My morning journey takes me past a road junction occupied by a tea-walah who has become a celebrity for keeping 70 (as claimed in his newspaper interview) street dogs. Every morning the dogs (when not busy chasing local citizenry) can be seen enjoying a prime piece of urban real estate under the protection of their benefactor who has successfully built a business model around empathy-streak in humans.
Though his obsession (now hugely inflamed by acquiring an identity) prevents me from running or cycling down to my destination, it makes me muse over various interesting possibilities that have gone unnoticed in a city that has nearly 2.5 lac dogs.
Being a man of baser tastes, I have done some quick maths and found out that dogs of Ahmadabad are enriching our streets with approximately 25,000 KG of dog-shit every day. As our 450 square km city gets 9000 tons of this odoriferous material per annum i.e. 20 tons per every square km; during the rains, we all must be wading through a very rich orgasmic soup!
Playing with some of the dogs or their numbers can be amusing, but, in India, there are some other numbers connected with dogs that are not really funny.
We Indians live with nearly 2.5 crore dogs (please don’t attempt the above calculation on this number). We are the undisputed leaders in rabies deaths, contributing one out of three deaths that occur across the globe. One Indian is bitten by a dog every 2 seconds and one is dying (a horrible death) every 30 minute to this disease that has no cure.
Even if we discount rabies, as not all dogs are infected, we must face the fact that, every year, nearly 1.5 crore people (mostly children) are bitten by dogs and need post-exposure prophylaxis that is not easily available.
These numbers are huge and scary. But, are we really suffering with over-population of dogs?
When we look at the world to find an answer, an intriguing picture emerges. While we lead the rabid pack by a big margin, we are actually very poor in terms of dog population. Compared to our mere 2.5 crore dogs, USA has 7.5 crore dogs and EU has about 6.5 crore. Even a small country like Japan has nearly 1 crore dogs.
We may have liked to believe that our empathy makes us co-exist with other creatures, the numbers tell us that it is our apathy that has turn this friendly companion into our deadly foe.
Indian dog is not a happy dog frolicking in the park with its loving human companion. It is a mangy beast on the street scavenging for a living in tight urban spaces. It is fighting for a territory with other dogs to stay alive and thus it is very often an aggressive cur with very little street manners.
Across India, with stray dogs competing for survival in our towns and cities, utilization of public spaces like gardens or roads is compromised for children (and often adults). With a territorial dog watching every street, it is impossible to use public spaces without entering into its conflict zone. While we envy European cities where the joy of jogging or cycling is available to all city-dwellers, we miss the fact that most of Europe is not just rabies-free, it is stray-dog free too.
I am proud of the fact that we have a culture of empathy and religions that teach kindness to all, but….
I don’t want poor children to get mauled or anyone die a painful death that rabies gives. I want children to walk, run, and play freely in my city without developing a pathological fear for an animal that, if provided proper care and consideration, is actually a wonderful companion of Man.
It is clear that dog is not the problem, our dog-management is. Our city has gone to dogs. Can we ask it back?