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The dogs of India

I’d heard about the street dogs of India before but never thought I would see them firsthand; but then, I visited India myelf.

My oldest daughter was on a fellowship in Mumbai (Bombay) for a year. That’s way too long for a mom to go without seeing her child, so I traveled to India to spend 10 days with her there.

I won’t depress you by telling you all the details of the poverty, the beggars, the homeless children sleeping on the sidewalks, the garbage everywhere you look. Suffice to say that the street dogs subsist as these people do – eating, resting, eliminating – in full view of the passing world.

There are animal activists in the larger Indian cities, organizations like the Animal Welfare Board of India and In Defense of Animals India, that work on behalf of street dogs and cats, and wildlife in the country as well. The problem is that the number of animals is so vast, the resources so limited, that it appears to the Western outsider that little is being done.

However, what struck me the most about the street dogs is how amazingly chill they are, despite their living conditions and skin in various tortured stages of flea and mange infestation. Perhaps because Indian children are admonished by concerned parents to NEVER touch a stray animal, the dogs are, for the most part, left alone. The spectre of rabies and other illnesses is a stigma that has allowed the dogs to live a somewhat peaceful existence.

They sleep undisturbed on walls, sidewalks, and benches, right next to humans, and sometimes smack in the middle of the road. People, bikes and cars deftly skirt around them.

Initially, I had to be restrained by traveling companions to NOT approach them. After awhile, I was able to not touch but I always looked. Many a puzzled Indian could not seem to fathom why I would be so interested in what to them, is merely part of the background of daily life.

The dogs themselves avoid eye contact with people but were NEVER aggressive. They never approached for handouts either. Obviously, along with the cows and Brahma bulls and cats, they survived by picking through the constant supply of refuse that lays on the streets, sidewalks, everywhere. In Mumbai, there are no trash cans outdoors, so people just throw stuff right on the ground, including directly from cars, trains, and buses.

The dogs are as nondescript as any stray can be. Lineage has been blurred through years of interbreeding until every dog has the basic characteristics of a mutt – medium sized, lean, short hair, pointed ears, longish snout, ubiquitous brown in color. But the faces, oh, the faces. So sweet, a bit wary, eyelids fluttering in the sun and heat.

Seeing them every day, I couldn’t help but think of my own dogs and my clients’ dogs – well-fed, shining coats, much loved, dear family members. I did see some Indians with pet dogs, walking on leashes with their owners. Always they were purebreds – an American Eskimo Dog, a German Shepherd, several Labradors – but no mutts.

Did I want to whisk them all away and give them the veterinary care, grooming and high quality dog food they should have? With every ounce of my being.

There is no happy ending to this blog entry. I didn’t take any dogs home, but I donate to International Animal Rescue in honor of my daughter’s year in India. And helped her, at the conclusion of her fellowship, to bring Picabo, the cat she adopted in Mumbai, home to the USA.

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