Stray dogs have the right to food and citizens have the right to feed community canines, the Delhi high court has said while observing that in exercising this right care and caution should be taken to ensure that it does not impinge upon others and causes no harassment or nuisance.
The high court, while laying down guidelines regarding feeding of stray dogs, said every dog is a territorial being and it has to be fed and tended to at places within their territory which is not frequented by the general public.
Any person having compassion for stray dogs can feed them at their private entrance or driveway of their house or any other place not shared with other residents but no one can restrict the other from feeding of dogs, until and unless it is causing harm or harassment to them, it said.
"Community dogs (stray/street dogs) have the right to food and citizens have the right to feed community dogs but in exercising this right, care and caution should be taken to ensure that it does not impinge upon the rights of others or cause any harm, hindrance, harassment and nuisance to other individuals or members of the society," Justice J R Midha said in a recent 86-page verdict.
The court's order came in a case of dispute between two residents of a locality on the issue of feeding stray dogs.
One of them sought direction to restrain the other from feeding street dogs near the entrance of a property. Later, a settlement took place between the two and a designated place was fixed for feeding the canines.
The verdict also discussed dog categories based on the roles they play -- service, therapy, rescue, hunting, tracking, cadaver, detection, police, and cancer detection dogs.
The court formed a committee, comprising the Director of Animal Husbandry Department or his nominee, senior officers of all municipal corporations, Delhi Cantonment Board and certain advocates, to implement the guidelines and asked it to hold its first meeting within four weeks.
The court said there is a need to spread awareness that animals have a right to live with respect and dignity and asked the AWBI to carry out an awareness campaign in association with media.
'Animals have a right under law to be treated with compassion, respect and dignity. Animals are sentient creatures with an intrinsic value. Therefore, protection of such beings is the moral responsibility of each and every citizen including the governmental and non-governmental organisations.
'We have to show compassion towards all living creatures. Animals may be mute but we as a society have to speak on their behalf. No pain or agony should be caused to the animals. Cruelty to animals causes psychological pain to them. Animals breathe like us and have emotions. The animals require food, water, shelter, normal behaviour, medical care, self-determination,' it said.
The court said street dogs perform the role of community scavengers and also control rodent population in the area thus preventing spread of diseases like Leptospirosis and they also provide companionship to those who feed them and act as their stress relievers.
The court said despite the clear position of law prohibiting cruelty to the animal including stray dogs, there is an increasing tendency of the citizens to defy the same.
The court said it shall be the duty of the resident welfare association (RWA) or Municipal Corporation and all government authorities including enforcement authorities like police to provide assistance and ensure that no hindrance is caused to the care-givers or feeders of community dogs and every canine has access to food and water in the absence of care-givers.
It said the Animals Welfare Board of India (AWBI) shall ensure that every RWA or MCD shall have an animal welfare committee responsible for ensuring compliance of provisions of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act and ensure harmony between care-givers, feeders or animal lovers and other residents.
It said community dogs have to be fed at areas designated by the AWBI in consultation with the RWAs or MCDs and while doing so, the authorities have to be conscious of the fact that every community dog is a territorial being and they must be fed and tended to at places within their territory.
It said the MCDs, at the request of the RWA or local authority or volunteer, shall be responsible for having the stray dogs vaccinated or sterilised and the canines shall return to the same area and they cannot be removed by the municipality.
'No hindrance, whatsoever, shall be caused to the persons in carrying out any activities in respect of the street dogs at the said spot... If any of the street dogs is injured or unwell, it shall be the duty of the RWA to secure treatment for such dog by the vets made available by the MCD or privately from the funds of the RWA,' it said.
Noting that street dogs are sometimes subjected to abusive treatment by some residents because of the misplaced beliefs that they carry rabies virus, the court said it is the responsibility of the community residents to get their dogs vaccinated against rabies every year to prevent the spread of rabies.
It said every RWA should form 'Guard and Dog partnerships' and in consultation with Delhi Police Dog Squad, the dogs can be trained to make them effective as guard dogs as being territorial animals, they live in certain areas and play the role of guards by protecting the community from the entry of outsiders.