The city administration’s failure to ensure the vaccination and sheltering of stray dogs leaves citizens at grave risk
asawar Kazmi’s son, 11, is no more. Kazmi used to run a dairy shop in an upscale area in Islamabad. Last year, a stray dog bit his son. Kazmi claims that he took his son to a hospital where anti-rabies vaccine was not available. Some neighbours say that he took his son to a faith healer. His son, they say, died in about a week.
No case was lodged with the Loi Bher police. The dogbite was mostly forgotten.
But Kazmi did not get over it; his grief was obvious and his interest in his shop faded with time. One day, he decided to shut up shop and left the area, never to be seen again.
No one has been held responsible for the death of his son.
Prof Azizur Rehman, principal of the School of Law at the Quaid-i-Azam University, says that the Islamabad High Court (IHC) had ordered in 2020 that stray dogs should be sheltered and vaccinated instead of being killed. In the following year, 2021, the Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT) administration and the Capital Development Authority (CDA) devised a policy to act upon the IHC order.
As a first step, they abolished the Sanitation Department squad that used to cull stray dogs. It had been a routine for the squad to shoot around 15 dogs a day.
Prof Aziz says that the second phase of the policy dealt with creating shelters and vaccination facilities for stray dogs.
That has not been done yet. Basically, no action has been taken on this policy to act in accordance with the IHC order after 2021.
Last month in August, the Federal Ombudsman’s Secretariate called a meeting of the ICT administration, the CDA, Islamabad Wildlife Management Board (IWMB) and the Ministry of Climate Change to seek a report on the implementation of the court order.
The Ombudsman’s Secretariate Secretary Ejaz Ahmed Khan expressed concern that two years had passed but appropriate action on sheltering and vaccinating stray dogs in Islamabad had not yet been taken.
No one was able to put up a satisfactory reply in that meeting. An attempt was made to shift the blame to the cabinet by stating that its approval for the policy was awaited. The secretary reportedly said that the city bodies needed to do the needful. Finally, the buck stopped with the Municipal Corporation of Islamabad (MCI) which had to initiate the process in this regard.
Prof Azizur Rehman, principal of the School of Law at the Quaid-i-Azam University, recalls that the Islamabad High Court (IHC) ordered in 2020 that stray dogs be sheltered and vaccinated.
The MCI was put under the mayor in 2015 – the same year when the IWMB was made functional. Both these bodies are headless and, considered by many, directionless.
In 2015, a mayor was finally elected in Islamabad. But in a couple of years, he was waist-deep in allegations of corruption. For this he was eventually removed from office following which the MCI was taken over by the CDA.
Some universities in Islamabad and Rawalpindi offer degrees in wildlife and conservation. Research is being done in some of these departments in collaboration with international organisations on themes of wildlife and conservation, including on the subject of stray dogs.
Of the 300 million stray dogs in the world, 300,000 are in Pakistan as per unofficial estimates.
There is no official and authentic data on the population of dogs in Islamabad. However, according to media reports, their number is highest in Sindh, followed by the Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Islamabad and Balochistan.
It has been reported that Sindh registered 200,000 of the 300,000 dog bite cases in recent years.
There are no substantial reports regarding the lack of anti-rabies vaccines in hospitals in Islamabad.
But availability of vaccine does not stop dogbites.
Due to a gap created by the unchecked growth in the number of stray dogs over two years, many experts on various subjects have started pitching projects to international donors for dog shelters in the city.
Atif Sahi, former administrator of Soan Garden Housing Society, tells The News on Sunday that he did not like culling dogs. “So I invited a dog rights activist to our housing society. She was eager to give us a presentation. We agreed with her on protecting dogs by vaccinating them.” But when Sahi gave her a go-ahead, “she presented another plan”. Sahi says the wish list included prominent placement of the name of donor organisation in awareness material put up around the streets and arrangements for lodging of their teams visting from Karachi.
“When we looked at the wishlist, we told her we were happy to live with dogs,” Sahi says. “Protecting dogs is good. But when it comes to choosing between your life and that of the dog’s, you will definitely choose yours,” he adds.
Kazmi’s son is no more. Most victims of dog bites are children. There is hardly any street in Islamabad where children do not play outdoors in the evening. At the same time, no street in Islamabad is free from stray dogs. This is a dangerous situation.
The writer teaches development support communication at the International Islamic University Islamabad. He tweets @HassanShehzadZand can be reached at Hassan.shehzad @iiui.edu.pk