The Dog Situation - Rheea Mukherjee
The cow on the road stereotype holds even where I live, in yuppie-town Indiranagar, a neighbourhood filled with both old school Bangaloreans and new twenty-somethings developing their career in the IT hotspot of the country. But we’re skipping the cows this time and moving to another narrative: our dogs. Unregulated dogs to be specific; indigenous breeds and mixes that live amongst us in the city. They are everywhere, taking naps under parked cars, guarding the chai-wallah stall, rummaging through heaps of garbage, sitting in front of homes waiting for a meal, and occasionally coming up to you for attention.
It’s 2014 and and urban India has started to take pet culture seriously. A few decades ago speciality pet stores were a rarity, as were pet grooming salons and pet advertisements. And while we are sorting out collective pug obsession and trying to get our chunky labradors and retrievers to loose weight we have to remind ourselves that this nation has always been a pet owner. Well sort of.
Unregulated dogs on the streets are unique to Asian countries. Government authorities have used most tricks in the book to curb what some might call a menace. By and large it’s been unsuccessful and that might be a good thing.
In the grand scheme of things, I would call the average Bangalorean stray dog luckier than most; other cities in India don’t have the luxury of mild weather year round. It’s not freakishly hot in the summers or cold enough for them to to suffer in the winters. In the city, every neighbourhood will have a minimum of six area dogs. These lovely things will pop a squat by your apartment gate, hang around near the provisional stores and local bakeries waiting for a sweet bun or a glucose biscuit to be thrown their way. Some of them will have clipped ears, a sign that the municipality has spayed it.
Us humans are neatly divided into three kinds : People who love them, feed them, vaccinate them and share collective responsibility over them. People who are passive and don’t interfere with their space, and people who have got a major cases of the V FOR VENDETTAS. These people will lament over dogs howling at night, are petrified for their safety, and will always have a violent story of how this one time a stray dog bit a very dear family member.. Sure I am biased, and if you found traces of sarcasm on my observations about the third kind of people, I admit I am at fault. This is not to say their concerns are not legit- some areas have packs of dogs that howl and bark to no end late at night, they also can and have bit people. Picky neighbours will sometimes have a problem when a person in the neighbourhood starts regularly feeding a dog because they are inviting them to stay in the area and that could create trouble.
My friend Aparna Ranjan, an awesome chops visual and graphic designer in the city says empathy isn’t enough. 'When you feed a dog, you have to take responsibility for it, get it vaccinated, and to some extent make sure it’s not inclined to be aggressive to random people walking around'. We’ll come back to the story of Aparna and Pushkin in just a moment.
Her point is valid and in tune with the revised law on animals rights dictate; anyone feeding a dog cannot be prosecuted by citizens or by a apartment building association. This tells me that the animal rights department has more sense than a lot of other departments in our country. Kindness first, no one should interfere with kindness. I am for that. I am also for celebrating this aspect of my coexisting and sharing space with the dogs.
There is no tragedy in this situation- they aren't "homeless dogs" because the concept of home is alien to them. They have lived in the streets, and have depended on garbage dumps and human kindness to live and thrive. A great many of them do just that. My neighbourhood has 4 popular area dogs; Jijo who suffers from too-much-rice obesity is the leader of this pack. They are quiet, eat food from the neighbours twice a day and are vaccinated. They bark up storm when my domesticated Indian dogs are on a walk and come for love and cuddles when I am walking alone without my spoilt brats.
My business partner Kalabati Majumdar, talks about the crazy dog lady stereotype. There is truth to it, there is always this one off-kilter woman or man who comes out every morning throwing biscuits and cooing sweet nothings at the dogs. Invariably they will be called crazy, because the they mutters to themselves and have way too many dogs sauntering around the gates of their house. It’s because of these ‘crazies’ that these dogs have a regular source of nourishment and a solid sense of security. Kalabati herself could be called one of those crazies, she has conversations with these dogs while she waits for an auto rickshaw or stumbles across one while walking to work. She asks them about their families and if they eaten something particularly good that day. They seem to enjoy it.
This complex system of negotiated space gets more interesting when we investigate the semi-pet syndrome. People of all classes indulge in this. From the construction workers who live in temporary huts while they build large houses to the middle and upper middle class. There is a temporary hut opposite my apartment with a family of construction workers who are building a house, they have adopted a dog that sleeps in the piles of sand used for building. It gets fed and it hangs out in the area always coming back at night to sleep by the family.
Now let’s swing Aparna back into the story, she used to live in another neighbourhood before she moved to Indiranagar. Enter Pushkin the sweetest pumpkin of a dog. He’s a street dog with some fierce street skills. But he gets soft as he gets fed by Aparna and her neighbour. He hangs out in the shade by their houses, and ever so slowly became more domesticated and now practically lives in Aparna’s neighbour’s house coming out when he pleases for entertainemnt . Just last week she went back to her old neighbourhood to get him in for his yearly round of vaccinations. these are the ideal semi-pet situations. Everyone is happy.
Another happy story, a black rather odd looking puppy on the streets needed to be adopted or risk being run over by a car. A dog rescuer asked for help because it was exceptionally hard to find a home because it was A.an Indian breed and B. It was odd looking.My friend Oindri Mitra, offered to foster the pup until it found a forever home. And a week later it did, another Indian dog who would grow up safely and with love.
The sad part of their story exists too. Indian breed dogs aren't as coveted as other breed dogs, like labs and retrievers.They live in fear of whizzing cars, and idiot kids who throw stones at them, there are abandoned dogs who once knew safety and have to fend for themselves with no skills. There are the puppies, and this is where it gets tough, there is just not enough resources to keep them safe or fed. And it’s then when people who want to have a house pet should take them in and let them live domestic bliss. There are plenty of great organisations doing phenomenal work in this area of street dog medical care and adoption drives for street dogs who have puppies.
My partner Indra wasn’t particularly into dogs, and now he fathers two. While he tries to maintain public appearances, his softie sides comes out on the roads, he is often caught baby talking and petting dogs in our area. I adopted Nimbu as a puppy and though she looks like a Indian street she wouldn’t be able to survive a day out in the real world. Henna came to us as an abandoned dog with no street skills, she would have died without getting a home. But a part from the puppy and the no-skill dog situation, what we have are a lot of dogs able to live with us on the same streets we walk everyday.
Here is our city: cows, cats, dogs. Owning the city just like the the birds, ants and rodents do. These dogs are a part of our community and everyday, just like us, they live with some love and some fear.