Image source, Getty Images
Image caption, India has 15.3 million stray dogs
The death of a 12-year-old girl after being bitten by a stray dog has sparked outrage in the Indian state of Kerala.
Abhirami, who was bitten in August, died on Monday in hospital. This is the 21st rabies death in Kerala this year.
She had received three doses of the anti-rabies vaccine and was set to take the fourth soon, reports said.
The World Health Organization (WHO) says rabies is endemic in India, which accounts for 36% of the world’s rabies deaths.
“True burden of rabies in India is not fully known; although as per available information, it causes 18,000-20,000 deaths every year in the country,” the WHO says.
Animal rights activists, however, have questioned this, pointing out a “huge difference” between the WHO’s tally and Indian health ministry numbers.
The question of stray dogs is a sensitive one in India, and often leads to arguments between animal lovers and local residents over the issue of feeding and sterilising them.
A federal minister told parliament in August that there were 15.3 million stray dogs in India in 2019, according to the Livestock Census. The total number, the minister said, had reduced 10% from 17.1 million recorded in 2012.
Kerala, which has 290,000 stray dogs, has seen a number of campaigns aimed at getting them off the streets.
In 2016, a campaign to kill stray dogs, promoted by some people in Kerala after a rise in dog bites, had angered activists. A year before that, dog lovers had trended #BoycottKerala on social media against a proposal to cull strays – the plan was never implemented.
On Friday, India’s Supreme Court will hear a petition seeking action by federal and state governments against stray dogs.
The court decided to move up the date of hearing after lawyer VK Biju on Monday highlighted the issue of dog bites in Kerala and mentioned Abhirami’s condition (this was before she died).
The plea also calls for cancelling the ABC [Animal Birth Control] rules which were introduced in 2001 – under this, stray dogs are collected, sterilised, vaccinated and returned to the same area from where they were picked up.
Animal rights activists argue that this is the most humane and effective way of keeping the stray dog population in check and reducing dog bites.
Critics, however, allege that the programme isn’t being implemented properly and say the solution is to cull dogs.