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Scared of stray dogs? This new initiative aims to change that

Lamat R Hasan | Updated on: 10 February 2017, 1:48 IST

Hardly a week goes by without a shrill headline about an animal-human conflict. It could be a monkey attack at Parliament Street or a dog bite in Nehru Place. One thing though shines through - The awful bias against animals.

The voiceless are almost always at fault. Mostly because they cannot speak up for themselves and say - "I bit this bully because he was trying to snatch my puppies" or "I bit that idiot because he was hitting me".

Also read - Delhi's dog menace: Blame the civic bodies, not the strays

In a first, an organisation has decided to become their voice. In an attempt to minimise the animal-human conflict. To tell the 'superior' humans that there is a reason for those bites. And how best to contain such conflicts and what to do in case of an actual dog bite.

World Animal Protection (WAP) , active in over than 50 countries, has unleashed a programme "Better Lives for Dogs in India" across the country. It's role is dual - of advocacy and intervention on the ground. Telling the government how to minimise the stray dog population humanely and to take steps to guard against rabies; to tell people how to deal with dogs and also bust the many myths about homeless strays.

" Dogs - like all animals - have a right to li fe without suffering. Through our campaign, we will help people learn how to look after dogs responsibly, thereby helping communities and dogs to live together harmoniously and without fear," says Gajender K Sharma, India Country Director, W AP.

The newness of campaign

The campaign gives you the lowdown on dog behaviour. Also, how you should behave when you're around a dog that is trying to size you up.

First the disclaimer: most dogs on the streets are friendly and happy in the company of humans. However, some have had a bad run with humans and they are the ones who grow up to be aggressive and nervous - usually to save their own skins.

So, if a nervous dog decides to sniff you - do not run. Do not look him in the eye. Freeze and retrace your steps quietly. If you decide to turn backwards and run, the dog may become suspicious of you and chase you - may be even try and bite you.

If a growling and aggressive dog gets close to you. Park yourselves right there, with hands on your side. Pretend you are a tree. Do not move. And do not make eye contact. The dog will sniff you, decide you are harmless and move on.

In case of the inevitable, either because you've stepped on a dog's tail or sent out the wrong vibe, lie down on the ground and curl into a ball. Try and protect your body and face.

Head straight to a doctor for an anti-rabies shot. Make sure the wound is washed thoroughly for at least 10 minutes. In the best case scenario, isolate the dog and watch him. In a worse scenario, try and remember what he looked like.

Let sleeping dogs lie

Most dogs on the streets are super-friendly - only trying to angle for a meal and some good human company. They would wag their tails to tell you how happy they are to see you and if you've just bought them their favourite biscuits - they think they're in heaven.

If the wagging tail is a happy sign, dogs whose tails are tucked between their legs are scared. Of humans. Of other dogs. They are usually safe to interact with, but need a little coaxing and loads of attention before they decide to be friendly.

However, the same dog when startled or frightened may attack in self-defence. Maybe to protect its litter, which little children seem to think are play things. Or if it is being hurt.

Sometimes, food-related aggression may also manifest in a bite. The bite is usually meant at other dogs who wants to eat its meal or at a human who is getting in the way of a famished dog eating.

Often, domesticated dogs bite when humans tread into their territory. Dogs, by nature, defend their territory or that of their owners and any trespassing by humans are seen as offences by them. Hence the attacks and the bites.

Sudden movements near dogs may also alarm them and result in bites.

Most of us do not understand dog behaviour and instead kick, maim and kill them for attacking us. Unfortunately, often it is the humans and not the dogs who are at fault.

Understanding dog behaviour

* Dogs wag their tails more to the right when they are experiencing positive emotions and to the left when they are feeling anxious and nervous.

* Dogs express jealousy when their owners display affectionate behaviour towards other dogs.

* Dogs recognise their human's face upon hearing their voice.

* Dogs have evolved to read human facial expressions and emotions in the same way that people do.

* Female dogs have better eyesight than males.

* Contrary to popular belief, dogs do not see in black-and-white but in shades of red and green.

* Dogs are highly skilled at understanding human gestures, and adapt their behaviour depending on how reliable they view the human to be.

* Much like humans, anxiety in dogs can be caused by early life experiences such as little maternal care or socialisation.

A relationship gone sour?

Globally there are around 700 million dogs. Many of these are stray, often unwanted, unhealthy and not vaccinated. They are perceived to be a nuisance because of a fear of rabies and dog bites.

" Nearly 10 million dogs are killed inhumanely every year, primarily in a misguided attempt to eradicate rabies. Brutal methods are employed - like beating, poisoning, electrocuting, shooting to get rid of this so-called threat to society. A rabies-free nation doesn't mean a nation without dogs," says Sharma.

W AP is collaborating with national governments to seek national and international policy change s to improve the lives of millions of animals, because animal protection is a fundamental part of a sustainable future.

" By training owners to care for dogs humanely and pushing for better dog population management - we can reduce conflicts between people and dogs, and help spread progress," says Sharma.

The organisation called on the g overnment recently to take necessary measures for implementing the Supreme Court directive on vaccination and sterilisation.

" The elimination of rabies is within our grasp and we are hopeful that both the government and communities will step up and share the responsibility to make mass dog vaccination and sterilisation a reality."

Through this campaign, W AP wants to end the unnecessary deaths of millions of dogs, every year. "Dogs - like all animals - have a right to live without suffering," adds Sharma.

And dignity. Much like humans, their best friends.

More in Catch - Welfare Wars: the dog-eat-dog world of animal activism no one speaks of

First published: 1 July 2016, 8:59 IST
Lamat R Hasan @LamatAyub

Bats for the four-legged, can't stand most on two. Forced to venture into the world of homo sapiens to manage uninterrupted companionship of 16 cats, 2 dogs and counting... Can read books and paint pots and pay bills by being journalist.