Consortium Implementing Partner
The Blue Cross of India (BCI) is the Consortium Implementing Partner (CIP) for the Global Dog Campaign in Chennai, India. Chennai is the capital city of Tamil Nadu state. The Chennai metropolitan area now encompasses 1,189 square kilometers and has a population of 10.9 million – a population density of 9,167 residents per Km.
The Blue Cross of India was launched in Madras (now Chennai) in 1959 by Captain V. Sundaram. In the early 1960s, the BCI learned that Madras was controlling street dog populations through periodic culls. These culls clearly had had no noticeable impact because the street dog population had grown steadily since the Madras Corporation started killing street dogs in 1860. Dr. S. Chinny Krishna of the Blue Cross then proposed to the Madras Corporation that they should manage the street dog population using a catch, sterilize and return approach. This appears to have been the first time anyone proposed using surgical sterilization for humane dog management, but the Corporation rejected the approach.
In 1964, the Blue Cross of India started to test a humane catch, neuter and return (CNR) approach to prevent increases in the number of ‘street’ dogs (unowned roaming dogs) and the number of human rabies cases in Chennai. The approach was called the ABC (animal birth control) project to show that controlling street dog numbers was as easy as ABC. The BCI continued to press the Madras Corporation to stop culling dogs. Eventually, in 1995, the Blue Cross was able to convince the municipality to abandon killing and adopt ABC as an alternative strategy in one part of South Madras. Within six months, the results were promising enough to prompt the Corporation to extend the program to the whole of South Madras. Following this, People for Animals expanded dog sterilization into North Madras.
Chennai and Jaipur were the first cities to start sustained ABC projects that combined reproduction control through CNR coupled with rabies vaccination. However, there has been no routine counting of street dogs in Chennai but data on human rabies cases in the city is available for periods before and after the adoption of CNR. See chart. Ten years ago, Dr. Krishna produced a report on the large decline in human rabies cases in Chennai following the launch of the ABC projects (from 120 cases a year in 1995 to zero in 2008).
These data have now been updated. The rate of human rabies cases in Chennai ranged from around 1.5 to 3.0 per 100,000 people from 1970 through to 1995. After 1995 and the launch of street dog sterilization vaccination programs across the city, the rate of human rabies cases dropped to zero in thirteen years then ticked up when the Chennai Municipality expanded by almost ten-fold in area. Within a few years, the rate of human rabies cases had again dropped to zero.
On March 24, 2020, the Indian government ordered a national 21-day lockdown as part of its response to the global Covid-19 pandemic. The lockdown has resulted in significant hardship for the people of India, especially the poor. But it has also adversely affected India’s street dogs, who mostly rely on leftover food from eateries and food put out onto the streets by good Samaritans. However, the Indian government recognized the problem and declared that feeding street animals was an essential service and people and organizations across India stepped up to the challenge.
The Blue Cross of India, under the direction of board member Tyag Krishnamurthy, started ramping up an emergency feeding operation. At one point, the operation was feeding 3,000 animals a day in an operation named Karuna (mercy in Sanskrit) for Corona. BCI had to rely on 100-150 volunteers to deliver the food every day. The need diminished as the lockdown was eased but, as the number of covid-19 cases rises, lockdowns are again being implemented across the country.
The Global Dog campaign is working with BCI to fill in gaps in the data available on street dogs, pet dogs and human health in Chennai. As funds become available, surveys of pet and street dogs will be conducted across the city to determine the size of both pet and street dog populations as well as other characteristics (e.g. sterilization status). It is still not clear why the number of human rabies cases dropped so fast and it would be very helpful if the decline could be attributed to the ABC program in the city.