Stray canines roaming the Indian capital may soon find themselves attending police training school with civic authorities planning to turn the animals into security dogs, reports said Saturday.
New Delhi residents have long informally adopted some strays as watchdogs for their homes and shops and fed them, but this marks the first formal plan to turn them into municipal security dogs.
City authorities said they would enlist police animal trainers to work with the strays and press the canines into service as guard dogs alongside a newly formed "May I Help You?" city security force which aims to assist the public and bolster safety.
"If these dogs are going to roam the NDMC (New Delhi Municipal Corp) area, they might as well work," the civic body's chairman Jalaj Shrivastava told The Hindu newspaper.
"Our plan is to adopt these strays and train them as guard dogs" to work with the public security force -- 40 officers have already been deployed with the city planning to engage as many as 700, he said.
But "we do not expect street dogs to perform high-end security activities" such as sniffing for dangerous substances such as explosives, Shrivastava told the Hindustan Times newspaper.
- Stray dogs a menace -
While some stray dogs are friendly and docile, others are more menacing, barking ferociously at strangers who wander down New Delhi streets, and there is a high incidence of dog bites.
Night watchmen doing their rounds often take a bamboo stick to scare dogs away.
"This initiative is meant to address two issues: take the strays off the streets, thereby tackling the dog menace, and make the city safer for residents," added Shrivastava.
There are no recent figures on the number of dogs in Delhi but a 2009 city survey put them at more than 260,000.
The reports did not say how many dogs would be used in the security scheme or when their training would start.
Dogs will be fed and vaccinated under the plan, welcomed by animal rights activists.
"This will engage the street dogs with society and also benefit people," Radha Unnikrishnan, an animal rights activist, said.
A 2001 law forbids killing roaming dogs and the stray population has since soared, feeding off India's infamous mountains of street garbage as well as on kitchen scraps given to them by residents.
Hindus object to the killing of many types of animals. But the stray population in cities across the country has risen to such a level -- estimates are in the millions -- that many officials are worried.
- Many rabies victims children -
Cities across India already run sterilisation and vaccination programmes but an estimated 20,000 people die each year from rabies infections in India, some 36 percent of the global annual total of 55,000, according to World Health Organisation figures. Many of the Indian rabies victims are children.
A number of India's growing affluent class have dogs as pets. But most prefer pedigreed dogs, seeing them as status symbols, and scorn so-called "Indian" mixed-breed mutts, known as "desi dogs".
However, many expensive purebreeds end up abandoned when people get tired of looking after them.
The strays programme is the latest animal initiative in New Delhi.
A federal minister earlier this month announced the hiring of 40 professional monkey impersonators in government buildings to frighten away rhesus macaque monkeys which terrorise bureaucrats, invading offices, grabbing files and snatching food.
The 40 "monkey wallahs", a term roughly translating as monkey men, who mimic sounds of the larger langurs which were long used to scare away macaques until authorities started enforcing in 2012 an old wildlife law banning keeping langurs in captivity.