OPEN LETTER to the Honorable Union Minister of Fisheries, Animal Husbandry and Dairying, Government of India Dear Union Minister Parshottam Rupala, Certainly, your recent announcement in the media of a planned law on stray dog menace is not meant to win votes. Your intention must be to effectively solve the problems experienced by people with respect to the free roaming dog population in India.
Dear Minister, I trust that you are aware that sufficient legal provisions are already in place in India to resolve the issues, but that implementation is lagging. You must have understood that the only existing law that needs to be strengthened is the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act (1960).No law can provide a “quick fix” solution. A more holistic and humane approach is the need of the hour. Before your announcement, we may presume that you had informed yourself thoroughly, learning from scientific studies about effective measures to control the free roaming dog population and eradicate rabies. Surely, you must have called for meetings with experts, professionals, and practitioners in this field to get a better understanding from different perspectives. I guess you have also taken into account international guidelines (e.g. ICAM coalition) and got inspired by good practice examples from other countries (e.g. The Netherlands) where the free roaming dog population has effectively been controlled, rabies has been eradicated and human-dog conflicts are no longer a major societal concern. Dear Minister, surely you must have realised by now that removing free roaming dogs from their area in whatever manner is simply INEFFECTIVE to tackle the problem; it does NOT reduce the population over time but rather aggravates existing issues. Needless to explain to your esteemed and educated Self the reasons why this is so. You must have understood that there is a natural balance between the homo sapiens and canis familiaris species. Dogs and humans are interdependent as they have lived together for thousands of years in a symbiotic relationship. When the human population increases in a particular area, the free roaming dog population will grow to its carrying capacity. Dogs will not simply disappear from our day-to-day lives even if massive removal from residential areas is initiated. Dogs will soon proliferate again. New dogs will fill vacuums until the carrying capacity of that area is reached again. These new dogs will not be sterilized nor vaccinated and due to the inhumane and random catching activity and hostilities/atrocities, they will likely become less trusting of humans, more skittish, harder to catch and hence will pose a larger risk for society. Dear Minister, by now you must have been informed well enough to avoid taking haphazard, ad hoc and ineffective measures such as allowing dog pounds, relocation of community dogs or mass transportation of live companion animals, incentivizing illegal and cross-border trade of dog meat. Such measures have proven to increase the spread of rabies and have an adverse effect on the control of the free roaming dog population. Laws allowing dog pounds and dog meat trade are in fact a threat to animals and people.
Publications on the dog and cat meat trade in Southeast Asia Four Paws, The dog and cat meat trade, The Truth
Dear Minister, given your all-encompassing wisdom with regards to effective policy measures for free roaming dog population control, rabies eradication and reducing human-dog conflicts, it will of course be unnecessary to say:
  • That the quickest fix would be to build more capacities and accountability in the administrative system; the fastest results can be achieved if existing laws are applied at priority basis by the executive and law-enforcement bodies at all levels of government.
  • That existing animal birth control (ABC) programs by States and local governments are based on a tested “catch-neuter-vaccinate-return” principle as the only effective way to control the free roaming dog population.
  • That sufficient resources for vaccination drives for community dogs must be sanctioned and execution monitored by the ABC-committees so that vaccines do not expire without being used (which is currently happening).
  • That feeders and caregivers who are fulfilling their constitutional duty of compassionate citizens are indispensable and instrumental to help catch community dogs humanely for animal birth control and vaccination programs.
  • That Residents’ Welfare Association and Apartment Owners’ Associations have a legal duty in the management of community dogs in their area and should establish an Animal Welfare Committee to help implement the animal birth control and vaccination programs as well as prevent cruelty to community animals.
  • That regulation to further restrict and tax breeding and selling dogs commercially in combination with high fines for random abandonment of pets by irresponsible owners would be effective measures to further control the free roaming dog population and reduce human-dog conflict.
  • That prohibiting and fining mass transportation of companion animals would reduce the inhumane, immoral and illegal (cross-border) dog and cat meat trade. Enforcement will reduce the spread of rabies and better control the free roaming dog population in India.
  • That strict enforcement of (improved!) animal cruelty prevention laws requires a dedicated and empowered police squad. These officers should be mandated, trained and well-equipped to prosecute and prevent animal cruelties, including penalizing pet owners who abandoned their pets, enforcing (stricter!) breeder taxes and regulations, and intercepting illegal mass transportation of companion animals.
  • That the above measures should be complemented with widely broadcasted national awareness campaigns.
  • That education modules should be mainstreamed for children in schools to learn to be kind and compassionate to all living creatures and teach them how to play and be safe around the community dogs who are sentient beings and their fellow non-human residents.
Given your omniscience, it may be superfluous to request you to ensure following two action points in your tenure as Minister: 1. Stop random removal of free roaming dogs from their area in whatever manner as this is scientifically proven to be ineffective in controlling the population. Instead domesticate community dogs. Sterilise, vaccinate and return them to their area to control the population effectively and sustainably. Work with the Animal Welfare Board of India to sanction a guideline (draft is ready for approvals) for local governments to work with RWAs/AOAs and local feeders/caregivers to attain 100% sterilisation and vaccination rates in their area. This will result in puppy-free and rabies-free neighbourhoods. 2. Stop animal cruelty and stop media from instigating fear of dogs in people, as this is a major root cause of dog reactivity and a self-fulling prophecy that will increase human-dog conflicts. Instead, spread proper information through national campaigns and (social) media about how to coexist harmoniously. Raise awareness about the constitutional duty of citizens to show compassion to living creatures and educate children and adults on how to be more confident and comfortable around their community dogs. Work with RWAs/AOAs and local feeders/caregivers to make societies animal cruelty-free and coexistence possible. Dear Minister, we remain curious to your announcement of a holistic and humane policy for the welfare of your electorate as well as for the well-being of free roaming animals they coexist with.
FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION The Stray Buddy program provides a powerful example of how the above two points can be implemented at the community level with the objective to prevent harm to people and animals. The model originates in colonies in South Delhi and was piloted and tested by a Delhi High Court appointed Implementation Committee (Order June 24, 2021). The process is community-owned and driven by self-managed groups or committees consisting of RWA representatives and local animal caregivers / feeders. Guided by an experienced facilitator, a systematic, area-based, and pragmatic five step approach of 1) mapping, 2) feeding, 3) sterilising, 4) vaccinating and providing medical care and 5) raising awareness is implemented by the group, customised to the local situation. Local authorities, NGOs, private vets and others are called upon when needed. The Stray Buddy model of community dog management was recently adopted by the NGO All Creatures Great and Small in Delhi. The program currently has a coverage of 12 colonies in South and East Delhi, 350 community dogs, 200 group members and about 2.5 lakh citizens impacted and has the ambition to grow. It is a plug-and-play module that can be embraced by RWAs and NGOs in other cities across India as well. Practical tools, templates and resources are made available on the website to encourage more and more neighbourhoods to take self-responsibility in controlling their community dog population, eradicating rabies from their area and reducing animal cruelty by raising more awareness on how to coexist. For more information:
NOTE: Feel free to forward the link to this open letter to the Union Minister  
  • Email ID: rupalaoffice[at]gmail[dot]com
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