By Tenzin Jamphel, Stawa 11-18
The “Dog Menace” in Ladakh is definitely something! It has been popping up in different media platforms over the last few years. Even the people at the BBC made a brief feature on this issue, which somehow undermined its real purpose. I noticed that many people shared the BBC report on social media less out of concern and more out of excitement. After all, how often does BBC say anything about Ladakh? So what if they portrayed Ladakh in a bad light!
More seriously, we do have a grave problem on hand. Initially, we could have dismissed them as isolated incidents. However, the number of incidents has continued to grow steadily and pattern that has emerged is too gruesome to ignore.
I remember being chased by dogs on numerous occasions when I was much younger. This was fairly normal for me as my neighbourhood was notorious for large stray dogs that lurked in every corner. I remember my friends being reluctant to visit my home due to the presence of these dogs. In fact, some of my friends are still reluctant to visit me even now. Though the probability of getting bitten by one of these dogs has been fairly high, I have somehow managed to dodge them so far. Fingers crossed!
Since I was familiar with my neighbourhood, I was able to work out details such as when, where and how many dogs I was likely to encounter during each journey. I would use this information to dodge them rather effectively. And of course, a little running to the right place at the right moment always helped! I don’t remember a single night that could be considered as ‘peaceful’. Stray dogs are quintessentially the background score in the old quarters of Leh town (old town). It is difficult to imagine that the king lived here at one time!
Well, I seem to have a charmed life when it comes to avoiding stray dogs. Others have not been as lucky. Very recently, a friend of mine was about to be mauled to death by 12 dogs at three in the afternoon. Right here in Leh town! She was miraculously saved by a passerby and suffered multiple injuries as one can imagine. The incident has not only traumatised her but also shaken up her family and friends. I understand that one of her younger cousins was also attacked at the same location some months earlier.
So, who should we blame for this incident? I don’t think you can blame the dogs. They are vicious animals and are expressing their natural instincts. At the same time, you cannot blame my friend either as she was attacked at three in the afternoon!
According to a World Health Organisation (WHO) report, India accounts for 36% of the world’s death from rabies each year. This is a matter of concern. Luckily, there have been no recorded outbreaks of rabies in Ladakh. Nonetheless, around 30 to 40 cases of dog-related incidents are reported to SNM hospital each month. Animal Husbandry Department estimates that there are more than 5,000 stray dogs in Leh town alone with one rescue shelter in the entire district.
I have seen catchers trying to capture dogs with a large net and fail miserably. The local authorities have been under tremendous pressure over this issue for a while now but the wheels of bureaucracy turn at their own pace.
Most media reports simply distribute blame along with unsubstantial opinions. Many just simply ask, “What is the government doing?” I personally think that the government could have done a better job at neutering the animals. If they had started an animal birth control programme a long time ago, we may not have been in this situation today.
Spaying and neutering are said to be the most effective methods to control the population of stray dogs. In such programmes, male and female dogs are captured, vaccinated, and sterilised and then released in the location from where they were caught. Once they have been neutered, these dogs tend to become calmer and more importantly are no longer able to reproduce. If I am not mistaken, this was done in Leh town about two years back but only on female dogs. Alas! I see more dogs today than ever before! What is really happening here?! I have come to realise that there are no instant solutions to this issue. Yet, there are small things that each of us can do to help address this issue.
For instance, there are plenty of open garbage bins across Leh town, which attracts dogs. In fact, stray dogs thrive around these bins. We must remember that dogs are happy to scavenge. Even a dog of immaculate pedigree will happily feed from garbage if given the chance! So, it is really important to manage our garbage better. Hold on to your garbage if you see that the bin does not have a secure lid. This problem is especially acute in old town, where many people throw their wet waste from their window. We seem to be creating our own mess and the problems that come with it! We must learn to use those loud and annoying trucks that come around to collect wet and dry waste.
Some people would say that killing the dogs will help solve the problem. Well, first of all, killing dogs is morally wrong and also illegal. More importantly, it has proven to be utterly useless and ineffective in controlling dog numbers. In fact, WHO claims that this strategy does not have any significant impact on managing the population of stray dogs.
Why don’t we create more animal shelters for them? Well, the Live to Rescue Centre, which was started in 2014, is the only active animal shelter in Leh district. To me, this seems to be too little for a place that has so many feral dogs roaming around. These dogs have been known to not only attack people but also wild life. Many of these dogs need to be neutered and rescued!
In addition to this, the most important factor that we need to change is our attitude towards dogs. I have seen people chucking large stones at them for no apparent reason. Similarly, there is a misconception that feeding stray dogs will add to the problem. Overall, dogs live on garbage and handouts do not make a significant difference. In fact, the gentler you are with them, the friendlier they become. It is our aggression towards them that literally comes back to bite us later!
Lastly, most of us are rather obsessed with adopting pure breed dogs. We seem to have forgotten that stray dogs are amongst the oldest breeds and remain best suited for our weather conditions. They are also one of the most loyal and friendly dogs I have seen. Unfortunately, we have come to regard them as ‘street dogs’ and refuse to think of them in any other way. If we were to start adopting these dogs instead of buying expensive dogs, we could significantly reduce the chances of getting bitten by them. As a compassionate society, each of us can start by adopting one dog at a time.