Virat, elite horse of President's Bodyguard, retires: A look at what happens to animals of Indian Armed Forces after service

Once retired, dogs are sent to the army’s RVC center in Meerut, while equines, horses and mules, are sent to the Remount Training School and Depot, Hempur in Uttarakhand

FP Staff January 27, 2022 12:10:09 IST
Virat, elite horse of President's Bodyguard, retires: A look at what happens to animals of Indian Armed Forces after service

Prime Minister Narendra Modi bids farewell to Virat, a horse from the President’s bodyguard that has participated on many Republic Day parades, at Rajpath during India's 73rd Republic Day parade. AFP

The Republic Day parade had many awe-inspiring moments.

However, one moment that captured the hearts of all was when President Ram Nath Kovind, along with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, stopped at the end of the parade and patted President’s Bodyguard horse, Virat, before he was to retire.

The Hanoverian breed, who was commissioned to the President's Bodyguard on 12 September, 2000 and received the Chief of the Army Staff Commendation, was retiring after years of honourable and exceptional service.

That got us thinking, where do retired service animals go? What happens to them when they retire? We try to answer these questions.

Service animals

The Indian Armed Forces uses dogs, horses and mules for various services. According to reported information, the Army has 10,000 horses and mules and 1,000 dogs.

Horses and mules form a crucial part of logistics for ferrying loads like food, ammunition and other items to the troops deployed in inaccessible areas in mountainous terrain of ladakh and the North-East — including Arunachal Pradesh.

Virat elite horse of Presidents Bodyguard retires A look at what happens to animals of Indian Armed Forces after service

Canines being trained before their induction into the Army at the RVC Centre in Meerut. Image Courtesy: RVC/Facebook

Dogs are deployed to sniff out bombs and mines besides helping troops in tracking down militants in thick jungles of the North-East and alpine like woods in upper reaches of Kashmir. These dogs are specially trained at various centres before given active combat duty. The Army generally uses Labradors, German Shepherds and Belgian Shepherds, depending on the altitude and weather, besides the nature of assignment.

Horses generally serve for about 17 years while mules for 15 years and dogs for six to eight years.

Animals that are inducted into the services are trained at the Remount Veterinary Corps Centre and College situated in Meerut. The corps was initially raised in Bengal in 1779 as the 'Stud Department'. The Army Veterinary Corps was officially established on 14 December 1920. The RVC school was finally moved to Gillespie Line at Meerut on 17 April 1948, the present location.

Virat elite horse of Presidents Bodyguard retires A look at what happens to animals of Indian Armed Forces after service

Dogs in the Indian Army serve for a period of six to eight years. AFP

Euthanasia and High Court ruling

Before 2015, it was reported that animals who served in the Armed Forces, were euthanised once they retired.

In mid-September 2015, the Delhi High Court bench of Chief Justice G Rohini and Justice Jayant Nath was hearing a PIL by advocate Sanjay Kumar Singh, who had appealed that the "act of the Indian Army killing their service stocks once their duty years are over is so unreasonable".

The additional solicitor general had said a policy was being formulated and issues raised in a writ petition, which sought an end to the practice, were under active consideration.

Animal rights activists had said that the act of euthanising these animals was not only unjust, but also in contravention of the provisions of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960.

As per a Daily Pioneer report, the activists argued that the animals were “useless” after service. “Even if a horse has failed a fitness test and cannot run races or be a part of the cavalry, that doesn't meant it has no purpose left. It can be trained to do less taxing work,” they said.

Similarly, just because a dog cannot be employed in combat duty or anti-terror operations doesn't mean it can't be adopted. These are pedigree dogs, trained to follow commands. Either these dogs should be given ceremonial duties, such as guarding houses of VIPs and VVIPs, or they should be given to organisations like ours, which can facilitate their adoption, was their argument.

Getting a new home

It was then decided by the Indian Army that they would do away with euthanasia, barring for those who were suffering from incurable diseases, and sought to look for options.

One of the alternates that was decided was to send them to NGOs for adoption. However, this option was considered feasible only for dogs, leaving behind the horses and mules.

Virat elite horse of Presidents Bodyguard retires A look at what happens to animals of Indian Armed Forces after service

The Indian Army has has 10,000 horses and they generally serve for about 17 years. AFP

Another option that was considered was that the Army itself builds special rehabilitation centre where these retired service animals could continue their lives.

According to a report in the Economic Times, dogs that complete their service will be sent to the army’s RVC center in Meerut. Along with this the equines, horses and mules, will be sent to the Remount Training School and Depot, Hempur in Uttarakhand.

It is important to note that every year, the number of mules and dogs going out of service numbers 300 and 50 respectively.

At the RVC, the dogs live an idyllic life and enjoy a carefully balanced diets and round-the-clock medical care.

Every three months, each retiree undergoes a full health check, including dental exam.

People at the RVC say that potential pet parents can adopt these service dogs. However, they have to undergo a rigorous vetting process.

With inputs from agencies

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