Human Interest

Indian homeless lady lives with 200 stray dogs, terrorizes neighbors

By Neeshu Shukla

New Delhi, Apr 12 (EFE).- Pratima Devi, popularly known as the “dog lady,” has faced hostility from the community for feeding about 200 street dogs every day in a southern residential area of the Indian capital, an act that has put animal lovers at loggerheads with the authorities due to a rise in deadly dog attacks against humans.

The market in the neighborhood of Saket, in south Delhi, turns into a disputed territory as dogs and humans tussle for space, motorists evade the animals on the road with difficulty and passengers sidestep spaces full of canines.

Such scenes are common across India, the country with the highest number of unattended dogs in the world – around 62 million – according to the Pet Homelessness Index, prepared in 2021 by North American multinational Mars Pet Care.

The death of two brothers aged 5 and 7 in South Delhi last month after being seriously wounded in two separate street dog attacks – having been bitten on their faces, chest and legs – has triggered fear among the community.

These are not the first deaths related to dog-bites, as a few months earlier a seven-month old baby was found in the city with its intestines ripped open in another attack, which drew attention to the unattended animals that often fight for food and territory in India.

According to the World Health Organization, India witnesses over 17.4 million dog attacks against humans every year, out of which only around 5,500 are reported to the authorities.

The country registers around 18,000-20,000 rabies deaths annually, with around 96 percent of them caused by street dog-bites.

Uncontrolled breeding and a law that bans putting animals down – even if they amount to a health hazard – along with the feeding of stray dogs anywhere on the streets have become a matter of debate between courts, local authorities and animal-rights advocates.

Even as some animal-lovers have defended taking care of the street animals, researchers and experts insist that thoughtless and mass feeding of dogs leads to them gathering in one place and forming groups, which makes them want to dominate the territory and can be dangerous.

Pratima Devi looks after more than 200 dogs, some of them tied with metal leashes in her small shelter, barely meters away from the market, although most of them roam free, a fact which has earned her the community’s ire.

“I work in the evenings, and it’s difficult to pass by here at that time. Several times, I’ve been chased and attacked by packs of dogs. I have managed to avoid being bitten, but I’m not sure for how long,” Abhishek Sharma, a local resident in Saket, told EFE.

As the 80-year-old Devi has established herself on the street spot as their food-provider, the dogs “keep growling at night and prevent us from sleeping peacefully, I can’t do anything to get them out of here and ensure my own and others’ safety,” Sharma added.

An employee of the Municipal Corporation of Delhi, Praveen Kumar – who works at a building next to Devi’s de-facto shelter – told EFE that the dogs have “caused numerous accidents and bitten many visitors to the nearby market.”

However, the homeless woman’s work is hailed and supported by many others, who donate money in a box she keeps outside her shelter, apart from animal-rights groups that help feed the dogs, which are unvaccinated but sterilized, according to Kumar.

Although locals have made several attempts to remove Devi from the neighborhood – the last of them in January when the MCD demolished the structure where she kept dogs – her supporters have managed to get her a permit to remain in the area along with her 200 dogs.

Amid reports of stray dogs being poisoned or beaten to death in various Indian cities – especially where deaths have been reported due to dog-bites – Delhi’s “dog lady” continues to play the role of a guardian or a threat depending on one’s point of view. EFE


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