It’s a dog’s day after all

Dogs are the best people is the current refrain! Many would reason that all animals being equal, dogs are more equal. Not pigs as Orwell had mistakenly assumed. Animal lovers, nature enthusiasts, and self-appointed environment experts all sing peons extolling virtues of dogs, pet or stray. Alas, seldom a thought is spared for the mother of two siblings,  Anand and Aditya,  aged 7 & 5, killed in a suspected stray dog attack in Delhi’s Vasant Kunj area in  March 2023. According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention and the Humane Society of the United States, there are about 4.7 million dog bites every year in U.S. These bites result in approximately 16 fatalities. While in India, likely the annual number of dog bites is 17.4 million, leading to an estimated 18,000-20,000 deaths a year. In India, the numbers are not fully identified. Its said that Rabies is endemic in India and it accounts for 36% of all the World’s Rabies deaths. Experts warn that India has the largest population of stray dogs and maybe  poised for a confrontation soon  between humans and dogs.

Many today would not tolerate a rabid ditter on rabies; statistics are only lies, so  begone doomsdayers! Needless caution be damned, in civilized society political correctness has relevance. Rabies like cancer always happens to others! That’s ordinary common sense. Love is what makes the world go round, though it may be blind but love for dogs is here to stay. And certainly a dog’s life is more precious than a human’s. Hold on to your socks, stoics and rationalists!  Let me share the startling results of a rather dated (nondescript ?) experiment done by Richard Topolski, J. Nicole Weaver, Zachary Martin and Jason McCoy from Georgia Regents University, Augusta, Georgia and Cape Fear Community College, Wilmington, North Carolina. In brief, the study was conducted on 573 participants who were in age  group of 18 to more than 75 years. Each individual was put to test using a moral dilemma. Two lives (one human and one animal) were placed in an imminently  dangerous  situation where only one could  be saved. The participants were asked to imagine a situation where a bus was traveling on a busy street and  their (participant’s) pet dog ran in front of the bus. At the same time, a foreign tourist stepped out in front of the bus. Neither the pet nor the foreign tourist had enough time to get out of the way of the bus. Given the speed of the bus, it would  kill whichever one it hit. ‘Now, you only have time to save one; Who would you save?’ was the question asked. Surprisingly, a large percentage of the participants in this study, 40% choose the pet, and a hometown stranger, did  not fare much better;  with 37% choosing the animal’s life over the human’s. However, if the animal was  someone else’s pet, only around 12% choose to save it rather than the tourist or stranger. The situation changed when the human in peril was a close friend or family member. Here only a bit more than 2% of the participants chose to save the animal in preference to the human. When asked about reasons for their choices, more than one in four people i.e 27%  who chose to save the animal could not explain or provide a reason for their decision. But felt certain that this would be the choice they would make. The psychologists articulated that where a reason was given for saving the animal it clearly involved the “hot emotional system”;  when people would say that “I love my pet” or “My pet is part of my family.” When the choice is to save the person, the reason usually involved  was the “rational cold system” and participants said  “Human life is worth more than an animal.” Sometimes,  cold system reasons do have a religious flavor like “Humans have souls” or a guilt-based rationale like “I hate to think what people would say if I failed to save the person.” There was a strong sex difference in the pattern of results. In virtually every comparison women were more likely to choose to save the pet over the human than the men (although the differences became very small when the danger involved a close family member). In fact, viewed across all of the results;  females were approximately twice as likely to save the animal when compared to  decisions made by males. Ahem, predictable and stereotyped? Well, it was an experiment which some psychologists carried out, they do such things in furtherance of academics, maybe. But we all have the liberty to accept or deny it in spirit. The reason for my sharing this experiment was different. I just wanted to stress that there is an  underlined, strong and  indelible  emotional bond between humans and dogs. And as we all know, emotions can mislead., citing Rakuten Insight,  have put forth that In India, dogs are the most popular pet, with 34% of pet owners having one. Cats come in second place, making 20% of the share. India’s third most popular pet are birds, with 14% of pet owners having one. In fourth place is goldfish with 10% of the share. 41% of Indian residents reportedly don’t raise any pets at all.  Statista.Com has said  there were 12.58 million pet dogs in India in year 2014 which rose to about 31.41 million in year 2023. In India, therefore, there appears to be a steady rise in keeping pet dogs. Well what explains this rise of pet dogs in India? Is it that Indians have suddenly been feeling an emotional void? Are pet dogs the only way of bridging this emotional gap? Also, this  felt need seems to be steadily increasing. Answers to such questions are never  simple. Could all this molly coddling have actually been prompted by a deep desire to ape the west/ rich, duly fuelled by the popularity of pet promotion in social media? After all, the ethos of pet ownership in India is not the same, as in say, what exists in the West/ Developed/ Dairy/ Nomadic countries etc. In the rich and developed countries, most times nuclear families require bonding with pets or security reasons prompt their going for pet dogs. In India, dog ownership has traditionally been practiced by agriculturists, jamindars, rich, the service classes etc. Today it is one of the most common desires of every middle class family irrespective of accommodation size. It makes for good tidings  for  kennel businesses, pet feed companies, pet shops, ancillaries etc.  even to on line influencers/ blogs, NGOs but it hides a deeper, more grim reality as well.

By now, the esteemed readers may be getting a bit wary of this litany. The intention however is to allow for making a considered call on the current situation and future prospects for pet dog/stray ownership. India is certainly not a rich nation and its civic amenities not the best. most civic bodies are cash strapped and  constantly striving for carrying out the duties allocated. Affordability of pet/ stray dog ownership by anyone needs to be seen not only from an individual owners angle but from the common facilities view point also. To cite an example, no one can dispute that collection of dog poop/pee and their proper disposal should be the responsibility of the owners but unlike the west and developed countries (Singapore is at a wish level) in India,  its often  left to the civic services or the poor colony sweeper to deal with it. Very few places have differential maintenance costs/taxes for owners and non owners. Therefore, a non owner should not  be forced to cross subsidize such cleaning. In developed countries barking, lunging or biting by dogs have severe consequences. Fines and penal punishments can be imposed  on owners. Apart from this, there can be civil liabilities in form of hefty payments as damages. Most public places are forbidden to dogs, muzzles may be required in others. Dog owners in developed countries accept these onerous  responsibilities alongside the pleasure of dog ownership. Well in India how many even know that most municipalities have laws regarding dog ownership? To illustrate, let’s take up the matter of a license for owing a dog. As per Section 399 Delhi Municipal Act 1956 all pet owners need to get their dogs registered. Registration can be done even in the  Delhi Municipal body’s portal. The registration fee is barely Rs 500. In a report appearing in Business Standard, the MCD had stated that only 1100 Dogs were registered as against an estimated 20,000 Pet and Stray Dogs in Delhi during the period. It appears, even registration seems to be burden on dog owners. There are several other related issues with respect to pet/stray dogs in India. As responsible dog owners certainly more civic sense needs to be displayed. In the recently drafted Bhubaneswar Municipal Corporation (Registration and Proper Control of Dogs) by-law’ there is provision of providing Dog Collars. Any dog without tag collar, tag/metal token found on the streets will be lifted by the civic body and a fee of Rs 300 per day, maximum up to Rs 2,500 for the detention period, will be collected from the owner. The owner will be required to keep the dog chained while taking it outside. Ferocious dogs will have to be muzzled when they are taken outside.  Any harm to a person or livestock by the dog will be the responsibility of the owner. The dog owners will also be required to ensure that their pets do not defecate near the residence of others. Owners of the registered dogs will have to ensure proper space, accommodation, food and medical facility for the canine. In the event of death of the dog, the owner will have to inform the same to BMC which will provide a van, as a paid service, for its burial at a dedicated burial ground. “No owner can abandon his/her pet dog. It will be treated as cruelty to the animal and attract penal provisions,” the draft guidelines state. While the government and civic bodies do their part, individual citizens need to pay heed. The increasing cases of dog bites and death from rabies is a serious concern for all in India. India should take an oath to make it rabies free as many countries like Antigua, Australia, Barbados, Belgium, French Polynesia (Tahiti), Ireland, Japan, Malta, New Zealand, Northern Ireland, Saint Lucia, Scotland, Singapore, Sweden, etc have done. Even our very own Goa is rabies free.

A hardnosed person had once suggested every dog lover should be made to compulsorily visit the tragic confines of a rabies patient and watch his agony before making a conscious decision to own a pet or stray.  (By Sidhartha Mukherjee)

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