Practical, Humane Interventions And Prescriptions

9 min read
08 Jul 2016
9 min read
1530 words
Dr Pranav Joshi, who has devoted his life to taking care of stray animals, would like to see society wake up to how we mistreat animals, and do something about the problem.
Dr Pranav Joshi, who has devoted his life to taking care of stray animals, would like to see society wake up to how we mistreat animals, and do something about the problem

Some nine years ago, after graduating as a veterinarian, Joshi turned the ground floor of his house into his clinic, Vet for Your Pet. Over the years, numerous pet owners in and around Bhaktapur have made their way to his clinic, in Suryabinayak, adjacent to the Bhaktapur Printing Press. And the fees he gets from his clients go into providing treatment to the street dogs he rescues from different localities in Bhaktapur and beyond. The clinic’s backyard, which was once his mother’s kitchen garden, is today a shelter for abandoned and stray dogs: Den, a mange-ridden Great Dane; King, a stray rescued from Durbarmarg after an accident; and Julie, abandoned after being hit by a vehicle, among others. On any given day, there are more than 20 such dogs in Joshi’s shelter.

Dr Joshi’s initiative, Bhaktapur Animal Welfare Society (BAWS), which he started together with some friends in 2009, has been involved in vaccinating dogs against rabies, spaying/neutering street dogs and providing treatment, whenever necessary, to dogs in Bhaktapur. Dr Joshi’s vision for the work that he does encompasses not only bettering the lives of animals—he wants to do all he can to help create a healthy urban ecosystem where both animals and humans can co-exist, without posing a threat to each other.

“Stray animals suffer on account of us,” he says. “We keep dogs because we deem them status symbols, and we breed cows because we get something in return. But they end up on the streets because of the lack of proper planning, management and care on our part.” The abandoned cows and dogs, who take to wandering the streets, rummaging for rubbish, run the risk of being run over by vehicles. If these animals do survive such accidents, they are forced to live with deformities for lack of treatment. Dr Joshi treats almost over 10 dogs injured in traffic collisions every month. Thus, the responsibility of taking care of these animals falls on all of us, he says. He believes that we need to address the fact that the animals’ ending up on the streets not only puts their lives in jeopardy but also ours as well.

The general trend right now among people keeping livestock is to let loose their male calves on the streets
To mitigate the incidences of human-animal accidents, BAWS has been collaring the dogs and the cows on the streets with high-visibility fluorescent collars. “It is an attempt to make sure that people can see the animals at night. Hopefully, it will reduce the risk of accidents,” says Sandeep Joshi, Dr Joshi’s brother and a founding member of BAWS. The BAWS team goes around Bhaktapur almost every day collaring street animals. Because of the team’s efforts, today, on the streets of Thimi, Gatthaghar and Suryabinayak, you’ll see stray cows and dogs with a reflective collar around their necks.

The most effective way to solve the problem of street dogs is by controlling their population, by using animal birth control measures like spaying and neutering. Owing to such efforts by the government and various animal welfare organisations, the number of street dogs in the Valley has decreased in recent years. In the years that BAWS has been in operation, Dr Joshi himself has sterilised over 2,500 dogs in Bhaktapur, and of late is doing so with the financial support of Help Animal India.

However, to ensure that the dog population further decreases, and stabilises at current numbers, these interventions have to come in at far shorter intervals, says Dr Joshi. Dogs can repopulate the streets faster than these campaigns are being conducted: One dog can give birth to up to eight puppies at one time.

"We already know that feral dogs are dangerous, and we shouldn't wait to address this problem until we hear that they've attacked people"

The solution to this issue, along with individual efforts, believes Dr Joshi, will be found when all the Valley’s vets and concerned bodies work together to conduct large-scale sterilisation programmes. The sterilisation measure alone, however, is not a good enough solution for dogs who turn feral. “Street dogs usually form packs at night and chase people, making it difficult for people to walk the streets,” he says. In areas like Wonti, Bhaktapur, there have even been reports of cows being fatally attacked by packs of feral dogs.

Jan Salter, the founder of Kathmandu Animal Treatment Centre, who has worked with stray dogs for years, says, “Dogs walk in packs because they are the descendants of wolves, and like wolves, dogs form packs sometimes for protection.” Dr Joshi, too, has found that to be the case from his observation and analysis of dog behaviour. 

Twice a week, for the past few years, Dr Joshi has been visiting villages like Wonti, Katunje, Sallaghari, Kamalbinayak and Mahalaxmi at night to observe such dogs. “We already know that these dogs are dangerous, and we shouldn’t wait to address this problem until we hear that they’ve attacked people,” he says. The solution, or rather the last resort, in the case of feral dogs, says Dr Joshi, would be to catch them and put them down. “The solution comes at a cost, but it is meant to solve much graver problems down the line.”

To decrease the street-dogs numbers, Dr Joshi would also like to address the problem of how a subset of them become strays in the first place—people’s abandoning of their pet dogs. These dogs end up on the streets owing to multiple reasons: Most are left on the streets because the dogs didn’t end up looking like the breed that the owners wanted, or the owners didn’t have the time to take care of the dogs, or because the owners just replaced their previous pets with dogs they deemed were ‘better’. Either way, the solution to this problem can only come from responsible pet ownership, says Dr Joshi. The first thing that Dr Joshi tells prospective pet owners seeking advice is to not get a dog if they don’t have the time, space and money to keep the dog. For example, if you live in an apartment, don’t get a giant Saint Bernard, he says. For people who want to get dogs, he teaches them responsible ways to take care of their dogs.

Irresponsible ownership, however, is not only limited to dog owners. The general trend right now among people keeping livestock is to let loose their male calves on the streets. “That is because male calves are not productive animals from which people can get something in return,” says Dr Joshi. “Such action seems inhumane, but if you look at it from the point of view of a farmer who has limited means, abandoning the male calves feels like a more reasonable decision, financially, than continuing to care for them.” But there are ways in which you can make use of a male calf, rather than leaving it on the streets. Dr Joshi suggests a model, and plans to put it to use himself, whereby people can raise male calves in a small plot and sell the manure that they produce to organic farmers. It will be a win-win situation for both the animals and us, he says. He hopes that, with the help of government subsidies, more people will replicate the model he is proposing, which is not only practical but might also prove lucrative. But he understands that it will take some time for such changes in the people’s mindset to occur.

At least in his community, Dr Joshi’s efforts have already changed how people view animals. His neighbours and friends who once thought he was going soft in the head because of his work now believe in and encourage him. “It is especially the kids I have noticed a major change in,” he says. Children in Suryabinayak sometimes bring injured pigeons, and in some cases dogs, to his clinic. The ‘operation garne manche’, as the kids have started calling him, is spreading the message of coexistence. That message, it seems, is spreading slowly but steadily.