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The Street Dogs of Kerala and My Dog Story

Updated on September 4, 2018
Deepa damodaran profile image

Deepa is a freelance researcher and journalist. She has worked in various print and television media.

My Puppy, Juan

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The Good Old Days of Community Dogs

Street dogs were not street dogs to us, the children of this rural hamlet where we lived in companionship with cows, dogs, crows, goats, cats and poultry. They were free to roam around, as we were. Every one in the village knew every one else. Every dog that was fed by either the members of one household or many, had a name given to it, most probably by a child who lived around. Thus apart from them being an integral part of our routine village life, we never had to think about street dogs much. From my childhood days, I remember all of them being healthy and in good spirits. They were all the nondescript local Indian breed dogs. Some had a little furrier coat than the others and some really looked like foxes. They generously wagged their tails to every one around and stayed well-fed and in their good books.


The Entry of Foreign Breeds

I do not remember when dogs started not being a part of our community life, but it happened parallel to my growing up. Eventually the urbanized hamlets of ours started fearing and hating them, and calling them stray dogs and street dogs. I believe it all started when foreign breeds began to catch the imagination of the people of our country and my state, Kerala. The newcomer dogs had all kinds of fancy looks and furrier coats though they might indeed have felt the tropical sun of our place punishing, as they hailed from colder climates- but who cares!. The sum total of change was that soon no one anymore wanted to own a local breed dog. The foreign breed dogs became a symbol of status to such an extent that in the late 70s and 80s, many rich men and women characters depicted in our regional language films happened to be proud owners of foreign breed dogs.

Winds of Change; Disinherited and Lost

The people of the state were changing in many aspects. All the homesteads started having formidable compound walls built around them. The plunder and sale of natural resources like sand, soil, granite and water became an industrious vocation. Big houses built using granite from tip to toe stood shoulder to shoulder on every street. All the roadside plots were purchased and houses built on them. The 'real estate boom' brought in easy money into the society and the making of a consumer society was almost complete. Animal husbandry became the vocation of the poor people who had no other choice for a job. Domestic animals almost disappeared from our mainstream.


A Common Sight in Kerala

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The Street Dogs are Back!

Now the picture changes. Walk with me a couple of kilometers on any street in Kerala. You will spot a street dog for sure in five minutes or even before. Also you will most probably see a man/woman/child picking up a stone to throw at it. Street dog menace is now popular middle class chatter. The reports of stray dogs attacking the cattle, and even humans grab headlines every now and then. Cows, goats and poultry began to fall prey to the packs of stray dogs that roamed around. Many such instances were reported from different parts of Kerala. Dogs in a few rare instances, also attacked small kids and old people, the reports say. A panic reaction ensued. More rational voices lamented that the stray dog menace was a manifestation of the failed animal birth control policy of the state government. Veterinarians of Kerala, the state of India where I live, began to issue warnings that it was when we stopped feeding the street dogs (as part of our age-old village culture) and began to throw stones at them at every sighting, that the dogs that usually live as loners started getting organized into packs for food hunting efficiency.

The Facts

Dr. M.K. Narayanan of the Kerala Veterinary and Animal Sciences University has been a pioneer veterinarian who issued warning many years ago that the stray dog population in Kerala was about to go out of bounds as the animal birth control program was losing steam. It seems no one listened to him at that time. Presently there are about 2, 70,000 street dogs in Kerala, a small state with a geographical area of about 40, 000 square kilometers.[1] In the three years spanning from 2013 to 2016, it was reported, 3, 34,000 people were bitten by dogs in Kerala but only 33 of the victims died of rabies.[2] At this point of discussion, it has to be remembered that Kerala produces 8000 tons of domestic waste per day and there is no proper waste processing mechanism, thereby making the people leave at least half of this garbage on street sides, and unguarded government and private properties.[3] Stray dogs that are starved owing to the apathy of the local communities naturally ate from these garbage dumps and proliferated in the context of failed ABC (Animal Birth Control) program of the government.


[1] Kumar, A.J. (November 6, 2016), Why Kerala turned on its street dogs, The Times of India, Retrieved from https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/home/sunday-times/Why-Kerala-turned-on-its-street-dogs/articleshow/55271521.cms

[2] Kumar, A.J. (November 6, 2016), Why Kerala turned on its street dogs, The Times of India, Retrieved from https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/home/sunday-times/Why-Kerala-turned-on-its-street-dogs/articleshow/55271521.cms

[3] Kumar, A.J. (November 6, 2016), Why Kerala turned on its street dogs, The Times of India, Retrieved from https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/home/sunday-times/Why-Kerala-turned-on-its-street-dogs/articleshow/55271521.cms

Celebrating the Problem, Ignoring the Solution

It was at this point of time that as a media professional, I did a television documentary on the 'stray dog menace' that was catching eye balls in Kerala. As I went on traveling around and talking to people, I could see that the tribal people of Kerala, who still fed street dogs, were not facing the ‘stray dog problem’. Similarly, in Tamil Nadu (our neighboring state) where life is not yet as urbanized as in Kerala is, and people still have certain level of tolerance and acceptance towards street dogs, there is not such a problem. When I interviewed him, Dr. Narayanan told me it would take at least 11 years to complete neutering and spaying of all the street dogs of Kerala, under the given circumstances, even if we implement the ABC program in full vigor. The alternative he suggested was for the people to adopt stray dogs either as house dogs or community dogs, feed them and cultivate a friendly relationship with them and make it the responsibility of the owners and the community to spay and neuter them. This along with the government projects could resolve the issue, he said. However the mainstream media and social networking sites were full of hate stories about dogs and his suggestions of reason fell on deaf ears.

The government promised stringent birth control measures. However the laws of the country which were earlier in favor of culling the excess street dog population had been amended in 2011 and the Animal Birth Control Rules formulated. According to the Rules, no street dog can be killed, or harmed or driven away from a place where it lives. The only possible action that is legal is to pick up street dogs and sterilize them in a scientific and humane manner and then leave them in the place from where they have been caught. Instead of doing that, the panic reaction of the people of Kerala resulted in hundreds of street dogs illegally being killed in public by gangs of the 'anti-dog crusaders'. They even hanged street dogs from poles!

Here is a link to the documentary I did on the street dog problem in Kerala. It is in the regional language, Malayalam.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jv_a1RmJl34

A Personal Journey with Street Dogs

After almost two years of screening this documentary, I took a break from my job as a television journalist/program producer and came back from the state capital to stay in my village for a while. I started farming and it was initially to protect my goats from the street dog packs that roamed freely around (and attacked and killed one of my goats) that I decided to adopt three street dog puppies. There was also this wish to do my part as a citizen in removing street dogs from the streets.

The puppies I adopted were friendly with the goats from the very beginning and even ventured out to taste goat milk directly from the source. The goats did not seem to mind at all. Even when one of my goats gave birth and there was plenty of blood around in the process, my dogs stood by, unmoved by the smell of blood. And once we cleaned up the new born, my female dogs lovingly licked it with joy!

Soon I began to think about neutering and spaying my dogs. Two of my dogs were females. I was worried if they gave birth to a litter of puppies, I won’t be able to take care of them and in the dog-hostile atmosphere of Kerala, I won’t either be able to find any friends or neighbors to adopt them. The media and the people had moved on to other sensational news stories by then but there was no change to the attitudes towards street dogs.


Dr. Narayanan and his staff

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The Plight of Dog Owners

When I made inquiries about veterinary services nearby to spay and neuter my dogs, I realized I will have to take my puppies to a hospital in Thrissur, 80 kilometers away from my place. Also, I will have to take them first for a blood sample testing, bring them back, and then go back for surgery after one week when the results come. The government machinery for implementing street dog birth control was as lackadaisical as it used to be notwithstanding the recent dog attacks and media attention. There was not even a single facility in my entire district that I could find to do the surgery; even though the state had just witnessed about 4, 00, 000 street dog bites! There was no nearby government veterinary hospital equipped to do the surgery and an equivalent private hospital was further far off.


Jill, My Adopted Street Dog

To Own or Not to Own

Days and months went by. I was caught up in some very urgent job deadlines as I was working as a freelance documentary maker. Meanwhile, my one and half year old female dog, Bella, gave birth to four puppies. My family was up in arms and I submitted meekly to their insinuations as ultimately an 'irresponsible' dog owner that I was. Only one of my puppies got adopted. Three others remain with us. Their playful and watchful barks populate our nights.

I continued searching for a solution online. Eventually I could find a government run special project team doing animal birth control in street dogs in my own district- at a place 30 kilometers away from my home. I took all my dogs and puppies to them and in a single day, to my relief, got all of them spayed and neutered. The team that did the surgeries was fantastic; an ABC program coordinator, a veterinary doctor and 3 assistants. They also helped me by coming by in their 'dog-catching' vehicle to my village and picking up as many street dogs as possible to spay and neuter and return to the place. I came to know from them, the project is at this point of time, running well in our district. However to my knowledge, the situation is bleak for many other districts.

Bella, My Adopted Street Dog

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The Story Continues

This is not the end of my story on street dogs in Kerala. Sally, the coordinator of the Animal Birth Control project team that I met in Tirur told me about an illegal zoo in Kerala owned by a private higher education institution that she made to shut down. The reason being they fed their python with the puppies just delivered by a street dog living nearby. Sally said, in other states of Kerala, her team just will have to give a biscuit to catch a street dog but in Kerala, if they show the street dog a biscuit, it will run for life assuming the hand extended to it held a stone. I wonder, when finally will we, supposedly an intelligent species, be able to become real thinking individuals who can understand things with objectivity and act responsibly and in kindness and morality.

© 2018 Deepa

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