The recent coronavirus pandemic has caged everyone inside the households in the countries affected with the disease. The lockdown and maintenance of quarantine norms have affected all the people but the street animals mainly dogs, cats and also birds have suffered a major setback. The street animals are dependent on the roadside eateries, restaurants, some offices and households from where they got the leftovers to feed. But this situation has barred everyone from stepping outside their place of stays resulting in the temporal cessation of the source of food for street animals. This is indeed a hard time for the animals to fight their hunger and get something to eat for survival. While some food corners and restaurants are open to serve the essential needs of the people the street animals are not given food due to limited cooking and fear of spread of infection. The absence of customers in food corners are also not allowing the animal lovers to offer leftover items to the homeless animals.
Rumors regarding transmission of the disease and abandoning of pets
There were also rumors regarding the spread of the disease that linked the transmission of infection through animals which created panic among many people. The rumors and false assumptions led some of the pet owners to abandon their pets and surrender them either in unhealthy animal shelters or in roads. Some even left them inside locked houses with no food and water making their survival conditions worse. RESQ Charitable Trust rescued two dogs, a Labrador and a golden retriever alive from a house in Wagholi, Maharashtra while the third one, a pug could not be saved. It died of starvation and dehydration before help was reached. Officials reported that their owner fled from the house with the spread of COVID-19 in Pune during early March and left the three dogs inside the house. Neha Panchamiya, managing committee member of Pune district SPCA and the founder and President of RESQ Charitable Trust opined that COVID-19 is not responsible for this incident and human negligence is. According to another report of Outlook magazine hundreds of pets became street animals following the widespread of coronavirus because owners have thrown out their dogs and cats from their houses. There are many similar cases of abandonment.
Vijay Kishore Mohani, the founder of Bombay Animal Rights Association (BAR) mentioned about the data which they have. The data approximately speaks of 130 plus abandoned pets but the actual number is much higher than anyone could imagine. Mohani also informed that out of the abandoned ones 40 percent are expensive breed of dogs. This is how pets are becoming street animals and living under terrible conditions in roads. While street animals are capable of self defense the pets lack the capacity of defense because for their entire life they have lived in the protected roof of houses with no territorial concern. The sudden relocation of these animals in roads is taking a heavy toll on their lives.
The unheard cries of street animals
There were also depressing news from different parts of India that many people were abused and harassed while feeding the street dogs outside their buildings and in localities. A 28 year old woman was harassed and threatened by the residents of a housing society in the suburb of Pune while feeding a stray dog. The mob even tried to assault her physically besides verbal abuses. Another Delhi resident narrated a similar story of being threatened by her neighbors for feeding dogs on twitter. Animal lovers and activists across the country are reporting about harassment and abuse from community members and also authorities for negligence of animals and lack of proper resources for dealing with the problem of feeding.
Due to the closed eateries and food corners the street dogs and cats can only depend on the individual feeders. Earlier apart from individual human feeders they relied on garbage and waste baskets for food. But at present the dustbins seem empty due to the shutdown of most of the shops. Many of the street dogs are found to have changed their location in search of food while some are starving and struggling to get some eatables. From the feeding experiences of people during the quarantine period it was seen that the dogs were barking outside the households which indicates their desperate need for food. Whenever they smelt food they barked until they were given to eat. There were also rampant fights among them about who would eat first. In such a situation everyone wanted to eat all they could not allowing others to claim the share. But once they were given food they started behaving calmly. It was noticed by some of the feeders that they gave food to a few dogs regularly that lived in the locality but during the lockdown period the number of dogs increased and they had to feed more than before. This is probably due to the failure of getting food in the places they stayed before and hunger has forced to change their location in new places where feeders were available. But some dogs were also found to be disappeared after eating from a particular place.
In many places people also searched for starving cats and gave them food. Karnataka CM BS Yediyurappa posted a photo of him feeding a stray cat in his Twitter account. He also appealed everyone to be kind and feed the stray animals and birds around homes.
Apart from the four-footed ones, many birds are also dying of starvation and scarcity of food. The Bangalore Mirror reported the death of twenty crows till now due to starvation in Kurnool of Andhra Pradesh.
Appeal of the Government for feeding stray animals
On March 25, Prime Minister Narendra Modi while talking about lockdown appealed to the people of the country to feed the street animals so that they are deprived of food. The government has also asked the states to guarantee medical help for the animals and it should be regarded as an essential service. The state governments are also trying to take care of the street animals so that they don’t starve and behave aggressively.
Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan said that the state has large number of street dogs and the government of the state has asked all the local bodies to do whatever necessary and look after them and to do what is necessary so yuta that the dogs are provided with sufficient food. He has also askd the temple authorities of the state to feed the monkeys living there. In West Bengal, the Kolkata Municipal Corporation, Kolkata Police and some of the state bodies like the forest department took the initiative of feeding thousands of stray dogs and cats of the city. The authorities have also helped some of the organizations and individual feeders while providing food to the street animals.
In different parts of the country a few organizations, ordinary citizens and cops were seen feeding street animals who have been highly appreciated and treated as examples of symbols of humanity.
Misconception of information regarding transmission of the disease
The World Health Organization (WHO) has assured that pet animals don’t spread COVID-19. Some of the state governments have declared precautionary measures asking the people to stay away from animals. But there is a difference between staying safe, maintaining hygiene and creating unnecessary panic. Being a large family of viruses, coronaviruses infect people with cold like symptoms while others affect particular types of animals like bats, camels, cattles etc.
Experts opine that pet owners should not panic about the spread of the disease from their pets. The pet dog in Hong Kong which was diagnosed with COVID-19 said to have developed the disease from someone affected with it. The concerned authorities in Hong Kong and the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) called it a case of human to animal transmission.