People are right to be fearful about their livelihoods during the lockdown, but spare a thought for our stray friends
By Yumna Ahmed
In the past few days, we have heard news about people being attacked for feeding or rescuing animals in the midst of the Covid19 lockdown. Not only are the critics misguided in their fear that animals might spread the infection but equally in their disrespect for other living creatures.
Says Vishaka Chatterjee, who runs an organization called Pawsome in Lucknow, “People criticize me for feeding the stay animals. At first I use to react but one day I decided to just take a copy of the Constitution of India and paste it on the wall. Feeding stays is our duty and people just cannot stop us from doing it.” Article 51A(g) of the Constitution states it is the fundamental duty of every citizen of India “to have compassion for living things.”
Especially during the lockdown, she says, a lot of animals go hungry as people are unable to go out feed them and also fear rumours that strays will spread COVID-19. But the World Health Organisation has clarified that the Novel Coronavirus is a human-to-human transmission and your pet or strays have nothing to do with it, as various tests have proved. In fact pets have an enormous therapeutic role to play in a world of ‘social distancing.’ Thousands people suffering from loneliness find relief in the company of animals.
Says Nidhi Srivastava, an animal activist in Lucknow, “For the past three or four years I have been feeding animals. I also volunteered with an organization in Lucknow but now I am an independent activist. We face a lot of criticism from people for feeding them. We have also sterilized most of the dogs, both male and female, in our area so that they can’t reproduce.”
“We feed 30 to 40 dogs in our locality every day. We even feed birds because in the summer season most of them cannot survive. We have kept water bowls and food bowls in our area so that they do not go hungry,” she adds.
Jeev Aashraya another NGO in Lucknow has taken the initiative to prepare food for stray animals and feed them. It was started in 2011 and they are doing what they can to feed animals through this lockdown. Rajesh N, an animal-rescue volunteer in Bangalore points out there are laws against animal cruelty but the enforcing agencies don’t take them seriously.
“Previously a lot of eateries use to feed strays but due to this lockdown more than 70% of strays are unable to find food. People use to feed dogs and there was an emotional connection between dogs and humans but due to this COVID-19, this chain is cut as people are unable to feed them,” he adds.
Says Nilkanth Iyer, volunteer at Dream a Dream, an NGO that works to empower underprivileged children, and country manager at a software company, “In this crucial situation the government should provide passes for people to feed the strays. Government cannot change things overnight but they should make aware people about sterilization and adoption of strays to protect stray animals.”
Meet Ashar, associate manager at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), says sterilisation and adoption are the only humane and effective options to stem India’s stray-animal crisis. In just six years, one dog and her offspring can produce 67,000 puppies. In seven years, one cat and her offspring can produce a staggering 420,000 kittens.
“Sterilization is the only legal recourse, too,” he says. “The Animal Birth Control (Dog) Rules 2001 stipulate that strays be spayed or neutered. The ABC and Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act also forbid placing street dogs in shelters or pounds. Intense confinement can facilitate the spread of disease, and because it’s psychologically stressful, makes dogs aggressive and more likely to fight or bite.”
The penalties for hurting animal are of little deterrence, he feels. “A maximum penalty of Rs. 50 for a first offense is an outrageously outdated penalty that today does not act as a deterrent against abuse whatsoever,” says. “Numerous cases of cruelty to animals have highlighted the need for harsher penalties under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1960, the main animal protection law.”
Recent cases of extreme cruelty to animal that made newspaper headlines include a Mumbai man who battered a kitten to death by hitting her with a bamboo stick and then smashed her against the wall, a Bangalore woman who killed eight puppies, Chennai medical students who threw a puppy from a roof and Vellore medical students tortured a monkey to death.
PETA says investigations conducted by animal-rights activists to expose how animal cruelty has increased especially where animals have been used for to entertain people. Bullfight, bull racing, keeping animals in zoos, dolphin shows, circuses all permit systematic cruelty to animals claiming they have traditional, cultural or entertainment value. PETA has taken the initiative to make people aware that these are a grave injustice to animals.
“More and more people are realizing animals are not ours to buy and sell, and are choosing to adopt a dog or cat in need from an animal shelter or one suffering on the street instead,” says Ashar. “PETA India has been creating awareness about the importance of adopting from an animal shelter rather than buying dogs using street theatre, demonstrations and other activities.”
But there are other encouraging signs too. There was a recent news item about Karnataka chief minister B.S Yediyurappa taking the initiative to feed strays dogs and asking people to provide them food and water in this scorching heat. But he also asked people to observe ‘social distancing’ while feeding them.
All it takes is for a few prominent people to set an example, to help people overcome their fear and discover their compassion for all creatures great and small.