What does the Bangalore Stray Dog Census mean?
A lot of conversation around the BBMP Stray Dog census, its process , the drop in numbers etc. is in the news at present. However, what does it mean to us as citizens and animal lovers?
The BBMP 2023 Street Dog Census showed a 30% decline of the street dog population from 3.1 lakh in 2019 to 2.9 lakhs. While this number is adequate, and the decline quite a relief, it could be much better with a more aggressive effective and compassionate ABC program. It is quite heartening to know that the numbers are out, and that the BBMP ABC program is creating some of the needed impact, as this base is an important roadmap for the future. State census shows a significant drop in those with good ABC/ARC frameworks like Tamil Nadu and Sikkim.
Compare this also with Dog Census Mumbai, India’s sprawling financial capital where there has been a large percentage (not absolute ) increase of 72% in stray dogs to over 1.64 lakh dogs as against 95000 dogs in 2014. Quantum wise, we seem to be nearly doubled the absolute numbers of Mumbai, but as a trend we are showing a declining trend of 30% which is heartening. Delhi’s census of 2009 showed 5.6 lakh street dogs. With an estimated 60 lakh street dogs across India, managing population with correct, current data is important on many levels.
To plan from the point of view of one health, city budget for Animal welfare, neutering surgeries vaccination and rescue this is an extremely important metric. By having a rough number for the city it allows players Belfast, to both assess if the number of the zones and ABC Centre is up enough or need increasing, look at budgets, develop additional players to take care of the dogs, and also look at working with city border and panchayats so that porous borders and influx of dogs from outside the city can be cohesively addressed.
The UN/WHO is clear on its policy on stray dog management wherein only neuter and vaccination are the long terms approach to managing the stray dog population. Despite many attacks on this, the Supreme Court has stood steadfast in support and has clarified that no matter pertaining to stray dogs can be heard at any other court than the Supreme Court, thereby overruling many High Courts like Karnataka and Kerala who have been aggressively lobbying for culling dogs or sending them to dog pounds. The ABC Rules 2001 and the more recent ABC Rules 2023 have strongly emphasized neuter/vaccination as the ONLY way to address this issue and nominated the local municipal authority (in our case, BBMP) to budget and implement this exercise.
Process & reality
There are different ways to approach the stray dog census and this year both the animal husbandry teams as well as volunteers were assigned the task using global census methodologies. In addition, using Technology like gathering data on software, using GPS apps and data, as well as drones to assess the population of community dogs, have certainly contributed to the robustness and reliability of data collected. Obviously, no data can be 100% correct given the fact that many dogs cannot be easily found which is missed data, or those that cross territories that could result in duplication of numbers.
Reasons for lower numbers
While the numbers seem to point to population decline due to the obvious reasons like more ABC surgeries, death due to disease and accidents etc., the numbers would have been even lower, if the other positive factors had not weighed in. On humanitarian grounds, we should be grateful for these.
These include better laws & implementation, greater focus on awareness of animal rights in media, compassionate communities, better street dog care, more feeding & nutritious food, vaccination, puppies are being rescued, rehabilitated, and adopted, older dogs live longer due to better medication, Govt AHVS helpline and 24/7 Animal hospital, better rescues and responsive shelters, a rise of community care, preventive medication, and vaccinations, safer ABC surgeries etc. Therefore, simply put - more puppies survive, and adult dogs live longer. I would guesstimate that about 25000 dogs have been saved like this. This is a significant population factor and has been overlooked in the census.
Vaccination records equally important
All neuter surgeries are done along with ARV administration, so that the dog (and human community) is not only puppy free, but also rabies vaccinated and unlikely to pass on the dreaded rabies disease to both the humans and community animals. The rabies number would be ahead of the ABC numbers as separate vaccination drives are conducted specifically for community and zone level vaccination by the ABC partner. These are not just done once in the animals’ lifetimes, but it’s attempted to renew these yearly. The impact on safety cannot be overemphasized. While studies show that antibodies from rabies vaccination last for over 3-7 years, administration may not want to take a chance with that level of protection. The Indian vaccine Raksharab, largely used by many govt institutions have been less rigorously tested and titer tests showed they have less efficacy, even they are on the similar price point.
Impact on humans, health, industry, govt & policy
India is one of the few counties with a no-culling policy. This puts a tremendous pressure on increase in dog numbers with the concomitant rise in bites, rabies & other zoonotic diseases.
The reduction & compassionate reduction in stray dog numbers is important not only from a community management perspective but critically the health lens, as India has the largest quantum of rabies deaths in the world. The Bangalore Rabies Helpline, set up 3 years ago, the second of its kind in India, shows a significant drop pf 20% of rabies cases in Bangalore.
Post Covid, the One Health Model will need to lean heavily on the confluence of human, animal & environment in managing health and preventing viral outbreaks. The collaborative and entrenched model allows for a much more cohesive and effective approach and has an impact on the stray dog management and census.
The cost impact of the surgeries, ABC administration, rabies vaccines, manpower is massive. However, the fatality of rabies means that every attempt to address dog population humanely MUST be made to ensure rabies is reduced in India, without resorting to the ineffective and cruel practice of culling and relocation of dogs.
We are now hearing that oral rabies vaccine is being tested, and that impact on cost, safety and administration is a significant gamechanger. Pilots in Africa have been successful, and India should take the lead in pushing for the beta testing here as well. However, one needs to be careful considering big pharma may have a great deal to lose by an oral vaccine.
There is also a suggestion that is being experimentally implemented when disease prevention vaccinations like 9in1 vaccinations for dogs covering CD, Lepto, Covid etc. are also to be given to street dogs, thereby making them immune to preventable and highly contagious diseases like canine distemper and leptospirosis. This is a huge step forward.
While all the above applies to street dogs, one needs to also raise the bar and ensure a pet dog census is done so that rabies, disease, abandonment, home breeding – equal factors in population and disease- are also addressed. For this, side by side, sensible, empathetic pet licensing is also necessary.
In addition, while we focus only on dogs; cats as companion animals are also carriers of rabies, and many live in communities or as feral cats, there is no attempt to address this. The ABC Rules 2023 categorically brings street cats into the ambit of ABC/ARC, but except for this petition pushing municipal authorities to strep up on this, not much has been done- but it needs to.
Using census data along with other metrics to build ahead.
With the above information, increase in effective ABC & ARV, reduction in costs, innovation like oral rabies vaccines, better technology & data capture, increase in Indie dog adoption, and better community participation, one can create a cohesive, respectful, and more collaborative city and state ecosystem for all beings.