A dog died in my neighbourhood recently. No, it wasn’t my neighbour’s dog. Actually it wasn’t anyone’s dog, belonged to no one. Just one of those lowly strays that wander in our cities. Born on the street, surviving on random acts of kindness, till they die of disease, starvation or are run over by some speeding vehicle. So how do I know about it’s demise? I wouldn’t have, had the rotting carcass not raised a stink. The sickening stench, a final act, a desperate effort to draw attention to the plight of its kind.
Their number seems to be increasing. Or it could be that more cross my path as I walk my pup. I meet packs of them, ready to pounce on my unsuspecting baby. Any dog owner would know how stray dogs detest this mollycoddled, domesticated version we keep in our homes. They bark, they growl ( a full blown threatening belly rumble) and they bite ( seldom, as the idiom says but frequently enough to be a nuisance).
World Health Organization states that every year approximately twenty thousand Indians die of rabies caused by dog bites. This accounts for 36 percent of rabies deaths worldwide. Urban India has two features which create and sustain street dog population: open garbage and large amounts of exposed animal carcasses. Both provide a food source to help them thrive. Countries which keep garbage in bins that are cleaned regularly see lesser number of stray dogs. We, being a nation of litterers make no bones about trashing public spaces. This garbage which we conveniently throw is not always picked up. In Mumbai alone five hundred tons of garbage remains uncollected daily. No wonder thirty five million stray dogs inhabit India.
Although maiming and mutilating stray dogs is a punishable act, the government does little to keep them alive, out of harms way and from harming others. India has very few dog shelters. Adding to the woes is a sluggish sterilisation drive. Animal control policies, like spaying and neutering to control dog population are implemented sluggishly, if at all. Dog vaccination to prevent the spread of rabies is not a priority.
Till something concrete is done to control them, here are a few tips to coexist with canines. Don’t disturb a dog that is eating, sleeping or nursing it’s pups. It could provoke a bite. Ignore a barking dog and avoid eye contact. Don’t run or you will be chased. An unprovoked bite, specially by a frothing dog is not to be ignored. Wash the wound but don’t dress it and promptly visit a doctor.
The other day a bunch of youngsters stopped to pet my pet. As Amigo, my dog, grunted with satisfaction, enjoying the attention, three strays ambled up and started barking. Not the usual ‘barking for nothing’ bark but a complaining almost pleading whimper. The boys laughed and told me that they treated those strays like free roaming pets, fed them regularly, hence they were threatened by the attention my pup was getting. Amigo would have behaved similarly in a similar situation. Labelled as man’s best friend, all dogs are alike, but there are stark differences in their circumstances.
As I write this, I glance at Amigo, sleeping peacefully in his cot, ‘well fed’ belly up, his head resting on his favourite chew toy, and conclude that a dog’s life isn’t too bad. Then I envision the flattened dog I saw on my way to work, blood spattered, his entrails smeared on the highway and am reminded why kutte ki maut marna ( to die like a dog) is the worst death of all!
( carried in my column in the Tribune on 6/7/2019)