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.

Two Plus Two Equals Chaos!

May 21, 2009

Of course one mustn’t compare, but… Pups are so much like children. Only, so much easier. They only need to be fed and walked. You don’t have to teach them how to eat by themselves without spilling the food and making a mess of themselves; they are generally tidy creatures who will lick up crumbs from the floor and groom themselves later. (They are also quite helpful in cleaning up spills of an edible nature.) Plus, you don’t have to teach them to speak, read and write, add and subtract, paint, ride a cycle…

Best of all, they will not ever ask you to explain – among other awkward things – why there are 346 photos of one and only 343 of the other in the first few months of their lives with you.

So much for differences. There are some similarities, as well. The pups, in their first few days with us, have been almost as passive as the girls were. The girls have certainly grown out of it, so I’m hoping it’s just a part of the adoption trauma, the uprooting and the unfamiliarity of a new place, a new family. That must be terribly upsetting, even for dogs. Like the twins, one of the pups, Sandy, has a bad tummy (diarrhoea), which could also be due partly or entirely to the change in place and diet. Sandy (like Mrini, who had scabies) also has a skin condition for which the vet has prescribed a course of antibiotics, in addition to a cream and an unhealthy dose of anti-mite spray.

Unlike the twins, who gobbled everything in those early days with us, Mishti is a fussy eater. Even when she’s terribly hungry, if her food doesn’t have a good dose of non-veg in it, she’ll turn her nose up at it in a most supercilious manner. If there is a sufficient quantity of non-veg, she’ll dig her nose into it with determination and snarl at Sandy. They have separate bowls, but they insist on both eating from one and then from the other; I suppose each wants to be sure that the other isn’t getting something more delicious.

Mishti is slowly getting to grips with the concept of being put on a leash and taken for a walk. At least she now does 90% of the walk on her own steam, without being dragged along. She hasn’t yet thought of doing her business while out on a walk, but I suppose she’ll hit upon the idea some day. The last few times, the twins have wanted to join in on the walk-the-dog sessions, and have even taken hold of the leash. Something good should come of this, sometime soon. But Sandy, whom I’ve taken out only a couple of times, is still completely averse to the idea. I’m hoping that once Mishti “gets” it, I can add Sandy to the soup and he’ll pick it up from her.

My memories of my dog days (to misuse the phrase) are full of easy and happy times. As a teenager, I played with the dogs, groomed them, walked them, fed them, scolded them when required, slept with them (something Amit has always been a teeny bit jealous of!)… we were pretty much siblings. With the twins and the pups, it’s not quite there yet. On Monday, when I had turned my back on the lot of them for a couple of ticks, I turned around to find that Sandy had cornered Tara on the floor and was licking her feet and Tara was wailing as loudly and hysterically as she possibly could. It would have been funny, if only the poor girl hadn’t been so totally petrified.

After that episode, it has taken several days for Tara to become even mildly less paranoid of the four-leggeds. The moment they make a move in her direction, she runs screaming and wailing and clutches on to me with all her might. Mrini is less terrorised. On one occasion when both dogs succeeded in backing her into a corner, she put both her hands out in front of her and pushed them away by the nose! I was so proud of her, because she is normally the scaredy cat of the two. Since then, she has made numerous friendly overtures including sitting by the dogs as they sleep, patting them, putting her face within licking distance, poking their eyes and so on. At least she’s getting the idea.

The more dog-friendly of my friends assure me that the kids and the pups will be best of friends – or at least best of siblings – very soon; that the pups will get used to going for walks and doing their business outdoors; that they will all grow up and settle down and I can stop living with all the bedroom doors closed (to keep the messes off the mattresses) and the living room in tatters (thanks to teething puppies) and Tara in tears… it will all come together into one big happy family, some day soon. That’s what they tell me.

Well, I hope they’re right. It can’t be soon enough for me.

So That’s Why They Say, “Be Careful What You Wish For”

May 19, 2009

After the first full day of having the pups at home, I have to admit, I feel rather as though I’ve been run over by a road roller. What was I thinking. They’re peeing and pooping all over the place and the only thing I’m doing all day apart from thinking up and managing ten separate meals (four for the pups in addition to three each for kids and adults) is cleaning up their messes. And stinky they are too! As if I haven’t just had my fill of that – it’s not that long ago that I was up to my elbows in the twins’ pee and poo.

On the other hand, if this is something you’ve got to do, you might as well do it and get it done with while you still remember how. And have the energy for – even if I’m not sure that I really do. I remember feeling equally dazed and road-rollered when the twins came home – and that was with the pee and poo all neatly tied up in diapers. So I know it’s going to get better.

Or at least, I think I know it will.

At any rate, I firmly believe it will.

Or… I somewhat believe it will.

Ok, I desperately hope it will.

It willl.

Won’t it?

Oh, for a garden with a screen door that the dogs can open from either side, like we had when I was a teenager and we had three dogs at home, and everything was so simple – or so it seems with the rose-tinted glasses of retrospect.

The first day, the dogs were both completely subdued. They ate, but they showed no signs of life apart from that. Until 2 a.m. – then they decided it was time to play. They came and pushed open our door and entered our room and walked on to our bed and demanded company, or at least an audience. We threw them out, so they complained for an hour. Then, they fell asleep – or I did, perhaps – only to awaken at 4.45 a.m. with similar requests. This time, I actually got up – and started my day by cleaning up about a half-dozen messes. Charming. However, the dogs did their best to entertain me by chewing my ankles and scraping my legs raw – they were in high spirits and didn’t even remotely resemble the limp, lifeless beings we had brought home some hours ago. Which was great, but… did they really have to wait till 4.45 on Sunday morning??

The rest of Sunday, they alternated between being sleepy or asleep, and being frisky. They played together most adorably in the afternoon, and when S, P and p came to visit in the evening, they were their social best, all wagging tails and huge grins. It was good to see them being more like what I imagined pups should be like. Even the stinking messes seemed a little more bearable when done by a happy, grinning, playful pup.

The twins are quite fascinated by them – when they wake up and come out, they don’t come to me or Amit any more, they just stop and stare at the pups. They’ve patted both pups, somewhat tentatively, though they haven’t tried really playing with them yet. At one point, Sandy went to poop in the bathroom and Tara came and told me all about it, so I could stop whatever I was doing and go clean up. Very nice, thank you Tara.

It took the pups exactly 24 hours to discover the living room, and exactly 24 hours and one minute to pee on the mattress that serves as a divan. In the next few minutes, they also similarly honoured the carpet. Within a few short minutes, our living room was rendered completely devoid of any scrap of fabric other than what was hanging from the curtain rods and stitched to the sofa and armchair. Surely, they will mark those bits of furniture soon enough, but there’s nowhere we can move them to. Besides, we have to have some place to sit.

The only real problem so far has been walking them. They’re terrified of their leashes and of being led around by them. Perhaps they’ve seen too many painful things happening to dogs who get taken away in the Shelter. Anyway, we took them out on Saturday evening, and Mishti managed to wriggle out of her collar, which must have been too loose. I hadn’t worried too much, because I’d thought she’d just stop where she was, if she managed to get free – she seemed so meek and mild. But she streaked off like greased lightening and hid under a car. Sup33 had come to say hi, along with her mother and her daughter, and with Amit and the twins and Sandy around, it was quite a large party that helped or watched as we struggled to coax or otherwise persuade Mishti to come out from under the car. We were still too new to her and she wasn’t inclined to trust us, so it took some doing. At one point, I almost thought we’d have to just leave her there, but that would have been too terrible. Finally, with Amit shooing from one end, and me at the other end making the disgusting kissing sounds one makes to animals when trying to persuade them to cooperate, we managed to get her. And we went straight home and haven’t ventured out since. Of course, we will have to sooner or later – I’m going to have to take dogs and girls out together sometime soon, but I really can’t say yet how that milestone is going to be achieved, much less when.

So life has become tremendously more complicated than it already was. Sigh.

And no, knowing that I asked for it doesn’t make it any easier.

Two New Additions To Our Family

May 18, 2009

As though the twins weren’t keeping us busy enough, we decided to add another two members to our busy household.

We had gone to meet V, V & v a while ago and the twins took to a giant teddy bear there. So one day last week Amit said he’d like to get a couple of dogs for the twins. He meant stuffed toys, but I thought he meant the real thing. And of this simple misunderstanding, was a crazy idea born. We both got carried away with the thought of real dogs, and set about working out how it could be done.

On Monday, Saturday seemed very far away, but however slowly, time rolled inexorably on, and at last Saturday was here.

It’s never easy leaving home with the kids, but it’s so much more difficult on a Saturday morning, when you’re feeling tired and short of sleep, impatient, eager, just a bit tense, and in a hurry to get somewhere. Despite everything, we managed to leave home by 11, and reached the animal shelter, CUPA, by noon.

Of course, we had had other dreams: a golden retriever, maybe even an Irish Setter. Maybe even a pair! But in the end I think we always knew we’d end up picking up a mongrel pup from somewhere.

I’d been to CUPA once before, four or five years ago. That time, I’d been captivated by one particular dog, whose sweet brown eyes followed me everywhere. I’d also been shocked to see many amputee dogs, hopping around quite happily on three legs. This time, I was prepared for the amputees, and hopeful that we both – or all four – would be similarly captivated. But we were shown a small collection of scraggly mongrel pups, with nothing much to distinguish one from the other. There was particularly frisky pup, a few months old – but he was apparently “boarding” there, not for adoption.

Amit wanted tiny pups, but the staff there encouraged us to go for the bigger pups, perhaps not entirely sure that the tiny ones would survive. The one Amit liked looked particularly weak, small, and lacklustre.

I had decided that on the whole females would be better, so we picked two girls, not from the same litter. One was small, hairy, snub-nosed, and flop-eared, light brown in colour. The other was larger and older (about three-and-a-half months, we were told); she had the face of an Alsatian, with a long, thin, pointy snout and sharp, pointy ears. She looked intelligent and eager. Her expression, more than her looks, reminded me of Cassie. She was terribly thin, but her coat was sleek and black.

The first pup, the smaller one, we were told, had a skin infection and they weren’t confident of curing it, so they asked us to pick another. We looked around, but there wasn’t much choice. Amit firmly wanted two, though – one for each girl, he said. So in the end we took that girl’s brother, apparently from the same litter, instead.

There was some paperwork, then inoculations and de-worming, which we had to pay for, and then we were done. Altogether, we spent about an hour and a half at CUPA, which was not too bad.

I would have held the pups in the car on the way home, but Amit voted to keep them in the back of the car. It was a long drive, perhaps their first, and at least one of them was sick on the way. But we were home by a little after 2, and now we were six.

Going Astray

March 10, 2007

For those of you who haven’t heard, a few days ago, a pack of stray dogs attacked and killed a small boy.

The dogs weren’t rabid – as far as is known – but were hanging around near a meatshop, which might account for their unduly aggressive behaviour.

This is the second such incident in a few months. The first was in a different area, and without the added provocation of a nearby meat shop.

The powers-that-be, in this case, BBMP (Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike) have reacted predictably, by launching a stray-dog-culling exercise. To this, the dogs have reacted, also predictably, by biting people – not necessarily limiting themselves to the BBMP stray-dog-catching people.

This bodes ill for the dogs.

As far as I can tell, there is currently no plan to “euthanize” (to put it politely) the dogs. The BBMP plans to put them in compounds, but they simply don’t have the space.

As a passionate dog lover – the type who snaps her fingers at a passing stray dog and immediately has a new friend – I wish there were some better solution to the problem. The sterilization drive that has been ongoing for some years now, is clearly not going to bring about a reduction in the stray dog population unless many more people and a lot more money is pumped into it. I don’t – in principle – agree with the sterilization plan either, but I do agree that it is more humane than simply rounding them up and injecting them with something lethal.

The fact is that we do need to do something about the strays. They breed like rabbits, and while I don’t go so far as to blame the existence of rabies or other diseases entirely on the stray dogs, it is true that rabid dogs are a serious menace. That apart, there is the traffic problem – the not infrequent, gruesome sight of dog remains on the road is a visible reminder that stray dogs don’t always thrive for long.

And when strays start attacking humans, whether merely biting or actually mauling and killing, I can’t find it in me to say that they should still be allowed to roam freely. I do feel that it is highly unusual and unlikely for strays to attack humans unprovoked – in the absence of rabies – but, if that is what they are doing, for whatever reason, then it obviously can’t be allowed to continue.

I don’t know what the best solution is. Killing them off is inhuman; sterilizing them will take a decade to show tangible results; putting them into compounds will not only require huge area and infrastructure, but will also probably lead to social and health problems in the compound. Dogs, though pack animals, aren’t used to living in packs of hundreds, and there certainly will be vicious fighting, and perhaps starvation, in-breeding, disease.

Clearly, whatever solution is implemented will take a substantial amount of time, money, human resources, skill, and patience. And, in whatever solution, ultimately the dogs are the losers. It’s sad… this is our attitude to dogs, man’s best friend.

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