As an observer, and a longtime ‘ally’ of street dogs, my journey has been one of fear that turned to friendship and deep understanding. The ancestor of that mutt who greets you at the tea shop, must have probably watched as Nadir Shah sacked and slaughtered the city. His forefathers were here long before yours or mine. People are just temporary with their never ending immigration, I believe that a city belongs to no one but the dogs on its streets. Think about it – from your neighborhood to your friend’s neighborhood at the other end of the city, there are so many overlapping territories of stray dogs – an ever changing parallel landscape and a battleground over which feuds occur, it is a story of its own which will never be recognized or seen. But you can hear it sometimes on wild sodium-vapor fueled summer nights.
Man’s progress is good at covering up the destruction it causes, sometimes the seeds of this destruction are sown for his children to reap. The curse of progress is the neglect of the long term for the pursuit of the immediate, whether it is for profit or convenience. Even when the intentions are good, there are results which are not foreseen until it is too late.
The man-animal conflict in urban areas is all about humans and their dogs. Usually, in cultures which value life, this interaction is friendly and of mutual dependence and respect. But there has been a change, with an increasing gap in the Indian mind between itself and the nature it is a part of, which leads to overprotective paranoid parenting. It is successful in instilling in blank minds the idea about animals either being a commodity of fun, or a source of danger when not commoditized. The fear remains even in fully grown adults, with all of their machismo melting when there is a lazy pack sleeping outside the ATM our boy has to get to, in the middle of the night.
And every now and then, there are cases where a pack of dogs maul a careless child, or an adult who gets too jumpy in front of them. While the western world takes the Caucasoid approach of eliminating any source of a problem by killing it, India still has had a more tolerant atmosphere so far. But there are cities and communities where dogs are not treated with the slightest of respect one would have for a living being – countless cases of abuse show up every year and the animal protection laws are also weak. And this is just the state of dogs, which among other animals in the kingdom garner the most pity and compassion – the other animals just live in hell, especially if they are politicized. I should point out, however, that at least in the developed world they do give the captured strays a chance at finding a home before they put them down. In India, if the city does not have a warm corner for the street dog, it resorts to sticks and stones to the head, and sometimes the younger dogs can even end up as crocodile feed at the zoo (or so I have heard). But there are safe havens, like central Delhi, where dogs live in privilege on the streets – or at least that is how it was like when I was growing up in that area. Unfortunately, when I returned to my neighbourhood after a span of nine years, not a single stray dog was to be seen – this was a successful sterilization program.
In places where dogs are not actively culled, the bleeding heart animal rights activists suggest that dogs be castrated/neutered and that will put an end to them breeding and propagating themselves further. Again – man playing God intervening with nature’s perfect systems. Light eugenics – because only the pedigreed dogs have the right to reproduce, all mutt-bloodlines must end. This is pretty classist if you come to think of it. And it is not that these carefully preserved and prized pedigree dogs come free from genetic issues. This is just more subtle than a mass-killing, but killing nonetheless. Then again, we have not really had problems with forced-sterilization of humans in the recent past either.
Sterilization is seen as the middle ground between people who love dogs and people who absolutely despise them. It is an insurance of a dog-free neighbourhood in the future for the latter group, and in return they must tolerate and not kill them through the various means they had employed before (it is still common for some disgruntled person to poison the neighbourhood’s stray dogs or false claim attacks and report to the municipal authorities). Sterilization and neutering are also sold to owners with an added list of health benefits which seem too good to be true. I wonder which dog sterilization procedure drug or surgical tool company pays those vets for their conferences – if that is even a thing. Adoption is another solution, and is picking up with the bourgeoisie, but this arrangement might be a tough compromise for the free spirit that toughed out in the open world, now locked and crazed through the afternoons in your 3BHK shithole.
Now, here is something to think about – the street dog of India, known for its ruggedness and intelligence is being killed off through sterilization. This is a huge loss in the steps to evolution of the species, it was evolution in the most natural way possible with the least amount of intervention of humans. I take that back, by now, these dogs must have evolved a gene which lets them digest in copious amounts the oily meaty leftovers that are dumped at the back of restaurants. These are dogs that have mastered the dynamics of human society at its worst and coldest, which is on the street. Any misfits have been swiftly killed off by humans since the beginning of human settlements. These are the dogs of the future cities, not your Siberian Husky which you are trying to keep alive in the Delhi summer with Arvind Kejriwal’s free electricity. These are countless dogs – pedigreed and wild, who have assimilated into the landscape and climate. We are killing the best of the dogs that will ever be and this will be an intangible and living cultural heritage lost forever.
If we have gone too far on the path of sterilization, we can, at the very least, have some sort of a genome sequencing or embryo preservation initiative for stray dogs. I am sure that desi dog aficionados would happily back such a project if some bored biology major/canine expert decided to work on this.