Do stray animals fall within the purview of the law?

Among various life forms are animals and among them, the most vulnerable seem the domesticable but not domesticated ones, that is, stray dogs and cats. They are the most vulnerable category in a sense that they have to survive in a constant environment of threat from their fellow cohabitors, that is, we humans. 

Although we can see numerous uprising animal activists fighting for dignified lives of uncared for dogs and cats both institutionally and on an individual level, there still remains a section of human society that seems to be unable to accept that animals should have their fundamental rights ensured just like humans do.

In what forms do we project our heartlessness towards animals? Why is the idea of coexistence not justifiable to us? What has been done and can be done legally to protect the rights of the stray animals? 

Various forms of cruelty towards stray animals

Some primary cruelty against street animals include selective animal slaughter to maintain their population expansion, beating, abandoning pet to die outside when one can’t afford their sustenance or after they have been diseased, and even bestiality. Culling by poisoning was common in Nepal’s Lalitpur area in the decade 2000. According to a 2005 NHRC survey, just 30% of valley dog owners stood against this strategy to reduce stray animals. In 2019, Khotang District Police received a complaint of 200 dogs being poisoned, beaten to unconsciousness, and buried alive by three district administration officials, one of whom was the mayor.

In the years as recent as 2020 and 2021, several news of animal cruelty had made it to the news headlines that included a tiktoker uploading a video of a dog being thrown off a cliff in Kaski and a street dog ‘Khairey’ being beaten to death by use of an iron rod and a spade in Dhulikhel. Around four dogs of Nawalparasi district were poisoned in April 2021 which not only caused the dog’s death but also the death of at least 67 endangered vultures that fed on the dead and discarded bodies of those dogs.

All this seemed less to the abusers that they introduced dogfighting as a sport for their thrill where trained dogs are placed inside a pit to fight each other and abusers enjoy the consequent bloodshed. It is now a felony crime in all the 50 U.S. states.

Possible reasons behind the exhibition of such cruelty

In regards to why we do what we do, human actions are often driven by two kinds of judgements: deontological and utilitarian.The former drives certain actions because of the perceived ethical and moral characteristics of the actions themselves, regardless of the consequences. The latter supports any harmful action for reasons that are said to promote the greater good. When we think critically about stray lives at risk because of us, a pattern emerges that suggests we think about animal life from a utilitarian perspective, but we humans prefer to employ deontological terms.However, when it comes to stray animals and the animals we personally provide for, even this utilitarian viewpoint has conflicting versions in us. It would be unthinkable for us to consider sacrificing our family dog for the benefit of ten dogs on the street.

As found, more often animal abusers who push themselves to commit criminal outrages are diagnosed with Antisocial Personality Disorder. The people engaged in exhibiting animal cruelty are likely to commit other crimes like murder, rape, substance abuse and assaults three times more than other criminals. Animal abusers receive varying nature of gratifications through their acts. Interesting find is the rationale behind why people engage in bestiality: it is suggested to be the preference for abusing the ones in unable position to resist or reject. No one stands out for them, causing the perpetrators to remain anonymous. It’s tough to break the community’s long-held belief that all street animals are disease-ridden and dangerous. The perception of street animals as ‘dirty’ and ‘untouchable’ sets the tone for how they will be treated by locals.

International framework

Asia bags the award for the continent with most cruel and inhumane abuses of animals and not just the stray ones. Asians have, for long, seen animals as either symbols of social status or a means of profit. No doubt, a number of horrific ways of animal exploitation is prevalent throughout the continent and such cruelty is endorsed by laws that are more often than not, on the side of animal abusers. Scenario is a bit more hopeful in other parts of the world.

The positive counteraction has been the attraction of people towards this issue and the rising number of animal welfare organisations in national, international, governmental and non-governmental capacities. Animal welfare has received much importance from international mechanisms since the past fifty years. 

‘Humane Society of the United States’, ‘People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA)’, ‘World Animal Protection’, like organisations have been vouching for legal policy reforms for over thirty years now. Battles are being fought to change animals’ status from property to legal persons.

The International Convention for the Protection of Animals is one international umbrella convention that encapsulates core ideas such as how every life has intrinsic value and how people and animals must coexist since we are part of an interdependent environment.

In the light of all the facts it would be unreasonable  to believe  the increasing  population  of stray animals  can never pose a problem but as conscientious  creatures  we have the ability  to focus on how to devise a proper  and logical solution. 

 Article 11 of the convention  mentioned  in above paragraph  provided  that even if control  of stray animals is required  such processes of neutering, capturing  and even euthanasia in extreme cases should be carried  out in a manner  that  does not cause avoidable pain,  suffering  or distress.

National mechanisms

In Nepal, Section 116 through Section 217 of the Criminal Code Act 2017 have prohibited  offences relating to animals and birds. If any  individual  executes torture  or other heinous acts like bestiality  against  any animal they are punishable  under our law. 

Similarly, local government authorities are responsible for managing abandoned and dead stray working animals, according to Section 20 of the Animal Welfare Directive, 2016. However,  the government at the local  levels have constantly failed to cater for enough protection of the stray animals .

So far, our society has normalized another atrocity in the form of stray animal cruelty under the guise of cultural and religious customs, economic reasons, and in some cases, refusal to improve their ethical standards including morality towards animals. People’s ingrained hatred towards stray animals can be erased if suitable courses on the value of life and coexistence are included in the curriculum beginning at the primary level. Also, the awareness  programme needs to be constantly backed by strong implementation  of strict law. Such outrages against stray animals won’t stop unless we begin to regard it as our responsibility to report any crime against stray animals with the same intensity as when we report crime against humans.

2 thoughts on “Do stray animals fall within the purview of the law?”

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