking, which prompts barking from the resident dogs in retaliation and so on and so forth throughout the night in a sort of canine round. It’s no wonder those encouraging the dogs to congregate are in the firing line.

The harassment became so bad that the High Court had to intervene again – they must have a special dog bench – and allowed for the designation of feeding zones, where dog lovers could go about their business, safe from reprisals.

Despite the best efforts of the NGOs and well-meaning dog lovers to humanely reduce the dog population, it’s still a losing battle. Who knows, along with the metro, new flyovers, a facelift for Connaught Place and lots of shiny new sporting facilities, the Commonwealth Games might also lead to a wider campaign to remove strays from the city’s streets, not just the athletes’ village.

Somehow, I doubt it.

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