The man who kills stray dogs in India's Kerala

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Dogs on a busy street in Kerala
Image caption,
Kerala has more than 600,000 stray dogs

More than 700 cases of dog bites have been reported this year in the southern Indian state of Kerala. In response, some people have been promoting a campaign to kill stray dogs, angering animal rights activists. Ashraf Padanna meets one such "dog killer".

A minister recently said that Kerala had more than half a million stray dogs, resulting in frequent cases of dog bites.

An elderly woman died in August after dogs attacked her, triggering public outrage in the state.

In response, Jose Maveli, who runs a "dogs eradication group", wants to put an end to what he calls the "dog menace".

But his methods are highly controversial.

He says he carries an airgun with him wherever he goes to protect himself from street dogs.

"I need it for self defence because there have been so many dog attacks recently. It just frightens dogs away. No big deal," he says.

Image caption,
Jose Maveli wants to end the "dog menace" in Kerala

He has been charged with seven cases of cruelty against animals and is currently out on bail. He says he has also offered to pay 500 rupees (£6; $7.49) every time someone kills a street dog.

"I have paid the amount to around 50 people so far."

Mr Maveli is also facing charges of threatening a woman animal rights activist, encouraging people to kill dogs and leading a march to a police station carrying dog carcasses.

His campaign seems to have encouraged many others to break the law, mostly in Ernakulam, Kottayam and Palakkad districts, to kill street dogs.

Last month, the youth wing of the Kerala Congress (Mani), a small regional party, killed a dozen dogs and hanged them at the Kottayam municipal office to "highlight the state authorities' failure to control the canine population".

In another recent incident, all 17 members of the Kalady village council killed 30 dogs.

Disturbing pictures

Gory pictures of people killing dogs can be seen almost every day in newspapers and on social media platforms these days.

"People will take the law into their hands as long as dogs continue to attack women, elderly and schoolchildren," says Mr Maveli, who also runs an orphanage for homeless children.

"The government should allow people to kill dogs threatening human life."

And he has the support of some prominent people too. Industrialist Kochouseph Chittilappilly offers legal and financial aid to those arrested for killing stray dogs.

But animal rights activists disagree with Mr Maveli's campaign.

Image caption,
The government says the population of stray dogs can be controlled through sterilisation

They have urged the government to undertake animal birth control (ABC) drives to curb the population of street dogs.

State minister KT Jaleel says his government has been trying but "it's a herculean task as canines multiply fast".

The shortage of dog catchers has also dampened the initiative.

"There are only 56 catchers with the state now while it needs 1,500. The government plans to recruit and train more," Mr Jaleel says.

'Culling not a solution'

The issue was also discussed in the state assembly last month where some members demanded that the government should allow people to kill streets dogs.

But Health Minister KK Shylaja rejected the demand.

"There are 51 veterinary hospitals undertaking vaccination and sterilisation. We hope to complete the first phase of ABC soon and control the canine population growth in two or three years," she said.

But activists are not convinced.

MN Jayachandran, a member of the Kerala State Animal Welfare Board, says ABC programmes need to be implemented more effectively.

Image caption,
Activists say dogs go feral when they are fed on slaughter waste

"It's a serious problem, but culling is not a solution," he says.

"It is extremely difficult to sit at home and watch dogs being caught violently, killed and their carcasses displayed with the killers standing proudly around them," he says.

Mr Jayachandran also criticises people who kill dogs in front of children.

"Children too are seen in such pictures and videos, and it is shocking to know that they are subjected to such violence and criminal ideologies at such a tender age," he adds.

Shambhavi Tiwari of the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta) says those who kill dogs "require psychiatric counselling and evaluation".

Condemning the "brazen" killings, Humane Society International said: "The recent spate of killing street dogs in Kerala is a blatant violation of both the constitutional and statutory law.

"ABC is the only solution to controlling street dog population."

Pictures by SK Mohan