Animal lovers, rights activists and concerned residents came together on Thursday to meet the Cantonment Board Clifton (CBC) leadership in Karachi — the municipal corporation responsible for the Defence Housing Authority (DHA), parts of Clifton and surrounding katchi abadis — to discuss the issue of stray dog population management.
The issue gained prominence over the last few months after a massive culling drive was conducted in the DHA and nearby neighbourhoods. Residents have time and again knocked the CBC’s door only to be placated by empty promises.
Thursday’s meeting, the second held in a week and attended by Dawn.com, was another attempt made by animal lovers to find alternatives to stray dog culling.
In attendance were also residential committee leaders such as Humaira Najam, President of the Association of Defense Residents and Abdul Rehman, President of Clifton Defense Community.
Last week a group of activists visited the CBC office to discuss the issue and met a senior member of board. During the meeting, the residents were told to work on a trap, neuter, spay and release roadmap and bring a draft back on Sept 28.
However, upon entering CBC’s meeting hall on Thursday, the residents once again came across the empty seat of the board’s CEO, who was also missing during the previous meeting.
This time, they insisted on meeting the CEO. Upon insistence, CBC Deputy CEO Zameer Hussain agreed to meet the residents along with Khalid Bhutta, another senior CBC employee.
The current crisis
Stray dogs have never truly been safe within the confines of the upscale locality. However, the current issue arose after complaints of the animals being captured surfaced and a female resident, who tried in vain to save her dogs, was allegedly manhandled. The resident, Amber Muneer, regularly feeds and cares for the animals in her area.
Speaking to Dawn.com about the incident, Muneer said: “The CBC guys came to our area in a DHA vigilance car and they started picking up our dogs and harassing us. They hit us, pulled us, pushed us, touched us. They were accompanied by 60-70 residents while we were two women along with my son and another young boy.
“We even told them that they could take the adult dogs but begged them leave the puppies with us. I tried to hold the [dog catching] net to stop them and told them I’ll take the puppies home with me. But they pushed me back and hit me. They drove their car over my feet and took the puppies with them. Both of my toe nails are broken.
“I can still picture the eyes of those puppies, begging me to save them,” recalled Muneer, with tears in her eyes.
She said she has filed a police complaint over the incident.
According to the residents, the culprit was an employee of the CBC. They claimed that he regularly picked up puppies and stray dogs, either on the orders of the board, or on complaints of residents.
Puppies are regularly dumped in nullahs or empty lands outside DHA, the residents claimed, adding that their list of demands and recommendations to the CBC also included the dismissal of the culprit.
Archaic laws need amendment
When the issue of dog culling was brought up with CBC Deputy CEO Zameer Hussain on Thursday, he said: “We have already issued an apology. See, he has six children, how can we fire him?”
The deputy CEO pointed out the Cantonment Act 1924, according to which cantonment boards in Pakistan were meant to govern.
Article 119 of the Act states, “A Board may make by‑laws to provide for the registration of all dogs kept within the cantonment.”
It requires that all dogs be registered and must wear a collar, that would be provided by the registration authority after a fixed fee is paid, and if found otherwise, shall be “destroyed or disposed off” unless claimed.
Haniyeh Sheikh, animal rescuer and one of the attendees, pointed out the need for the law to be amended. “How are we still being governed by a century-old law?” she asked.
“No one has given humans the right to end an entire species. Our religion doesn’t even allow it.”
“Many of the complaints that CBC receives are regarding the mere existence of dogs, or the way they look or that they bark. These do not count as genuine complaints or potential harm. Where there is a case of genuine potential harm, we are willing to assist you,” she stressed.
“If I do not like the way someone looks or if I am annoyed by a neighbour who consistently causes fights, does that give me the right to shoot them?” Sheikh asked.
Haris Ibrahim, another activist and rescuer pointed out that “even if there is one case, how does that warrant the murder of hundreds of dogs?”
‘Classist double standard’
During the meeting, Sheikh delivered 10-minute speech on behalf of the attendees during which she listed their demands.
Sheikh pointed out the “classist double standards” at play. “If the dogs really are this harmful, how is it fair to the lower income communities where CBC regularly dumps the animals? Are lives there not equally important or do the lives of elite DHA residents matter more than them?”
She highlighted that DHA had a trash problem. “If there is trash, stray animals will find a source of food and settle there. CBC ought to do its job and pick up the trash.”
Furthermore, attendees pointed out the protection that stray dogs have provided. A resident said, “They provide protection from mugging. We have CCTV footage of this.”
What comes next?
First and foremost, the attendees demanded an immediate stop to inhumane culing. They demanded that CBC collaborate with organisations such as Indus Hospital, which previously ran the Rabies Free Pakistan programme, Ayesha Chundrigar Foundation or the Sindh Government — which is currently running the Rabies Control Programme Sindh (RCPS) to trap, neuter, vaccinate and release (TNVR) stray dogs.
Once this was done and dogs were collared, they should not be harmed, because otherwise, it resulted in a waste of resources and multiple steps backwards in any progress made.
They further stated that the area can never be 100 per cent dog free as they are part of the natural ecosystem, especially without an effective waste management in Karachi. Therefore, CBC must come up with humane alternatives for coexistence, they said.
They demanded the constitution of a committee which would assist in keeping a record of all stray dogs, and identify genuine issues that warranted relocation.
The citizens further stressed giving time to nursing dogs and puppies until they were weaned off, and until the mother could be spayed before relocation — if relocation was deemed necessary. Removing puppies from their mothers results in a slow death for them, said the attendees.
On listening to the demands, Zameer said, “Let’s schedule a meeting with the representatives. Right now tempers are flared. Let’s sit down and talk again and work towards a roadmap on October 11. Till then, we will stop picking up dogs.”
When asked by residents whether he could provide a guarantee, or the contact of a CBC employee who could come to their assistance if such an incident took place, he did not give a definitive answer. “See people only ask for a guarantee if there is a trust deficit,” he stated.
“There is a trust deficit. CBC has promised this many times before, the latest being last Friday and yet it has happened again,” an attendee pointed out.
When asked by Dawn.com whether there would be any progress from CBC’s end in the meantime on the demands put forward, Zameer said: “InshAllah (god willing) you will see a positive response from our side.”