Bengaluru is no city for dogs
The Bengaluru municipality is enforcing pet bylaws that included, among its list for pet ownership, a cap on the number of dogs per home
On 5 June, Sanjana Madappa, an animal rights activist who works with Bengaluru-based animal rescue and welfare organization Cupa (Compassion Unlimited Plus Action), updated her Facebook page with a photo of her one-year-old son and one of her dogs, a young male Rottweiler, both lying on their stomachs and gazing at the camera.
The image was captioned with the brutal words: “Which one should I give up?"
Madappa’s post was a reaction to an announcement made just a day before by the city municipal council, the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP), to the effect that it would be enforcing pet-licensing by-laws that included, among its list of rules for pet ownership, a cap on the number of dogs per home—only one dog per household in apartments and a maximum of three in individual houses.
Madappa, who lives with more than four dogs, most of them rescued and adopted, was incensed, as were hundreds of pet owners, animal rescue workers and activists across Bengaluru. It’s not just the cap on the number of dogs “allowed", they also took issue with the list of 64 breeds approved for ownership by the BBMP—a list that included breeds rarely found in Indian homes, like the Bichon Frise and Brussels Griffon, but strangely left out far more popular breeds such as the Beagle, Golden Retrievers, and—this is where it gets ludicrous—the Indian Pariah or “Indie". The News Minute, an online publication, reported that the list seemed to have been copied in toto from a similar one issued by the Singapore government.
Priya Chetty-Rajagopal, founder of the CJ Memorial Trust for animal welfare (named after her beloved pet dog, CJ), says activists are not against dog-licensing, micro-chipping collars, or other rules of the by-law like picking up after your dog or compulsory leashing in public. “We are all for responsible pet ownership. In fact, we have held dog-licensing camps across the city with the BBMP and helped license over 950 dogs. Which is why it’s surprising that we were not consulted or informed in advance of this ridiculous notification," says Chetty-Rajagopal. Many families with multiple dogs have either adopted abandoned pets or rescued Indies. “And now they are supposed to leave them on the streets again?" she asks.
In a petition on Change.org (which received over 9,000 signatures in three days), Chetty-Rajagopal points out that no effort has been made to curtail the “breeding mafia"—illegal, unlicensed breeders who do brisk business selling pets like merchandise online and offline. “The ministry of environment, forests and climate change has finalized and legalized dog breeding rules, but we have not seen an iota of action by the authorities (in Bengaluru)," says Suparna Ganguly, co-founder and trustee of Cupa.
Although Bengaluru has always been a pet-friendly city, and by some accounts is home to the largest number of pet dogs in the country, not everyone is an animal lover or even aware of the rights of animals or pet owners. Most complaints about pets come from neighbours in apartment complexes who see pets as a nuisance or a threat to safety. Before 2015, several apartment residents’ groups tried to ban pets, until a circular by the Animal Welfare Board of India termed this illegal. “There are residents welfare associations (RWAs) that are amazingly cooperative and pet-friendly, and others that need a lot of confidence and awareness-building," says Ganguly.
While pet owners in Bengaluru have taken to social media in huge numbers since the by-laws were announced, making hashtags like #NotWithoutMyDog trend on Twitter nationally, and carried out peaceful protests in public places, dogs in tow, the fate of the notification will, in fact, be decided today when the BBMP council meets. “If these by-laws are allowed to stay, it sets a dangerous precedent for the rest of the country and for anti-pet groups to put pressure on local government. But we are confident that animal lovers everywhere will get behind #NotWithoutMyDog and stand up to such bullying. This is democracy at work," says Chetty-Rajagopal.