COVID-19 has affected us badly and our dependents including our pets. It reminds of the past famines when people abandoned en-masse their pets and cattle for they did not have enough to feed them. The current situation is similar, though the cardinal reason this time is an unfounded fear of infection through these pets. Though, people cited other reasons like the inability to get pet food, take them for a walk, or neighbors objecting to their presence also. Anyhow, as a result, each and every breed of animal associated in some form with humans has been affected and unfortunately, the Dog which is closest to man has borne the brunt the most. Figures of abandonment during the lockdown have gone up significantly, with most dogs winding up at shelter homes. As pet dogs are unaccustomed to shelter homes, require foster homes, and don’t have experience or instincts to hunt, they run the risk of eventual death in the face of starvation and neglect.

Photo by Ben Ostrower on Unsplash

The above problem of rejection of pets is a sort of the tip of the iceberg, for according to India’s available livestock Census of 2012 there are about 17.13 million stray dogs and 5.28 million stray cattle in India and the current approximation in India is around 35 million which largely subsist on human waste/surplus food have been very badly affected. With all commercial activities to a grinding halt, no hotels, restaurants, outings for feeding purposes has done incalculable and irrevocable damage to these mute species who cannot champion their cause before any forum. Notwithstanding the legal provisions that it is a criminal offense to leave one’s pet under Section 3 and 11 of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960 without any justifiable call; hordes of cases of desertion, being subjected to cruelty due to the COVID-19 scare, being run over by speeding vehicles and disinfecting them in a very inhumane, unscientific and crude manner were also reported during the lockdown. There is another aspect worth mentioning here i.e. behavioral changes in stray dogs who may become aggressive and start hunting.

Touching upon the crux i.e. potentiality of pets transmitting infection, the literature from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of United States suggests that some coronaviruses cause cold-like illnesses in people, while others cause illness in certain types of animals, such as cattle, camels, and bats. Some coronaviruses, such as canine and feline coronaviruses, only infect animals and do not infect humans. Though animals and people can sometimes share zoonotic diseases, the risk of animals spreading COVID-19 to people is considered to be low. World Organization for Animal Health’s Reference Center further clarifies through its experiments and observations that cats are able to transmit the infection to other cats — but not to other humans as there is no evidence to suggest this.

Despite the above factual position on the feared transmission, owners illogically abandoned pets especially at a time when animals could be great companions for people who are in quarantine and feeling low. The pets could have continued to live with the families like any other member and in case of any COVID-19 infection to any person, the situation could have been handled with better hygiene, isolation from other members including the pets.

Even donkeys/horses used for transport were affected e.g. Govt. of Uttarakhand had to earmark Rs 2.50 crore to take care of such destitute bovines during the lockdown due to lack of work. These animals are mostly used to transport goods and ferrying pilgrims to the Char Dham shrines, but due to the yatra being canceled, the owners of these animals said that they are finding it difficult to take care of them without a steady income. Obtaining fodder for cows, goats have become very difficult. The leftover husks and greens which the villagers around used to throw away or sell for minimal cost are now being sold at exorbitant prices.

The pet shop owners locked down their shops leaving all the animals and birds starving. Following the directions issued by the AWBI and the Union Ministry of Fisheries, Animal Husbandry and Dairying regarding animals in such pet shops during the lockdown, the authorities have been rescuing animals wherever found in the pet shops and aquariums. Birds, cats, rabbits, hamsters have been rescued in near-death conditions.

The good thing that assuaged the plight is that the AWBI declared feeding stray animals to be an essential service, especially during a nationwide lockdown to keep the COVID-19 pandemic at bay and ‘Feeder passes’ given to individuals to take care of stray animals during the outbreak and that many families came forward to give shelter to the abandoned pets even in the trying times of lockdown and limited supplies. Animal rights activists across the country have raised funds and to the extent, possibly’ rehabilitated these abandoned animals.

Contributed by Sidharth, content writer at Mitti Ke Rang

At Mitti Ke Rang, we started with a COVID-19 community support fundraising, as an emergency response to provide a safety net to families. This will help them survive in the lockdown period. We aim to directly support these families by providing a minimum wage, through transferring the same into their accounts or partner with local NGO, Organisation, Fellow or a Volunteer, and support them with groceries.

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A social venture dedicated to empowering widows and single women to overcome poverty and dependency.