ON Wednesday, an unusually high number of dog-bite cases were reported in Larkana, when 19 people — the majority of them children — were admitted to the accident and emergency unit of Chandka Medical College Hospital. The next day, taking notice of the worrying rise in cases, the Sindh high court tasked the local government secretary to set up a mechanism for weekly updates with the district municipal corporations, with regard to the dog-bite incidents in their areas. Keeping in mind the shortage of rabies vaccines in hospitals, even if most dogs are not carriers of the disease, the rise in dog-bite cases is very alarming. In Karachi alone, more than 7,000 cases have been recorded so far this year. Last year, around 200,000 cases were reported across the province. Each time such an incident appears in the news, there is outrage, outlandish statements are thrown about, and the authorities respond by carrying out mass culling operations, shooting or poisoning dogs on sight in the streets. And yet the problem only seems to get worse, while the stray dog population keeps increasing. Clearly, these knee-jerk ‘solutions’ are not working, and might even be exacerbating the issue. Instead, trap-neuter-release — TNR — programmes need to be carried out on a mass scale, even if the process is more expensive and time-consuming.

Along with TNR operations, there have to be popular campaigns that aim to change attitudes towards animals. Issues like these cannot be left to a handful of individuals to ‘fix’ or ‘solve’ because there is a deeper cultural problem at play, and this concerns the general population’s treatment of stray dogs, which can range from demonisation to indifference. Few people with means are ready to adopt them, choosing breeds that are not local to the region. It is also not uncommon to see people treat stray animals with cruelty: teasing, torturing or beating them. Dogs are loyal companions and protectors, and only become a threat when they feel threatened.

Published in Dawn, May 8th, 2021

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