Hello human beings,
Hope you all are good and all your pets are wagging their tails with joy.
As an advocate fighting for the legal rights of animals, I come across many people having misconceptions and misled views about pet ownership legality and the legal rights of care givers of stray dogs. Today I’d like to share a legal opinion to shed some light on these topics and hopefully clear such misconceptions.
As the number of people keeping dogs as household companions is increasing and as animal lovers are increasingly showing compassion for street dogs by feeding them and providing veterinary and other support, conflicts may sometimes occur between the care givers of dogs and Resident Welfare Association.
Our country endorses the virtues of ahimsa and non-violence. These doctrines have always enabled people to peacefully co-exist with animals. Moreover, the duty to show compassion to all living creatures is a Fundamental Duty cast by Article 51A of the constitution upon all citizens of this country; and the law of land protects the rights of non-humans.
All points of view deserve consideration, and everybody is equal in the eyes of law. The solution therefore lies in recognizing that, and teaching differing points of view, and differing lifestyles with respect. The guidelines issued by Animal Welfare Board of India aims at achieving the same.
As per the guidelines, pet owners rightly consider their pets as family members. A pet is akin to a perennial toddler and therefore deserves the same attention throughout its life as that reserved for a human toddler during infancy. However, pet owners are advised to ensure that their pets are not a source of nuisance to others. In doing so, they may, however, distinguish between reasonable and unreasonable, lawful and unlawful claims as to their pets being a source of nuisance; and no amount of pressure should lead to abandonment of a pet animal. Doing so, is a violation of law. Imagine the plight of a pet who has always lived inside a house and was dependent on its owner for food and shelter. And now, roaming on busy roads, alone, and in fear of being biten or mauled by other stray dogs.
In our society most of the people (non-dog lovers) consider barking as a nuisance. However, barking is a natural form of expression for a dog and must and has to be tolerated in a society. However, continuous barking can disturb neighbors. Hence, in the AWBI guidelines, pet owners are advised to make every effort to keep their dogs quiet, particularly during night hours. But that doesn’t mean neighbors can force or pressure dog owners in any way to abandon the pets.
As per the guidelines, pet owners are also advised to ensure that their pets are healthy, vaccinated, and clean. Adequate healthcare and regular vaccinations need to be ensured. Sterilization is advised as our country has excessive dog population.
Leashing of pets in public places is also advisable. Leashing of dogs assures passerby that they are safe and makes them more comfortable when walking in the vicinity of an owner with his pet dog on a leash. Leashing also ensures the safety of the pet from being run over by vehicles on streets, or worse shall, being the cause of accidents. Nowadays, people get their dogs trained for walking on leash and the dogs do so on the streets but other passerby may not feel comfortable and don’t know about the fact that the dog is trained to do so. Hence, conflicts arise. Even the canines used and trained by police and bomb squad never walk unleashed. However, RWA and other associations cannot insist on the use of muzzle. Please do remember, the law already provides for penalties for negligent pet owners, which the aggrieved party can avail of.
I come across multiple complaints against RWAs or other associations that dogs and their owners get debarred from using elevators etc. whereas as per the guidelines you cannot be debarred by these associations from the use of lifs or elevators for your dogs, pet owners are also advised to use alternate lifts or elevators if there is more than one working lifts in a building. Please bear in mind that even by obtaining consensus, or even if the majority of residence and occupiers want it, RWA and other association cannot legally introduce any sort of ban on the keeping of pet dogs. They cannot insist that small siied dogs are acceptable and large siied dogs are not. They cannot cite dog barking as a valid and compelling reason for any proposed ban or restriction.
Further, in the guidelines it is also advised that pet owners either clean up when the pet defecates in public premises, or participate in other solution for maintaining cleanliness. Such civic sense is the need of the hour in our country, and it is also courtesy to other users of public spaces. Pet owners are also advised to take the initiative to discuss with their RWA’s ways and means to dispose of pet excreta. For example, pet corners can be designated, in which pets can be trained or encouraged to relieve themselves; and a corner of the complex/park can be designated as area where pet excreta can be collected and deposited and composted, using sawdust, etc. Such behavior may generate positivity and greater acceptability of pet dogs and even street dogs. However, it is clarified that it is for each residential community and complex to decide which method works best for them, and solutions cannot be imposed on anybody. I get multiple cases in which RWA imposed fines on pet owners and care givers for pet defecation in public premises, I want to make it very clear that it is illegal. There should be co-operation between RWA and pet owners.
If the residence or occupiers that have pets are not violating any municipal or other laws, it is not permissible for RWA or other association to object to their having pets as companions. The general body cannot frame bye laws or amend them in a manner that is at variance with the laws of the country. Even by complete majority, a general majority cannot adopt an illegality.
Lastly, let’s talk about the guidelines prescribed by AWBI for care givers of stray dogs. There are many people in our country who feed stray animals. Some dispose of their leftover food in this manner, and others compassionately prepare food for them.
I am one of these care givers. I started my journey of activism from feeding of the stray dogs. Those who feed stray dogs are also advised to participate in their sterilization, and yearly vaccination too, since they win the trust of the dogs through feeding them. They are also advised to provide, or to assist animal welfare organisations in providing healthcare to them.
· Care givers are also advised not to feed street dogs close to residences not their own. They are also advised to avoid feeding immediately adjacent to areas in which children play or people take walks, or that are otherwise crowded. Moreover, feeding must not be done in a manner that contributes to littering, or dirtying any feeding site. Caregivers are advised to clean up feeding sites after feeding is over.
· Care givers cannot control the defecation habits of the strays. However, they are advised to participate in other solutions to maintain cleanliness.
· Beating and driving away street dogs is not allowed; animal birth control and release bag into same locality or territory is allowed.
· As per Indian law, street dogs cannot be beaten or driven away or dumped elsewhere or killed. They can merely be sterilized in the manner envisaged in the Animal Birth Control Rules, 2005, vaccinated and then returned to their original territory. For the area-wise sterilization program that the law mandates shall be followed, dogs have to be returned back to their original habitat after sterilization. The rationale behind release back of street dogs into the same locality after sterilization is that, dogs being territorial in nature, tend to fight with other dogs and keep them from entering their territories and in this manner, the dog population in each territory stabilized.
At the end please note that there is no law that prohibits the feeding of street animals. Citizens who choose to do so are in fact performing a duty cast upon them by the Constitution of India. Courts have upheld street dog feeding since the same reduces human animal conflict and suspicion, and facilitates animal birth control. Please also note animal cruelty is an offence under Section 55 of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act and sections 428 and 429 of the Indian Penal Code – punishable with imprisonment and fine. Any aggression or hostility that the dogs may be subjected to may render them aggressive and hostile to humans. They may then resort to snapping and being in self- defense. If the same happens the human aggressors shall be the only one to blame. After all we are the most intelligent God made species and he will never expect us to harm other co-species made by the same God.