From aggressive culling of stray dogs, including an incident of brandishing their corpses in public, Kerala has made a dramatic U-turn by proposing to build zoos for the animals.
According to reports, the proposal was floated before a bench of the Supreme Court in response to a query from the honourable judges regarding the construction of shelter homes for street dogs in the state. Senior advocate V Giri, representing the state, said the government will ask all district panchayats to keep aside 2 or 3 acres of land and notify these areas as "stray dog zoos".
The idea, in principle, appears admirable, especially in a state with a shocking problem of overpopulation of strays. Estimated number of these dogs vary from a few lakhs to half a million and reports of their feral nature or rabid temperament also abound.
Of the various stories of dog attacks, real or based on rumour, one particularly stood out for its garishness. Last year a 65-year-old woman was reportedly mauled by a pack of dogs in the state, after which a group of men retaliated with no less fury.
More than a dozen members of the Youth Front (Mani), the youth wing of Kerala Congress (Mani), killed several dogs on the streets of Kottayam and tied them by their legs to a pole to protest against the failure of the local governing body in tackling growing attacks on civilians by the animals.
There were dedicated self-appointed exterminators as well, some of whom offered money to citizens who killed dogs. Still others offered incentives in the form of gold coins, these sops outweighing the penalty of perpetuating cruelty on animals in India. The price stipulated by law for attacking an animal is usually less than a cup of decent coffee in any middlebrow restaurant in urban India.
Reports of brutalities inflicted on animals, especially stray dogs and cats, are a dime a dozen as a result. In Chennai, two medical students threw a stray puppy off a roof, recorded the entire sequence of torture on video, and circulated it with impunity. The dog, who was rescued and later named Bhadra, survived and is now recovered her spirit after a year.
In light of such incidents, which continue without relief, it's hard to have faith in Kerala government's plan to create zoos for stray dogs. Animal shelters in most cities in the country are usually in a state of neglect, not always because of lack of good intentions. More often because the facilities are not equipped to deal with the sheer number of rescued creatures.
Before undertaking such an ambitious enterprise as creating zoos in every district, Kerala perhaps needs to introspect about the feasibility of such a project. The more reasonable, and ethical way, may be to ensure spaying of the dog population and inoculating them periodically. For that to happen, the municipal bodies in the cities and towns need to be more proactive and accountable. So far that has proved to be a tall ask.
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