Dogs are considered sacred in the Hindu religion. For example, Kalabhairava is the Hindu god with a dog as his animal consort, and Nepal observes Tihar, a festival in which dogs are celebrated.
However, when it comes to the everyday animals, stray dogs lead a very pitiable life in India.
In April 1999, our chauffeur brought us a small stray pup. We named him Gucci and welcomed him into our lives. Having Gucci made us more aware of the stray dogs outside our door. Most of them are born strays, grow up as strays, and die as strays.
Few find loving forever homes, though some are lucky enough to have some compassionate people in the neighborhood who offer them food and sometimes shelter during the rainy season. Most apartments do not allow pets, so it’s mostly homeowners who can have a dog. In every neighborhood there are young boys who love to pelt stray puppies with stones.
But among the common people, there are a few animal lovers who look after stray dogs. My mom and sister supported a stray we called Blacky by feeding him for about nine months. When he died, his body was scooped up by the garbage truck, and we realized that there were no proper facilities for deceased pets — their bodies must be dumped in the garbage. It was difficult not to think of what would happen to Gucci when his time on Earth was over. (When he left us on May 26, 2012, we buried him at the place allotted for pets and small children, with permission from the authorities.)
A few years after we got Gucci, we felt he wanted us to support another stray dog. We gave a girl food and some medical care for her broken leg, and she returned to such good health that she chased every car that went through our street. Two more stray dogs gave birth to 16 puppies; we found homes for most of them and got their mothers spayed.
One of two other stray dogs we support is Sir John, aka Jacky. He lives in a playground near our house, he comes home for belly rubs, and he enjoys milk, biscuits, and rice delivered three times a day to the playground. The other stray is Blacky, who lives in our yard and occasionally comes inside and sleeps on the couch.
When I worked in Bangalore for an investment bank, my landlady lived with a yellow Lab called Zorro, who got his name because he came to her house when she and her family were watching The Mask of Zorro. The family members supported three stray dogs who lived in their yard by giving them food, a jute bag to serve as their bed, and vaccinations. When one of their dogs was bitten by another stray, they rushed her to the nearest vet to get the medical care. Another day, the landlady’s brother noticed eight very young pups left to fend for themselves at a cemetery close by, and they immediately called the animal shelter, which rescued all of them.
In 2009, I volunteered at Bangalore’s Compassion Unlimited Plus Action, where I got to know the state of animal shelters and the conditions in which the poor dogs lived. The group’s facility had uncovered cages out in the open, and it stank of dog pee and poop! But the shelter was doing its best with whatever funds it had.
Troy, one of the dogs living there, was a cute little mutt with a back injury that made his hind legs useless. He had wheels to move around. The shelter head told me that Troy could could use the wheels now because he was young and had the strength to pull their weight, but God only knew what would happen to him when he grew old. When I heard that, I could not stop crying. I don’t know what happened to Troy; it’s been four years since I last saw him.
There were so many other dogs living at that shelter, each with its own story. One day the employees found a Saint Bernard tied to the gate. The shelter’s best guess is someone did not want the dog anymore and just left it there. Some dogs had come to the shelter as strays, and others had been abandoned by their owners. Some of the residents were permanent shelter dogs — they had been in the shelter for so long that they had been taken off the adoption list.
Though Compassion Unlimited Plus Action was located on the same campus as the government veterinary college, the vets who attend the dogs are not from the college; they practice elsewhere and volunteer their time to help these poor animals at the shelter. The group’s website recently reported that ambulance service has been suspended because its agreement with the state university expired. Such a sad state of affairs.
Blue Cross of India is one of the country’s major animal welfare organizations. We take our stray dogs to Blue Cross centers to get them spayed or neutered. When my sister volunteered there recently, we learned that it takes $800 a day to take care of the center’s animals, but only 5 percent of that money comes from the government. The shelter depends on donations from others (including individuals and corporations) for almost all its funding. With rising food prices and more stray animals arriving regularly, money is always a problem.
Even though the government does not do much in terms of animal welfare, The Hindu, a national English-language daily paper, carries “Pet Pals,” a weekly supplement promoting animal welfare and adoption. It also features stories of ordinary people who have helped animals — for example, someone taking an injured bird to the vet and caring for it till it is able to fly — which helps younger readers understand the idea of being kind to animals.
Of late, the shelters have been holding adoption drives, which are supported by media, corporate leaders, and some celebrities. Two such famous advocates are former minster Maneka Gandhi and actress Amala. Thanks in part to their efforts, local governments have stopped killing stray dogs to control the population and have started spaying and neutering them instead. Many corporations are including animal welfare in their social responsibility activities. It seems like more of the younger generations see the importance of being kind to the animals, too.
It would take an extremely long time to solve the problem of stray animals, but there is definitely some progress in that direction.
Viji is a stay-at-home mom who lives in Chennai, India, with her husband and daughter.
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