Yes, the dog menace seems to be regularly making newspaper headlines and happens to be one among the trending topics on social media these days.
Recently, stray dogs mauled a 4-year-old to death in Hyderabad. A month-old child, who was sleeping next to his mother at a government hospital, was taken away by a stray dog and mauled to death in Sirohi, Rajasthan. Not long ago, a stray dog went on a biting spree, attacking 70 people in Ara town of Bihar. With such cases reported almost every day, Municipal Corporation officials are often caught in a dilemma on how to address the issues related to street dogs menace and dog bites. Apart from stray dog menace, umpteen incidents of pet dogs attacking residents inside residential complexes, lifts etc. have generated several debates. Cases have also been filed in courts seeking judicial remedies. In many places, dog owners have been forced to submit an undertaking that their pet will not cause a public nuisance.
According to official data, India is the home to some 1.6 crore stray dogs in 2021. Reportedly around 17.01 lakh dog bite cases were reported in 2021, with Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, West Bengal and Gujarat recording the highest such incidents. The highest number of stray dogs are said to be found in Uttar Pradesh, followed by Odisha, Maharashtra and Rajasthan.
Considered as one of humans’ most popular companions, studies have shown that a dog is quite intelligent and can be well-trained to help their humans with certain tasks such as herding cattle, etc. Trained dogs help in detection of illegal drugs, bombs and crimes. Dogs also play a major role in animal-assisted therapy. In many countries, such ‘assistance dogs’, also known as guide dogs, help people with disabilities. They help the visually impaired and alert the deaf to dangers, alarms or other important noises are quite popular. Such trained dogs are known to visit patients in hospitals and elderly adults in nursing homes and provide companionship for those who have been diagnosed with mental and physical ailments
Well, millions of dogs across the globe are brought up as pets for a plethora of reasons. They are part of the family in several homes, even sleep next to human beings and are just as important as their children and spouse. They are kept in many families to protect their homes. Known as the man's best friend, dogs bark as an intruder alert and to attack them on demand when they feel their owners are threatened. In so far as the emotional role of a pet is concerned, the most popular reason to have dogs is for their companionship.
But then, according to the World Health Organization, over 50,000 people die from rabies, a fatal but preventable viral disease, yearly. It can spread to people and pets if they are bitten or scratched by a rabid animal. In some countries, rabies is mostly found in wild animals like bats, raccoons, skunks, and foxes. However, by and large, dogs still carry rabies and most rabies deaths in people around the world are caused by dog bites. Apart from dog bites, rabies is transmitted to humans through an open wound exposed to an infected pet’s saliva, or from an animal’s scratch. Rabies virus is also transmitted through direct contact -- through broken skin or mucous membranes in the eyes, nose, or mouth -- with saliva or brain/nervous system tissue from an infected animal.
The rabies virus infects the central nervous system and if a person does not receive the appropriate medical care after a potential rabies exposure, the virus can cause disease in the brain, ultimately resulting in death. Contrary to what many people believe, according to reports, not all dogs have rabies. Also, dogs are not born with it but can acquire the rabies virus once they are bitten by an infected animal. But the good news is that rabies can be prevented by vaccinating the pets. Although rabies is 100 percent fatal, it is also 100 percent vaccine preventable. The cause for concern is that 33 percent of global rabies deaths are recorded in India. Rabies symptoms, which do not immediately show, include fever followed by fatigue and pain on the wound. In extreme cases, the victim will salivate, experience trouble swallowing besides developing fear toward water, air and light, which eventually causes death.
Once bitten by a dog, at an individual level, simple and immediate steps can save dog bite victims. They ought to quickly wash their wounds with soap/water and rush to the doctor for further advise.
At a societal level, veterinary experts and animal activists have been advocating that rise in temperatures during the summer coupled with lack of water and food often result in many dogs getting aggressive.
The ongoing National Rabies Control Programme, at a macro level, approved during 12th Five Year plan, holds hope to control the rabies menace by the year 2030. Under the "National Action Plan for Dog Mediated Rabies Elimination from India by 2030” launched in 2021, a multi-pronged strategy based on One Health Approach, the strategies planned are: (1) Prevention (cost-effective public health intervention techniques to improve accessibility, affordability/availability of postexposure prophylaxis to all people in need). (2) Promotion (improve understanding of rabies through advocacy, awareness, education and operational research). (3) Partnership (provide coordinated support for the anti-rabies drive with the involvement of community, urban and rural civil society, government, private sectors and international partners).
The programme has two components -- Human and Animal Health. The human health component is already in vogue across all States and UTs. Under the animal health component, the intent is to achieve at least 70 percent anti-rabies vaccination coverage among dogs in a defined geographical area annually for three consecutive years that includes strategies for planning and implementing strategic mass dog vaccination programme, assessment of post vaccination coverage, dog population management and promoting responsible dog ownership.
The Supreme Court which has time and again heard issues related to stray dog menace not long ago observed that stray dogs have a right to live and there has to be a balance.
Research shows that dogs help people live a healthier and happier life. Dogs have been shown to improve humans’ cardiovascular and mental health by reducing blood pressure, increasing exercise, and decreasing stress and anxiety levels.
To strike a balance between pets and human beings, dog owners should maintain their pets by regularly visiting one's veterinarian and keeping rabies vaccinations up-to-date.
Apart from keeping one's pet dog under direct supervision, it pays to neuter them to help reduce the number of unwanted offspring that may not be properly cared for or vaccinated regularly.