Is dog culling inhumane?

Published: February 26, 2015
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Municipal workers prepare to dispose of a pile of dog carcasses in a suburb of Karachi on February 11, 2015. PHOTO: AFP

We had a dog for more than a decade. My brother’s friend had a litter of four puppies but was chastised by his mother for overcrowding the house, and hence he was forced to give the pups away. Sunnu brought one of his pups to our house when it was only five-days-old. We had never had any pet before so it was a novelty for everyone, including our extended family.

The pup was a cute, cuddly, fluff ball, all white with just a hint of black. Initially, we called him Snoopy, for a few days, as he would snoop around the house and sniff everything. However, Snoopy soon became Snowy – blame Tintin comics for that.

We never realised how or when he became our family member.

Needless to say, mum had put in lot of hard work schooling him. She took him to the vet to get sanitised, to the dog-trainers to coach him, cleaned up his mess when there were ‘accidents’ in our living room and did a lot more. We would only play with him once we came back from school. Truth be told, Sunnu did take some responsibility by taking him for his evening strolls and the likes, but majority of his tutelage was under mum. He was instructed to go on the streets in selected places and relieve himself. Since he was neutered, he never created much noise and nuisance during the mating period. He was a quiet and good dog.

The above picture shows an ageing Snowy lazing in our backyard. Photo: Supriya Arcot

His mood depended on our moods.

He would be sullen when he knew that something was amiss in the house, like one of us getting a scolding for achieving low marks. He would jump, frolic and play when we were happy. He would be silent when it was time for our favourite TV serial. He would quietly crawl to his favourite place (under the dining table) when he knew that we were studying for our exams or had guests over.

When we were on holidays, we would send him to the vet (who kept kennels) who would charge us per day for keeping him. Sometimes, when it was a short vacation, we would send him to the driver’s house for safeguarding. He was only too happy to keep the dog for some extra money. When we used to come back, he’d ‘hug’ us with his hairy paws and give a strange kind of whimper. It was much later that we realised that it was his way of ‘crying’ out of happiness.

Time passed, we grew up and soon it was time to fly out of the nest. Snowy had to be content with fewer familiar faces around him, even if (for weeks together) it meant only my mother. Gradually, he resigned himself to spending more and more time with ‘outside’ folks. Then one fine day, we got the news of his death. About how he went to sleep and never woke up. He had just withered away. The folks who were guarding him managed to give him a decent burial. He died (what’s known commonly as) a dog’s death; without us, alone and lonely, pining for his family.

We missed him like anything. We could not help think that it would have been better if we had put him to sleep instead of leaving him with outsiders who were not trained to take care of animals.

Dogs and humans are alike. They need a lot of attention and nurturing. Without heedfulness, they go adrift. While I totally agree that killing any animal is wrong for reasons other than to eat, I feel animals are better off when ‘put away’ in some cases.

The government has already made tried and tested rules to domesticate dogs or cats. If anyone wishes to keep any dog as a pet, they have to get it verified (sterilised) and must have a medical certificate issued by a veterinary doctor. This information is included in the license which should be hung on its neck all the time. Today, either this rule is not publicised enough or has been ignored by the general public. Many domestic pet dogs do not carry any licenses; most do not even have any ribbon or collar to indicate that they’re ‘taken’. So it’s tough to know the health of the ‘pet’.

Stray animals (especially dogs) form a big problem in many towns worldwide. One ribald way of getting rid of unwanted dogs is to hit them on the head with a blunt object, shock them and let them die a slow, numb death. Thankfully, this is not usually done.

The regular way is to collect these street dogs together and pass them through just one electric shock. The death is quick and instantaneous with zero pain. The dead bodies are then burnt or buried depending on the prevailing rules of that region. The personnel handling this operation are well equipped with sterilised gloves and face masks. The general public is well-informed about the dates of such an operation. It’s usually held on a holiday when a majority of the crowd is off the streets.

In Karachi, Pakistan, a large number of stray dogs were recently rounded up and culled. The reason that the local government gave in to such a step was that they were receiving several complaints of dog bites from different segments. While many were outraged by this, I for one was relieved that they were culled and not eliminated by some other inhumane way. Previously, these animals used to get shot dead or fed poisoned meat on the orders of the authorities – both of which were painful. Through culling, the animal doesn’t feel pain and it’s quick.

Pakistani municipal workers dispose of a pile of dog carcasses in a suburb of Karachi on February 11, 2015. Photo: AFP

When it comes to dog culling, the most common question asked by those against it is, if your own mother was a burden, would you have her killed too?

Such a question is absurd in many ways.

My mother is not a pet. She does not carry germs in her mouth. She does not chase, scare and harass children from playing on the roads. She does not scavenge the garbage bins and spread dirt and diseases around. My mother does not pick fights with her own ilk and engage in full throated brawls and howls in the dead of the night.

So comparing my mother with a dog is not only inappropriate, it is downright illogical.

I have read about the stray dogs of Moscow. They demonstrate their domesticity by ‘politely’ asking for food. If a dog sees anyone (especially a good-looking girl) having a sandwich, it goes to her quietly, puts his paw on her leg and keeps looking at her with woebegone eyes, without barking, slowly whining, till she’s smitten and gives him her share of the sandwich or whatever else she can spare. If she refuses to melt at his forlorn eyes, then he simply strays away to another onlooker.

The dogs travel in packs, taking the subway/metro/tram, to go the main city, scavenge the bins there, have their fill and come back diligently by the trains. While it shows laudable discipline in dog behaviour, I doubt if this is practical in crowded cities with cramped public transport.

Many programs are undertaken by dog lovers to sterilise all the street dogs in some cities. While this is a commendable move, what to do with the new dogs that keep coming to cities every day? It might be utilitarian to sterilise them but what about feeding them and disposal of their ‘waste’ on a daily basis? Remember, I am not talking about domestic dogs. Sterilisation might ‘tame’ them but it sure doesn’t fill their stomachs. Neutered or not, they will go rummaging through dustbins and open sewers, and spread filth and garbage around.

It’s routine for small puppies to come under vehicles zooming by (unintentionally, of course). Then they bleed to a slow and torturous death. Even if the driver has good motives, he might not be able to find an animal hospital nearby. Without having knowledge of medicine himself, the kindest thing he could do in such an unforeseen situation is to leave the puppy by the road.

Surely this is more horrific than dying with just one jolt of electricity.

However, those who are against culling can come up with another solution. They can create awareness and raise money for animal shelters, so that these animals may be catered for. But seeing how resources are often scarce and funds are not continuous, an animal shelters would need a lot of supervision to make it work.

In case animal shelters cannot be managed, instead of wasting resources, I believe dog culling is the best way round. Culling is not equal to crushing mosquitoes or cockroaches. It’s a very humane and well thought-out (and usually, well organised) way of getting rid of stray, street dogs.

To me, it is very similar to euthanasia. If the government (or whoever is advocating stray dog killing) was anti-dogs/heartless/cruel/sadistic, then why would they bother with painless and quick methods, when they could as easily resort to a painful, quick and bloody end? The government and the system cares, and that is why they make it as painless as possible.

Rules are always written keeping in mind some good for the majority. If anyone thinks that a particular rule will have only undesirable results, then it won’t be made into a law at all. In a country where animal shelters are scarce, in fact animal rights are scarce, dog culling is the most humane way of avoiding human tragedy. Before embarking upon your instinct to attack the practice, perhaps reflect on what you may have done had you been in power in a state where resources, and finances, for animal care are limited.

Supriya Arcot

Supriya Arcot

She works for a software house and is a mother of eight-year-old twins.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.