Saturday, June 21, 2008

A special bond with dogs

Dr. Chinny Krishna’s name is almost synonymous with the Blue Cross of India. Not surprising, since he is its founder member and has been a member of its governing body and editor and publisher of the Blue Cross newsletter for 43 years. Dr. Krishna finds time to visit one of the five Blue Cross centres everyday. He is on the board of the World Society for Protection of Animals and one of the signatories to the People for Animals (PfA) Trust. He was Vice Chairman of the Animal Welfare Board of India (2001-04).

Not many know that Dr. Krishna is also the managing director of Aspick Engineering Pvt. Ltd., an ISO 9001 company that manufactures special purpose machines for the Department of Atomic Energy and Space Research as well as for many large corporations in India and abroad.

If you visit Aspick, you will find several dogs lazing in the premises, some comfortably asleep in chairs in Dr. Krishna’s office. For lunch, the dogs, mongrels all, have porridge from bowls laid neatly outside. Dr. Krishna’s love for mongrels is reflected on a notice board that visitors to the factory cannot miss: ‘If you can’t decide between an Alsatian, a Doberman or a Poodle, get them all. Adopt a mongrel from the Blue Cross shelter and get everything you are looking for – all in one dog. The intelligence of a Poodle and loyalty of a Lassie, the bark of a Shepherd and the heart of a St. Bernard, the spots of a Dalmatian and size of a Schnauzer and the speed of a Greyhound. A genuine all-Indian has it all. Get the best of everybody. Adopt a mongrel’. Dr. Krishna and Nanditha have 14 dogs at home, all mongrels.

How did Dr. Krishna cultivate his love for animals? “I probably owe it to my grandfather, T.S. Krishnamurti, principal of the Government Arts College, Coimbatore, who instilled in us a great sense of reverence for all life. Our conversations at the dinner table centred on a wide range of subjects, and animal welfare was a part,” he says, adding, “We’ve always had cats and dogs; many mongrels found a home with us. During 1949-54, we even had a goat that was rescued from the Yelahanka air base.”

Coimbatore-born Krishna grew up in Bangalore where his grandmother took care of him. After seven years at A.C. College, Guindy, from where he obtained his B. Tech and M. Tech degrees in chemical engineering, Krishna gained an M.S. and Ph.D. in management from the USA. It was in 1959 that his parents Usha (India’s first woman pilot) and V. Sundaram (also a pilot) decided to start a small clinic for animals at home. The clinic was registered in 1964 as the Blue Cross of India. Dr. Krishna was one of the nine co-signatories of its Articles and Memorandum.

The same year, appalled by the horrific way the Corporation of Madras was killing street dogs, the Blue Cross began to study the issue. “We were surprised to learn that the Corporation, one of the oldest in the world, had started its catch-and-kill programme in 1860. Section 218 of the Madras City Municipal Corporation Act of 1919 authorised catching and killing any dog on the street that did not have a license tag,” Dr. Krishna points out. Soon, Dr. F.D. Wilson, Chief of Surgery, Madras Veterinary College, and Honorary Medical Advisor of the Blue Cross inaugurated a free spaying centre at Dr. Krishna’s home on Bazullah Road. “Spaying by a skilled veterinarian is a relatively simple operation. Only a small incision is required, the operation takes only 15-20 minutes, and very few animals show any sign of discomfort after the operation. A spayed female dog or cat is permanently removed from the danger of breeding,” Dr. Krishna explains.

Today, thanks to Krishna’s initiative, the Blue Cross (www.bluecrossofindia.org.in) runs a successful animal birth control (ABC) programme at its centres on Lloyd Road and in Toducadu, Tiruvallur, and full-fledged animal shelters in Velachery and Kunnam, near Sriperambudur. It employs 50 people, including veterinarians, drivers, attenders and a cook. Till 1987, the Blue Cross had no paid staff; its early vehicle drivers were pilots.

The Blue Cross ABC programme in south Chennai and 17 municipalities is something Krishna is proud of. “Until 1995, as many as 135 dogs were being killed at the Corporation Dog Pound. In 1996, thanks to M. Abul Hasan, Corporation Commissioner who later became Special officer, we were able to start the programme. He gave us a chance to prove that ABC works and assured us that he would personally monitor the programme and that no dog spayed and vaccinated would be caught.” ABC worked, and the killing of dogs at the Dog Pound stopped. The Corporation converted the Pound into an animal birth control centre that is now looked after by the PfA. Madras and Jaipur were the first Indian cities to start a sustained ABC programme.

In Madras, a Blue Cross supervisor would accompany the dog van. Each dog caught was carefully tagged with details of the exact location from where it was picked up. Initially, about 30 dogs were collected each week from areas such as Adyar, Besant Nagar, Kalakshetra Colony, Thiruvanmiyur, Taramani, Kotturpuram, Guindy, Saidapet, Ekkaduthangal, St. Thomas Mount and Velachery.

“Across the world, it has been found that catching and killing stray dogs has never led to a long-term reduction of the stray dog population. Because dogs from neighbouring areas move in to fill the vacuum, and the number of strays depends on the availability of food and breeding grounds. Today, the number of street dogs in Chennai has reduced by 70 percent. The purpose of the programme is also to bring down the number of cases of rabies,” Dr. Krishna says. In Chennai, the number of rabies deaths reduced from 120 in 1996 to 5 in 2004; Jaipur has reported no rabies death 2001 onwards (ten cases were recorded in 1996).

Is Dr. Chinny Krishna happy with what the Blue Cross of India has achieved? “How soon can we change things? How soon can we make the Blue Cross redundant? When can we shut down and throw away the key? Those were the questions that played in our minds when we established the organisation. It was a sort of dream. But obviously, we have failed. Today, we have to look after abandoned pets too. Many pet owners buy dogs as status symbols. When they face a problem, the dog is left on the road. What kind of human beings are we?”

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