Two days ago, an officer of the Indian Railways Accounts Service walked into her office building on Janpath. Suddenly she felt a shooting pain in her ankle and realised to her horror that a dog had attached herself to it. It took several painful minutes while three men tried to pry the dog off her. By then she was bleeding profusely and had suffered grievous third-degree injuries to her ankle. It turned out that the building, Indian Oil Bhawan, was home to countless strays. This particular dog had a litter of newborns to protect. “Unfortunately, people had been throwing stones at her, and she saw me as a threat. So she attacked,” said Dakshita Das. It turned out the dog had bitten through an artery and reached the ankle bone. Das was prescribed immunoglobin treatment — but she had to go to two government hospitals before finding it at Safdarjung Hospital.
“For me, this incident raised basic questions,” said Das. “First, the immunoglobin vaccine isn’t freely available at all government hospitals as it ought to be. How is a person who’s been badly bitten by an animal, supposed to go from place to place looking for it? Second, what’s the role of civic agencies in keeping the population of strays under check?” The Municipal Corporation of Delhi officials and the shopkeepers on the touristy ground floor of Indian Oil Bhawan told Das that they were scared of stray dogs, but even more scared of animal rights activists. In fact, the growing number of strays in the building had prompted many to carry some small stones in their pockets to protect themselves. But clearly, staying scared and silent, armed with stones was not the right solution. “I didn’t want that dog in her current state of fear and aggression to bite somebody else. Nor did I want her to be pelted with stones by scared office-goers. So it had to be removed from where it was,” said Das.
So she contacted Friendicoes who took the dog and her puppies to their rescue shelter in Defence Colony. At Das’ insistence, mother and the new born poppies were kept in the same cage. Rabies tests are being conducted on the dog. But as Das went home and was greeted by her own pet, she couldn’t help but wonder about the fate of countless dogs like the one that had bitten her.
Clearly, with increasing populations both of human beings and animals in the city, there’s a growing habitat conflict between them. A first-of-its-kind census in Delhi conducted by Wildlife SOS early in 2010 found 262,740 stray dogs in the capital. Where can so many animals possibly find safe habitats in this crowded city? Conflicts like last week’s tragic mauling of an infant by a pack of strays in Bangalore are inevitable.
Sterilising stray animal populations is the most humane solution, but the survey also showed that of the total stray dogs in Delhi, only 55 per cent males and 45 per cent females were sterilised. The rest, like the dog that bit Das, live in an uneasy coexistence with people like us, and are reproducing at will. “I understand that stray animals have a right to live too, but do our civic authorities not have a duty to protect our interests as well as those of the animals?” she asked.
As Das recuperates from her injuries, worries about returning to her stray-infested office linger. However, in the absence of any viable solution to this problem that civic agencies will be able to implement, it will continue to be a dog’s life — both for the strays as well as for the people they inconvenience.