The Sciences

Lack of Data and Funds Debilitate Bengaluru's Efforts to Sterilise Its Dogs

“Why isn't a safe and efficient birth-control programme a priority for the BBMP?”

Bengaluru: Early in 2000, the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP), the municipal corporation responsible for the city’s civic and infrastructural resources, established an animal birth control programme to conduct sterilisation surgeries.

The programme drew legislative power from the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960 and the Animal Birth Control (Dogs) Rules, 2001. When read together, they make it a punishable offence to mutilate or kill stray dogs and call for humane sterilisation programmes to control dog populations.

“Compassion towards animals is in our constitution,” Priya Chetty Rajagopal, a member of the Citizens for Animal Birth Control (CABC), said. The group has been petitioning for a safe and procedure-oriented birth control programme for the city’s dogs. “The Supreme Court has also mandated very clearly that dogs cannot be relocated or killed. What can be done is sterilising and vaccinating.”

Over the years, animal birth control has proven to be the safest way to contain dog populations in the most humane way. However, the seemingly standard programme suffers from various setbacks in Bengaluru.

According to Rajagopal, the legislative backing is in place “but the BBMP, as the implementor, is at fault.”

A major issue plaguing the programme concerns unprofessional surgeries by certain private operators contracted by the BBMP and which are running birth control programme on a small scale. While private veterinarians and practitioners not working with NGOs but registered with the Animal Welfare Board of India are eligible to undertake birth-control contracts, their experience, training and success rates remain questionable.

As part of the programme, Bengaluru has been divided into eight zones; the BBMP engaged contractors in each of these zones to conduct sterilisation programmes. However, Harini Raghavan, a member of the CABC, said that among the contractors, some are new entrants and don’t have any credible experience in the field.

On June 30, 2018, a young female dog, picked up from Haralur Road by the BBMP agency conducting the programme for Bommanahalli, was found cowering under a car with her organs out.

“She is one of the lucky ones,” Sandhya Madappa, secretary and trustee of the group Compassion Unlimited Plus Action (CUPA), referring to the fact that the dog was taken to the nearest multi-speciality clinic and underwent reparative surgery and has recovered since. “What about all those who died lingering deaths on the road or who were found too late?”

Since March this year, a few cases of botched surgeries have been reported for reasons like negligence. Some dogs have also died post-surgery, and even others have gone ‘missing’.

However, G Anand, joint director of the Animal Husbandry department, which administers the programme in Bengaluru, has denied allegations that the recent spate of botched surgeries was due to negligence.

“The focus shouldn’t be on the surgery alone,” according to Srinivas Murthy, an assistant professor in the department of surgery and radiology at the Veterinary College, Bengaluru. “Postoperative care is very important because most deaths happen post-surgery. So the patient has to be monitored till the wounds are completely healed.”

Murthy said that the operation should be conducted under fully aseptic conditions and the equipment used should be of standard quality.

According to Raghavan, some contractors have taken it upon themselves to follow standard operating procedures drafted by the Animal Welfare Board of India, have invested in certification, CCTV cameras, etc. – but others have gone the other way. “Why isn’t a safe and efficient birth-control programme a priority for the BBMP?”

“Sometimes there are cases of self-mutilation, where the dog tends to bite or scratch the area where the operation has been done, or maybe other post-surgery complications… but these are exceptions, not the rule,” Madappa said. “What we are hearing now are clearly cases of botched surgeries.”

Such complaints point to a lack of oversight mechanisms – both in the initial tendering processes, which don’t seem to emphasise merit, and the monitoring thereafter.

The BBMP set up a committee to address just this issue. However, Mili Gandhi, another member of CABC, said its members “don’t hold meetings, they don’t collaborate and a few government officials who are on the committee seem to lack any idea about what animal birth control is and have no interest.”

To make matters worse, the BBMP hasn’t been paying its contractors on time. CUPA stopped running the programme on February 1, 2018, because its dues had gone past Rs 45 lakh.

“An NGO cannot wait for months on end to receive payments,” Madappa said, adding that many other contractors began to suspend operations now and then because they couldn’t pay for them. “This defeats the purpose because the success of animal birth control depends on it being a continuous and intensive program,” she explained. “If you have a break for a few months, breeding periods will continue and the population multiplies.”

The payments are also tied to penalty clauses that kick in when contractors don’t meet a set number of sterilisations for a given period. “The BBMP does not understand that this cannot function like a factory,” Madappa said. Such emphasis on a tally is also problematic because, given the absence of a functional monitoring committee, there’s only a quantity check and no quality check. This prejudices contractors against following standard operating procedures to cut costs.

The capstone that ensures these issues perpetuate is that there’s no data about the number of dogs in the city.

As Raghavan asked, “Where is the dog census?” Without one, there’s no way to “benchmark progress”. The last such census was conducted over a decade ago in 2007. Currently, some contractors work with an estimate calculated based on the 2007 census and smaller, zone-based surveys conducted in each ward allocated to them. But an overall picture is still missing.

“The BBMP needs to view the program scientifically and strategically and has to conduct it with compassion and sensibility,” Gandhi said.

Manjunath Prasad, the BBMP commissioner, had not replied to questions from the reporter at the time of publishing this article. It will be updated as and when a reply is received.

Rishika Pardikar is a freelance journalist in Bengaluru.