Why Are There So Many Street Dogs in India?
As a traveling photographer, I have spent a significant amount of time in Asia, among other places. Sadly, as a result, I have witnessed countless stray dogs being forced to survive in squalid conditions. So, when the opportunity arose to travel to India, I made it my mission to seek out and visit as many shelters as I could.
During my stay in Varanasi, often called the spiritual capital of India, I met an incredible woman named Abha. She independently runs AASHRAY, a shelter for sick and injured animals. Abha and her small team of volunteers respond to calls about injured animals, mainly stray dogs. It was through my interactions with the AASHRAY team that I met Goldie, a small, shy dog who was missing half of her front right leg. She had been hit by a car and was left bleeding and disfigured. My heart broke as I watched her tremor alone in the corner of a room.
Unfortunately, Goldie is not alone - at this very moment, India has the highest number of stray dogs in the world – somewhere around 30 million. This number is rapidly increasing, according to the BBC, and as the stray dog population grows, so do the problems associated with it – dog bites, rabies (around 20,000 human deaths per year) and noise pollution, to name a few.
For many people in India, these unavoidable issues can make poor dogs go from being man's best friend to his worst enemy. While traveling across the country, I was warned by many locals to stay far away from street dogs because they were "evil" or "vermin," but in most cases these dogs simply wanted food, water and to be comforted.
Puppies as young as 4 or 5 weeks old were roaming alone through the streets, feeding off food scraps, cardboard and plastic bags, trying to survive the bustling roads and blistering heat - desperately clinging to every inch of life. I saw dogs who were wounded, blind, missing limbs and bleeding from open lacerations. Many dogs had lost the will to survive and were left to decay on the roadside.
Garbage and lack of animal birth control are the leading factors contributing to the increase of stray dogs. The streets of India are littered with garbage, making them the ideal breeding ground for stray dogs who have not been spayed or neutered. India's street dogs are natural born scavengers, living almost entirely off the garbage created by humans. In Mumbai alone, at least 500 tons of garbage are left uncollected every single day. This leaves many street dogs vulnerable to choking to death on plastic or eating something indigestible, which could cause a slow and painful death.
Now, Kerala (a major Indian state) wants to start relocating and culling stray dogs. However, there is a major flaw with relocating these dogs from their territories, often highly dense with garbage: If the dogs are removed and the garbage is not, a new group of dogs take over the garbage-ridden territory – and the cycle begins again. This method of relocation also results in dogs fighting to the death over territory and mating partners.
Additionally, much of India is living in poverty. During my time in India, I visited a few no-kill shelters that are trying to do the best they can with no funding beyond support from volunteers and donations that slowly trickle in. Regardless, these shelters were running around-the-clock, weekly or monthly animal birth controls camps depending on their financial status and number of volunteers.
Until 1994, stray dogs in Mumbai were simply killed. The method? Electrocution. At the time, many members of the public, including animal welfare organizations like The Welfare of Stray Dogs (WSD) and Humane Society International (HSI), demanded a stop to the cruel and barbaric practice of killing stray dogs, known as "culling." Dog electrocution was soon replaced by the mass immunization and sterilization of all the stray dogs who could be caught, according to WSD. This method of "solving" the stray dog crisis started a positive chain reaction – because the stray dogs are no longer mating, dog fights are significantly reduced. This means dog bites to humans also decline, and because the dogs have been immunized, rabies are not as easily spread. The dogs are then far more likely to die a natural death, thus the population of mistreated, hungry and homeless dogs begins to decrease.
An injured dog in the back streets of VaranasiJasmine Monrouxe
Kovalam, a small village in Kerala, recently began to cull stray dogs by shooting them and throwing their carcasses into the ocean. A beloved pet, Tokki, was even caught up in the gunfire. The family who found him and took him in was left heartbroken by this devastating news. In Kannur, another town in Kerala, 40 dogs were openly killed by injecting them with potassium cyanide. This caused a huge uproar between locals and tourists alike. There was even a social media movement named Boycott Kerala in an attempt to effect the tourism-driven state by significantly reducing its number of visitors. This would hit Kerala where it hurts most and show that it is not just the locals that have been outraged by these mindless actions.
A street dog in IndiaJasmine Monrouxe
If this is an issue that concerns you, please consider donating to the shelters that are making a difference – every tiny donation makes a huge impact to the lives of animals. If you'd like to sign the petition against the mass execution of the stray dogs in Kerala, go here.