THE Karachi Press Club is a popular venue to hold protests. A colleague once speculated that the practice had built up possibly because of pressmen’s laziness — the public, not entirely confident that reporters and photographers would show up at another venue, decided to congregate literally at the altar of the press corps.
So it is often you find groups of people staging demonstrations here; the groups are big and small, some angry, others distraught. But last week there was a rally by a small knot of people that even the hoary old Press Club building would have found unusual. These good people were there to raise their voice against the culling of stray dogs in the city.
Culling is a word of prevarication. The methods used by the city administration — and indeed in most other cities in Pakistan where the pye-dog population is a problem — are shockingly inhumane. Poisoned meat is scattered around for the animals, which suffer agonisingly till death overtakes them.
Simply killing off populations of stray dogs is ineffective.
A long time ago in Islamabad, before the problem of firearms on the street had attained the current proportions, I remember a couple of afternoons when we’d all been warned to stay indoors while the city resounded with gunfire; the authorities had decreed that strays be shot. In retrospect, I am thankful there was no social media back then — the images that would undoubtedly have circulated would have been enough to churn the strongest stomach.
Last summer, the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation killed more than 700 dogs — and in just two days. They announced this themselves, proudly, for as far as the administration was concerned, it was helping address an issue that menaces the city. They quietened down somewhat after truly distressing photographs started inevitably circulating on the media: the beach strewn with animals, rigid in impossible positions, workers flinging carcases on to bloodied trucks piled already high. News reports from then tell me that despite the outrage from animal rights’ quarters, several culling rounds were carried out, as indeed they are every now and then with fair regularity.
The picture I have painted is horrible. Killing any living thing in such a manner is beyond inhumane — it’s not like surviving members of the community can mount a protest. And for those who are familiar with dogs, the idea of a creature capable of such intelligence, loyalty and love being eliminated in such a fashion is abhorrent. It may be slightly incongruous for hearts to bleed at the plight of stray dogs, given that this is a country where securing even basic human rights is a tough ask, but done it must be.
If the scenario above is horrible, though, consider what happened in Rahim Yar Khan on Tuesday: five-year-old Bushra was playing outside her house when she was attacked by a pack. The injuries she suffered were horrifying, and the poor soul died while being taken to the rural health centre.
The police said the child’s family did not file any complaint and instead buried the girl — and, indeed, who or what would they complain against other than in recognising themselves as Fortune’s fools. Little solace can be found in the fact that in 2015, three minors were similarly mauled to death in a nearby locale. Such tragedies occur often, and these are quite apart from the post-bite rabies cases. A report from 2014 quotes a seminar on World Rabies Day: up to 30,000 cases of post-dog-bite rabies are reported every year from Karachi alone, with 40 per cent dying because of insufficient post-exposure treatment.
But the saddest part of this whole sorry tale is that simply killing off populations of strays has been found, repeatedly, to be ineffective. Fairly large-scale studies have been carried out, particularly in India where around 20,000 people die each year from rabies. Last year, it was estimated there were some 30 million strays in the country, which amounted to one pye-dog per 42 people.
India found that when populations in, say, x area are killed off, other packs move in. And because there is now no scarcity of resources, the breeding rates accelerate. The only answer lies in spaying and neutering the animals. India admitted in 1993 that its strategy was a failure since both the number of strays and rabies cases had increased — before that, tens of thousands of dogs were killed each year. In 2001, the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1960 was amended with the Animal Birth Control Rules 2001, which requires sterilisation of the animals, vaccination against rabies, and then release back into their original territories.
There really is no other answer than to replace wholesale slaughter with sense. Animal rights activists, such as those demonstrating outside the Press Club last week, need to raise this point: not only is the current strategy abhorrent, it doesn’t work either.
The writer is a member of staff.
Published in Dawn, March 27th, 2017