SRINAGAR, Kashmir (AP) -- Authorities in Indian-Administered Kashmir's main city have canceled plans to poison nearly 100,000 stray dogs as part of an anti-rabies program, an official said Friday after protests from animal rights groups.
Local officials would instead work on a plan to sterilize the strays in cooperation with animal welfare groups and a team from the federal environment ministry, said Syed Haq Nawaz, commissioner of the Srinagar Municipal Corporation.
"We're not going ahead with this poisoning. Not at all," Nawaz said.
About 500 dogs had already been killed by Friday, according to Dr. Riyaz Ahmad, the Srinagar health officer who first revealed the plan to poison the city's nearly 100,000 stray dogs with strychnine.
India has the world's highest rabies fatality rate and has struggled with ways to control the millions of stray dogs that live on its streets, a problem exacerbated by its rapidly growing cities and slums.
Nawaz gave no reasons for the change in plans but animal-rights activists had vowed to go to court to try to stop the slaughter, calling it inhumane and a violation of a law banning cruelty to animals.
Activists welcomed Friday's announcement.
"It's a welcome step that they have given up the idea of poisoning dogs. They should create awareness that not every dog is rabid," said Javaid Iqbal Shah, the deputy head of the Srinagar Society to Prevent Cruelty to Animals.
India accounts for more than 60 percent of the estimated 35,000 annual global rabies deaths, according to the World Health Organization, and stray dogs are often blamed.
In some areas, dogs form feral packs that have attacked people. However, other strays are "community pets," semi-tame animals who are cared for and fed by local residents.
Other Indian cities have also struggled to curb the stray problem.
India's high-tech hub of Bangalore called off a drive to slaughter strays last year following allegations that untrained workers were stoning, strangling and beating the dogs to death.
In New Delhi, one city councilor suggested shipping the country's strays to Korea, where dog meat is considered a delicacy.
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