First understand - It is perfectly legal to feed and care for needy animals. There is no law in India that prohibits anyone from performing such charity. In fact, not only is it legal to feed dogs, the Court has held that is helpful as it facilitates the municipal Animal Birth Control (ABC) programme of sterilization and vaccination that is being conducted by municipalities around India in conjunction with local animal welfare organizations.
For several decades, India following an outdated colonial law and in an effort to eliminate street dogs, continued to kill them in the most barbaric manner. Millions were poisoned, beaten to death, burnt, buried alive, repeatedly electrocuted and even hanged. The dog population continued to increase as nature compensated by increasing litter sizes. In 1991, I produced statistics showing that killing had not reduced either dog numbers, bites or rabies. So much cruelty for nothing! An appalled Court banned all municipal dogs killing forthwith.
Today, not only is it illegal to kill dogs, it is illegal to remove them from any area. The Stray Animals (Dogs) Rules 2001 prohibits any individual, organization or building association from removing or relocating dogs. Complaints, if any, may be directed to the local municipality or an animal welfare organization.They will take the dog, sterilize and vaccinate him/her and replace in the same area. A sterilized dog may not be moved by even the Municipality.
Sterilizing dogs not only reduces dog numbers, it also reduces dog bites. Male dogs are apt to get into fights over females during the mating season and aggression increases. Similarly post delivery, protective mother dogs will bite anyone she sees as a threat to her puppies. This is actually when the maximum bites occurs. Sterilization removes both causes. The logic of leaving dogs where they belong is that this ensures that dogs of one area prevent the incursion into that area of other animals. Being sterilized, the original dog population does not increase and since the dogs are familiar with the residents, there is no chance of bites. The dogs thus live out their natural lives healthily and harmlessly.
This WHO recommended programme has been successful. Many cities are now rabies-free zones. In both Delhi and Mumbai, dog numbers are down and there are far fewer bite cases. Some states have taken this very seriously: Sikkim is the best and even put it into a budget head. Some, like Orissa and Madhya Pradesh have not started any programme at all but have stopped the killing. Kerala continues to kill – and has the highest number of rabies cases.
For the programme to be strengthened and speeded up, we need more people feeding and caring for dogs. This has several advantages. First, there are people who recognize the dogs of the area, can provide a reliable head count and ensure that the entire local population is covered. Two, the dogs are people- friendly and therefore easy to find and take for sterilization. Hostile and frightened dogs run, hide and evade capture. Three, regularly fed dogs are healthy and therefore recover better and faster from the sterilization operation increasing the turnover rate.
A lot of people demand that those who feed dogs must then take responsibility for housing them. I may give money to a beggar – do I have to provide him accommodation as well? Many of the people who share food with animals are neither well off themselves nor live in bungalows. Rather than appreciate what they are already doing, we blame them for not doing more! Those who object the most to this charity, are the ones who do nothing to help anyone themselves.
A second criticism of dog feeders is that they must be responsible in case of any biting incident. Most feeders do take this responsibility but it is illogical. If I give a beggar food, shall I be held responsible if he later robs a house? Dogs are naturally friendly animals and do not bite unless severely provoked. It is certainly not the feeder’s fault if neighbours throw stones or brandish sticks at the dog which makes him to react in self-defence.
It is equally unreasonable to insist that dog feeders must pick up the faeces from public spaces like parks and open ground of the dogs they feed. You can expect that from the owners of pet dogs. Nor do we set such standards of cleanliness and hygiene for ourselves. Our parks are littered with plastic in spite of bins being provided. Nobody is penalized for littering. Dog faeces is organic and will mix into the soil and turn into manure. Plastic and glass will not.
All of these are not because we really object to dogs or dirt or noise or anything. At the end of the day, it is simply power play. People at the bottom of the pile - henpecked husbands, menial employees, people who command no power or respect, the great unloved - need to vent their frustration somewhere. These become child, wife and animal beaters. Since those who are sensitive to animal suffering are perceived to be ‘softies’ they make easy targets.
And this is why People For Animals is inundated with such cases. In each instance we have tackled the bully who has either given an apology or desisted from ever troubling the animals or their caretaker again, or else has faced police action. Here are the laws that every animal feeder should be armed with.
Under Section 428/429 IPC, it is a cognizable offence to hit /hurt, maim, injure or kill any animal. Offenders may be immediately arrested. It is also a criminal offence under Section 506 IPC to threaten, abuse or harass anyone for feeding an animal. The court has termed feeding homeless animals a social service and directed the police to protect those who do it. Anyone obstructing this work may be prosecuted.
The most important thing to understand is that compassion and courage are two sides of the same coin. Those who care about animals and take the time and trouble to help them deserve our strongest support, encouragement and admiration.
People who help people are routinely applauded and awarded. Helping animals is a long and lonely struggle. This is what makes it a far greater service than any other and one that needs to be recognized and rewarded. The next time you see someone feeding an animal, be sure to give them a smile.