Stray dogs make it difficult to walk or sit out
Dogs, people, courts: Pune housing society in a bind
Civil Society News, New Delhi/Pune
Imagine the scene. It is around 2 am. A van with 25-odd stray dogs turns up at the gates of the Brahma Suncity Housing Society in Pune. They are accompanied by a busload of policemen. At that early hour, the dogs are released in the apartment complex without any intimation to the residents. The dogs have no collars, no vaccination records.
This happens on May 13 some three months after a child, residents say, was brutally mauled by a pack of stray dogs in the society’s premises. That attack came on top of cases of dog bite and residents feeling unsafe.
The injuries to the child were recorded as category three bites, which means they were severe, and he needed treatment in hospital. The Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) responded by taking away around 50 dogs from the premises of the housing complex.
But on May 13 the dogs were back because under the Animal Birth Control (ABC) Rules dogs, even if they bite and attack people, cannot be removed from an area.
When the dogs were taken away, the residents breathed a sigh of relief. There had been long-standing complaints about the dogs roaming free in the common areas and being fed randomly. People felt they were at risk going for walks, getting out of their cars or even accessing the swimming pool.
But after the PMC action, an animal activist, who was not from among the residents, filed a case in the Bombay High Court seeking the return of the dogs to the society’s premises and implementation of the ABC Rules.
As a result of this case, the high court ruled that the PMC put back the dogs including the ones that attacked the child. Before the court order came, the Animal Welfare Board (AWB) had also set up an Animal Welfare Committee under the same ABC Rules for a “fair evaluation’’ of the events that had occurred for a “proper understanding of human-animal dynamics and challenges present on the ground’’ and to “analyze past interventions and plan suitable action” so that “human and animal safety is adequately in adherence with the law.”
The committee recorded a list of complaints. The residents said they lived in constant fear, pregnant women were especially worried about the possibility of being bitten, sterilization and vaccination records did not exist, the maintenance and housekeeping staff had their own concerns.
However, when the court issued its order putting back the dogs none of these concerns seem to have been taken into account. The brief of the committee was to ensure that the safety of both human beings and animals were addressed. But the court’s order only related to the rights of the dogs under the ABC Rules.
To stop implementation of the high court’s order, the residents went to the Supreme Court, which issued a stay. The residents informed the PMC Commissioner of the stay and requested him to wait for the Supreme Court’s decision. They also suggested that the interim period could be used for sterilizing and vaccinating the dogs and tagging them.
But instead, despite the Supreme Court’s stay, the PMC brought the dogs back surreptitiously in the early hours of May 13 and then brought in yet more stray dogs, again at the dead of night, the residents say.
The ABC Rules are meant to protect stray animals from being ill-treated. They were recently amended to include the term ‘community dog’. But what happens if the community at large does not want to keep stray dogs in its midst? Whose responsibility do they become?
The residents of the Brahma Suncity Housing Society say under Article 21 of the Constitution they have the right to personal safety, freedom of movement and a disease and pollution free environment. Having stray dogs around deprives them of these rights.
The residents have a video which they circulate in which they narrate how their lives have been upended. Children say they can’t play freely. A cancer patient often finds it challenging to step out, even to go for treatment. The elderly can’t go for their walks.
“We used to have six or seven stray dogs in this society a decade ago. Now we have 60 to 70. We have about 5,000 residents and just a handful of people feed dogs. And they feed the dogs irresponsibly,” says Nagendra Rampuria, who speaks for the majority of residents.
He says the dog-feeders are doughty and unreasonable. They are also propped up by animal activists outside the housing society. They cite the ABC Rules, which the courts uphold. But the rules are lopsidedly enforced without taking into account the safety of the residents and the fact that the majority don’t want dogs invading common areas.
Rampuria says he personally led an initiative to find common ground. One suggestion was that the dogs be kept in a large sequestered area where they could be fed and looked after. The possibility of adoption and transfer to animal shelters outside was explored. But such discussions finally failed.
“After the attack on the child in February this year, when the dogs were picked up by the PMC, they were kept in shelters outside where they were well looked after. Where was the need to bring them back?” he asks.
As the imbroglio continues, there have been more instances of attacks, the most recent being of a child going from the school bus stop to the park being bitten.
Says Rampuria, expressing the sentiments of fellow residents: “Currently stray dogs seem to have the right to live in their territories, right to remain where they are even if they maul or kill citizens or choose private property as their territory. Stray dog feeders, via the ABC Rules, also have the right to litter food anywhere and take no responsibility for the actions of the dogs they feed.”
It is because of the feeding that the dogs develop territories that they see as their own and attack anyone they consider an “intruder” including “human residents who actually own that territory,” says Rampuria.
The residents are particularly disappointed by a comment by the judge in the high court that “a stray dog bite is not the end of the world”. The residents say in response: “For those of who have suffered, it has very much been the end of the world. For people, especially children who have been savaged, or those who have to live next to the constant danger or fear of attack the trauma remains.”
(This is a corrected version of the story)