Sunday, August 24, 2014

Indian Native Dogs - The Gems of India

     Bangalore is filled with street dogs.  Actual numbers have never been tallied, but it’s estimated that at least 200,000 dogs are left to the elements, homeless without shelter or food, or the slightest bit of pity on the part of the other residents of the city.  I remember the first time that I came here, to India.  It has been a secret of mine for a long time that the most perturbing, moving, and raw experiences I have had in the city were not me feeling for the human suffering, but for the anguish of the thousands of dogs, struggling to survive in a world that fails to care that they were born in the first place.  I have seen and continue to see animal suffering here and human apathy toward it that breaks me despite the walls I have built up around myself to shut out the reality of life here. 

     I have seen dogs with broken legs that never healed, most often caused by being hit by a vehicle the driver of which continued onward as if the animal they hit were invisible.  Left without medical attention, and the need to continue to fight for survival, the dogs struggle through their disabilities.  Sometimes the broken leg is snapped clean off, other times it becomes deformed, twisted in unnatural directions, of which the dog is forced to painfully utilize.  The loss of the use of a back leg is survivable, the loss of a front leg is a death sentence.   

     The Indian Pariah is the original Indian Native dog, its lineage most probably linked to ancient times, although their origins remain unknown.  They come in an impressive assortment of colors, sizes, and shapes, but most commonly harbor a sandy brown color and a medium size.  Pariahs have sleek, defined bodies with sharp pointed erect ears, deep brown almond shaped eyes, and chiseled faces that end in a long muzzle.  The largest populations of Indian Pariahs are often found in cities, where breeding has gone unchecked next to the more pressing issues of human populations.  Known for their intelligence, Pariahs have skillfully adapted to urban environments, learning to manipulate the world around them to suit their survival. 

Amulya (2010) - My First Indian Dog (Adopted out to a kind family)
     Everywhere I have been in India, every place I’ve lived, visited, vacationed I have met an Indian dog that steals my heart.   They are all unique in their own way, in the ways in which they have survived unimaginable hardships driven purely by the will to live.  But in one way, they are all the same, when they are shown the slightest bit of human compassion, of caring in any way, they latch on to it for dear life.  You – the human who shows them kindness has suddenly become their God.  It has happened to me over and over no matter where I have gone.  A smile and a pat on the head, maybe a little food, and I have their permanent dedication, their loyalty forever.

PeePees (2010) Indian pup I rescued from the underside of a van.
     My first time here in Bangalore, it was Amulya, the street dog adopted into our small apartment building.  She became my best friend, and would climb the stairs to the second floor and bark at my apartment door for me to come out.  There was the robust and street smart alpha too, who lived on the stoop of an ATM stop, and would pick me out of a crowd of people on my daily walk to follow me to the local bakery several blocks down for cheap bread buns.  In New Delhi, it was Black Dog, a small silky girl with only three working legs who took up residence on the sidewalk outside my apartment gate.  After the first time I stopped to give her a moment of attention, she found me every where I went, hobbling after me down sidewalks, across intersections and to the market, for no other reason than to just be with me.  Now, back in Bangalore, it is Peetal, the dog I rescued off a busy street when he was just a pup, wandering aimlessly down the road without senses, to others, nothing more than a piece of garbage carried by the wind.  To me, he is my child, lucky enough to have been whisked away from certain death, a torn ear and some scars, the only remnants of a fate he narrowly escaped.  

     The majority of people who reside in India’s cities are terrified of dogs.  Despite that dogs walk among them on nearly every street, despite that the behaviors exhibited by them toward humans are largely submissive and friendly, the fear prevails.  A stigma rooted in the fear of contracting rabies.  Like a sick tradition, the fear is passed on down the generations, loving mothers whispering words of warning into the ears of their small children on the dangers of dogs. 
Black Dog (2011) My Delhite Dog

     None of this makes sense to me – planting the seed of irrational fear in the minds of children, teaching them to exhibit behavior that is more likely to provoke than protect.  Children either clearly demonstrate their fear by screaming and running, or hide it by taunting Pirahs, sometimes even resorting to violence.  Of course I am biased in that I grew up in the village, far away from the pollution (both mental and physical) of the cities.  I had more dog friends than human friends, and I still do.  The ignorance that takes form in rude looks when I’m walking my dog, the screams of children who run away, yelling to others “he will bite!” people who refuse to ride in the elevator with me, it is all enough.  But such ignorance has evolved into quite literally a blatant disregard for a fundamental element of the Hindu way of life – honoring the divine in all life.

Peetal Ji (2012) Shortly after he was rescued
     It reminds me of the time I flipped through the pages of my husband’s thick and heavy Bhagavad Gita, the script Devanagari (the language of the Gods) unreadable to me, but the colored replications of paintings clear.  One page in particular caught my attention.  Entitled “Impartiality,” it reminds Hindus that God resides in all living beings – the small glowing blue face of Krishna embellished upon the hearts of every being, the king, the sage and the farmer – the elephant, the cow, and the dog. 

Peetal Ji (2013) Happy and Healthy
     I have always been amazed at the merits of dogs – their simple happiness in just being alive, their expressions of loyalty, their inability to be corrupted.  They are pure beings, hearts untainted, capable of great love.  In Indian dogs, the validity of such characteristics is even more so, because they understand the blessedness of receiving a meal, a little attention, of small acts of kindness.  Perhaps that is what draws me to them, an ability to see beyond dirty fur and thin bodies, the ability to see their divine essence.  Maybe when we meet, it is the acknowledgement and intermingling of souls, a divine connection threaded through life. 

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