This is the first of a series entitled “Bow-Wow”, that I shall be writing about dogs, breeds, adoption and other dog-related issues prevalent in India. There is a dire need for animal compassion in this country, that I feel can only start with awareness and education, since upbringing has failed this cause. All views in these posts are my own, and the organizations mentioned have nothing to do with the content. These posts are not sponsored in any way, and are aimed at bringing attention to animal-right issues that have sadly, been neglected by our society.
A few weeks ago, one of the most beautiful things happened. My husband and I take care of several street dogs – Indian Paraiah – beautiful, loyal and unique mixed breeds who follow us wherever we go, in exchange for a belly rub or a scratch behind the ears. There is a pack of 6 who live outside our apartment building, and we are quite familiar with their daily feeding, barking and territorial assessment schedules. One Sunday afternoon, we heard two of them bark menacingly for some time. We thought it to be nothing, at most a precursor to a gang-war. But when the volume and the intensity of barking did not increase, and neither did the barking cease, I got a little worried. Usually, stuff like that rarely happens – either the barking turns into Afghanistan II, or they stop completely.
I went downstairs to investigate, and the youngest of the pack – Yoda, and the “king-maker”, Shylock were circling my car, with hackles up, occasionally peering below and letting out low, menacing growls. A breach of territory. This had happened once in the past, and Yoda had managed to bite (and injure) another older mongrel who had lost his way. (Note: we let that old dog in, treated & fed him. He eventually found his way home.) Concerned that the poor dog under the car may have been injured, I bent down and called out to the trapped fellow, while warding Yoda and Shylock away. And lo behold! Emerged the most beautiful (albeit neglected and injured) labrador, and she came running to me with a happiness and gratefulness I have never experienced. And so came into our lives, Sparky, now known as Chica Disco!
Sparky is a fawn-coloured female labrador, estimated to be around 4 years old by the vet. She recently gave birth, and was still lactating when we found her – she was flea-infested, weak and grubby, and yes, she had been injured by the stray dogs. We took her in, got her checked up, and cared for her. We spent a week rehabilitating her and loving her, and eventually found a wonderful forever home that has now taken her in. And what we learned that week, was insurmountable.
Breeds & Breeders
There are many others like Sparky, who we believe (based on our investigation) was abandoned by breeders for many possible reasons. She had a slight nervous defect that affected her control over the left side of her face, which doctors suspect could either be a birth defect because of inbreeding, or because of an injury when she was a puppy – possibly due to abuse. That could have been one reason. Another (more common) reason, would be to make space for a new dam dog.
Most breeders are ruthless towards their dogs, who live a life devoid of love. They are trained to win dog shows, which simply means that the sire/ dam’s puppies will sell at a higher price. Some labradors are purchased for upwards of 50,000 INR. That’s about $830 . And these are the “cheap” ones. [At the vet’s, while holding Sparky, who was not leash-trained (once again, we suspect this to be because she was always kept in a cage, not crate), a man with a 2 month old golden retriever puppy, saw her and immediately exclaimed with a smirk “Mixed breed? Labrador?”.] And the life these dogs, who are mostly kept in “captivity” lead is but one led in indignity and sadness.
Several become aggressive, several suffer from birth defects and a poor gene pool due to inbreeding. Immunities run low, adaptability is reduced to a minimum. Several puppies are lost at birth, enraging the mother. The mother is quite simply “used” as a birthing machine. Once she reaches her potential, or if she becomes a liability, she will either be put down or abandoned, to make space for the replacement. Breeders in India, despite being registered, keep the dogs in inhumane conditions. There is no regulation, no enforcement, no rules of any sort to protect these dogs. And the people who encourage this “breed-specific” purchase only make the situation worse. I’m not saying all kennels are bad. There are those that take utmost care of their dogs, and ensure that owners also understand the implications of becoming parents to a four legged furry best friend. Which is where it becomes important to get dogs from the right sources. Poor breeding should not be encouraged. Rather, those that follow good, dog-centric practices should be followed as standards.
There is a family in my neighbourhood, who brought a labrador puppy home. The children played with the puppy till it grew up, after which it was left outside through out the day and the night, with no water or human interaction, in a kennel that was way too small. The dog was allowed to walk once a day, and would relieve himself in the enclosure where he was kept. Since the kennel was too small, he would sleep outside in the enclosure, surrounded by his own faeces. If this is how they treated man’s best friend, I’m sure they don’t deserve to be called humans. Eventually, they sent the dog packing to some farm, owing to the man of the houses’ allergy to all dogs. What frightens me, is that these are the values of compassion, responsibility and caring that the children will pick up. Kids learn from parents, and these children will perceive this incident quite simply – dogs are toys for us to play with, which we can ignore once we’re done with them.
CUPA, Bangalore, receives several of these “breeds” for adoption every month, for excuses ranging from “dog became too aggressive” to “new baby in the house” to “family moving abroad”. The reason, however, mostly remains that the dog is not being cared for. It was purchased at a whim, with the owners thinking that having a dog at home will be easy, fun and entertaining without really understanding the responsibilities of bringing up a dog. A dog is a baby, that never grows up. A dog will not be aggressive if you love it and bring it up correctly. A well socialised dog will protect your baby, not harm it; and socialising and introducing the baby correctly to the dog is the owner’s responsibility. If you know that you shall move abroad, don’t get a dog. Or, take the dog with you. There are several animal relocation services available these days, and the internet provides more than enough information that you can include in your research when you move abroad. It isn’t all that difficult – you wouldn’t put your child up for adoption if you were moving abroad!!
EXOTIC BREEDS & AIR CONDITIONERS
The labrador that I mentioned earlier, isn’t the only one a fate so lowly. When a popular telecommunications firm launched a series of ad campaigns that pretty much made pugs their mascot, the going rate for a pug puppy increased manifold over night. What people didn’t know, is that a pug isn’t like your regular dog. It is a brachycephalic dog, like boston terriers or french pitbulls. It snorts, it drools, and needs special care to prevent it from having respiratory problems. It needs to be fed carefully, and cannot be allowed to become obese, which is true of any dog. There are Akitas, Huskies, St. Bernards and Alaskan Malamutes with well-groomed coats and obese bellies in the sweltering heat of Indian cities where the temperature soars well above 40 degrees celsius, being walked by the household help. The defence is an air-conditioned room, which of course, comes complete with snow and sledges. (Disclaimer: Sarcasm intended).
The real issue, is the glamour of getting an exotic breed. No dog breed is the same, and the reason they are exotic, is because they are not “local”. They are accustomed to and built for a different environment altogether. And they prosper best within that environment. If you want a husky (or two) so badly, move to a place which snows, or is at least not so hot for the dog. Socialize them and train them well. Spend time with them – domestic dogs are members of the family. I personally know of several people who love their dogs beyond belief and would do anything to keep them happy, healthy and loved. My family is one of them, and it isn’t hard. All dogs need is patience and awareness. It has been about 2 years since our dog passed away. We have been wanting to get one for so long now, but my husband and I are moving countries soon. We know it, so we haven’t gotten a dog. Instead, we give all the love in our hearts to the ones outside our door. But when Sparky was in our home, once again knowing what it feels like to be greeted by a dog after a long day at work, was so powerful and healing. They could even save lives, if you give them the chance to do so!
The atrocities against these poor, voiceless animals, in the name of “breeds” and the idea of “keeping up with the Joneses” is rampant beyond belief. But none of these forever loyal beings deserves abandonment, abuse, martial training programs or repeated mating, for all they have ever wanted, is human companionship, love & trust.