It is perfectly legal to feed and care for needy animals. There is no law in India that prohibits anyone from performing such charity. In fact, not only is it legal to feed dogs, the Court has held that is helpful as it facilitates the municipal Animal Birth Control (ABC) programme of sterilisation and vaccination that is being conducted by municipalities around India in conjunction with local animal welfare organisations…
Among the most trying and time consuming jobs that we face at People For Animals (PFA), India’s largest animal welfare organisation, is facing down bullies who attack, abuse and even assault people who feed and care for hungry, homeless animals in their area. The victims are typically women – usually single or vulnerable—and the aggressors range from loutish chowkidars to retired defence officers and bureaucrats who grandly preside over meaningless RWAs and Building Societies in a pathetic effort to recreate their ‘koi hai’ heydays.
First understand – it is perfectly legal to feed and care for needy animals. There is no law in India that prohibits anyone from performing such charity. In fact, not only is it legal to feed dogs, the Court has held that is helpful as it facilitates the municipal Animal Birth Control (ABC) programme of sterilisation and vaccination that is being conducted by municipalities around India in conjunction with local animal welfare organisations.
For those of you who want to hurt dogs, understand why we have street dogs and what they do for us. Animals exist in any area because of the availability of food – this does not mean the food given by a few lovely ladies as mentioned above – but uncollected garbage and rats. When you remove the existing dog population, this food supply still remains, so other animals move in. These could be other dogs or worse, rats. In one year, one pair of rats can multiply to 33,000. The municipality is helpless against rats; it is our street dogs and cats that keep them in check. Remove dogs without first removing garbage, and your rats will multiply.
Both New York (rats love NY) and Surat (which killed its dogs and got the plague) are prime examples. So street dogs act like unpaid garbage cleaners, consuming organic waste that would otherwise putrefy and smell, as well as control the rodent population. As long as we don’t have an efficient garbage disposal system, we shall have street dogs, and thank God for that!
Today, not only is it illegal to kill dogs, it is illegal to remove them from any area. The Stray Animals (Dogs) Rules 2001 prohibits any individual, organisation or building association from removing or relocating dogs. Complaints, if any, may be directed to the local municipality or an animal welfare organisation.They will take the dog, sterilize and vaccinate him/her and replace in the same area. A sterilised dog may not be moved by even the Municipality.
Sterilising dogs not only reduces dog numbers, it also reduces dog bites. Male dogs are apt to get into fights over females during the mating season and aggression increases. Similarly post delivery, protective mother dogs will bite anyone she sees as a threat to her puppies. This is actually when the maximum bites occurs. Sterilisation removes both causes. The logic of leaving dogs where they belong is that this ensures that dogs of one area prevent the incursion into that area of other animals. Being sterilised, the original dog population does not increase and since the dogs are familiar with the residents, there is no chance of bites. The dogs thus live out their natural lives healthily and harmlessly.
This WHO recommended programme has been successful. Many cities are now rabies-free zones. In both Delhi and Mumbai, dog numbers are down and there are far fewer bite cases. Some States have taken this very seriously: Sikkim is the best and even put it into a budget head. Some, like Orissa and Madhya Pradesh have not started any programme at all but have stopped the killing. Kerala continues to kill – and has the highest number of rabies cases.
For the programme to be strengthened and speeded up, we need more people feeding and caring for dogs. This has several advantages. First, there are people who recognise the dogs of the area, can provide a reliable head count and ensure that the entire local population is covered. Two, the dogs are people- friendly and therefore easy to find and take for sterilisation. Hostile and frightened dogs run, hide and evade capture. Three, regularly fed dogs are healthy and therefore recover better and faster from the sterilisation operation increasing the turnover rate. Therefore it makes no sense to pick on people who are doing us the favour of tending our homeless animals on their own time and at their own cost.
A lot of people demand that those who feed dogs must then take responsibility for housing them. I may give money to a beggar – do I have to provide him accommodation as well? Many of the people who share food with animals are neither well off themselves nor live in bungalows. Those who object the most to this charity, are the ones who do nothing to help anyone themselves.
A second criticism of dog feeders is that they must be responsible in case of any biting incident. If I give a beggar food, shall I be held responsible if he later robs a house? Dogs are naturally friendly animals and do not bite unless severely provoked. It is certainly not the feeder’s fault if neighbours throw stones or brandish sticks at the dog which makes him to react in self-defence…
At the end of the day, it is simply power play. People at the bottom of the pile – henpecked husbands, menial employees, people who command no power or respect, the great unloved – need to vent their frustration somewhere. These become child, wife and animal beaters. Since those who are sensitive to animal suffering are perceived to be ‘softies’ they make easy targets.
Here are the laws that every animal feeder should be armed with.
Under Section 428/429 IPC, it is a cognisable offence to hit /hurt, maim, injure or kill any animal. Offenders may be immediately arrested. It is also a criminal offence under Section 506 IPC to threaten, abuse or harass anyone for feeding an animal. The court has termed feeding homeless animals a social service and directed the police to protect those who do it. Anyone obstructing this work may be prosecuted.
The most important thing to understand is that compassion and courage are two sides of the same coin. Those who care about animals and take the time and trouble to help them deserve our strongest support, encouragement and admiration. Helping animals is a long and lonely struggle. This is what makes it a far greater service than any other and one that needs to be recognised and rewarded. The next time you see someone feeding an animal, be sure to give them a smile.