Safe interactions with community animals

As a dog or cat lover, have you ever got that urge to quickly approach the street animal and pamper them? Have you ever faced a situation where a streetie is not so friendly and you had a face-off with them when you tried approaching them despite them giving certain calming signals? For most of us, the answer would be ‘yes’.

Ideally, we should never take that route of interacting with a street animal, especially with the ones we have never met. We should follow the same route as how we speak with a human if we don’t know them. To be on the safe side, for both yourself and the concerned streetie, here are a few correct ways to approach a street animal:

  • Whether it's a pet or a community animal, it’s always better to wait until they indicate that they are comfortable with being petted
  • Approach them slowly and cautiously while speaking in a calm, gentle voice
  • Use food to motivate a frightened animal into approaching you
  • If a dog is nervous or uncomfortable around you, do not force interaction
  • With unvaccinated but friendly dogs, avoid play that could result in scratching or nipping

How to safely interact with them

Streeties may bite or display aggression for various reasons, including fear, protection of their pups/kittens, food, people or when they are unwell. In such scenarios, please follow the following steps:

  • Don’t pet unfamiliar community animals and let them approach you
  • Observe their body language before you decide if he or she wants to be approached or not
  • If a streetie approaches you and you are frightened, do not run. Stand still and do not make eye contact with the streetie. If you have fallen and a streetie approaches you, curl up and stay still. They will sniff you and go away
  • Do not startle the streeties with loud noises, shouting, exaggerated gestures, and firecrackers
  • Do not disturb streeties who are sleeping, eating, are with pups/kittens, or are tied up

How to safely interact with them

How to feed community animals?

Clean drinking water is essential for any living being, irrespective of the weather. Community feeders have reported that not only dogs and cats come to drink water but also birds and other animals. Similarly, healthy food plays a critical role in maintaining good health. By feeding and befriending street dogs, community feeders can earn their trust and help them receive essential medical care like vaccinations, deworming, spaying/neutering, and first-aid.

New feeders should start small by feeding one or two dogs near their house. Some dogs may be more suspicious than others, so it's common for minor fights to break out in the neighbourhood. It's helpful to have an experienced feeder assist in the beginning. Once feeding begins in a particular area, the dogs tend to show up at the same time every day.

If you want to feed a street cat, stay away from dairy products and homemade food. It can adversely affect their health. Cats are carnivores so ideally, feed them meat and taurine (considered an essential amino acid for cats, and are majorly found in poultry and seafood). They also have very sensitive stomachs, so it’s best to stick to one type of food for their regular meal for your street cats, which can be a packed meal or home-cooked chicken.

Safe feeding practices for streeties

Feeding streeties is legal and protected under Indian Law (Section 503 of the Indian Penal Code 1860). Intimidating or harassing those who feed animals is a criminal offence, and offenders can be arrested without a warrant.

The law allows individuals to feed community animals without fear. Animals often end up bearing the brunt of these disagreements. So, taking a long-term view of the situation, and a few golden rules learnt from experience, here are the steps for you to take:

  • Space out feeding: Feed about 2-3 streeties at a time, in one place. Seek help from a neighbour or friend to feed the rest of the pack in another part of the territory, at the same time.
  • Pick up after you and the streetie: For smaller packs, you can use washable steel bowls that can be reused, which is the cleanest and safest option. For larger packs, use newspapers as plates when resources are limited. Pick up and dispose them responsibly once the pack is done with their meals.
  • Choose a feeding spot wisely: Choose a quiet spot, away from foot or vehicular traffic. Feeding streeties near the gate of a society is not a great idea. Constant footfalls make it an unsafe spot. Do not approach street cats directly or don't do anything that might take them by surprise. Cats who have limited human interaction are called feral cats. They can get scared easily or get protective quickly, so it is advisable to approach them with caution.
  • Organise and outsource: If you are unable to cook for your streeties, outsource it. Some catering services cook and deliver meals for community animals to make things easier for neighbourhood feeders. They are priced at subsidised rates, making it lighter on the pocket when you split it between two or three households.
  • Meal time routines: Streeties have great internal clocks and learn their mealtimes. They show up at the same spot at the same time daily. Irregular feeding is not recommended as streeties may display resource-guarding behaviour, making it unsafe for passersby.
  • Treat them often: Streeties get notorious for being able to sense when a vet visit is coming up. Often the only way to treat their skin conditions or any other health conditions is to hide medicines in a treat. Get them used to receiving treats so they won't be suspicious or look too closely when a treat contains a tablet.

Essentials for a Community Animal Caregiver

If you are bitten by an animal, it's crucial to take immediate action. Follow these steps recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) to treat the wound:

  • Wash the wounded area immediately with clean water and soap
  • If you don't have access to soap, wash the wound thoroughly with clean running water
  • Apply an antiseptic solution or ointment to the wound
  • Seek medical attention from a doctor for further assessment and treatment, including vaccines

Note: Remember, getting prompt medical attention can prevent serious complications, so don't delay seeking help if you've been bitten by an animal.