Because I Believe Otherwise
Yasmin Kukul | Aug 22, 2016
I had returned early from the Summer Vacations. My Hall was almost deserted then, so I used to go out on walks to look around and gauge what all had changed over the course of some two and a half months. Everything looked the same except for these new boards that had come up at several places. In flashy white letters on a red background were the words, "DO YOU KNOW THAT?" and in red letters on the white board under it were four bullet points. Now, we live in a world of varying connotations; so, this notice felt completely out of context to me.
It informed about Rabies being fatal. It gave some statistics about how, on an average, the NIT Health Centre gets two cases of dog bites in a week. It warned that we were simply waiting for a fatality to happen. And, it was to make us aware of the fact that we can save a life by being a responsible NITian.
And that, however out of the blue it sounded, did not bother me. What bothered me was what they wrote beneath it. They asked us NOT TO FEED A STRAY DOG, rather to put the waste food in the dustbin. I went back down my memory lane. I went back to all those times when I had given biscuits to the dogs that used to roam around our house. My sister and I had even named a dog ‘Dicksy’ and every other dog had become Dicksy's mom, Dicksy's dad and Dicksy's foster brother from another dad. I went back to how they would all come over to me as I'd step out of my house, their faces expectant as though asking me for something to eat. If I didn't have anything to give them, I would show them my empty hands and they would turn away in silent resignation. These stray dogs were the pets that I had never owned. They knew me well enough to follow me from one block to another, and I knew them well enough to know that none of them liked to eat salty things - they all liked things which were sweet.
And that is why the notice on the board bothered me. From all that I have learnt in Biology, rabies is a condition that is caused by the rabies virus, which is transmitted through the saliva of rabid animals like dogs, bats and cats. Yes, the virus is deadly; yes, it is usually fatal; and yes, we need to stay on a constant lookout always so that we do not become victims of it. However, the fact that dog bites cause rabies is one thing and the notion that, feeding stray dogs, somehow, in some twisted correlation, leads to rabies is a whole other thing. Also, all said and done, rabies is a disease that is caused by infected dogs only and this can very easily be prevented by vaccinating the dogs against these infections and also getting vaccinated against it ourselves.
Several animal welfare activists say that there is actually good reason why feeding stray dogs is beneficial, rather than being detrimental for the society. They feel that feeding these dogs confines them to certain localities and dogs being territorial animals, mark their own area and do not let other dogs to come into their territory. This, has been known to make it easier to facilitate animal birth control programs and annual vaccinations. The sterilization processes further have been noted to reduce aggression among dogs, and as a result bring down the cases of dog-bites. To make the whole process lawful, the Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI), a statutory body under the Ministry of Environment and Forests, had even framed exhaustive guidelines regarding stray dog feeding, which was mandated by the Delhi High Court back in 2009. The guidelines included selecting some specific spots for feeding these dogs and allotting specific time slots for the same.
Even if we set these theories apart, a huge part of this debate also includes our ethical belief system. That they are called stray dogs, is because they do not have owners to take care of them and so, where these street dogs are born is where they belong. According to R.M Khard, chairman of the AWBI,
Stray dogs are dependent on people. Feeding them is our moral obligation.
Take it from someone who knows, there is a different sort of a happiness that associates itself with you every time you give these dogs a biscuit. It used to take me places when I'd have animated conversations with them asking them how they were, or telling them, "Aw, I'm so sorry I don't have anything to give to you right now." Dicksy and his family were so familiar to me that when the dog trucks came and took them away for sterilization processes, I’d felt like a huge part of my life was gone. I wouldn't believe that they actually had left this place for ever. I was worried that even if they came back to the same place, they wouldn't remember who I was. But, by a miraculous turn of events, they came back, and even though they looked frail from having been drugged for the procedures, they would still come and wag their tails at me. It was an absolute pleasure knowing that a few lives were content because of you. My Dad used to ask me not to go near them because they happened to be stray and I would tell him,
"Papa, they won't hurt me. I know it."
And they never did hurt me. A year ago, I read an article in the Daily Mail about stray dogs showing up and paying respects at the funeral of a woman who used to feed them, and I smiled. So, one year later when I read the notice asking us not to feed stray dogs and to put the waste food in the dustbin so that it could rot and smell and just end up being 'waste food', I smiled again. Because there are just so many causes of getting bitten by dogs, and I felt that feeding them was not one of them.