The Indian Street Dog
The life of the average street dog in India is a grueling uphill climb on a mountain that never seems to end. A normal day includes hiding from the harsh sun or bitter cold, foraging through rubbish, avoiding human cruelty, battling illness, navigating traffic, and looking for any possible way to quench their thirst. The situation is especially difficult for puppies, pregnant or nursing mothers, and elderly dogs.
Fortunately, an increasing number of people have begun to open their hearts and homes to Indian street dogs. If you walked into a veterinary clinic a mere 5 years ago, you would have been lucky to see a single "desi" dog or cat coming in for a vet check-up, even if you were sitting there for hours. This has changed dramatically since and, for desi-animal lovers like me, nothing is more heartwarming! I often end up chatting with those who bring in these animals and, in turn, I end up expanding my network in a very organic way by exchanging numbers with real, hands-on desi animal lovers.
My earliest and most vivid childhood memories involve rescuing and rehabilitating injured animals. Obviously I couldn't do the rehabilitation work myself, but each time I brought any injured animal home, whether it was a bat, rat, monkey, kitten, puppy, etc., my family always helped me by providing the animal with first aid, driving us to the vet, and providing the animal a place to stay while it recovered. Of course, when I was younger and unaware of zoonotic diseases and the fact that injured animals could bite, I was chided by my parents. The moment they realised that I was mature enough to understand how to handle animals, understand their body language, and create a barrier between myself and harm's way, they wholeheartedly encouraged my rescue operations!
I grew up around animals, and dogs were considered family members. Since we didn't know any better at the time, we only kept pedigreed Labradors at the time. I remember when an aunt came over once, complimenting our one-year-old lab's handsomeness, and my parents promptly brought out the breeder certificate to show off his incredible lineage. Today, my parents couldn't imagine buying a dog from a breeder. So much so that my father, who lives in Rwanda, has adopted a lovely female rescue from a local animal shelter. Sometimes, it feels like our "predigreed labrador days" occurred in a different lifetime! It's incredible how just a little insight into the cruelty of the breeding industry created a paradigm shift in our home!
My first desi doggy, Champa, was a free-roaming spirit who only showed up at our doorstep once dusk fell, demanding her chicken rice. She slept on a cushion outside our door, alerting us of anyone who entered the stairwell, and she never, ever made a mess! It truly was like being a dog-parent without any of the hassle. The icing on the cake is that she was incredibly affectionate, too, constantly asking for belly rubs by lying on her back. We have since moved house but Mademoiselle Champa still rules the neighborhood, sporting the potbelly she grew under our care, and she is now looked after by another neighbour whose heart was melted by her.
Since Champa, I began walking around our neighbourhood more, interacting with all the colony dogs and discovering their unique personalities. Some of them loved chasing Royal Enfield bikes while others ran for cover when they heard one in the distance; some of them would do anything for a bite of a stale roti while others were least interested, and some were very comfortable with human touch but others, terrified!
In the winter, I stumbled upon litters and litters of puppies and clever mothers who had dug holes to keep them warm. I began taking an interest in them, gaining the trust of the mother by feeding her, and she slowly granted me access to her puppies. Of course, it was incredible to be sitting with a litter in my lap, having them gnaw gently on my fingers but this breakthrough was important because it meant that I could call the para-veterinarian to have the puppies vaccinated and dewormed. As they got older and I got more dog-savvy, I discovered NGOs which would sterilise dogs for free or at nominal fees, and even help with the vaccinations and first-aid. Today, both neighbourhoods that I have lived in are puppy-free, and all the grown-up puppies are now thriving, as are their parents, since they have been sterilised and vaccinated. The amazing unintended outcome of this is the fact that fewer neighbours complain about the so-called "nuisance" and more neighbours now keep a watchful eye on the dogs, even having created Whatsapp groups for this specific purpose!
In closing, I would like to say that interacting with our fellow street animals is the most rewarding part of my life and that we are all fortunate to be surrounded by such kind, intelligent and loyal beings. The amount of help I provide them is greatly outdone by the outpouring of love showered on me every single day of my life.
I always encourage my friends and family to look after the dogs that live closest to their homes. They all start by leaving water bowls and some leftover food. I have seen that evolve into fresh food, cuddles with the dogs, and genuine concern and medical care when needed. After all, when someone feeds a dog every single day, it is impossible to not worry if he/she stops eating/disappears. Thus, in opening up their hearts and homes a little, people who were only slightly tolerant of dogs have become full-fledged dog parents!
Again, if you asked me 5 years ago if this is something I foresaw in the near future, I would have thought you were joking. Sitting here today, I am utterly delighted to have been proven absolutely wrong!