Our Best Friends? Not Any More.

February 25, 2011

I never thought I’d say this, but… I used to be a dog lover. I grew up with three dogs. My mother certainly doted on one of them far more than she ever did on her two-legged babies. With my father, it was hard to say – but it was clear that the canines were at least as important as the kids.

You get to know dogs the way you know people. You don’t, after all, know every single person on earth. But you can read the predominant, primeval expressions, on anyone’s face, anywhere in the world. So it is with dogs. Once you know dogs, you can look at any dog and say whether he’s happy, angry, hurt or scared. You can tell whether he’s nipping your heels in play or because he really doesn’t like you. You can often look at a dog and know his approximate age. Sometimes you can look at a dog and know his gender too – and I don’t mean by staring at his genitals, but just by his demeanour or behavior.

Street dogs used to be my friends. We were befriended by an entire gang in one of our former homes. There was a mangy, scabby, timid, mousy haired brown dog who used to lurk outside our front door in those days. He didn’t trouble us and we didn’t trouble him. (We didn’t feed him either.) After a few months had passed, much to our surprise, he suddenly turned into this gorgeous, tall, strong, alpha male with a glossy coat and a jovial manner. We called him Rascal. He became the leader of a pack that included a dog we called Old Fatty Lumpkin (from Tolkein).

In the same neighbourhood and around the same period of time, another dog adopted us. She was a sweet natured, good looking brunette whom we called Boondi. Amit was deeply in love with her and we reluctantly allowed her into the house. Then we threw her out with a hard heart and much grief because she had left fleas all over the house and the fleas loved me more than anyone else!

After we moved out of that neighbourhood, we didn’t get as close to street dogs again. But if you’d asked me, I’d still have called myself a dog lover and I’d still have said the street dogs were my friends.

When the first few reports of dogs mauling small children started rolling in, I shrugged it off as an anomaly. Maybe they were fighting amongst themselves and the kids got in the way. Maybe the kids were teasing them. Maybe they were near food – like a meat shop. The dogs that hang around outside Johnson market, for instance, were always a vicious lot. Johnson market is an enclosed open-air fruit, veg and meat market, the entry to which is marked by a stall hung about with huge shanks of beef. The dogs and the vultures around that area were really quite scary. So maybe it was that kind of a pack that the kids got in the way of.

Those reports are still coming in though, and they’re not so rare any more.

Then, a couple of months ago, there was a report that a number of stray dogs were found dead in one locality. They had been poisoned. That report made my blood run cold. How could anyone do such a thing?

Our own immediate neighbourhood – say ten houses down the road and another ten houses behind us, with a lane on either side – is home to at least 20 stray dogs. I know only two or three of them by sight. I used to be indifferent to them, but now I hate them. Over the last several months either their numbers have exploded, or their vocal capacity has. They set up the most awful barking and screaming at night and will keep at it for 45 minutes straight without tiring or relenting. At first, I ignored them. Then, when I was really, really tired and they kept me awake for ages at night, I gathered together a good number of small stones and when things went beyond endurance, I would go out into the balcony and fling stones at them. I don’t think I ever hit any of them and in any case the stones were too small to hurt – my intention was just to send them away, so they could go elsewhere and bark and spoil somebody else’s beauty sleep.

Matters reached a head when I was working on my Archaeology assignment one weekend and I couldn’t concentrate because of the yowling of the dogs. After several attempts to chase them away, I decided that if I couldn’t change the world around me, what I’d have to do was to change myself. I decided to ignore the dogs. It wasn’t easy and I’m still working on it, but it did help.

Then the other day, I’d ventured out for an evening walk. A couple of strays came up behind me, sniffing inquiringly. Since I don’t like strays anymore, I turned around and raised my arm at that. Immediately, half a dozen other dogs ran up behind them, barking and snarling angrily. One fellow who was behind a fence ran along shouting furiously at me. I’m too big (I think) for even a big pack of stray dogs to take on, so I hunted around for a large stone, threw it, and walked away. But it was a mildly alarming experience. So that was the kind of pack that attacked small children.

The March issue of National Geographic has a cover story about the domestication of the dog over a period of generations and millennia (but I haven’t read it yet). I wonder whether the reverse can also happen. Can there be a process of “un-domestication” of a domesticated animal? The “re-wildening” of man’s best friend? I can envisage a horror movie along those lines already. (Or has it already been done?)

I still like pet dogs, the good natured, good looking ones. But when I see the street packs, I wish they were dead. Or at least that they were someplace else. I haven’t taught the twins to make friends with them and feed them. I haven’t adopted them or even given them names. And I’m sorry to say that I can’t consider myself to be a dog lover any more.

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