Coronavirus: Spike in cases of dogs and other animals being abandoned in India

The abandonment of animals is expected to continue as more people are returning to their distant home towns. PHOTO: AFP

NEW DELHI - In the financial city of Mumbai, animal rescue workers this week found a golden retriever tied to a lamp post. The lactating dog also had puppies that rescue workers said had most likely wandered off or been separated from the mother. The dog was taken to a shelter in the city.

This is becoming a common scene across India, with animal rescue workers saying they have seen an increase in the number of animals being abandoned amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Anecdotal evidence suggests some people see their pets as a risk factor for Covid-19, despite a lack of evidence. Others have done so after being forced to return to their distant hometowns from the more prosperous cities due to the economic fallout from the pandemic.

Dogs, including top breeds, have been found tied to park benches, lamp posts and metro pillars, apart from an increased number of cats, cows and even horses on the roads.

"At least one dog is abandoned every couple of hours. I am not talking about local dogs only but top breeds," said Dr Geeta Seshamani, an animal rights activist and vice-president of Friendicoes, an animal hospital-cum-shelter that is one of Delhi's largest.

"In our park near Friendicoes, we would suddenly see a dog sitting in the park alone. You realise the owner has just slid off. We think of running to the CCTV to identify the culprit then we think what's the point, we don't want to give the dog back to such an owner."

Some people have expressed fears that they could get the virus from their pets due to overseas reports that some animals, including cats and dogs, were found to have been infected. But the World Health Organisation has said that there is no evidence that a dog, cat or any pet can transmit Covid-19.

"I even had calls from people saying how can I take the dog out for a walk, I will get sick. They feel the dog will bring it back on its coat. I think basically it just depended on how attached people are to their pet," said Dr Seshamani.

India on March 25 imposed a strict lockdown to curb the spread of the virus, with business coming to a standstill and public transport shut down.

While restrictions have since been eased, the economic fallout has been tremendous, with many migrant workers forced out of work.

In April, a picture of a migrant worker carrying a puppy in one hand and a duck in another followed by family members carrying their meagre belongings in Mumbai went viral, encapsulating the people's growing suffering.

The abandonment of animals is expected to continue, as more people are returning to their distant hometowns, with public transport largely back in service, although some are trying hard to rehome their pets before they leave.

Ms Mary Camilleri Lyndoh, 22, has to leave her cat, which she adopted two years ago when she was a student.

She has lost her internship in Delhi and is going home, in the north-eastern city of Shillong, more than 2,000km away. Her brother and mother are both asthmatic, leaving her with little choice but to rehome her cat.

"My family has been very worried about me. Every day, they have been telling me to go back. I possibly might never come back to Delhi. I really don't know," she said.

She said of her cat: "I love him like anything. Before I leave by the end of this month or July, I want a good and caring home for him."

Ms Akshima Jhajria, who volunteers as a dog rescuer, said she has been getting multiple calls about abandoned dogs.

With the rise in numbers, she has not been able to find homes for all the cases she is handling.

"There was a rottweiler puppy that was abandoned. The puppy was a gift but the wife was not comfortable with a pet, thinking it might infect their child. I found the puppy a very nice home," she said.

"There was another two-year-old labrador, which was abandoned on the road. Now he is with someone."

Some people have also stopped going on their rounds to feed stray cats and dogs due to the pandemic.

Initially, the strict measures, which allowed people to be out only when they are buying food items and medicines, had prevented them from doing so. But while a few of them have been getting out to feed the animals, most are still keeping away, as even though the restrictions have been eased, the number of coronavirus cases in India is still going up.

On Thursday (June 11), the country reported 10,956 new cases, the largest single-day spike, taking its total to more than 297,000, with 8,498 deaths.

Dr Seshamani said: "So few people have come out to the streets to feed the animals. All other programmes like sterilisation have been suspended, and we are just putting our energy into rescuing pets and feeding strays.

"Hunger is such a powerful thing. We are finding that cats and dogs are all coming to feed at the same time. We have never seen that."

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