Every morning at 6 a.m., Maniben would emerge from her home, arms gripping a large pail and steel tub, to be greeted by the wagging tails and wet noses of 10 to 15 dogs on her street. This was a daily sight that Maniben came to be known for by morning walkers in Ahmedabad’s Usmanpura neighbourhood. After all, she made sure to never miss a single day. 

There exists a Maniben across every neighbourhood in our country. They represent a dying hope of us living amidst a tolerant society – as far as street dogs go, at least.

This is not to say that all hope is lost. Like most Indian cities, Ahmedabad has grown into a concrete jungle that has swallowed up open plots, large farmlands, and thousands of trees in the pursuit of being a ‘Smart’ city. But with young citizens increasingly aware of the value of humans and animals coinhabiting urban spaces, many new, eager, kind and compassionate people are joining the movement to care for street animals every day. They are experiencing it all – climate change, the plastic crisis, deforestation, pandemics – the list goes on. Just like any of these other issues, the reducing distance and increasing conflict between humans and animals in our cities deserve to be tackled collectively, with inclusive ideas and compassionate programs.

Behind Palladium Mall, Ahmedabad | Courtesy HSI/India

Dogs, or any of the other animals, are not “another”, separate from us and our urban lives. Rather, street animals have consistently been on the receiving end of human intervention. It is now time to recognise the role that we play as a society in their welfare. 

The Changing Landscape

The ever-expanding Indian city poses several, multi-dimensional challenges to the welfare of street dogs, the nature and scale of which have only just started being understood. Estimates suggest that urbanisation in India has grown by a rate of 2.4% between 2010 and 2018, with 34% of India’s population currently living in cities. Much has been said about how the growth of Indian cities has affected wildlife, especially in terms of the loss of biodiversity. But not enough has been said about the multi-dimensional impacts of urbanisation on street dog welfare.

Community caretakers happy to have their community dogs back after being sterilized and vaccinated. Courtesy HSI/India

India has approximately 80 million street dogs. Since many (if not most) of these dogs depend on humans for food, we find large populations of street dogs in dense human settlements, i.e., in our cities. Our localities, however, are often not street dog friendly. The construction of high-income neighbourhoods, often high-rises in new urban peripheries, entails the loss of green areas and open space, leading to the displacement and exclusion of street dogs. In addition, any remaining street dogs are often driven out and kept out of these gated communities.

Many residents from such neighbourhoods have told HSI/India’s teams in Vadodara and Lucknow that street dogs are “undesirable”, “disease-spreading” pests who cause property damage. Such cases of human-dog conflict exacerbate the antagonism of street dogs in our cities. Most of the complaints animal welfare organisations receive from such neighbourhoods demand that dogs be relocated. These demands from residents echo the sentiments of municipal authorities, in their race to build smart cities that look scrubbed clean to echo the semblances of Western cities.

The Western model of keeping streets free of dogs, however, involves taking all dogs off the streets and into homes. This is enforced by animal control units that don’t approach a stray from a welfare perspective. This means that dogs caught on the street are taken to shelters, where if no one claims them, they are euthanized. So, behind the garb of sterility and clean streets lies the sinister truth of millions of euthanised, healthy animals. 

On the other hand, in low-income neighbourhoods, dogs and humans live in very close proximity. And while some residents like Ahmedabad’s Maniben act as community dog feeders, some of the most horrific cases of abuse against street dogs are also reported from these neighbourhoods. Also, when competition for accessing safe shelters grows, conflicts between dogs are more common. Increased aggression between dogs often spills over onto humans, especially between July-August and January-February, when many pups are born. In these months, volunteer teams are inundated with complaints of female dogs biting and chasing residents and passersby to protect their pups. Such instances lead to a host of retaliatory measures – from legal proceedings and stopping street dogs from being fed in public places (Nagpur 2022), all the way to petitions to cull street dogs (Kerala, 2022).  

Such public insistence on brutal interventions forms the backdrop against which the Animal Birth Control (ABC) rules were first drafted in 2001, and later amended in 2010 and 2023. Highlighting the need for mass spay/neuter campaigns and emphasising that relocating dogs is illegal, the ABC rules provide a foundation for India to adopt a more humane approach to dog population management. Street dogs biting and chasing residents is certainly associated with a rapidly growing and unchecked street dog population; to this end, Animal Birth Control can certainly help with managing street dog populations. However, in and of themselves, these rules are insufficient to create lasting change. Human-dog conflicts are equally rooted in a lack of awareness among people on how to coexist peacefully. Unless people’s roles and behaviours in human-dog conflicts are made more apparent, future conflict cannot be effectively reduced.  

Not An ‘Indie’ Problem

Nehaji, a regular community dog feeder in Rishikesh, was taken aback when she first saw the HSI/India team catching dogs in her town while she was feeding the dogs in her neighbourhood. “Why are you all catching the dogs, and where do you plan to take them?” she asked anxiously. Nehaji was pleasantly surprised to learn that the team was taking the dogs for sterilisation and vaccination; and that they would be dropped back in the same spot in the next few days. “I’ve been hoping for a while that the street dogs in Rishikesh would get sterilised,” she adds. “I had even tried to facilitate some sterilisation, but it never happened.” That day, Nehaji helped the HSI team catch 8 dogs; she continues to educate residents in her neighbourhood on the need to sterilise and vaccinate street dogs. 

Net catching is a humane handling technique to ensure dogs don’t get hurt. Picture from Dehradun courtesy HSI/India.

Efforts of resident volunteers like Nehaji towards helping manage street dog populations in a humane manner indicate that proactive community engagement lies at the heart of sustainably managing street dogs.

Community engagement officers reach out to families, especially children, from low income neighborhoods, to talk about street dogs and how children can stay safe. Courtesy HSI/India

For instance, workshops on dog behaviour with children that teach them how to behave around dogs, or help citizens understand responsible feeding, water spots, and spaces for temporary shelter can make a world of a difference.

Take the example of the conflicts between street dogs and humans that we see across the country during Diwali. In 2022, HSI/India volunteers in Lucknow, Vadodara, Dehradun, and Rishikesh took on the task of ensuring a safer Diwali for street dogs. They canvassed neighbourhoods talking to residents and pasting posters on what to do and what not to do to ensure that both dogs and residents remain safe during the festival. The response from communities was remarkable! Where previous years witnessed dogs’ aggression from the fright of loud noises and crackers, societies now found that simply making sure to burst crackers in areas away from where the street dogs ate and slept reduced and even eliminated conflict.  Co-existing with street dogs is not a ‘dog problem’, but a people one that demands cooperative community-led solutions.

Reviving a Tolerant Past

Neither should the existence of dogs amidst human settlements be seen as a recent phenomenon nor should any conflict be treated as disconnected from external factors. 

Recent years have seen a noticeable change in how people’s perception of dogs. Where they were a natural part of urban lives, now, we expect them gone. Where once upon a time the sight of a dog taking a siesta on someone’s verandah was commonplace, now, it is a common complaint from irate residents. Roads that had ample space for dogs are now crowded with vehicles; like any animal, the dogs have adjusted. They sit on the vehicles, keeping warm, or watching over their territory. This is seldom tolerable for many urban residents, and so we came up with spike-filled covers to keep them away.

A car cover with spikes, to keep dogs and monkeys away. As listed on Amazon India

Where once upon a time a dog bite may have been explained to a parent or other the community – perhaps because of a mother protecting her pups – today, there is little room for explanations. Horror stories – of dogs attacking, and dogs being attacked – commonly erupt from many large cities like Gurgaon, Delhi, Noida, Hyderabad, and Nagpur. Who should be held accountable for a rabid dog’s aggression, besides the dog? How can ‘the system’ support families with access to treatment, vaccines, and emergency services in a quick and affordable manner? Simply taking the dog away without any other plug-ins is hardly a long-term solution.

Citizens want to do better – for themselves, their families, and sometimes, even for animals. When NGOs work to provide communities with alternatives to reacting to dogs with anger and violence, the response has always been one that chooses tolerance and harmony. But with little to no information on how to co-exist with dogs, the existing fear of them, and no idea about the law or what local authorities may be trying to do, it is difficult to be objective about the issue. Awareness, collaboration, and patience are key to reviving a tolerant approach towards street dogs in India.

Change Takes Time, But We Have to Play Together

India is urbanizing at a rapid pace; in doing so, references to street dogs, monkeys, and cows as a “menace” are increasingly common. In the midst of all this, many a time, dog feeders and caretakers assume an extreme stance against residents who dislike dogs, which exacerbates conflict in communities. In other cases, the law, animal welfare organizations, municipalities, and businesses operate in silos when it comes to the “management” of street dogs. In the process, relevant information is lost in transit to the field, or the site of implementation. The lack of trust between animal welfare organizations doing ABC and communities is a persistent thorn in this regard; only a handful of organizations have well-established programs.

As this debate on what can be done for street dogs rages on, we cannot ignore that dogs live amongst us and that there are ways to peacefully co-exist with them. A long-term, nationwide, phased plan should be developed where the centre can support states who, in turn, aid local bodies in this regard. Cities can become leading examples by implementing carefully planned ABC projects, which keep the health and well-being of both dogs and communities in focus. The designing of smart cities should consider how dogs can live well on streets too without having to remove or relocate them.

Community engagement sessions with students in Vadodara talking about dogs, rabies, and how to avoid dog bites. Courtesy HSI/India

At the same time, values of coexisting peacefully with street dogs and other animals that inhabit urban landscapes should be woven into curricula in schools, engendering tolerance and compassion. For now, public awareness campaign along the lines of the polio eradication strategy might be a good place to start. And start we must, because the dogs aren’t going anywhere, and neither are we.

Featured image of a dog being handled before the Animal Birth Control surgery courtesy HSI/India

Keren has worked extensively on humane and scientific dog population management and community engagement in India, besides supporting projects across Asia and Africa. She has over 15 years of experience in both human and street dog-related development work and is currently Senior Director, Community Animals & Engagement at HSI/India.
Dr. Vrushti Mawani holds a Ph.D. in Planning (2021) from the School of Community and Regional Planning, University of British Columbia. Her work focuses on the politics and dynamics of human-environment relations and engages the fields of urban planning, political ecology, and infrastructure politics to inform her approach to engaging communities for street dog welfare. She is Senior Manager, Community Engagement at HSI/India.


  1. Is there a post of enthusiastic Veterinarian to volunteer/work with the organisation ?
    I really appreciate your work and i would love to work alongside your organisation.
    So I’d be happy if you let me know through email if there’s a post for veterinarian.


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