Dog Holocaust at J’Pura


"The greatness of a nation can be judged by the way its animals are treated"
- Mahatma Gandhi

Just a few days prior to the Sinhala and Tamil New Year, a horrendous act was reported from one of the premier higher education institutions in the country, the Sri Jayawardenapura University (SJU). At a time when the university was free from the usual hustle bustle, as most of the students and staff were away on vacation, two lorries bearing numbers PV 907 and PQ 6306 drove into the university premises and bundled the hapless dogs into them, leaving no trace of them till this day. These were the dogs that roamed the university premises peacefully for years. The dogs were loved by the students, staff and the workers alike, with a few exceptions. They fed them, nursed them, looked into their welfare, and even carried out sterilization and vaccination programmes for them. In return, the dogs reinforced the security of the university with their wide open watchful eyes and ever vigilant perceptive ears, wandering the every nook and corner of this 55 acre landscape in the nights.

A past student of the university and animal rights activist Hasini Silva is very upset and vocal about the whole issue. (She had already written a detailed account of the incident to "The Island" of 24.04.2017.). According to her, the same university authorities who kept mum to a request from the students seeking help for a dog sterilization and vaccination programme inside the university premises some time back, had spent Rs. 350,000 to outsource a private "pest control" company to get rid of the dogs.

"They have contracted a pest control company when dogs are not pests. They have also used the university funds of their own accord when the local authorities are the designated people to control the dogs by law" observed Silva.

The Rabies Ordinance (of 1893) stipulates the procedures (and the law) pertaining to the pounding of dogs and steps to follow thereafter.

It has vested power with the local authorities to seize the "stray" dogs. It further specifies that if the dog is not diseased it shall be kept in some proper place for the owner to claim it, upon making a payment of the reasonable expenses incurred in respect of such seizure and detention. With regard to the unclaimed dogs it states, "If the dog so seized and detained be not claimed within two days after the notice aforesaid has been served…it shall be competent to the local authority to cause the dog to be destroyed or otherwise disposed of in such manner as the local authority shall deem expedient".

It goes without saying that the university authorities are caught pants down here. The reason that irked the university authorities to go the whole hog against the dogs, according to Silva, had been an incident where a dog named "spotty" walked on a red carpet that was meant for some foreign dignitaries who visited the university recently.

The rounding up and eviction of dogs had taken place on the 8th and 9th of April. When asked by some students why the dogs were being removed, the captors had told them that the dogs will be taken away for vaccination and will be brought back. But as the seizing continued into a second day without the return of the dogs captured the previous day, the students became suspicious. When they demanded the return of the dogs before any further seizure, the captors had left the university.

CNVR (Catch-Neuter-Vaccinate-Release) is the method of choice recommended by the World Health Organization to control "stray" dogs in the community. And that was exactly what the Animal Welfare Society of SJU had been done to the dogs for years.

Silva remarked "All these dogs that were taken away were sterilized before. Also there were some sick puppies who were recovering".

Silva says 32 dogs had gone missing following this incident. According to her, the Vice Chancellor (VC), who first denied the occurrence of such an incident, had later said that the dogs had been taken to shelters. When the students demanded the whereabouts of the shelters then he said that they would had been released in the Dehiwala beach. However, the VC had been out of the country during the time this drama unfolded.

As whereabouts of the dogs could not be established, the students had lodged a complaint with the police on the 11th. There had been three inquiries conducted by the police, where the contracted company had produced a letter by the VC contracting them to seize the dogs for a fee of Rs. 350,000, said Silva.

Activists up in arms

The tumultuous incident at the SJU has cohered the animal rights activists stronger than ever. They now fire on all cylinders in defense of the hapless animals in this country.

Animal rights activist Manoja Weerakkody, who is also the foster mother to some 60 dogs and 40 cats at the shelter run by her, laments on the importance of enacting the Animal Welfare Act urgently to prevent such occurrences in future. Weerakody identifies the absence of righteous legal status for animals as a major drawback faced by the animals of this country.

Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Ordinance (of 1907) is the only tool available to file legal action against the incidents of this nature, cited Weerakkody. However, despite its antiquity and ludicrously out-dated fine stipulated therein, this piece of legislation is not absolutely toothless. Section 4 of the Ordinance stipulates, "If any person kills any animal in an unnecessarily cruel manner he shall be punished with fine, which may extend to one hundred rupees, or with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to six months, or both".

Even what the colonial masters did to the welfare of the animals of this country during their reign, the native post-colonial rulers of this country have failed to follow. These pieces of legislation, despite their antiquity and shortcomings are a classic case in point. Since the independence, the country had miserably failed to move an inch forward with regard to the law concerning the animals.

Weerakkody expressed her dismay over the undue delay in enacting the Animal Welfare Act. She identified the agriculture sector as the biggest scuttler of their efforts.

Although the Bill doesn’t prohibit the slaughter of farm animals, there is a strong lobby to repel the sections on farm animals from the Bill, she said. "What the Bill says is to provide humane treatment to the farm animals. Even if they are to be killed for meat production, yet they need to be treated well till the end. They need to be provided with acceptable shelter, given food and water etc. Against these clauses these elements agitate", Weerakkody commented with frustration.

However, till the Animal Welfare Act is passed, Weerakkody thinks the amendments proposed to the Registration of the Dogs Ordinance (of 1902) is the other alternative available for providing some solace to the community dogs. These amendments have sought to prevent the community dogs from being pounded without reason. Also they will prevent the dogs from being killed unless it is confirmed by a veterinary surgeon that the dogs have contracted rabies.

Animal rights activist Attorney-at-law Lalani Perera reiterated the need for amending the two Acts, the Registration of the Dogs Ordinance (of 1902) and the Rabies Ordinance (of 1907). She also serves in the advisory committee set forth by the Local Government and Provincial Councils minister Faizer Mustapha in this regard.

Perera observed that the over hundred years old statutes are not keeping with the current thinking on the subject of animal welfare as both these legislations recommend dog destruction. Dog destruction, even in the name of rabies control, is neither accepted nor scientifically sound method anymore. Thus she sees the importance of statutory recognition for sterilization and vaccination of dogs, which is expected to be a prime objective of the amendments proposed.

"Many Western countries have achieved zero prevalence status through sterilization and vaccination", said Perera. She highlighted the case of Chennai as a success story in the region. "By following this regimen Chennai has shown positive results. If Chennai can, then why can’t we?" she questioned.

No Kill Policy

Applauding the "No Kill Policy" adopted by the then government in 2006 (the Sambudda Jayanthi year), Perera commented, "But the policies can change. They don’t have statutory status. That’s why we push for the amendments to the Acts". The "No Kill Policy" advocates dog sterilization and vaccination, and prohibits dog destruction. She acknowledged that the Policy had produced some good results. "In general, there is a downward trend in the incidence of human rabies in the country since 2006", observed Perera. She sounded hopeful of the government bringing the necessary laws to protect the animals in future.

In a lighter vein, the dogs at SJU, traditionally, have a special place. Many still recollect what the former VC Dr. NLA Karunarathne famously quipped about its dogs. He used to say that they were the dead corrupt employees of the university who were reborn as dogs that yet frequent the place. If one goes by Dr. Karunarathne’s saying (which even is quite compatible with the Eastern religious views), there are all the reasons to be compassionate towards the dogs at the SJU.

It is ironical to think, just prior to the devastating earthquake that struck Kathmandu valley in April 2015 claiming over 5,000 lives was a mass animal sacrifice that took place in the same region. Similarly, in Colombo, hot on the heels the dog holocaust at SJU was the Meethotamulla garbage avalanche that took at least 40 lives.

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