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In Delhi, pets abandoned, strays face cruelty due to Covid fear

Hindustan Times logo Hindustan Times 29-04-2020 Baishali Adak

The lockdown to contain the spread of Covid-19 infection has had an adverse impact on animal life in the city, according to animal lovers and activists.

Members of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and activists say that instances of pets, mainly dogs and cats, being abandoned during the lockdown have gone up significantly, with most winding up at shelter homes. Besides, strays are being subjected to cruelty due to the Covid scare and also being run over by speeding vehicles.

According to Frendicoes, which runs an animal hospital and asylum in Defence Colony, Delhi and Gopalpur, Haryana, there has been a three-fold rise in the number of pets left at its doorstep.

"Earlier, we would get only about four or five pet dogs a month, but since the lockdown began, we have received 30 of them — ranging from puppies to old German Shepherds, Golden Retrievers, Great Danes, Labradors and loal breeds — left at our facilities," said Kartick Satyanarayan, executive member, Frendicoes.

"We have counselled at least thrice the usual number of pet owners over the phone not to leave them (the pets). People cite reasons like inability to get cat or dog food, take them for a walk, or neighbours objecting to their presence. One man recently told me, 'Mere chhote chhote bacche hain, unhe dog se corona ho gaya to?' (I have small kids at home, what if they catch the infection from the pet?)," said Geeta Seshamani, vice-president of the organisation.

Divya Puri, an animal lover, said Chennai-based Indian Veterinary Association (IVA) on April 1 issued a public notice stating: "To date, there is no evidence of companion animals spreading the disease."

This was after a report stated that a cat had tested positive for Covid-19 in Belgium.

"We recently found a small Chow Chow dog tied to a pole and left to die in this searing heat in Jangpura. It is an expensive breed, costing no less than ₹50,000-60,000 in the market. This one was absolutely healthy, leading us to assume it's a fallout of the Covid-19 fear," Puri added.

Many dog owners are simply keeping their pets in balconies and refusing to let them inside the house, Puri said.

And stray dogs are suffering from bizarre incidents of cruelty. A resident of RK Puram recently reported two cases, wherein someone had poured a bucket of Savlon solution on a cat and phenol on a dog.

"The cat's eyes were affected, and in the case of the dog, the phenol went into its ears. Both had to be rushed to a veterinary hospital. I am convinced someone did it deliberately, trying to disinfect them in a very inhumane, unscientific and crude manner," said Anusheh, the resident, who works with Indigree Angels Trust, an NGO. She gave only one name.

Anusheh also said she recently buried nine dogs killed on the roads. "The roads are devoid of heavy traffic now and the animals can't see many humans around, so they have become relaxed while crossing roads. Meanwhile, the few vehicles on the roads are speeding, leading to road kills," she said.

A wildlife rescuer in Delhi said the road kills are not just restricted to domesticated pets and stray dogs, but also to wild animals. "We are finding many dead mongoose and squirrels, which went under the wheels, around the forested ridge area," said Abhinav Srihan, who runs Fauna Police, an NGO.

There are also concerns about the impact of sodium hypochlorite, used by municipal corporations for sanitisation, on animals. "We are asking all persons, who find such cases (of animal poisoning), to send the carcasses for a post-mortem examination or viscera for testing toxicity," said Gauri Maulekhi, a member of the Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI).

The health officer of the North Delhi Municipal Corporation, Ashok Rawat, said, "We have not received any such complaint so far. Besides, this is a highly diluted solution, of only 1% sodium hypochlorite in 99% water, prepared as per the norms prescribed by the World Health Organisation (WHO)."

A veterinary official of the municipality, who didn't wish to be named, said it's highly unlikely that a stray animal could die of ingesting the disinfectant liquid. "Dogs have a very strong sense of smell and sodium hypochlorite has a pungent smell. So it's highly unlikely that an animal would even touch it."

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