Of the nearly three million people bitten by dogs in India every year, 30,000 die a slow and painful death due to rabies, and the country accounts for 70 per cent of all rabies deaths in the world.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends, for all developing countries, a programme to neuter and vaccinate stray dogs in the city — a task an animal-welfare NGO, People For Animals (PFA), has been carrying out in Calcutta for the past seven years. But, it’s feeling the strain of going it alone.
“Since 1996, we have undertaken a programme to sterilise and vaccinate approximately 3,000 strays every year, the number the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) used to kill previously,” declares Debasis Chakrabarti, PFA managing trustee. The NGO has been given the charge of managing the city’s stray dog population and the Dhapa dog pound by “an extremely supportive” CMC.
Since strays multiply faster than they can be killed, WHO prescribed the spay/neuter and vaccination policy to control rabies and other diseases spread by them, like hepatitis B and C and diphtheria. “We have chalked out a 10-year plan in five stages to make Calcutta rabies-free. But this can be done only with community participation and contribution from the chambers, which is not often forthcoming,” laments Chakrabarti.
PFA’s animal birth control/ anti-rabies (ABC/AR) initiative has clearly borne fruit, as is evident from figures released by the Infectious Diseases Hospital. The total number of rabies deaths in Calcutta has come down from 32 in 1990 to 12 in 2002. The corresponding casualty figures in the entire state were 254 and 161, respectively.
The NGO’s ultimate aim is to achieve a population of “two healthy strays” per km. Says PFA trustee Purnima Toolsidass: “Mass slaughter of stray dogs is clearly not the answer to rabies and can trigger epidemics, as in Surat (plague) and Thane (leptospirosis). The only scientific solution is an intensive spay/ neuter programme for healthy dogs, while allowing sick dogs to die a natural death or sanction euthanasia.”