Being a passionate dog lover, I have been a part of several puppy adoption drives and several rescue operations in Dehradun.
Over the past month, I have come across three abandoned St. Bernards and four abandoned Labradors. Most abandoned pets do not know how to fend for themselves on the streets, and they eventually succumb to an unthinkable fate. Heartbroken and crestfallen, they aimlessly navigate India’s chaotic streets; quenching their thirst with the murky waters of drains and scavenging garbage disposal sites.
But why abandon such beautiful beings? In most cases, it is one or most of these reasons: the owners found the pup cute and bought it impulsively – only to subject it to a life of neglect; they had little knowledge of the breed and hence failed to provide the right kind of nutrition; or, they bought it simply to keep up with the Joneses.
How Did Our Indian Stray Dogs Become ‘Strays’?
Ever wondered how our Indian stray dogs came to be strays? What makes them less wanted than their pedigree counterparts? Naturalist and conservationist S Theodore Baskaran’s Book of Indian Dogs is a detailed compilation of India’s indigenous dog breeds. In his book, he mentions a Frenchman who identified 50 different Indian breeds in the 18th century. Based on comprehensive research, he concludes that there are no more than 25 of these breeds found today, most of which are on the path to disappearance as well.
So what led to this marked decline of Indian indigenous dog breeds? To put it tersely – our age old tradition of aping the west.
If one studies the history of canine-human camaraderie in India, a wide host of evidence comes to surface – be it the frescoes of Ajanta caves, the Singanpur rock paintings in Madhya Pradesh, murals featuring Jataka stories, or Mughal miniature paintings from the 17th century depicting jewel-collared dogs. All this historic evidence has one thing in common – their depiction of Indian indigenous breeds, barring a few exceptions of Maharajas and nawabs, who would ship foreign breeds.
However, the entry of the British into India had an irrevocable impact on the canine diversity in India. British officials started importing dogs from back home. This led to rampant cross breeding and little effort was made to preserve the purity of the Indian gene pool. Today, you will find even the most ardent dog lovers getting baffled on hearing of breeds like Chippiparai, Kombai, Rajapalayam, or Gaddi, for no fault of their own.
The problem with cross-bred and foreign dogs is obvious – they are not adapted to Indian tropical conditions. The Jonangi, for example, found in Andhra Pradesh, has such a sparse coat that one can almost see the skin through it – a trait that is well suited for the state. Siberian huskies, on the other hand, are thickly furred canines, whose ancestors have evolved from the extremely cold environment of the Siberian Arctic. The increasingly popular St Bernard is a working dog from the Western Alps in France and Switzerland, who has a tendency to gain weight – which can lead to deterioration of bones if not given the appropriate food, exercise, and weather.
How, then, is it sensible to expose such breeds through the adverse conditions of a scorching Indian summer? Paying exorbitant amounts of money for breeds that are ill suited to Indian weather conditions is a decision born out of whimsy. And the lofty disdain expressed by many pedigree dog owners towards strays is profoundly disconcerting.
The Many, Many Cases of Abandonment
Several reports have uncovered that practices followed by countless pedigree dog breeders are far from humane or even legal. Female dogs are made to reproduce repeatedly, only to be discarded viciously when they are no longer fertile. Innocent puppies are separated from their mothers and siblings before they are weaned off, and kept in appalling conditions in order to expedite sales. Incestuous breeding is a ubiquitous phenomenon, which often leads to pups being born with congenital defects like hip dysplasia, epilepsy, deafness, and so on.
Last year, the government’s decision to impose a ban on dog import and increase the prices of pedigrees came as a welcome move. However, the decision neither curtailed the demand of Labradors and German Shepherds nor did it bring about a shift in the mindset of consumers, for whom status symbol takes precedence over feasibility.
It is these loveless ‘purchases’ that result in heart wrenching cases of abandonment.
While I staunchly support the adoption of Indian street dogs over purchase of pedigree dogs, a few steps – such as insisting on checking the registration certificate of the breeder, ensuring the pup is over eight weeks old, thoroughly educating oneself about the breed – are absolute musts for anyone who wishes to buy a pedigree dog.
But why buy when there are so many out there that need homes and have the same amount of love to give!
(The writer is a Dehradun based animal enthusiast. She can be reached at email@example.com.)
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