In a gruesome reminder of India’s persistent stray-dog menace, a newborn child only three hours old was attacked and killed by a pack of dogs at a hospital in Farrukhabad district, Uttar Pradesh, on January 13.
Investigating officer Ved Prakash Pandey told AFP that “the family alleged the baby was left unattended inside the theatre with windows open, leading to the attack.”
The agency also quoted a preliminary police assessment saying “the newborn had injuries all over his body” and that police “were expecting a postmortem report to confirm the exact cause of death”.
The baby’s family members have alleged that staff at the Akash Ganga Hospital left the baby alone in an operating theatre with the windows open, letting the dogs in. Investigators have also said the hospital may not have a license and could be penalised for operating illegally.
Such incidents are not new in India. In 2017 and 2018, for example, a pack of feral dogs killed 18 children in Uttar Pradesh’s Sitapur district. In 2015, Kerala reported that a pack of dogs had bitten over a lakh people that year.
The voice of animal rights activists has increasingly been the sole one in opposition to government programmes to simply kill the dogs, if only because India’s public healthcare system is already understaffed, underfunded and grossly overworked.
As Janaki Lenin, Meghna Uniyal and Abi Tamim Vanak wrote in The Wire in 2016, “If cows and buffaloes are confiscated for being a menace to public safety, how justified are stray dogs on the roads? You can throw the same arguments to justify bovine presence – they eat garbage and keep the city clean. But tempers and emotions skyrocket when the subject is stray dogs.”
According to the New Indian Express, in Sitapur, residents of Khairabad town have speculated that the dogs were forced to switch to eating children after the government shut butcher shops in the area.
However, Lenin, Uniyal and Vanak have argued that these dogs shouldn’t be left to roam the streets in the first place, and it shouldn’t matter if they’re being fattened on cattle, human flesh or – perhaps most importantly – trash.
Instead, the proper way forward is to “address responsible pet ownership, provide subsidised neutering facilities for pets and address the garbage problem” – and that instead of limiting their commitments to cities, government agencies and animal welfare organisations should “work to curb numbers in the vast countryside.”
According to the New York Times, India has the most stray dogs in the world; one estimate pegged the figure at 50 million. And since they’re the principal reservoir for the rabies virus, Indians account for 35% of the world’s rabies deaths – the highest by far, per a 2015 study.
In 1994, Tanzania’s famed Serengeti National Park lost a third of its lions because an epidemic of canine distemper virus among domestic dogs in the area had spread to the big cats, spotted hyenas and bat-eared foxes.
Indeed, in 2016, Mumbai’s municipal corporation admitted that stray dogs had killed more people in the city in two decades than the two terror attacks in 1993 and 2008.
However, simply killing dogs wouldn’t solve the problem because dogs are territorial, and emptying one area of its dogs simply invites others to move in – especially now that a smaller number of dogs will have more spatial and nutritional resources.
Dogs also threaten wild animals, including 21-25 already threatened species in the South Asia and Middle East regions and an estimated 158 threatened and 30 critically endangered species worldwide. The same study that arrived at these figures also concluded that domestic dogs have thus far rendered 11 species extinct.