In Srinagar, dog lovers on a mission to save strays starved by lockdown

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At 2 pm every day, a group of some 20 Kashmiri youth spreads out on the streets of Srinagar looking for stray canines to feed.

Animal welfare activists say hunger and thirst have been a major cause of animal illness during the lockdown particularly among the stray dogs which used to feed on leftovers from restaurants, hotels and meat shops before the restrictions forced markets shut to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

For more than two months now, these animal welfare activists in Kashmir have been roaming the deserted streets of Srinagar and its outskirts with bags of food to feed the canines.

“After the restrictions were imposed, we increasingly got calls from people of ill dogs on roads and when we took them to hospitals, we came to know that they were hungry and thirsty. In fact we lost three dogs to hunger. It was then we decided to start a feeding drive for them,” said 23-year-old Nighat Lone who runs a voluntary rescue and rehabilitation organisation, Kashmir Animal Welfare (KAW).

Lone, 23, said that the canines used to survive on leftovers from restaurants and from bins at shopping sites before the lockdown. “After the restrictions, there was nothing these animals could feed upon,” she said.

Volunteers of Lone’s organisation, along with another animal welfare organisation called Healing Pat, have been particularly going to those areas which are commercial places or markets where the animals don’t have anything to eat.

“In residential areas or colonies, animals do get something because people live there but at shopping sites and outside restaurants, the bins are empty,” Lone, who has done her BBA, said.

Dawood Muhammad, who runs Healing Pat, said that they provide food to the animals once a day.

“We don’t have any standard food but we are providing them one meal everyday to save their lives. We are all volunteers and working on our own with the money from our own pockets,” he said.

The food is mostly biscuits, leftovers from chicken and meat shops, rice and even dog food. “On an average we feed around 1,000 dogs in the city and adjoining districts every day,” he said.

Stray dogs have been a persistent health issue in Kashmir particularly in capital Srinagar where the conservative estimates put the dog population anywhere around 60,000.

Between 2012-13 and 2018-19 around 37,700 dog bite cases were recorded at Srinagar’s Shri Maharaja Hari Singh Hospital.

“We are aware of the issues of the public. It is true that we have more dog population and a substantial number of dog bites but that is a universal problem. We are against poisoning and want their sterilizations, so that their population decreases with the passage of time,” Lone said.

Animal birth control (ABC) or sterilisation measures by the Srinagar Municipal Corporation (SMC) authorities to control the dog population have often been described as ‘sluggish’. Animal lovers are opposed to culling stray dogs.

Lone said that the animal care gives her satisfaction. “Lives of both humans and animals are important and hunger is common. I feel inner satisfaction when I feed these animals and take care of them and I think God has chosen me for this,” she said.

Dr Javaid Rather, Srinagar Municipal Corporation’s Veterinary Officer said that the corporation and the volunteers from animal welfare organisations were together in this endeavour.

“It was a collaborative effort. We let the volunteers do the feeding and provided them the passes. An NGO Kashmir Animal Welfare donated us some dog feed and we also diverted some of our staff meant for animal birth control (ABC) to feed the animals because we knew that the animals would die near markets and commercial areas where people don’t live nearby,” Rather said.

The officer said that the sterilization of animals suffered a pause during the pandemic. “For the past one year we have sterilized some 1,000 dogs and gave anti rabies vaccines to an 1,800 canines,” he said.

“The dog bite cases have been showing a decline due to sterilizations as well as after we managed to minimise the availability of garbage in open in the city,” Rather said.

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