KARACHI: It is not uncommon for the Karachi University (KU) to be in the news for a range of controversies — often revolving around student clashes or political violence — but one activity at the campus affects not humans but a score of ill-fated animals.
For the last 20 years, or perhaps even more, KU has been routinely poisoning stray dogs that happen to roam around the campus.
This practice is carried out twice a year when food is laden with poison and placed across the campus for dogs to eat. But even while the poison is meant to kill dogs, a host of other animals — which are inhabitants of the campus — also consume the toxic food and die.
Therefore, various animals including stray cats, crows, eagles and other birds become unintended targets of the dog-culling campaign.
A number of requests and applications have been sent to the KU administration to stop this inhumane practice which results in the death of hapless animals. Attempts by some people to reach out to the Vice Chancellor have been unsuccessful.
The only action taken by the varsity to date has been to momentarily pause the poisoning on the condition that the dogs are removed from the campus as soon as possible, or else the drive would resume.
Dr Naseem Salahuddin, an ex-professor at KU, is urgently trying to have the dogs removed from the campus, and many others have joined her in this mission.
“We are not sure about the exact numbers of dogs but our rough estimate is around 40 or 50 dogs,” she says.
Dr Naseem has observed this practice taking place at the university for at least two decades and says an application to get the campaign stopped was sent to university administration last year as well, but was ignored.
“There is no reported incident of the dogs actually being a danger to the people on the campus. However, every year, KU comes up with a reason to continue the practice."
"This year, for instance, dogs apparently entered one of the residential complexes around the campus, which is why they are being killed.”
Having seen the culling firsthand, Dr Naseem urges citizens to help in removing the dogs from the campus.
“Currently, we have no organisations that are equipped to handle this crisis. There aren’t enough dog-catchers and transportation services to remove these dogs."
We are trying to arrange for cages that are large enough to carry a number of dogs in one go.”
On the contrary, Dr Mohammad Zubair, an Associate Professor as well as Campus Secretary for KU, explains how the problem is more complicated than it appears. "This is a highly unpleasant decision that we have to make because the safety of our students, teachers and residents is of course more important."
He claims that KU receives numerous applications and complaints regarding these dogs from the students and residents. "These wild dogs run after cars and motorbikes. There have been on-campus accidents; we don't want to wait till something worse happens."
Dr Zubair sends out an open request to all NGOs and other institutions who can help in collecting the dogs from the campus. "Workers from Edhi visited the campus and said they cannot catch all these dogs."
The KU campus is a large open space therefore it becomes difficult to catch all these dogs. Roughly, there are 100-115 dogs on the campus at any given time.
Even though the process of poisoning these dogs has been halted for now and other solutions to the problem are being discussed, Dr Zubair says that the university will have no other option but to kill these dogs. "If anyone can help us in any other way, they are more than welcome."
Is relocation a solution?
Mahera Omar, co-founder of Pakistan Animal Welfare Society (PAWS), holds a different view of how the situation should be handled.
“Relocation is not the best idea because it cannot be carried out based on the little amount of manpower and resources we currently have,” she says.
Omar believes that organisations such as the Ayesha Chundrigar Foundation (ACF) and the Edhi Foundation do not have that large a team that can pick up so many dogs.
Even if the dogs are picked up, she says, where will they be reallocated to? There aren’t shelters big enough to house 40 or 50 dogs.
“No official survey has even been conducted so we don’t even have an actual number of how many dogs exist on the campus in the first place.”
Omar also cautions people against coming in close contact with the dogs unless they are trained dog-catchers who are vaccinated.
“These are street dogs, some of them are friendly while others might not respond too well. It’s not as simple as simply going and picking a dog up.”
Secondly, she says, relocation cannot be a long-term solution because KU carries out this practice twice a year.
“It’s basic urban ecology — if you remove a population of a species from an area, more of the species will move into that area. We can’t keep removing dogs...eventually we will run out of places to take the dogs to.”
Why should the citizens be more involved?
“Citizens should get involved here because it’s their taxpayer money that is being spent on the poison that kills the dogs; and the removal of the carcasses — all of this costs money.”
Tolerance the true measure
Currently, there is no active law that protects animals from cruelty in Pakistan. The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1890 makes cruelty to animals punishable by fine or imprisonment, but this law is outdated and rarely implemented. Therefore, acts of brutality against animals are largely ignored.
Moreover, according to the law, Pakistan should have at least 18 government-operated veterinary clinics but only one exists: the Richmond Crawford Veterinary Hospital — the largest animal clinic in Karachi.
Although the place has the space to accommodate a large number of animals, the enclosures in this clinic are locked up and have been collecting dust for the last couple of years.
Mahera Omar proposes that the only real solution for the problem of stray animals in a developing country like Pakistan is mass vaccination, where stray dogs are spayed and neutered — which will, in turn, curb their population.
“This is the government’s job, not the NGOs'. They need to step in and make sure that the money being spent on the poisoning is reallocated to making clinics that have vaccinations for these animals, as well as obtaining medical supplies and staff for animals that are ill or injured,” she asserts.
However, in Omar’s eyes, the true solution to this problem is tolerance.
As a society, Pakistanis need to be more tolerant towards animals, she says.
“We need to learn to live with them, and this has to be taught to our children from a young age, so that they can grow up to be more compassionate and tolerant beings.”