Addressing the Challenge Posed by Stray Dogs with Justice and Compassion

On May 19th, 2023, an 8-year-old boy was mauled to death by stray dogs in Kazipet, Telangana. Three months ago, on February 19th, a 4-year-old boy was similarly killed by stray dogs in Hyderabad. In April, a 65-year-old woman was attacked by dogs outside her house in Srinagar.

The stories go on and on. There are an estimated 6.2 crore stray dogs in India. In addition to direct deaths, stray dogs are also a source of deaths through rabies. According to the World Health Organization, India accounts for 36% of the world’s rabies deaths, with estimates ranging from 18 thousand to 20 thousand deaths every year. (Source)

The Government’s Attempt at addressing the issue

Earlier in the year, on April 18th, the Government announced the notification of its Animal Birth Control Rules 2023. These rules require that stray dogs need to be caught, vaccinated, neutered and released back into the same area where they were caught. This is not a new rule. In 2001, the Government first released the Animal Birth Control Rules.

All efforts of implementation haven’t seen much success over the past two decades. This is because more than 90% of dogs need to be sterilised within a very short period for results in population reduction to be seen in 10-15 years. But authorities do not have the funds to do it at that rate. Dogs reproduce at a high rate and continue replenishing the population consistently.

Moreover, critics have found issues not just with the implementation but with the rules themselves. They claim that the rules increase the homelessness of dogs and are a source of cruelty to both the dogs as well as the humans. For instance, the rules prohibit the euthanising of not just strays, but also rabid dogs.

Two Extremes to Avoid

As Christians, as we think through the issue we must avoid two dangerous extremes:

  1. Saying that stray dogs must be killed without mercy.
  2. Saying that the lives and feelings of dogs are as important as those of humans.

But why are these two statements wrong? For our answer, we must go back to our origin story — to the truths of our creation.

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth (Gen 1:1).

Now out of the ground the Lord God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. (Gen 2:19)

Although God created every single animal, only humans were made in the image of God. (Gen 1:27) Human life is more valuable than the lives of animals. In Gen 9:6, we see God expound on this principle that human life is precious because humans were made in the image of God. Even animals (Gen 9:5) are responsible if they kill humans.

However, being made in the image of God, we cannot kill animals or treat them cruelly. An image of a thing must resemble the thing. As images of God, we must resemble God. However, the Word of God clearly states that God is Spirit and therefore humans must resemble God in ways other than the physical form. One of the ways we resemble God is by ruling over creation in the manner that He rules — with justice, compassion, wisdom, and in love.

What can be done?

Being domestic animals, dogs do not have very good lives if they are homeless, becoming a harm to themselves as well as to humans. Their life would be marked by a constant fear of cruelty from humans, a lack of regular availability of food, the possibility of becoming rabid, and the constant threat of violence from other dogs.

The high rate at which dogs reproduce means that there will always be more dogs than there are homes that can take care of them. Some countries deal with the issue by euthanising the excess population of dogs. For instance, the US euthanises up to 3 million dogs and cats every year. The idea is unacceptable to many Indians. Stemming from pantheistic-leaning worldviews or from beliefs related to reincarnation, various Indians are averse to the idea of violence against all living beings.

As Christians, we need not have such faith-based reservations about the idea of euthanising animals. And we can definitely consider it as a completely valid last resort — as a final means of kindness towards both the animals and potential human victims.

But a compassionate response demands that we also think of other better solutions. One of the factors that contribute to the increased number of stray dogs is that many careless owners often abandon dogs after realising the costs of maintaining one. We need to advocate for more stringent regulations when it comes to pet ownership. Adoption from shelters could be a more sustainable option than adopting or buying. Both Governmental and Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) can set up large dog shelters where the dogs can be housed, cared for, and fed away from public spaces where they can form packs and become a menace to people.

One must also acknowledge the role that waste disposal plays in furthering the stray dog menace. (Source) Stray dogs are often supported in environments where they find food sources. Public spaces where garbage is dumped are often spaces where dogs find food and thus they form packs and thrive there. I have written earlier about how, as Christians, we need to be intentional with our waste and how we dispose of it. Here is another reason for doing so.

As image-bearers of a just, compassionate and creative God, we need to find solutions to the problem that are just, compassionate and creative. And there may not be a single simple answer to the issue. The response that can bring about lasting improvement in living conditions will be a host of different measures.

Being Indian and Christian

Being Indian and Christian is my weekly newsletter in which I try to understand the world (popular culture or news and events from India or around the world) from a Christian worldview. If that’s something you’re interested in, I’d be honoured if you signed up!

Being Indian and Christian

Being Indian and Christian is my weekly email newsletter in which I try to understand the world (popular culture or news and events from India or around the world) from a Christian world-view. If that’s something you’re interested in, I’d be honoured if you signed up!

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