Feeders Harassed, Rescuers Stretched Thin, Culling Feared:The Indian Stray Dog Story and How To Help
Updated: Jul 18
A story of the much-maligned stray dog "menace" In India, aggression by dog haters & residential societies, endless cases of cruelty and what people can do to help.
Doing the right thing is the hardest thing, and hard things are hard, this I've always known. But this harsh truth isn't more stark or graver than when it comes to cases of people who care for animals not because but despite the society at large.
I've always been a pet parent, animal lover and an advocate for animal rights. But I couldn't have imagined that this aspect of my life would be met with the kind of hostility and stress it did. (but rewarding nonetheless.) It all began when during Covid I and a few others started feeding the dogs in my colony and eventually when I moved homes, I started feeding the emaciated stray dogs inside my gated society. Anyone who's done the latter knows what it's fraught with. There is a section of people who don't only hate stray dogs themselves, but make it their life's mission to actively prevent them from being cared for and fed. Their ruse? "Feeding dogs endangers the safety of residents". Sure sir, tell that to the starving 30-day old pup who is too scared and weak to even stand up and look you in the eye, leave alone come close enough to bite you and wants even less to do with you than you with it.
The odd cases of stray dogs bites captured on CCTV cameras and amplified on Whatsapps and
Instagrams haven't helped the cause. In a country with over 140 crore people and 1 crore dogs, a few cases of bites have always existed. Man-animal conflict isn't a new phenomenon, but a harsh reality. One could argue that the street dogs have been hardened and embittered by years of collective abuse and starvation and attack out of preemptive self-defence, hunger, heat or a combination of all. The animal antagonists see this as par for the course by a whole species and want them gone. The biggest malefactor has been Kerala which has seen multiple cases of mass violence against stray dogs since 2015 inspiring other pockets in the country who're now demanding stray dogs to be killed or taking matters in their own hands and harming the dogs themselves.
Amidst all these, hope flickers in the hands of the few rescuers, feeders, advocates, and animal welfare orgs. They run pillar to post to pick up the most egregious cases of animal cruelty, accidents and/or regularly feed and care for these dogs mostly on their own resources, without much help.
In my case, from fighting a lonely battle against the hostile residents for over a year to now being in a small community of other residents who too care about our 9 community dogs, we stride on. We pay a lovely lady a monthly salary to cook and feed the dogs and for the most part this arrangement has worked well, the aggression from the majority of residents notwithstanding.
Recently a story on how "some societies in Bangalore are taking care of stray dogs" got published in Bangalore Mirror and it featured our case. Much as it's a positive story amidst all the doom and gloom of animal cruelty around, the journalist sure took some liberties when she said that "the 300-people in this society have adopted 9 stray dogs". FAR from it! The 9 dogs have struggled to be even recognized as part of this society they were born in. These 300 residents barring a handful want nothing to do with the dogs, want them thrown out, starve, die, for all they care.
Fortunately AWBI laws that support feeding stray dogs, and the Supreme Court of India ruling that harassing or stopping people from feeding stray dogs is an offence have helped people like us. (Imagine something as basic as this had to be constituted into a law for us to even have a leg to stand on.)
But this obviously hasn't gone well with the society residents who are now helpless in the face of law and order. So they've resorted to other means to antagonize people like us including mocking and verbally abusing us on society Whatsapp groups, doxxing us, and generally trying their best to declare us as the "reason for the stray dog menace". Never mind the fact that we're the ones who got these dogs neutered and limited their growing population. When any amount of rational discourses failed, we've had Maneka Gandhi intervene but even an appeal from her to their consciousness didn't melt their frigidity towards the animals they unwillingly share the society with. This is not just mine but the story of most other societies and neighbourhoods in India where stray dogs/cats/monkeys exist.
A similar story had transpired in another high-raise gated society called Republic of Whitefield where a feeder was harassed for over a year until the BBMP and the police had to intervene and rescue the few remaining dogs after one already succumbed to the turmoil. Similar cases have been reported elsewhere. Sadhana Hegde, a former SPCA official and a long-time animal activist has personally been at the receiving end of resident harassment for taking care of her locality dogs.
High on new home ownership and the associated entitlement of having their pound of flesh in the society and all its common areas, these residents forget that the builders encroached the land of the animals to begin with. Before there was a concrete structure, there was a forest, empty fields and trees where monkeys, birds, and dogs roamed free.
Unfortunately there's not much that can change other than a systematic and gradual shift in collective consciousness and sensitisation of people towards animals. Thousands of videos exist showing the other side of the story. How street dogs can turn into loyal and friendly companions and even make excellent pets. (Why, I adopted one myself and can vouch for it.) How just by being well-fed and not abused, they lead peaceful and playful lives without bothering a soul. But people are set in their beliefs. They're willing to bet on other humans despite cases of murders, robberies, rapes and all other transgressions but animals don't get that benefit of doubt. Statistically the number of people who've been killed by dogs is minuscule in comparison to the ones by other humans but the average person doesn't think logically. Strong emotions, especially hate is a hard bargainer and the voiceless are an easy target. Activists have been asking for stronger animal anti-cruelty laws and a justice for feeders and welfare people but politics is enmeshed in every level of policy making.
Fortunately, things are not as bleak as long as there is a growing number of people who care, raise their voice and act for animal welfare despite all the odds.
Here's what you as a person can do and must do to help the cause of animal welfare and be a responsible citizen:
(Regardless of whether you care about dogs or not.)
1. Step away: If you don't like animals, it's okay. Noone's asking you to donate, volunteer, feed or advocate. The best thing you can do is not do anything at all. Deal with your dislike /hatred for animals like an adult, learn to coexist and let the laws and welfare workers do their jobs and exercise their moral duties. If you know even a little about spirituality and Karmic principles, no good deed goes unrewarded and no bad deed goes unpunished. By preventing a street dog from being fed, you're accumulating a whole lot of bad karma that may manifest in multiple ways in your own life.
2. Advocate and spread awareness: If you are on social media and have even a bit of online influence, share the cases of animal cruelty, raise them to the authorities, raise funds, and demand for this to be a just and kinder world.
3. Volunteer: If you have the time, volunteer at a shelter, or just help your local municipalities by getting at least one dog in your neighbourhood neutered. Having stray dogs humanely neutered ensures not only a stray dog free society in a decade or so, but also prevents a horrendous life for a future generation of dogs unfortunate enough to be born on the streets. Most local govts in partnerships with NGOs and municipalities offer a free or subsidized ABC (Animal Birth Control) programme which when implemented right is supposed to get the street dogs neutered and vaccinated. All you have to do is make those calls, raise those tickets, befriend your area dogs and help the ABC workers catch them. (Don't worry, they'll be dropped back after the surgery.)
4. Donate: Ultimately, if you're in a position, donate, donate and donate. Every single animal organisation is in dire needs of funds. Be it rent, employee salaries, medicines, transport, or daily food, there's no end to expenses in an animal shelter. Every bit helps. Right from individual feeders to even govt-backed organizations like the PFA post appeal after appeal for funds. The recent floods in Himachal, Uttarakhand and Delhi have seen their scarce resources run thinner than their patience.
You can have one fewer meal at a fancy cafe and donate that 1000 to an animal shelter or feeder instead. You can also sign up for a monthly donation amount with something like Ketto SIP where you can assign any amount from Rs.100 upwards to any cause of your choice and it gets auto debited from your wallet every month. You can even claim an 80G tax exemption on upto Rs. 75,000 of donated amount essentially saving 25,000~ in taxes every year.
Here's a list of animal welfare organizations in India that are always in need of funds. (It's a working document, feel free to suggest more.)
Meanwhile, back to my society people, here's a poem by the trusty ChatGPT that captures these people more evocatively than I ever could:
In a concrete realm by the lake's embrace,
Building people dwell with hearts misplaced.
They claim this land, once nature's domain,
Yet reject the dogs, causing heartache and pain.
These voiceless souls seek refuge and care,
Kind hearts provide, but cruelty they bear.
They want them gone, no concern for their plight,
Their pretty apartments their sole delight.
Insults and hatred taint each passing day,
Targeting the dogs and those who obey,
Their excuse? "Safety" for kids and elders claimed,
While truth and compassion they've deeply maimed.
Innocence and loyalty deemed a menace,
Shooed away, abused with sticks, their presence erased.
Yet those who feed them face constant strife,
Denied the right to offer sustenance and life.
Cruelty knows no bounds, it extends its reach,
Powerplay persists, divisions they preach.
Resident and service, lifts marked in disdain,
Leaving the poor to endure an unjust pain.
Hubris fuels their actions, their wealth displayed,
Forgetting nature's worth, they've deeply betrayed.
Lessons from a pandemic , forgotten it seems,
Nature's resilience, a reminder it gleams.
Oh, society people, open your eyes wide,
Embrace compassion, let empathy reside.
Coexistence and harmony, the path to embrace,
Respect for nature, let it leave its trace.
For in the end, we're all part of this earth,
From humble creatures to each human birth.
Let kindness prevail, let unity bloom,
Or nature will reclaim what's been consumed.
May understanding and love take the lead,
Heal the wounds inflicted by greed.
Let the dogs find solace, a place to call home,
And may compassion prevail, wherever they roam.
In this concrete jungle, let hearts find light,
Embrace coexistence, for it's only right.
Learn from the past, let wisdom restore,
A world where compassion reigns evermore.