I am sure you have often witnessed stray dogs chasing a bicyclist or a motorcyclist or even a car or a truck. They can chase everything that moves. They have attacked human beings too, at times killing children, as was the case recently when a labourer’s unattended child was mauled in a locality on the outskirts of New Delhi in India. The child’s intestines were ripped open leading to the child’s death. More recently, a delivery boy jumped off a balcony in fear when he was chased by an unleashed pet dog in a residential locality. So what’s with stray dogs and unleashed pet dogs? Simply put, they can be dangerous.
In this article, I will try to reason out why we need to love the stray dogs in a very “honest” way. In India, NGOs, animal welfare bodies and individuals go out of their way to help stray dogs lead a decent life on the streets.
QUESTION: Do you love stray dogs?
PERSON 1: Of course, they are so cute, loving and adorable. The people who are against stray dogs are insensitive, horrible, and cruel.
PERSON 2: I just cannot stand stray dogs. They are a menace to society, they spread disease and rabies. They bite and kill children and elderly. They need to be kept off the streets. They are a damn nuisance.
In India, and maybe elsewhere too, there are two distinct sets of people. Those who love stray dogs and those who despise them. The two groups are at loggerheads all the time with NGOs and animal welfare bodies supporting the stray dog lovers. What are the ground realities when it comes to stray dogs?
Every locality in every Indian city or town has a large number of stray dogs. Biting unsuspecting people is one part of the story. Let me start with my own experience. I love dogs and I have my own Labrador who goes by the name of Maximus. An absolutely well behaved dog, he seldom barks, defecates at a designated spot within the locality at one end of a park meant for dogs, and in his nine years of existence, he has never hurt anyone. A friendly chap, all in all.
Now for the stray dogs in my residential locality, there are several. Three or four of them are permanently resting outside my house in the parking lot, at times sleeping on the roofs of cars parked there and in the process damaging the car roof which caves in because of their weight, not to mention the scratch marks on the bonnets and roofs of the car. Whenever I spot a stray dog sitting atop my car, I shoo it away. Recently, I bought a special car roof cover that makes it extremely uncomfortable for the stray dogs to relax atop the car. When I had bought it, I realised that the spikes on it were too sharp. My intention was not to hurt or maim stray dogs; it was to dissuade them to sit on top of my cars. I patiently cut off the sharp edges and made sure that the dogs were not accidentally hurt.
Even though I have solved one problem, there is a bigger problem at hand. During the day, when I am working on my computer, there is a stray dog which barks continuously near my house. It’s as though it is possessed. Every day, during the afternoons, it barks for hours at a stretch, refusing to give up. If that is not enough, just after midnight, a few dogs take turns to bark outside my bedroom window in the parking lot. The barks continue for hours, disturbing my sleep to a great extent. This has been going on for years and despite the several complaints I have made to the Residents Welfare Association, nothing has been done. The RWA is helpless in this matter. Imagine if someone is unwell or someone is old, the constant barking can drive them up the wall!
What is Pseudo Love?
Can we get rid of the stray dogs completely? No, never. But do I want the stray dogs to be taken away to a safe haven? Yes, I am very much convinced. Now this is where I want to talk about something called pseudo love. I hope you all know the meaning of “pseudo”. It’s defined as “not genuine, false or pretended”. Dogs are one of the most adorable creatures in the world. But the reason why people want stray dogs on the streets is because of this pseudo love. To explain what real love means, I have to take you through the story of Maximus.
Do you genuinely love your dog?
What’s non-pseudo love or real love when it comes to dogs? Let me come to that. I was never a great lover of dogs. As I was growing up, I had no time for any pets, be it dogs or cats or any other creatures. On my fiftieth birthday, I gifted myself a cute little puppy, a Labrador. I named him Maximus. He was a month or so old when I bought him.
When I took him to the vet, he checked the puppy carefully and gave him his first injection to prevent or get rid of something called the parvovirus. A few hours later the pup began throwing up and had severe bouts of diarrhea. He kept losing weight and I had no clue whether this little fellow would survive or not. I did not want him to die at all. In a matter of a day or two I had got so attached to this lovely creature that I could not imagine a world without him. To cut a long story short, the pup survived. I really took care of him, took him to the vet several times and put him on drip and medicines. A paid a tidy sum of money to the vet for this.
Now he is all of nine years old. He has had his bouts of sickness and tummy upsets. But I have taken care of him as though he is my own baby. I comb him regularly and ensure that he is tick free. I spend a decent sum on his diet. I don’t give him discarded offal from the meat shop but pure boneless chicken with rice and vegetables. I have a cook making fresh food, every second day. Now, that’s called love towards an animal and not pseudo love. I also bathe him regularly and ensure that his fur coat is clean and smells good. Yes, there are these rare occasions when he throws up in the middle of the room, sometimes in the middle of the night. I have no option but to clean up his barf and take him to the vet the next day.
Taking care of a pet dog is not easy at all. My advice is, if you cannot take care of a dog, don’t bring home a dog. It’s a very big responsibility. The dogs need constant love and care. A good amount of money needs to be set aside for their personal grooming and their occasional visits to the vet. I have seen people bringing home pet dogs and chaining them on their balconies or putting them in a cage. That is being very cruel to these animals.
Pet dogs are like members of the family. They need to have people around them during the day and they also need to have a clean and hygienic environment. In summers, they need to sleep in the room where the air conditioner is on and soon they get used to that luxury. Many people neuter or spay their pet dogs when they are young. In fact, abroad more than 99 per cent of people do that to their pet dogs. In India not many do so. To neuter a male dog means to operate and remove parts of its sexual organs. To spay a female dog (bitch) means to remove her ovaries.
There are both pros and cons when it comes to neutering or spaying your dog. I did not have a heart to neuter Maximus. So does that mean he is sexually charged and “humps” every human leg that he gets? No, we have trained him to do that on a mattress that we have made for him. Whenever he has the urge to satiate his sexual desires, he does that on the mattress. There you go, taking care of a dog does not mean simply to pat him or her on the head. A pet dog comes with a truck load of responsibilities. I have trained Maximus to a great extent. He loves people around him. He does not bark unnecessarily. He goes for his walks regularly with the dog walker. He does his “job” at a designated place in the corner of a park meant for dogs. He does not do his “job” on streets and in front of anybody’s parked vehicle or house. He’s perhaps the most lovable and well taken care of dog in the world, I feel.
Are stray dogs a menace?
Let me now focus on stray dogs. They roam around in streets all across my country, with good hearted people feeding them and occasionally patting them and cuddling them. When harsh winter sets in, they are provided some worn out, dirty clothes to keep them warm. Some of them wag their tails at every human who passes them; some of them run after four wheelers and two wheelers, sometimes startling the drivers and riders, leading to accidents. I have seen two wheeler riders falling off their vehicles and injuring themselves badly. I know of several cases where the stray dogs have got hurt or killed chasing heavy four wheel vehicles.
Often stray dogs fight with each other over their “territories”, resulting in grievous injuries to the dogs.
The question that arises with dog lovers defending these stray dogs despite these incidents is - Are the rights of stray dogs more important or the rights of ordinary people? People For Animals (PFA), however, continues to support stray dogs despite such incidents.
According to the information given in Parliament, there are 15.3 million stray dogs in India. As per government data, stray dogs bit more than 1.75 million people in India in 2021. Around 20,000 of those bitten died of rabies. These figures testify as to how dangerous it is to allow stray dogs to roam our streets. On the one hand, while there are more than 1.75 million dog bites every year in India, the country has a huge shortage of anti rabies vaccine (as much as 80% shortage).
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), India accounts for 36 per cent of rabies deaths that occur worldwide each year. While one can develop the disease if bitten or scratched by any rabid mammal, such as monkeys or bats, WHO says dogs contribute up to 99 per cent of all rabies transmitted to humans. Sadly, children are usually the victims of dog bites.
Tackling the menace of stray dogs
Since stray dogs are not controlled by anyone, they can get away by biting anyone, they can bark any time of the day, and they can defecate and urinate anywhere they like. Imagine stepping on dog poop just before getting in or out of your car? Imagine dogs peeing right outside your house or office or all over the community park? Imagine the stray dogs growling at you and attacking your children while they are playing?
Thus, if someone does not like the presence of stray dogs near their house or in a market place, it’s time to get them off the area. Now stray dog lovers claim that these animals have a right to the same place where humans are allowed. That means, all the public areas, your markets, your streets, they are all open to the stray dogs to roam around freely. The reason why they believe this is because they love stray dogs. Really? Do you believe them?
How often have they fed these stray dogs good, well cooked food and not some left over from their kitchen? How often have they taken these dogs to the vet for their periodic checkups? How often have they combed their fur? How often have they taken them inside their houses and treated them like their own family member? How much of their time have they spent playing with these stray dogs? During hot summers, while you relax in your air conditioned room, why don’t you bother about the stray dog sleeping under a car to avoid the scorching heat. And how often have they bothered to listen to the woes of those who don’t like stray dogs around them? I feel, it’s all pseudo love. Not real love.
Can we genuinely love stray dogs?
My views are different when it comes to handling stray dogs. We have to respect all those who people who do not like stray dogs around them. More importantly, we need to convert this big sham i.e. pseudo love into real love for stray dogs.
My opinion is that all the stray dogs in the country need to be rounded up and put in dedicated stray dog parks or institutions where a team of dedicated volunteers and workers take care of these dogs. They should be protected against harsh living conditions, they should have regular health check ups, they need to be trained and given proper food and should be neutered or spayed as the case may be. And for all those who love stray dogs, they can come here with their families and spend quality time with these dogs.
I know there are several rich industrialists and individuals in our country who love stray dogs. I am sure they can shell out a few hundred crores of rupees and make good quality dog shelters and play areas that can cater to these stray dogs. This in turn will also encourage a new form of employment among the youth. Those who “love” dogs can contribute money regularly to these shelters for its upkeep and salaries of the staff. NGOs and stray dog lovers can play an active role in looking after these stray dogs. That, I am sure, will constitute real love and not “pseudo love”. And if the government is really serious in taking real care of these stray dogs, they can even provide tax reliefs for those contributing towards these shelters cum homes for stray dogs. Besides, anybody who wants to adopt a stray can adopt one from these centres and take it home and take good care of these animals.
Also, if anyone wants to abandon their pets, which a lot of people do by leaving them on the streets to fend for themselves, they can avoid this cruel step and take them to these centres where they are taken care of in a very genuine manner.
These shelters or centres can be monitored regularly to ensure that the stray dogs are looked after in a good manner. Anybody from the public can go and spend quality time at these centres as a volunteer. In one shot, stray dogs will be off the streets.
Stricter norms can be laid out for pet dog owners
Once all stray dogs are put in dedicated shelters and homes, those owning pet dogs can then asked to follow strict norms. They have to make sure that their pets are on leash whenever they are taken out of their homes for a walk. Dog poop should be scooped up by the pet owners and disposed of in a way that is not detrimental to the environment.
Dogs should be trained not to bark or howl at night and during the day, for no rhyme or reason. Every dog owner should be taught how to take care of their pet and give it a hygienic lifestyle. It’s time we begin to treat dogs with real love and stop this business of “pseudo” love.
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