Of Dogs and their Masters
It’s a story which repeats itself year after year. Purebred dogs are bought thoughtlessly and then abandoned when they are no longer convenient
Nikhil Thiyyar Delhi
In 1924, Hidesaburō Ueno, a professor in the agriculture department at the University of Tokyo, took Hachikō, a golden brown Akita, as a pet. During his owner’s life, Hachikō greeted him at the end of each day at the nearby Shibuya station. The pair continued their daily routine until May 1925, when Professor Ueno did not return. The professor had suffered a cerebral haemorrhage and died, never returning to the train station where Hachikō was waiting. Each day for the next nine years, nine months and fifteen days, Hachikō awaited Ueno’s return, appearing precisely when the train was due at the station.
For a pet the loss of a pet parent can be a devastating event and it can be hard to shake off. Perhaps even more damaging for a pet is being abandoned willy-nilly. The separation anxiety is immense. Pets which have been abandoned show significantly elevated levels of fears and phobias, pronounced compulsive and repetitive behaviour such as spinning in tight circles and pacing, house soiling, and a heightened sensitivity to being touched and picked up. Abandoning a pet stands at the pathological intersection of the desire for showing off and a callous disregard for a sentient life. Sadly, this is a growing occurrence in the city of Delhi.
It was in December last year that they found Laika. She was tied to a tree in the ridge forest near Dhaula Kuan with a muzzle around her mouth. The owners had perhaps hoped that she would die of starvation or dehydration. Laika was a Saint Bernard, a breed unsuited to Indian conditions. This was something which the owners had not taken into consideration when they had got her. Exotic breeds are all the rage when it comes to the upper class citizens of Delhi. Most of the people who end up buying exotic breeds do so because they want a cute trophy which serves as a status symbol. The desirability quotient of a breed is directly proportional to how expensive and rare the breed is. Rarely are the pitfalls of ownership considered. When Laika’s body was discovered it had rotted and decomposed to a considerable extent. A once handsome dog had died gasping for breath, exhausted, convulsing, spewing vomit, pouring out saliva and excrement. The only testament that the dog existed was a corpse infested by maggots.
Dogs in Delhi are abandoned for a variety of reasons. The most common one being that as a puppy grows up into a mature adult, the owners realise that the upkeep is something they had not anticipated. Take a Saint Bernard, for example. The breed is suited for cooler climes and simply can’t adapt to the searing Indian temperatures in summer. Keeping them in an air- conditioned environment does not bring much respite as they develop heat rashes.
Rarely are the pitfalls of ownership considered. When Laika’s body was discovered it had decomposed to a considerable extent. A once handsome dog had died gasping for breath, exhausted, convulsing, spewing vomit, pouring out saliva and excrement. The only testament that the dog existed was a corpse infested by maggots
Exercise is another issue. The Siberian Husky needs a lot of exercise but, being ill-adapted to Indian conditions, it can’t really go out in the heat much. Medical costs are also something which owners do not factor in while getting an exotic breed. According to Dr Ranjit Kharab, senior veterinary physician, “Treating something as simple as tick fever in an Alaskan Malamute can be a costly affair. Owners are often unaware of the specific health problems which are unique to a specific breed. There is also an increasing number of health problems due to dogs being inbred.”
Adding to the problem is a surfeit of unethical breeders across the city who provide misleading information to prospective owners. Most of the breeders in Delhi are puppy mill owners who run largescale commercial operations where profit is placed before the well-being of animals. To breed dogs, you must register with the Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI) as per the Animal Birth Control Rules, 2001 under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (PCA) Act. It is interesting that despite dog breeding being a multi-crore industry, there are only two registered breeders in the city.
The whole situation is not an unmitigated disaster. As yet. There are thousands of pets who have avoided Laika’s fate simply because there has been a community of dedicated animal rescue groups in the capital. Anyone who has adopted a pet from a shelter knows how invested those involved with animal shelters are. For those who rescue purebred dogs from a dark fate, the stakes are high. Hours of unpaid effort go into rescuing a dog and ensuring that it finds a ‘forever home’, with the hope that it will be a home where the canine will live out its natural life.
Dogs that are not socialised or develop behavioural problems because of abuse or abandonment are almost never rehomed again. And abandoned dogs, in more cases than not, develop trust issues and become too scared or aggressive to be able to live with human beings ever again. These dogs meet a grisly end when they are euthanised. The hardest part for those involved in canine rescue efforts is the act of saying no. Saying no to an abandoned purebred dog is effectively a death sentence because most purebred dogs do not have the skills to survive on the street.
Besides, there is the miserable reality of life in a shelter. Shelters are replete with stories of abandoned dogs who came in healthy but soon died due to an infection contracted at the shelter. Given the large number of dogs who are kept in shelters, the likelihood of an infection spreading goes up manifold. Organisations like Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) and Friendicoes rescue purebred dogs that have been lost, abandoned or surrendered due to the death or illness of their owners. Most rescue dogs have been spayed or neutered and are screened for health and temperament problems. Rescue is not only a great source for purebred dogs, it’s also a way to save the life of a dog in need. According to Tandrali Kuli of Friendicoes, “It is ironic that those looking to adopt purebred pedigreed dogs turn to buying puppies from pet stores and puppy mills. There are hundreds of pedigreed dogs waiting to be adopted in shelters. Not only do new pet parents get a house-trained dog, they also help save a canine soul who has already been through a lot of trauma.”
Abandoned dogs, in more cases than not, develop trust issues and become too scared or aggressive to be able to live with human beings ever again. These dogs meet a grisly end when they are euthanised. The hardest part for those involved in canine rescue efforts is the act of saying no. Saying no to an abandoned purebred dog is effectively a death sentence because most purebred dogs do not have the skills to survive on the street
Those crusading for an end to this problem have received a welcome shot in the arm. In a move to prevent cruelty meted out to animals, the Union government has now banned the import of foreign dogs for breeding. The news comes after a notification by the Director General of Foreign Trade (DGFT) which stated that the “Import of commercial dogs for breeding or any other commercial activities is not permitted”.
“We commend the DGFT for this historic ban that will prevent the suffering of thousands of dogs. Our shelters are inundated with cases of abandoned imported breed dogs who are usually left because the owners do not have a fair understanding of the breed’s requirements. We now hope that the government complements this decision by enacting the pet shop and breeder regulations as recommended by the Law Commission of India, so that people only get their pets from shelters and responsible breeders,” Gauri Maulekhi of the Humane Society of India said while reacting to this ban. The Humane Society of India, along with People for Animals (PFA), had petitioned the DGFT regarding this.
Perhaps the most touching story in the Mahabharata is the one about the dog who follows the five Pandavas and Draupadi on their final journey out of the world. It’s a little brown dog, the kind you can see all over the streets of Indian cities and towns. It pads along behind them to Meru, and even after all the others fall and die, the dog is still there, walking behind Yudhisthir. Indra appears before Yudhisthir with an invitation to enter heaven in his mortal form, but Yudhisthir refuses to abandon his companion. The ending is well known: the dog turns out to be Dharma Deva, who is testing his son Yudhisthir’s ethics.
The abandoning of a pet has a lot to do with the ingrained belief that human beings are the most significant species on the planet. Perhaps those who abandon pets should pay heed to the story of Yudhisthir who did not deem a canine’s life any less valuable than his own.
After all, a dog is not a toaster oven or a mobile phone which can be discarded once the owner stops deriving any utility from it. Dogs are sensitive, emotional beings who require nurturing and care, not abandonment.