Police in northern India report that a dog pack has killed 6 children in the past week. The attacks have occurred in the around the town of Sitapur, in Uttar Pradesh province. The Sitapur dog attacks have resulted in a backlash from terrified villagers who are killing any dog they encounter and refusing to let their children play outside or walk to school.
Police officials warn that attacks most often occur when children are out on their own, gathering mangoes or using the outhouse, as many homes in Sitapur lack indoor plumbing. In addition to the 6 children killed by the dog pack, two dozen more have been injured. The 6 children killed near Sitapur were between the ages of 5 and 12. Authorities are not yet sure whether the dog pack consists of local strays or dogs who have roamed in from the nearby forest.
The local school district, noticing a sharp decrease in school attendance, has asked parents to accompany their children to school, while police have increased patrols around Sitapur. Dog catchers have also taken to the streets to apprehend the violent canines. 22 dogs have been captured so far.
While the past week has produced the worst dog attacks in recent memory, attacks have been increasing in Sitapur since November. 12 children have been killed in dog attacks in the area since autumn, including the 6 children killed this past week.
India’s Stray Dogs
India certainly has a problem with stray dogs. Millions of strays roam the streets, even in the most expensive neighborhoods. Although dog bites do happen from time to time, it is uncommon for a dog pack to turn so violent.
Life for a stray dog in India isn’t easy. They live off of scraps of food, sometimes left out for them by kindly humans, sometimes scavenged from trash. Dogs are pack animals, but with multiple packs roaming the same area, these dog clans often turn violent on each other in order to defend their territory and meager food supply.
It is estimated that India is home to roughly 30 million stray dogs roaming its streets. With a growing population of more than 1.3 billion people, India also has a trash problem, creating the perfect conditions for stray dogs to scavenge and stay alive.
Local administrators say there are about 100 stray dogs near Sitapur. 22 have been captured by dog catchers and 15 have been killed by the villagers.
To combat the stray dog epidemic, NGOs capture stray dogs to sterilize them and vaccinate them for rabies. However, their underfunded efforts are unable to curb the fast growth of the stray dog population or the spread of rabies since rabies vaccines need to be administered annually.
In India, people often capture and kill stray dogs themselves, although killing strays in technically illegal.
Anyone who owns a pet dog knows that they’re more likely to be man’s best friend than to turn violent. For most, the idea of dogs preying on children seems almost counterintuitive. However, there are a few reasons that a dog may turn violent.
One of the most obvious reasons a dog may become violent is because of disease, usually rabies. Rabies is a fatal brain virus that primarily affects dogs, but can be passed to any mammal, including humans. The disease is transferred most often via a bite. Dogs infected with rabies become increasingly violent, even attacking humans. Foaming at the mouth is one of the tell tale symptoms of a rabid dog. In humans, light sensitivity and a fear of water are the most obvious symptoms. Once symptoms appear, the disease is fatal for animal or human.
India has the highest rate of rabies related deaths in the world. An estimated 1/3rd of rabies related deaths originate in India. The high death rate is driven, in part, by a lack of awareness and public health information on rabies in the South Asian country. After a dog bite, a rabies vaccine must be immediately administered. In rural India, when someone is bitten by a stray dog, they often do not receive medical attention until symptoms appear, at which point, it is too late for medical help. Often medical facilities with the resources to treat rabies are hundreds of miles away.
Those who have adopted shelter pets know that abuse from humans can easily lead to violence in dogs. Stray dogs in India are often the subject of abuse and cruelty from humans, increasing their fear, distrust, and even aggression towards people. With the Sitapur dog attacks, abuse and violence towards stray dogs has only increased.
Another reasons a dog may turn to violence is starvation. One Sitapur local noted that since the slaughterhouse closed, the dogs lost their primary food supply, as most were living off scraps of meat and refuse from the slaughterhouse. A local senior police officer, Anand Kulkarni, explained “Since the slaughterhouses have been closed, the strays are not getting meat and thus may have started attacking children.”
RK Singh, the director of the Indian Veterinary Research Institute (IVRI), also believes the closure of the slaughterhouses is to blame for the violence, “Earlier when the abattoirs were operational, the dogs used to get food in form of leftovers. But, with the closure of the abattoirs, there was a shortage of food for the dogs.”
“Before this, such aggressive nature of dogs was not reported. And, it would be unfair to call the Sitapur dogs as man-eaters. This is primarily a case of man-animal conflict.”
Another veterinarian, Anoop Gautam, echoed this statement saying, “Due to paucity of food, the dogs tend to become more aggressive. Secondly, the nomadic people generally rear dogs to hunt animals. Now, there has been a shortage of food for the dogs and there are strong chances that the nomadic people may have set free their dogs.”
It seems to be clear that starvation is the cause behind the dog violence. Gita, a 7 year old girl, was among the 6 children killed. She was picking mangoes with her friends when a pack of dogs attacked. The other children were able to escape, but the dogs were later found eating the child’s body.