On May 31, a stray dog entered the office premises of the Pune police commissioner and bit six people, including an assistant inspector. The dog died of rabies the next day but thankfully it had not passed on the disease to its victims. A few weeks before that, a school-going girl and a four-year-old boy were among several people bitten by a rabid dog at the Katraj bus depot. The dog died in this case as well. The young girl had to take over 25 stitches, apart from anti-rabies injections.
For a city with tens of thousands of stray dogs, such incidents are hardly rare. Despite the fact that civic authorities have been running a programme to vaccinate and sterilise stray dogs since the mid-1990s, the population of these dogs has been growing rapidly. In fact, in the last eight years, the population is estimated to have more than doubled. According to an animal population survey done in 2011, there were about 40,000 stray dogs in Pune. There has been no follow-up survey after that — it is being planned this year — but civic authorities estimate that there are almost one lakh stray dogs in the city now.
Not surprisingly, thousands of dog bite cases are reported from various parts of the city every month. Sassoon General Hospital, the biggest government hospital in the city, gets an average of more than 1,000 such cases every month. The Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) said its hospitals and dispensaries report about 800-900 cases of dog-bites every month. A similar number is reported by hospitals under the jurisdiction of the Pimpri-Chinchwad Municipal Corporation. Private hospitals and those run by the three cantonment boards in the city also get several dog bite cases every month, but these do not get reflected in the official figures maintained by the civic agencies.
This year, between January and June, Sassoon hospital received 6,013 cases of dog bites while the hospitals and dispensaries run by the PMC reported another 5,584 such cases. Many of the injuries — more than 60 per cent for Sassoon General Hospital over the last three years — happen to be category III cases of dog bites, involving single or multiple deep skin bites or scratches, that require immediate anti-rabies vaccination.
This year, Pune has already seen seven deaths due to rabies, which in almost all cases in India happens due to dog bites. Last year, the city had recorded 10 rabies deaths, while in 2016 this number was 20. Not all of them were bitten by stray dogs in the city. Many of the victims came from outside the city, from the rural areas where the menace of stray dogs is even worse.
To control the stray dog population in the city, the PMC has been running a sterilisation programme since 2010. It claims to have sterilised 71,740 dogs during the last eight years, for which data is available. Quite clearly, the effort has not yielded desired results. As complaints of dog-bites have mounted, the corporation has this year decided to more than triple its budget for handling stray dogs — to Rs 2.66 crore from the Rs 72 lakh that it spent in the last financial year.
A bulk of this goes to paying the agencies roped in by the corporation to catch the dogs and sterilise them in designated dog pounds. “The increase in the population of stray dogs has been much more compared to the number of sterilisations that were done by PMC. The only way to check the rising population of stray dogs is to increase the rate at which they are being sterilised. That is why we have increased the budgetary provision. We would like to ensure that more dogs are sterilised in lesser time,” said Anjali Sabane, acting chief of the PMC health department.