I have no idea how he knew, but as soon as my dog Khal and I would step outside our society gate- irrespective of time of the day, Snow, our favourite community dog would come running to us. He'd first lick my hand, and then lick Khal’s face several times over. Two minutes after this very ‘bromantic’ meeting, the two fur babies would happily chase each other in the open ground in our neighbourhood. They’d roll in the grass, play tug with sticks and plastic pipes and keep at it until it was time for us to head back home.
Snow had been a constant in our lives for more than a year now. And all I’d done to deserve his love is feed him water in the harsh summer months. In monsoons, Khal and I’d visit him outside the shop he slept in and it would take just one call of “Snow” for to have him come wagging happily at us – this, even after an incident where he was severely injured in a dog fight. My husband and I often discussed adopting him when we made more money and bought a farmhouse.
But that day will never come. Two weeks ago, on a hot October day, Snow passed away, at the age of two, for reasons unknown. That night, I cried my eyes out. There were a lot of ‘only ifs’ that tugged at my heart. ‘Only if I had not waited to bring him home until we’d bought a farmhouse’. ‘Only if Snow didn’t have to try so hard to survive’, ‘only if he wasn’t threatened by the growing number of dogs in our area’, ‘only if the female dogs in our area were spayed in time, would he and many other puppies like him, not have to be born only to die prematurely because of road accidents, starvation or violence inflicted by humans’. Perhaps then, Khal wouldn’t have lost his best friend?
Not that I haven’t tried my bit to get the neighbourhood dogs spayed. I have, but every time I have called the local NGO to get a female community dog in heat spayed, no one has ever come. The common excuses served are either that their ‘pickup van is somewhere else’ or ‘they have work in another area and cannot come’. Unfortunately, this lackadaisical attitude ends up with more puppies being born in an area already crowded with dogs.
While the 10-yearly animal census conducted by the central government has been delayed by almost two years now, activists estimate that the number of street dogs has quadrupled since after the Covid-induced lockdown. “Animal birth control is the only solution to the so-called dog menace but there are many loopholes in the existing system,” says Utpal Khot, an animal activist and a representative of the Animal Welfare Board of India (a statutory advisory body on animal welfare laws). Budget, notably, is not a problem. There are enough funds available at the state, district and municipality levels. The problem is the lack of an efficient system and its implementation.
The loopholes and solutions
Let’s begin with the most basic issue: lack of adequate data on the number of dogs at the district and municipality levels. When the local administration doesn’t know the number of dogs they are dealing with, how will they be able to devise an efficient plan? Second, most city municipalities give contracts only to a couple of organisations to undertake the mammoth task of neutering and spaying dogs whose numbers possibly run into the hundreds and thousands. “It’s not enough,” says animal activist Seema Tank. “These organisations are always overworked and can never attend to cases immediately,” she rues.
What’s needed is for local governing bodies to roll out more contracts and appoint additional organisations to do the job. “I have always questioned why our municipalities have only worked with a few select organisations and that too for years, even when other organisations with similar or better facilities are doing a good job,” questions Khot. Also, female dogs should be neutered first than male dogs. It is just common sense when you consider that a female dog can produce two litters a year. That is ten litters in their productive five years. That’s a lot of puppies from just one female dog.
There’s also the issue of sincerity of the appointed organisations. Activists have often reported cases wherein an already neutered or spayed dog is picked up and added to the organisation’s register. It’s a conveniently added number to the given target. “In the current system, these organisations have hardly any accountability. Every process must be video recorded to ensure that money and resources are spent in doing the actual work and not fudging data,” says Khot. Even dog feeders face several challenges. “People yell at us, abuse us even, if a dog has been trying to be playful with a child, blaming us for dog aggression in the area,” says dog feeder Radhika Mishra.
However what people fail to understand is that feeders help the animal control process. The reported landmark 42.87% decrease in dog population in Pune – from 3.15 lakh in 2018 to 1.80 lakh in 2023 – has been attributed to an aggressive rabies vaccination drive and the work of dog feeders. NGO workers usually seek the help of feeders to lure dogs into vans, which take them to an assigned facility where the dogs are operated upon. “The dogs trust us as we feed them, which, in turn, helps NGO workers to conduct hassle-free vaccination and neutering drives,” explains Mishra.
While their work is commendable, feeders need to be mindful of feeding the dogs in a secluded area without causing much disturbance to people in the area. The bigger issue, though, is the unavailability of adequate medical facilities for dogs. “If we find an injured dog, we end up having to spend from our pocket to get them treated, even in animal NGOs,” says Tank adding, “That’s not always possible for every feeder.”
To solve the macro problem of animal control, even feeders must be supported and helped rather than ridiculed. If these simple measures are implemented, if we are not faced with the impossible challenge of feeding the rapidly increasing population of community dogs, dog aggression cases can be controlled. If Pune has done it, so can the rest of the country's municipalities. And probably then, puppies like Snow could have better chances for survival.
Riddhi Doshi is an independent journalist, a first-time pet parent and a Kathak student.