Honestly, dogs in general make me happy. Their unconditional love, their loyalty and their unparalleled long history of helping humans have better lives unquestionably makes them man’s best friend.
The role of dogs in our society is always evolving. Today studies suggest that dog ownership has many benefits. Dogs play a role in human psychological health and a therapeutic role in aiding the disabled at home, in hospitals and in prisons. Service dogs not only help disabled children and adults with physical disabilities, but dogs are also trained to go into hospitals and cheer up patients.
Purina has a program called the Purina Animal Hall of Fame where they honor pets that have proven themselves to be heroes with outstanding courage, loyalty and bravery in helping to save a human life. Many amazing stories like Jango who saved her family from a fire, Echo saved her owner from drowning and hypothermia, and Sophie and Patty alerted their owners to people in near death situations saving their lives. There are so many unbelievable stories that after reading each I had tears in my eyes.
Clearly many pets feel a great attachment to humans, but I also found this miraculous story about a stray dog in Argentina who saved the life of an abandoned human baby. There is also a stray dog in Chennai, India that has been trained to keep people out of the water preventing many people from drowning; the dog has been so effective in saving lives that they want to train more.
During my most recent trip to India nothing effected me as much as my interactions with the dogs – the community dogs, the street dogs, the INDogs.
In Legship, a small town in Sikkim, I sat on a rock on the side of the road and waited for a shared jeep; a medium sized tan and white dog approached me. He nudged my hand as if saying “please pet me”. I stroked his head and he almost seemed to smile before jumping up on the rock and sitting beside me. I looked at him curiously – not all that comfortable having my face and his practically touching. What is his angle I thought to myself. Food? No…in fact instead of eating the samosa he was offered, he let another dog have it. He then laid at my feet, I guess he just wanted some love.
Later in the week during an early morning in Yuksom, I sat outside in the chilly air and had breakfast with an amazing mountainous view surrounded by endearing dogs sleeping in the street. One dog, affectionately called Tom by the daughter of my breakfast haunt, won my heart. His tour guide ability was unparalleled. The day was dedicated to hiking, and the first hike of the day was to the oldest monastery in Sikkim built in 1701. For over an hour, Tom hiked right beside us. What fascinated me most about Tom was when we ran into a group of tourists on their way down he did not stray. The girls clearly had already met him, and as we stopped and said hello, they took photos with him and gave him cookies and hugs. Yet as we departed ways, Tom continued the trek upwards with us without any nudging or reward. He behaved better than any pet I have ever had 🙂
Walking through the streets of Darjeeling, a group of four dogs started to follow me. This could be considered terrifying, but I stayed calm and put my hand down to pet them and they accepted. We continued on down the street and were soon stopped by a European couple that asked about trekking. We chatted for a bit and then I looked down at my feet and saw that all the dogs stopped as well and were sitting by me behaving like well groomed show dogs. I just smiled. Later I found them snuggled up together sleeping in the streets. A family.
These are only a few of my interactions with the dogs of India which inspired me to visit some people in Kolkata that are trying to help make a better life for these beautiful animals. My fantastically helpful guide for the day was Divyangshu who I met by simply emailing an organization I found online called YODA based in Mumbai. I selected YODA because the founders consider helping animals a lifestyle not just a non-profit organization. They want to make sure animals get the comfort they deserve whether it be a nice home or a permanent break from cruelty. An important part of YODA’s work has been successfully getting stray dogs adopted into loving homes.
Divyangshu is not only starting a branch of YODA in Kolkata, but he also volunteers for the Debasree Roy Foundation which is dedicated to promoting the cause of animal suffering from lack of care and unwarranted torture. Their goal is to create proper harmony between man and animal and to provide a better and healthy living for both. He took the time to schedule meetings for me all day with other wonderful people that want to help the stray dogs around Kolkata.
Our first stop was a visit with Oindrila and Tamaghna, two physics doctorate students that not only feed thirty street dogs a day, but also make sure they are vaccinated and healthy. This dynamic duo also takes the time to go out on calls to help other dogs in need around the city – whether they were in a car accident or just ill. They walked out of their building and the dogs immediately approached and looked sincerely happy to see them. One small black and brown dog caught my eye; she had been injured and one leg was unusable, but she still struggled to get up to say hello.
We walked the local streets with a few dogs in tow and stopped at a small tea hut where two young puppies found refuge. The mother was clearly scared as we drew near, not knowing if we were friends or foes. Once we assured her that everything was going to be OK, she became calm and we were able to play with the puppies. Lucky for these two the tea shop owner has been looking after them. Then further down the street we watched four puppies playing in the trash, reminding me of the Roma children I photographed playing in the trash in Macedonia, both young and unknowing. Sadly due to their living conditions, many puppies do not make it.
While the work that Oindrila and Tamaghna are doing is greatly appreciated by their community’s dogs, they have a bigger picture in mind for the future. Oindrila told me the story of the INDog. The Indian Native Dog (INDog) is an ancient dog that is found all over India and Bangladesh. This is the original breed of India and possibly the first domesticated dog. The dogs found in villages around India are purebred INDogs as well as many of the strays and street dogs around the cities. These dogs have never been selectively bred, leaving their appearance and mental character to evolve by natural selection alone. Oindrila wants the INDog to be recognized as an important part of Indian culture. Tamaghna and she hope to start an organization to petition for and protect the Native Indian Dog. These alert, social, healthy and intelligent dogs should be considered an important cultural icon.
Divyangshu also brought me to visit two personal homes where each day they cook food for the strays of their neighborhoods. Accompanied by Jayanti Aunty, Divyangshu’s inspiration to work in animal welfare, we visited the home of Sulekha where she and her daughter feed about 30 to 45 dogs in the Dhakuria Lake Region. We also visited the home of Israt and her mother where they were cooking for the 40 dogs that they feed around their home.
Then Divyangshu told me the story of Beena, a maid in Kolkata. Even with her low income, she cooks for and feeds about 35 stray dogs and two dozen cats. In order to get the food to feed the animals, she carries about ten buckets of water to meat and fish sellers who in turn give her a handful of scraps.
Our main visit of the day was Chhaya Animal Shelter which is on two acres of donated land in the village Aswathberia, about 30 minutes outside of Kolkata. This organization takes unwanted and disabled animals, strays and abandoned pets and cares for them as well as sterilizes and vaccinates them. In addition to the in-house work, Chhaya has a program where they sterilize dogs in pockets of the city, do post operative care and then return the animals to their localities when they are healed. All dogs that are not fit to return to the streets become permanent residents.
As we approached the huge gated cement building, I did not know what to expect. Sharda Radhakrishnan, one of the founders and now caretaker, as well as two dogs, greeted us. Sharda, along with her furry companions, guided us around the facility which is still under construction. Completed, were several indoor pens where postoperative dogs were healing. Each room had a board detailing the patients procedures, medication and status. Removal of tumors, removal of maggots, sterilization and car accidents are a few of the situations the staff vet has to deal with on a weekly sometimes daily basis. I stared in at each resident and was amazed that many just sat quietly staring back at me as I peaked in. They were behaving as if they were students trying to get into a posh country club school. Maybe saying “I am a good kid, please take me home.”
Next we visited the puppies – I prefer not to discuss cruelty in general, but in order to help others understand the hardship that some of man’s best friends are going through, I must mention the absurd cruelty and idiocy that some people show to life. What horrible horrible human would throw puppies in the trash to die? While infliction of unnecessary pain and suffering to animals is illegal per the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Acts 1960 (No.59 of 1960), sadly these acts still happen. Thankfully, there are kind people that are trying to help.
We watched on as a puppy that had been dropped off at the gate a few weeks earlier started to have a seizure. Not being in the medical field, it was very upsetting for me and difficult to look on while feeling helpless; but the way Sharda came to his immediate aid made it clear to me that she really cared a great deal for the animals and was doing all she could to make their lives better.
Next I sat and watched a young man bottle feeding an abandoned puppy. Sharada told me that he was just a boy living in the village with no experience, but he quickly learned on the job how to care for the dogs. The workers have become so proficient that at times the vet even looks to them for solutions. They are quite an inspiring group.
We then went outside to the pens where several dogs were running around. One of the pens had dogs that had their back legs paralyzed from accidents. They were wearing socks so when they dragged themselves around they would not further hurt themselves. We approached the largest pen. “Do you want to go in?” she asked. “OK” I quickly responded. We crossed through the first gate and then the second. Twenty or so dogs instantly started jumping on me in excitement. Luckily, I wore dark pants for the occasion. It was quite intimidating, but I stayed calm and the dogs started to calm as well. Later, my guide, now friend, Divyangshu, asked me if I had ever been around that many dogs before. “No” I replied. “You were so brave – it really made me smile to watch you,” he said. For some reason this made me feel really good – maybe I was proud of myself. It was an incredible day.
Many of the INDogs made me very happy. There is nothing like holding a puppy. I feel lucky to have met so many wonderful people sharing their lives with these fantastic animals. My suggestion: If you have an opportunity to help an INDog or any dog in need, please do it. Our world is without a doubt a better place having man’s best friend around, and we want to make sure they are healthy and happy.
When researching INDogs I found a few interesting articles I would like to share…
The performance of stray dogs (Canis familiaris) living in a shelter on human-guided object-choice tasks
Cur cognition: Do stray dogs have qualitatively different kinds of canine minds?
Dogs’ Bark: Not fair! Study shows pups get jealous
The absence of reward induces inequity aversion in dogs
Genetic Secrets of Man’s Best Friend Revealed