ABC (Animal Birth Control) Program Gets A Boost from an Unexpected Direction

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ABC (Animal Birth Control) Program Gets A Boost from an Unexpected Direction

By Sharon St. Joan, Best Friends Network

The Islamic festival Bakri Eid is celebrated among Moslems in India, just as it is by Moslems all over the world. During the festival, sadly, millions of goats are sacrificed to celebrate Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son Ishmael to God.

In 1994, as Blue Cross of India was intent upon working towards a no-kill city in Chennai (Madras), Al Hafiz Masri, the author of “Animals in Islam” visited Chennai to make a case among Muslims not to sacrifice goats for the festival, and to give gifts of sweets, instead of mutton, to honor the occasion.

Dr. Chinny Krishna of Blue Cross of India went with Al Hafiz Masri to visit the then-Mayor of Chennai, Mr. Abul Hassan.

The meeting was a fortuitous one—not only did Mr. Abul Hassan find himself giving out sweets, not mutton, in following years, on the occasion of Bakri Eid, but this meeting marked the start of a long-term partnership between Blue Cross of India and the City of Chennai, to help street dogs.

Blue Cross had been working for thirty years on their ABC (TNR) program, with virtually no help (and a lot of hindrance) from the City of Chennai. The dogs that Blue Cross spent so much time, effort and expense to spay, neuter and return to their neighborhoods were generally killed in short order by the City.

A New Mayor

That is, until Mr. Abul Hassan took on the position of Mayor. Then a change came about.

Dr. Krishna had been working for a while on the issue of preventing the sacrificing of goats for Bakr Eid, but he wasn’t having much luck with most of the Moulvis (Islamic scholars) and Imams, who didn’t quite see eye to eye with him. In fact, the issue of the sacrifices of Bakr Eid continues to this day.

A real transformation was about to take place in another area though: the ABC program.

Recently, Mr. Abul Hassan shared his thoughts with us about dogs in general and about the animal control situation in Chennai as he found it when he took office in 1994, “Man’s interaction with the animals is as old as civilization. During his sojurn from the caves to the modern cubicles, he has mastered the art of domesticating the animals. The dogs rank first among them, and the dog has served as his faithful servant from his nomadic days….Overpopulation of stray dogs contributes to the pollution of the urban environment.

“In order to curb their population the only known procedure was to kill them, and this was taking place in Chennai when I assumed the post of Special Officer (Mayor) in 1995. Being an ardent animal lover, I could not digest this practice, and when I inspected the Basin Bridge Lethal Chamber, I was shocked!”

Mr. Hassan describes the sight that greeted him of dogs that had been electrocuted. “This horrifying sight caused me many sleepless nights.”

“During this time, Dr. Krishna, Chairman of Blue Cross of India, met with me about a novel project called the Animal Birth Control Program—an alternative to the brutal killing of stray dogs. He requested that I implement this initially in parts of south Chennai, to be followed in other areas of Chennai.

“I agreed without any hesitation and also ordered a halt to the practice of the electrocution of stray dogs.”

Converting the Execution Chamber to Spay/Neuter

Mr. Hassan writes, “The Basin Bridge Lethal Chamber where hundreds of dogs were electrocuted was converted to a spay/neuter center. An air-conditioned operation theatre was constructed with ten kennels to house the dogs for post-operative care and immunization, and later the facilities were handed over to People for Animals, the organization chaired by Mrs. Maneka Gandhi."

So, amazingly, after thirty years of struggle on the part of Blue Cross of India to get some traction for their ABC program, the situation was transformed, seemingly overnight.

Yet if the thirty years of painstaking work had not been carried out, there would have been no ABC program to present as an alternative at exactly the moment when the City was looking for one. All the long, exhausting years of work had been needed to bring about the change that took place at the right moment in time.

Asked for his reasons for giving the order to halt the killing of the street dogs of Chennai, Mr. Hassan wrote, “I believe every living creature in the world has got his legitimate right to live and function. Brutal killing is not the ideal way to reduce the stray dog population, and it has not shown any effects in the past years."

He adds, “When I was looking for a scientific approach to curb the stray dog population in a humane way, Dr. Chinny Krishna approached me with his novel ABC program and its recommendation by the World health Organization. I immediately gave my consent and introduced it to the city of Chennai, with the active participation of NGO’s like Blue Cross of India, People for Animals, and the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.”

“The main reason was that I wanted to stop the act of brutally killing these dumb creatures, who are man’s faithful friend.”

Was the ABC program beneficial to the City of Chennai? “I would definitely say, yes, it has been beneficial to the city of Chennai. The number of deaths due to rabies in humans has declined steadily since 1996."

Rabies Cases Fall to Zero in the City of Chennai

“When the Chennai Corporation adopted the ABC program, there were 120 deaths yearly due to rabies in humans, which came down to five in the year 2000 and zero in the year 2008. Brutally killing stray dogs has been totally stopped. Stray dog complaints are declining. Neutered dogs are friendlier than unneutered dogs.

“The purpose of the ABC program is to bring down the number of street dogs in a humane manner and to reduce the cases of rabies. Both these goals have been achieved.”

Asked if there had been any resistance to this new way of doing things, Mr. Hassan explained, “Initially there was some resistance. Releasing the dogs in the same area after ABC-AR (ABC/anti-rabies) was not relished by many. Once people understood the whole program and the purpose of releasing the neutered dogs in the same area where they were caught, there was overall support for the program.”

As a Senior Officer of the Indian Administrative Services, Mr. Abul Hassan has, over the years, served in the Tamil Nadu Government in many distinguished positions. As the Special Officer of the Chennai Corporation (Mayor), he put an end to the “brutal killing of the street dogs” and having watched how successful the ABC program has become, he comments that he feels “really happy and whole-heartedly satisfied” at the part he played in achieving this.

ABC Throughout India

Mr. Hassan is proud to have implemented the ABC Program in Chennai even before the enactment of the ABC Dog Rules 2001, which required cities in India to fund ABC. Indeed, the example that he set, in making Chennai the first city to espouse the ABC program inspired the Animal Welfare Board of India to endorse the program for the entire nation of India, where it is has been the official policy for the whole country since 2001.

Thanks to Mr. Abul Hassan for his great courage and vision in using the administrative power that he was given to bring about such an immense transformation in the lives of India’s dogs! And thanks to Dr. Chinny Krishna and everyone at Blue Cross for their faith, vision, devotion to animals, and for the profound dedication that ensured the survival and eventual success of the ABC program, which is now looked to as a model in many cities in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East.