(This post is co-authored by Ishita Sinha and Apoorva Roshan.)
“Mankind’s true moral test, its fundamental test (which lies deeply buried from view), consists of its attitude towards those who are at its mercy: animals. And in this respect mankind has suffered a fundamental debacle, a debacle so fundamental that all others stem from it.”
-Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being
A still-widespread belief is that the earth, with all the remaining life forms, is for sustainable human exploitation and enjoyment. It stems from an anthropocentric view of the universe that puts human beings in the center of everything. A more absolute version of this philosophy, referred to as ‘speciesism’ by animal rights advocates, would be that non-human life has no rights, including the one to simply exist. The issue at hand is the recent decision of the University authorities to have a ‘dog-free’ campus. Do animals that share space with us, while not living in human custody or for human utility, not have any rights? Have we become so territorial that we absolutely refuse to countenance other species coexisting with us?
The country is overrun with homeless animals who live on the verge of starvation, surviving on human leftovers. We resent their existence and would rather they were all put away. We forget that these stray species like, cows, pigs, dogs, etc. are a result of selective breeding and inbreeding for thousands of years – in pursuit of more comfortable human living, and are abandoned or sold to slaughter houses when they cease to be useful.
The ‘breed’ recognizable as the Indian mongrel is unique in that most of them have diverse ancestry. While these dogs lack the physical and behavioral traits of their artificially bred counterparts (or perhaps because of it), they are docile, even sweet tempered creatures. Having worked with these dogs for many years, we have seen how, despite constant mistreatment, helpless to their natures, they hunger for human affection. These miserable scavengers, what with the canines and the filthy, malnourished appearance are so feared and unaccepted that the term ‘Indian pariah dog’ is used to describe them.
While they already number in millions and are perceived as harmful, almost nothing is being done for their welfare, or even to prevent them from multiplying. The only sensible and humane solution is that families, localities and institutions start accepting responsibility for their homeless dogs and care for them. Merely transporting them from one place to another achieves nothing and in fact, perpetuates the problem. Responsible feeding and vaccination and spaying projects with the help of animal welfare organizations are the only way to end this man-dog conflict.
In the nearly five years that I have been here, I have loved and lost a number of these Indian dogs. I have lived in fear that someone would provoke the dogs into acting in self-defence, leading, inevitably, to a campaign to get rid of these gentle creatures. My worst fears were realized when I came back from the Holi vacation and was informed by the security guards that the authorities had decided to finally ensure that there are no stray dogs in the University. After talking to a few like-minded students, I sent an email to the entire student body asking for suggestions, and a meeting was scheduled. Surprisingly, a number of people responded and gave useful advice.
After a lot of deliberation, two students from the fifth year, Naman and Megha, approached the VC and requested him to allow the three resident dogs to stay on campus for the next two months, provided we get them adopted. So, we now have the onerous task of getting three adult dogs adopted in two months. While we try to look for suitable homes for these dogs, we think it is the appropriate time for all of us to consciously think about our anthropocentricity and its effect on the creatures around us. At the risk of sounding like Pocahontas, we leave you with this verse by Stephen Schwartz and Alan Menken:
You think you own whatever land you land on
The earth is just a dead thing you can claim
But I know every rock and tree and creature
Has a life, has a spirit, has a name
You think the only people who are people
Are the people who look and think like you
But if you walk the footsteps of a stranger
You’ll learn things you never knew you never knew
If you’d like to know more about these dogs, here are some profiles:
Stiffler, the first canine resident of NLUD, was affectionate and hyperactive. He stayed in the University for about two years before disappearing.
Sweetheart, a white dog with brown spots, and Pepper, a tiny black and white puppy, lived in the campus for a short while. They too, are no longer here.
Beatles came to NLUD as a small brown puppy but died when she was a few months old.
Cookie was the longest staying campus resident. She was adopted by an exchange student, Carla Heimann, and now lives in Neunkirchen am Brand, Germany, with another dog and two cats. She is the only adoption success story we have had so far.
Dobby is the first puppy to have survived at NLUD. He is the small black dog that hangs around the canteen and the Amul Parlour.
Whiney is the light brown dog with a pink nose that hangs around with his best friend Bow, the big brown dog with a black nose, at any given time, near the basketball court or in the grassy patch in front of the canteen. While Whiney is smart and playful, Bow is quiet and gentle.
If you’re interested in adopting one of these dogs or know someone who might be, please contact Apoorva at +91-9654344561.