All doggos are equal, but some doggos are more equal than others.
If nothing else, a quick walk along Carter Road in Mumbai should confirm that. The Huskies, Chihuahuas, and Golden Retrievers being walked on designer leashes are cooed at, petted, and not-so-surreptitiously photographed before they retire back, panting, into their air-conditioned Bandruh havens. At the same time on the same road, stray dogs abound, wagging their tail at every passer-by, begging for food, and cheerfully trotting away when met when a loud “SHOO!” or a raised hand. Though they inhabit pretty much every street corner in this country, people usually notice them only when they’re puffing away at a cigarette alone and see those puppy eyes asking for just one Parle G pleeeeeease.
Indigenous breeds of India, because they haven’t been accorded the status that their western purebred counterparts enjoy, have interbred for generations on end. The few Indian breeds that remain, such as the Rajapalayam and the Mudhol Hound, are critically endangered. As a result, the mongrels that steal our hearts by begging for biscuits are more popularly just known as strays or indies. (They’re also called pariahs, but since that word is a slur with its origin in a lower caste called Paraiyars from Tamil Nadu, we should all stop using it.) In Indian strays, among other things, you can spot the tan eyebrows of Dobermans, the thick tails of Labradors, the long fur of Retrievers, and the jugaadu spirit of any desi.
I love all doggos equally, but I love stray doggos more equally than others. If you’ve ever taken a walk with me, you would know that I’m one of those people who attempts to play with every stray who passes me. Wild horses can’t keep me from whistling at the nearest pupper and coochie-cooing over them the way most people do with babies. Much to my family and friends’ chagrin, I get dog hairs over my best clothes, my hands are usually in dire need of washing, and my shoes invariably have a dusty paw-print or two on them every time I enter the house.
Each day as I walk home from the railway station, there’s an uncharacteristically light-eyed indie who waits for me. She has the strangest gait: she doesn’t walk, she prances. We’re both a bundle of emotions when we meet — it’s more dramatic than any love story I could ever have with a human. Confused about whether to jump on me or roll on the floor or lick my hands, she often falls over herself while trying to do all three at once. The mechanics near the station feed her and care for her. Even as 90 percent of their vocabulary consists of cuss words, they call her Rani and treat her like one. My personal name for her is Babboo. And no matter how bad my day, seeing her makes me grin uncontrollably. I’ve never fed or bathed her, I’ve never even checked to see if she’s vaccinated or neutered. But my life would be incomplete if I didn’t see her prancing around me a couple of times a week.
I’m certainly not the first to show my appreciation of indies. Arun Kolatkar, in his poem Pi Dog from his collection Kala Ghoda Poems writes a first person account of an indie stray who sits on the triangular traffic island in front of the erstwhile Rhythm House at dawn, tracing his ancestors to a ship of British foxhounds his mother’s side (“imported all the way from England / by Sir Bartle Frere / in eighteen hundred and sixty-four, / with the crazy idea // of introducing fox-hunting to Bombay. / Just the sort of thing / he felt the city badly needed.”), and Yudhishtira’s dog from his father’s side (“And my ancestor became the only dog / to have made it to heaven / in recorded history.”). However, by and large, even Indian authors and poets seem to have largely ignored the canines that are a defining feature of India’s cityscapes.
Trust me, when I ask you not to buy a Siberian Husky, it isn’t because I have a bias against the breed. It’s because it’s called Siberian for a reason — it has a thick coat and its lifestyle involves extremely high levels of activity. Making one live in a cramped apartment in an Indian city is nothing short of torture. (If you justify this by saying you keep them in an air-conditioned room, I swear I will come for you with a machete.) This is, of course, not to mention how badly breeders treat their animals. Bitches are used as puppy farms, made to have litter after litter, with little to no break in between, until they are discarded when they can’t have any more. Be aware that when you spend Rs 50,000 on a puppy, your money is blood money. There is no question that it’s contributing to a cycle of endless cruelty to the animals you claim to love.
Despite conclusive proof that indie dogs are healthier, less fussy, and more intelligent than most purebreds, Indian high society just refuses to believe it. They’d rather spend tens of thousands shipping a St. Barnard in from the Alps (or so they’d have you believe; the breeder actually lives in Mira Road) than take in a mongrel. After a month or so, when they realise that a dog is more than a status symbol — a living, breathing creature that needs to be vaccinated, have poop cleaned, to be walked and fed daily, they decide it’s not worth the trouble. The number of slightly older, neglected purebreds up for adoption is shocking. And yet, if you tell anyone you have a dog, the first question you’d get asked is, “What breed?” Unfortunately, we’re at the stage where we’ll proudly support indie artists, bands, and movies, but are still to accept the best kind of indie — the dog.
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Updated Date: Sep 24, 2017 10:12:25 IST