An excited stray dog hangs around as one talks to a veterinarian who supports taking care of stray animals. “Stray animals, by definition, are not wild animals. They need our help,” the veterinarian said. When asked if he thinks they are a threat, he says attacks can happen, as it did in Aligarh Muslim University recently.

“A pack of 8-10 dogs mauled a man who was on his morning walk. He died. It [attacks by stray dogs] is certainly an issue,” said the doctor, adding that getting sick from a dog bite is also an issue as stray dogs are not vaccinated. “And what about these packs of dogs who fight each other over territory and get injured?,” he asked.

The veterinarian has a son, who plays with the stray puppies living in his backyard. The child simply states that the puppies are his friends, and he has named them Kimmy and Timmy.

In the campus of Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Pashu Chikitsa Vigyan Vishwavidyalaya Evam Go-Anusandhan Sansthan (DUVASU), a veterinary university in Mathura, stray dogs mark every street as their domain. The solution to the overcrowding, according to associate professor Atul Prakash, lies in sterilisation, feeding, and sheltering the street dogs.

Prakash is against the idea of euthanasia as a solution to this problem. The watchmen posted at different corners of the university, who wish to remain anonymous, say that the stray dogs coexist as peacefully as possible with people.

Ravi Chowdhury, a resident, disagrees. “All these dogs are wild. Also, dangerous. They run behind bikes and cars that pass by. Leaving kids on the street has become difficult, the dogs will bite them, they are not even vaccinated,” Chowdhury said.

However, there are some like a 23-year-old resident who feeds all the stray dogs in the campus once a day, with thick chapattis that he gets specially made. “Humanity’s duty is to care for animals. If we see an injured animal, we feel bad, but we walk away, even though our religion teaches us to relieve others’ suffering,” said the young man who did not wish to be named.

There are around 44 Gaushalas (cow shelters) in Mathura, but no dog shelters exist. The Braj Animal Care, a privately run shelter founded by Chandan Goswami, feeds stray dogs as well as cows and monkeys.

Gaurhari, a volunteer at the shelter, and a banker by profession, said, “If you ask people here to help, they will say that [that] dog is on the street, it will survive on its own. You do it if you want. That is how it is.”

He added that the shelter treats injured animals free of cost in Vrindavan. A small fee is charged for those in Mathura.

However, there are no sterilisation or sheltering facilities offered at this shelter. “There are no government shelters in Mathura or Vrindavan, I know every street in both the cities. Everything is private, and even then, there’s only feeding for dogs. If they are lucky,” said Gaurhari.

Sterilisation and immunisation of strays is mandated by the Animal Birth Control (Dogs) Rules, 2001. Any committee appointed under these rules is supposed to control, manage, vaccinate, and sterilise stray dogs.

Only critically ill, fatally injured or rabid dogs are allowed to be painlessly euthanised, by an authorised veterinary doctor. The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act of 1960 penalises animal abuse. It also mentions that any unwanted animals “need to be destroyed by local authorities if it is necessary to do so, and only either instantaneously or in a painless way”.

Meanwhile, the stray dog menace continues to make headlines. After the death of an 11-year-old child by a pack of stray dogs in Kannur, Kerala, on June 1, 2023, the Kerala State Commission for Protection of Child Rights has appealed to the Supreme Court to let rabid and aggressive dogs be euthanised.

The appeal was widely reported, and it also sought strict action against people who abandon dogs. Former Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Somappa Bommai had announced a grant of five crore rupees to the Animal Welfare Board, and an online software that allows public adoption of stray dogs.

The Delhi National Capital Region has had several recent accounts of children succumbing to injuries inflicted by stray dogs. However the disgust or fear of stray dogs is often met with violent behaviour. An FIR was filed in Greater Noida on March 6 because a stray dog was beaten to death, allegedly by four guards.

In the Charni Road area of Mumbai, a 22-year-old woman was reportedly attacked with knives by three of her neighbours because she was feeding stray dogs. Her 14-year-old brother was also attacked in a similar manner over the same conflict. They are both in stable condition, added the news reports.

In Nagpur, a 30% rise in animal abuse was reported in August 2022, along with a hike in stray dog population. Smita Mire, founder of NGO Save Speechless Organisation, held the police and the Nagpur Municipal Corporation (NMC) responsible for the rising human-animal conflict.

She reportedly held the police responsible for inaction on animal abuse cases, and the NMC for performing poor animal birth control. Mire detailed recent cases of extreme physical harm to puppies and dogs, such as being flung around, burnt to ashes, or getting their tail chopped, without much motivation or a situation requiring self-defence. “People are harming animals in the most brutal ways, as if they are getting sadistic pleasure out of it,” Mire told the media.

The Stray Animal Foundation of India, a private NGO founded in 2019, said, “India has no government-funded animal cruelty response, meaning that thousands of killings and abuse cases go unaccounted for each year.”

Conservationist and independent writer Narendra Patil wrote in ‘Down To Earth’ magazine that abandonment of dogs is a serious issue. He added that dogs are biologically attuned to be "man's best friend" due to their domestication over a long period of time. “Free roaming dogs are abandoned domesticates… the issue of stray dogs is complex - involving legal, ethical, and practical challenges and a dramatic change in perspective is necessary,” he wrote.

On June 27, 2023 Union Minister for Animal Husbandry Parshottam Rupala said that the Central government will work on a law to curb the stray dog menace.

This story is published as part of The Citizen's two week mentorship programme.