We generally tend to think that only people are in distress for the outbreak of COVID-19. But stray animals are also very much affected due to it particularly during the lockdown. They all were left hungry for several days. Social distancing and restrictive lockdown measures forced people to stay home. This led to the neglect of stray animals in the country. In many cases they are subject to violence— from physical assault to murder. There are over thirty five million free roaming dogs in India. Shutdown of the most vital sources of food, such as restaurants, roadside eateries and markets, deprived them of leftover. Did some of us think about them? When many were struggling with decline in income and even loss of jobs they did not have a chance to think about the stray creatures. Their only source of food were garbage bins and some good Samaritans who ventured out to feed them.
Many hungry stray dogs fell sick amidst the lockdown. The dog-loving locals could not get them to veterinary hospitals due to the restrictions in movement. There was no dedicated ambulance available for them. It forced them to die on roads without any medical help. Puppies who were few days old died mainly because of lack of proper nutrition. Accidents by speeding cars on roads where stray dogs would venture out to look for food from their localities would cause their death. The irregular and uncertain food supply would lead to aggressive behaviour and biting incidents in some stray dogs. This resulted in an increase in rabies infected dogs. India already has the world’s greatest number of rabies cases— 20,000 annually.
At one point a rumour became viral that the dreaded coronavirus can be transmitted through stray animals. The news was found to be fake. But many people thought it to be true. Even some who were helping them out with food started neglecting them. Worse still, some owners discarded their pets to stay protected. Animal welfare NGOs found a rise in rescue cases during the pandemic. The stubborn dog lovers began to face harassment for feeding neighbourhood dogs and cats. There are cases in which volunteers were beaten up by the locals for daring to care about the stray dogs. Some people took the law in their hands to vent anger against stray dogs.
We have seen how much nature changed during the pandemic. People could hear more of birds chirping, see few animals roaming freely on roads. Most animals stay happy on their own— without the human presence. But dogs are an exception. That is why they are called ‘man’s best friend’. Those who are habituated to human touch are missing the feeding, patting and attention towards them. It also affects their mental health. Some dogs are confused, feel betrayed and become depressed. Stray dogs need us not only for food but also for mental support.
Each one of us can also contribute in our own way to protect and help local stray animals. We may reach out to as many of them as possible. We may follow some steps to help them:
- To take or share responsibilities of local dogs/cats.
- To save some rice or milk and feed them at a fixed time every day.
- To keep a bowl of water outside our house to quench their thirst.
- To donate some grains or food or any other necessary items to animal welfare NGOs.
- To use a bowl or newspaper to feed them regularly.
- To quickly contact nearest police station or contact NGO to seek help for any helpless or sick animal.
- Not to feed them chocolate or anything cooked with ghee or butter.
There is a positive trend now among many in India to have stray dogs as pets. The obsession with having only high breed dogs seems to be offset by having stray dog as family member. Even if not everyone would like to have them as pets a little more caring attitude towards them makes a world of difference not only in their life but also in ours.