On November 3, a video of a stray dog getting beaten in a bathroom of a residence in Kazipara in Mirpur went viral on Facebook. The dog had supposedly bitten a 12-year-old in the region and as a result, the child's uncle, the watchman of the residence, and an accomplice were punishing it.
Those who watched the four-minute-long video could easily perceive the amount of hatred the attackers had for the animal. “Why is it not dying? Why is it still breathing?” one of the frustrated attackers gasped before deciding to insert a rod, nearly a metre long, into the dog's mouth. It shrieked, and it shouted, until it stopped moving, for good.
The very same day nearly 40 activists rushed to the spot with the police and demanded that the attackers be punished. A question-answer session with the members of the family ensued. Zahid Hussain, Founder Secretary General, Care for Paws, who went to the spot that day, argues, “First of all, the dog did not bite the baby, rather it was a scratch. Secondly, there was no proof that the dog in question had rabies, since none of the others living in the community were bitten. A rabid dog generally results in more people getting bitten in the community.”
Subsequently, the activists went to the Kafrul Police Station to file a case. Unfortunately, the Officer-in-Charge (OC) of the station did not allow them to file a case, but asked them to make a complaint. According to Hussain, the OC was not aware of the century-old Cruelty to Animals Act, 1920, under which someone can be fined up to BDT 200 and also be imprisoned for at least six months for “killing any animal in an unnecessarily cruel manner.”
“We tried to explain the whole situation to him. But the OC did not allow us to file a case. We were told to just make a complaint,” says Hussain.
After that episode, Zahid and others tried to contact the police a number of times to get an update on their complaint. But they failed to get an appropriate response. They even went to the police station in person on the fourth day. That, too, failed to make any difference.
Eventually, the OC picked up the call and, according to Hussain, shouted: “What's your problem? Why are you calling me for such trivial issues? Don't call me any further and don't come to the police station with this issue.” When contacted by Star Weekend, after continued attempts, the OC hurriedly stated that the “issue was under investigation” and that he would talk later.
The reality is that such cases are hardly ever filed, and perpetrators rarely fined, despite the fact that animal rights activists, such as Rakibul Haq Emil, founder and chairman of People for Animal Welfare, popularly known as Paw foundation, has documented many cases of animal cruelty.
“Only three cases in the history of Bangladesh have been filed regarding animal cruelty. From our experience I can say that the police are not keen on accepting such cases and many of these incidents go unnoticed,” says Emil.
At any rate, the fine is so meagre that it can hardly act as a deterrent. The cabinet approved The Animal Welfare Act, 2016 earlier this year, but it is yet to be passed by the parliament. The proposed law states that any person committing animal cruelty would have to face two years' imprisonment or pay BDT 50,000 fine or both. While this is no doubt a long overdue step in the right direction, without proper monitoring and implementation, it will remain nothing but a false promise of protection for those too helpless to defend themselves against the inhumane cruelty of human beings.
What does an animal abuser look like?
According to Sarah Zarrar, Programme Coordinator of Obhoyaronno-Bangladesh Animal Welfare Foundation, an animal rights organisation that has been working since 2009, most of the perpetrators are street children and young adults.
“This can be due to lack of education and awareness, pent-up anger from abusive parents and most commonly, a false sense of heroism,” she says.
Citing the recent case of two mother dogs and 14 puppies being buried alive in Rampura, Zarrar observes, “That was also the doing of a 'youth welfare' club. When they received a complaint about a boy being bitten by a dog, they had to prove themselves as heroes by doing something worse to the dogs.”
Such “heroism,” according to psychologists, is a dangerous sign. “These kind of people suffer from 'conduct disorder.' People who have this disorder, enjoy violating others' rights. It may be animals or human beings. If they are not taught to care for others from their childhood, they develop an aggressive behaviour and feel happy in hurting others,” says Dr Mohammad Mahmudur Rahman, Professor, Clinical Psychology, University of Dhaka.
According to a 2016 FBI report, “If somebody is harming an animal, there is a good chance they also are hurting a human.” Another New York Post report mentions that “Animal abusers are five times more likely to commit acts of human violence (for example, assault and rape), four times more likely to commit property offenses (such as bulgary and vandalism) and three times more likely to commit drug offences.”
Shaharia Afrin, Lecturer, Department of Criminology, University of Dhaka, who works in the field of psychology of criminal behaviours, stresses on the importance of including dogs in the socialisation process as children are growing up. “No one is born with an ability to hate dogs or animals. In early childhood, if children learn to hate or abuse animals, s/he may not develop the sense that animals too are their friends. Along with primary learning through family, if schools or religious institutions don't teach them that abusing animals is wrong, s/he might not develop as an animal lover,” she adds.
Zarrar believes that prevention and rehabilitation is the only sustainable solution to stop animal cruelty—the intensity of punishment rarely stops a crime from occurring; instead people find a better way of hiding it. “We must build positive relationships with communities that are hostile to animals, and show them the compassionate way to address their complaints,” she adds.
Cruelty or culling cannot be the solution
A major reason for the violent behaviour against dogs is that people think every dog bite is bound to spread rabies, whether or not a rabid dog bites them. In most cases, cruelty against dogs increases during breeding time, which begins after fall.
But it is a common misconception that culling can resolve the issue of rabies; the reality is quite different. If dogs are attacked and killed in a given area, the surviving dogs start acting in an aggressive manner, trying to defend themselves by barking and biting those around them. This creates further tension amongst humans and dogs in a community.
“Also, dog culling cannot be a solution to reducing the dog population. The surviving dogs simply take up more of the existing resources. This in turn makes it much easier for them to mate and reproduce at a faster rate,” says Zarrar.
According to animal rights activists, the only way to deal with the problem is to sterilise and vaccinate stray dogs. Animal rights organisations, such as Obhoyaronno, Care for Paws and Paw Foundation, along with the city corporations, are working in this regard.
The overall condition has improved in Dhaka North City Corporation (DNCC). From 2016, Obhoyaronno, in collaboration with DNCC and Humane Society International, the largest animal welfare NGO in the world, has performed CNVR (Catch, Neuter, Vaccinate, Release) on a total of 4,500 stray dogs from Zone 3 of DNCC.
Dhaka South City Corporation (DSCC), however, is facing a resource constraint. With only a six-member team, and one truck, it is not possible for the department to tackle the task of sterilisation and vaccination.
Besides, the common belief—“every dog bite is bound to spread rabies”—needs to be challenged through widespread awareness programmes. But unfortunately, in a country where injustice and cruelty against other human beings is an everyday phenomenon, and financial constraints are palpable in every sector, cruelty against dogs remains low in the list of priorities of our policymakers.