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Farewell, sweet friend

I had been expecting it for days and yet when the news came yesterday morning, that sweet, little Santoshi had passed away, it took me by surprise.
This adorable, little dog had taken up residence at the local nursery several years ago, where another dog lived with her puppies. When this other dog got injured in a car accident, Santoshi looked after the pups, apparently even breast-feeding them. She was named ‘Santoshi’ (Hindi for Contentment), because of her calm and peaceful nature. She had many well-wishers like the chai wallah and the nursery guards, who would give her and the other dogs mathri and biscuits through the day.
A few years later, the puppies’ mother was run over by a car. As they cried desperately for her, Santoshi took them under her wing.
When my family and I moved on to the street opposite the nursery, the two pups- Kali and Lalu- were by now full-grown and Kali had acquired a strikingly handsome companion in the timid and gentle Lekhraj. I never got to know Lalu- he too was run over and killed by a car, the same week that two other dogs in the vicinity died in the same way.
Ironically, it was a similar incident that facilitated my formal introduction to Santoshi. It was early winter and she had been sitting on the warm sand at the corner of the street, when a speeding car apparently hit her. I returned home from a hectic day’s work to be greeted with a report of the accident before I could even enter my house. I called the wonderful lady who had been feeding these dogs, among 70-odd others, every single evening for the past four years. She quickly arrived and together, we tried to coax Santoshi out from under a parked car where she had gone in to hiding. While I gingerly tried to lure her out with a biscuit, the lady put me to shame by going down on all fours without any hesitation, checking her for injuries and offering her food and water. Since Santoshi refused to budge and it was already well past the clinic’s closing time, we decided to take her to the vet first thing the following morning.
The whole thing proved to be a serendipitous event, because while she appeared to have no injuries whatsoever from the supposed accident, the x-rays revealed severe arthritis. For the next three months, I religiously sent her some food with a healthy dose of joint supplements and by spring time, she had a spring in her step, as she began trotting about, going off on long walks and joining the other dogs, cats and cows in scavenging at the garbage dump.
Knowing we would not be living there for long, I deliberately avoided getting too close to the dogs, especially she who was quiet and kept to herself. As it happened though, we stayed a few months longer than expected and so, I got her a coat for the winter and decided to build kennels for her, Kali and Lekhraj. Given her small size and my rather generously spaced kennels, I swapped the one for her with a smaller one given by someone to a much larger street dog. Santoshi’s cozy, small kennel was placed on one side of our lane and opposite it, the large kennel which I hoped would permit Kali and Lekhraj to snuggle together as they usually did. To my great delight, Santoshi took to her kennel in no time at all and seeing her happily curled up on a soft cushion, burying herself deep in to the warm blanket, sheltered finally from the harsh Delhi winter air, my heart jumped with joy.
The following day, as I was walking my dog, I saw her again in her kennel, but half an hour later, she was gone. I panicked. It was a bitterly cold day. Where had she gone? I looked around but couldn’t see her anywhere. And then my gaze fell on the big kennel on the other side of the street. Lo and behold, there was little Santoshi, blissfully bundled up and sound asleep! I burst out laughing. What a clever girl! She had obviously seen the kennel still lying vacant and thought, why scrunch up in this little house when there’s a luxury bungalow on offer?!
She battled her way through the winter but had clearly begun to lose a lot of weight and despite my growing concern, I sadly could not manage to do more than go across and give her a small meal and some biscuits every now and then.
When I learned a couple of months ago that she had grown even more frail, I hesitantly asked a friend if she would help out. I never had to repeat my request. She was taken to the vet almost daily, put on a special diet for renal trouble, given fresh, clean water, a comfortable new cushion and God knows what more. Just being her quiet, dignified, self-sufficient self, Santoshi managed to generate a lot of love. She brought together our Dog Squad (See ‘The Birth of the Dog Squad’, August 6th, 2016), and had been till now, its central focal point. She has shown us how much we can help animals and each other by working together and thanks to her we hope many others will be benefitted.
She has also raised a thought in my mind, which I feel merits some serious consideration- Why don’t people adopt old dogs? The street is no place for any dog really, but much like puppies, old dogs require greater care. They are at great risk having lost their agility to dodge traffic, fend for food, run around in search of shelter, tolerate the extremities of weather, not to mention that with age, many develop health issues just like human beings do but alas, they are seldom given the care they need. Imagine them all cleaned up. Well fed. Secure. Happy. Comfortably sprawled on a sofa or a bed or just curled up on the floor, being able to sleep without having to keep one eye half-open for fear of something coming at them. I wish Santoshi had known that feeling. I wish I could have given that to her.
I also wish that I had followed my instincts in the last couple of days and bothered to make the two minute trip down to see her. Every day I told myself I would go, before something happened to her. Every day I found a reason not to. So I had no one but myself to blame for the enormous sense of guilt I felt yesterday, when I finally managed to quite easily find the time to go and see her. Only this time, it was to say goodbye and lay her to rest. Together with another wonderful member of our Dog Squad, who had personally taken great care of Santoshi in the short time she had known her, we buried her close to her home with our love, blessings and thanks.
Santoshi was about 15 years old and had developed renal failure. She will be fondly remembered and missed. God Bless You, sweet Santoshi. May you roam free now in Doggy Heaven and have all the love and comfort you so well deserve.

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In Good Times and in Bad

It had been a perfectly nice Raksha Bandhan day, with much sibling love being spread around the world via every possible mode of communication. I tied a Rakhi on my little Beagle, as I do every year; we had relatives and friends dropping in with delicious mithai and it was generally a day of celebration of family ties.

For our dear friends who live two houses down though, the good cheer was about to be brought to a rude, abrupt halt. As the news of a fire in their house made its way down the rather short grapevine between our homes, I immediately ran across to see if everyone was okay and if there was any way to help.

Typically, there was already a crowd that had gathered outside the house. I quickly found the lady of the house and asked if they were all safe.

“The dogs are there”, she said to me. Gosh, I had quite forgotten about the dogs, since I’d only met them a couple of times. They were safe on the terrace, she told me, describing how she had tried to bring them down, but they refused. The old dog, with a hip problem, wouldn’t come down the stairs from the fourth floor anyway, since she was accustomed to using the lift. The lady had tried and tried and then had finally managed to convince the dogs to go up to the terrace where they are used to playing. The tiniest of them all, she had scooped up in her arms and brought out of the building, when after several minutes, a family member had managed to cajole her in to evacuating the premises.

Normally, I would have panicked at the thought of dogs on the roof of a building on fire, but A. the fire itself seemed well under control and not even visible from the outside, and B. I knew these people to be big-time and long-time animal lovers, who would definitely have ensured their pets’ safety.

The incident, although far less dramatic, brought back disturbing memories which have yet to turn foggy, of a fire that had occurred on the floor above ours in the house we used to live in. To be honest, calling it a fire is a gross understatement. What began as a gas leak in the upstairs kitchen, causing a fire, then spread to the air conditioner cables of three 2-tonne  ACs which exploded all together. The noise was deafening and the explosion sent a shower of glass just past our balcony, set off car alarms and destroyed the upstairs apartment entirely. Fortunately, the poor inhabitants escaped with injuries they have since recovered from.

Down at our place, I had just poured a glass of wine for a visiting fellow-journalist, whom I had been helping and who I was meeting for the first time, on his way to the airport. I had his large backpack shoved in to my room, so that my inquisitive, little Beagle, wouldn’t decide to have a pee on it. We had barely been sitting five minutes when the explosion occurred. No one immediately comprehended what had happened, since there was no visible fire. The cook’s wife opened the door to the stairway to try and see what had happened. Big mistake. Right behind her was my desi dog, Lily, who is absolutely terrified of loud noises. In fact, she’s a basket case not only when it comes to Diwali, but also when a door bangs loudly, a clogged motorcycle pipe makes a loud report or even when the lights go out and the UPS beeps. So, given that the noise of the explosion was enough to scare the living daylights out of anybody, it was not surprising that Lily took off, with the cook running behind her and me behind him, entirely forgetting the poor, bewildered journalist in my living room. As I went around desperately asking people if they’d seen my dog, he suddenly appeared behind me and  joined the search. My parents meanwhile, called me saying we needed to evacuate the building because it seemed there had been a fire on the floor above. I temporarily abandoned the search to go home and gather my other three dogs. Fortunately, they cooperated and I quickly loaded them in to the car. The journalist, who had been standing quietly outside, then timidly reminded me that his bag and passport were inside. Poor guy! We made a dash in to the house, retrieved the bag and ran out. When he asked if I could call him a cab, I thought I might beat him! Luckily, the cook had by then, caught up with Lily and was waiting for us to come and pick them up, so I decided to call the cab and get the poor guy out of the way.

With Lily now safely back with us, my father parked the car around the corner from the building and returned to see what was going on. Away from the noise and the fire engine and the crowd, I sat in the car with my dogs for nearly an hour, reassuring them that it would all be okay. It was a night I would rather forget.

 

Having experienced that traumatic event, I could well empathise with our friends now, waiting for permission to get back in to their building and to their dogs.

As I lay in bed that night, imagining what our friends and their dogs must be going through, I couldn’t help but wonder- in a city like New Delhi where such situations are not uncommon, when it comes to our own safety and more so, that of our pets, how prepared are we to handle a crisis?

Google had some useful links to offer:

http://www.akc.org/learn/dog-health/evacuation-caring-dog-fire-natural-disaster/

http://www.humanesociety.org/issues/animal_rescue/tips/pets-disaster.html

However, I think any disaster plan needs to take in to account your particular circumstances. Is your pet one to stall or run? Can you carry your pet? Where would your pet be safest? These are questions that we must keep in mind while devising a plan for an emergency situation. I also came up with a few very basic things which could apply to anyone:

  1. Keep your pet’s collar and leash close by or near the exit so you don’t risk them running away or towards harm.
  2. Avoid leaving your pet alone in a closed house. If you must, ask someone to keep an eye on them.
  3. Avoid leaving your pet alone in a closed room, with or without air conditioning. Even if the air conditioner is on, it’s best to leave the room door ajar so they can get out if they are uncomfortable.
  4. Have your vet’s emergency number handy at all times.
  5. Once the immediate crisis is over, remember to provide water to your pet.

Most importantly, I think, we need to stay with our pets during a crisis because for them, familiarity is probably the greatest reassurance of all. Unfortunately, we live in a country where emergency services are not entirely efficient and the lives of animals are not a high priority. That is why it is incumbent on us to look out for the safety of our pets. Please, take a few minutes to put together a contingency plan to keep you and your pets safe. Staying safe and staying together. Isn’t that really all that matters?

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The Agony, the Irony and the India I Love

One of my favourite quotes from Mahatma Gandhi is, “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated”. That being the case, the state of this country appears to be neither great nor progressive. Well, I’m not Aamir Khan, so I can get away with saying it: I often wonder if perhaps someday I shouldn’t just move elsewhere. Just call it quits. And quit.

In a country with such an enormous populace, such a vast area, so many languages, different cultures, multiple cuisines and don’t even get me started on religions, I suppose it is no wonder that the smallest of problems takes a large amount of resources and time to solve. As Shashi Tharoor has so often and so eloquently pointed out, let’s say when you succeed in elevating several million people out of poverty, if you look at that impressive figure in terms of percentages, it is anything but impressive. The scale of our problems is so very, very large, and the problems themselves so deeply entwined, that it is often extremely disheartening for anyone who wants to effect any sustainable progress.

I personally, am one of those who has the great luxury of returning home every day and being able to close my sound-proof windows, crawl in to my cozy bed, turn on my HD TV and effectively, transport myself in to a land of my choosing. But what if, despite everything, I’d like to choose this land?

It’s that time of year again, when public spaces are decorated in the colours of our national flag, little plastic tricolours are sold at traffic lights along with bumper stickers and miscellaneous decorative items with slogans such as “proud to be Indian” and “I LOVE MY INDIA”.

Just last evening, I was groaning as I watched the news and learned of the embarassing letter issued by the International Olympic Committee to our ‘honourable’ (because somehow they all are), Sports Minister, telling him that his band of goons were not free to roam about as they pleased and were not entitled to be rude to the officials. And that’s from the easy-going brazilians. Imagine if it had been Germany…! Then there’s the question of why there are so many ‘official’ delegates anyway or whether all the members of the technical team are even truly qualified for what they’ve been sent to do. And if they’re not, isn’t it a terrible disservice to the nation for them to be there and not be able to provide the very best support to our very best athletes?

While I was drawing some sort of pained amusement at the fumbling politicians being grilled by journalists on the Rio Embarassment, I had other matters to tend to back home. I was delivered a ‘warning’ by someone who had recently beaten up my friendly neighbourhood dogs and subsequently apologised for it. The warning was delivered timidly by the sweet guard at the house where these dogs sit, to say that if the dogs were ever to attack this man’s dog, he would ‘bring his gun and shoot them’. No question of politely discussing a problem or expressing a concern or grievance. Nope. WARNING. Because that’s how we do it now and everyone is a law unto themselves.

Last winter, as we prepared to shift house, I thought I’d leave behind a lasting present for the various street dogs I had befriended nearby. So, I did my research and designed a few comfy kennels.

There was much excitement for several days, as the carpenters worked in the garden and cheerful-looking kennels began to take shape. I decided the first one must go to the old, little dog on the roadside, who is pretty frail. So I hopped across to the nursery where the dog has lived for years, and sought permission to place the kennels inside. The surly supervisor met me with a scowl and pat came his reply- “No. Not here. We don’t have permission”.  I turned on my heel and walked out, determined to find a perfectly suitable place regardless of this put-down. But as I walked away that morning, my enthusiasm and earnestness having received an unceremonious boot, I couldn’t help but wonder- “What would Gandhi say?”

That same thought occurred to me the other day when a woman told me and my friends to ‘keep your compassion to yourselves’ as we pleaded with her not to try and displace the same old dog whose kennel I built, again today in light of the disappointing performance of our non-athletes at the Olympics and on more occasions than I care to recall when ghastly inhuman crimes are committed against people and animals alike. This is the India that I don’t belong to, the one I want to go away from, the one that shames me and rejects me.

So, when did I stop being patriotic? I didn’t. I am still very much a patriot. I pledge my allegiance to the idea of India. The Sovereign, Socialist, Secular, Democratic India. I think of the India our leaders envisioned when they fought for Independence- the India which was moral, kind, peace-loving, compassionate, pluralistic. I think of the time when one wouldn’t need to seek anyone’s ‘permission’ or face aggressive opposition to do a simple, good deed. I am proud to be that Indian.

Why is it that yoga and Ayurveda are trendy in India only now that they have been appreciated abroad? Why do we turn up our noses at our beautiful Indian dogs who are dying for homes while we import poor Huskies and Saint Bernards to give them a miserable existence in a miserably incompatible climate? Why is it suddenly ok for the non- hoy-poloy to enjoy cheap, Bollywood music, since it’s become popular abroad too? Why are Indian men in Indian cities never dressed in traditional clothes? Ever seen a rich household whose staff uniform is a kurta-pajama?

In our seven decades of freedom, we seem somehow to have freed ourselves altogether from what and how we were all collectively meant to be as a nation. It’s a Herculean task to get back on track, but Gandhi has addressed that too: “Be the change you want to see in the world”.

For critics who prefer more “modern” and “western” thinking, take a cue from Donald Trump (but please, let it be the ONLY one)- Make India Great Again. Jai Hind.

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The Birth of the Dog Squad

It’s been a busy week in my neighbourhood. One in which I have had to raise my voice against some no-gooders, to protect a very old and sick dog, amongst other things. Yet, as I recount the trying incidents of the past few days, I do so without those familiar feelings of sadness, anger and dejection.  Tired as I am physically, I don’t feel mentally and emotionally drained as I often have. I don’t feel alone and I don’t feel like giving up because I haven’t had to do all this by myself. The Dog Squad has arrived!

While my choice of name may be rather disingenuous, the concept, suggested separately by two of my animal-loving friends, is not. We created a small WhatsApp group of a few like-minded (and generally likeable) people, who can come together in times of need and who are capable of being not likeable at all when they see cruelty to an animal. The aim is this: anytime any of us are dealing with an animal-related crisis in the neighbourhood, we can save time and send out a single message to which any of the others who are in the vicinity can quickly respond. So simple and yet quite brilliant.

When I heard that the sweet, gentle, old dog who lives near our old house was sick, I called a friend who lives nearby and whom I knew would take excellent care of the dog. Then I received a message from another lovely girl the following day, who had noticed the dog on her daily walks in the park and had been sending food for her. Someone, she told me, had marched up to her staff and forbidden them from feeding the dog. So, a few of us decided to pay the woman a visit and figure out what was bothering her.

It turned out she just did not want a sick dog on the street. Never mind that the poor dog doesn’t go anywhere near her. Never mind that the dog has lived on the street all her life. Never mind that the dog poses absolutely no threat to anyone. She just did not want the dog there. Our attempts to reason with her were in vain and we finally decided to shift the dog slightly farther away, even while we informed the woman that relocating or deliberately harming a street dog, are criminal offences. The encounter was not a pleasant one, but together, we made our point.

That evening, when one of the people who had joined me on this ‘intervention’, repeated the suggestion for a phone group of animal lovers, I decided not to waste any time in creating it. From the moment I did so, it proved to be the most wonderful resource. Every day, each of us at some point, have been going to check on the dog. Someone takes her to the vet, another takes her food, others just swing by to make sure she’s ok.  Everyone is in the know and if anyone expresses any cause for concern, someone or the other addresses it. We brainstorm, we cooperate and very importantly, we give each other the appreciation and reassurance that animal lovers very often don’t get.

Giving a hoot comes at a price. Looking after animals very often involves strife and anxiety. No, it’s not something anyone particularly enjoys doing, leave alone when they are met with criticism, hostility and sometimes even mockery. Like the woman who wanted the dog to be moved out. “Keep your compassion to yourselves”, she said. Fortunately, some of us still have a shred of humanity and enough humility to know that it is not our prerogative to deny others their homes and habitats. We are thankfully not yet so desensitised as to turn a blind eye or a deaf ear to the suffering of an innocent being. Yet, we don’t always have the means to be able to deal with such situations alone. Which is why, it is very important that we support one another in whatever way we can. Making phone calls, providing transport, finding a good vet or appropriate shelter- every little bit counts. In the wake of increasing atrocities towards animals, perhaps this is a very workable solution- Getting together a tiny network of people in your neighbourhood, who can help each other help the animals.

While I remain deeply concerned about the old dog, I am also very touched and heartened to see the dedication of the amazing people in my “Dog Squad”, who are doing everything they can for her. Together, I’m sure we’ll be able to do a lot of good for a lot of animals. And so can you. To quote Hannibal Smith from The A-Team, one of my favourite TV shows growing up, “I love it when a plan comes together!”

 

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When the Sh** Hits the Fan

Let’s go with the American word for it. Poop. It sounds so much better. Everyone does it. Peeing. Vomiting. It’s all perfectly natural but it’s meant to be done in private. And yet, on the streets of Delhi, one sees these activities performed unabashedly in full public view. By humans. When it comes to animals though, we frown upon them doing their business anywhere on our ever-expanding territories.

The other night, I was enjoying the cool, post-rain breeze, walking with my dogs. Our street dog friends escorted us as usual, running ahead and around us, tails a-wagging. We went on our usual route, on to a nice, quiet road in front of the park, a road where most people own and love dogs. A road where the street lights haven’t been working for weeks. As we turned back, I saw one of the street dogs starting to poop in front of someone’s gate. The guard, who had been sitting and chatting with his buddies further down the road, saw the dog at the same time as I did and both of us called out to him to stop. The dog immediately moved away, but he’d already left his visiting card.

The guard immediately turned and asked me, “Do you think it’s right to make a dog do his business in front of someone’s gate?”

“Well, of course not”, I responded, puzzled. It wasn’t my dog who did it. So why do I get the credit, I wondered.

The man continued on his rant. The dogs come with you. Wouldn’t you feel so very upset if a dog pooped outside your house? My feet will get dirty…On and on he went.

I was so annoyed that after dropping my dogs home, I returned to the spot, armed with a roll of toilet paper and a plastic bag, ready to clean up the mess and tell the man what I thought of him.

“I cleaned it. Of course I can’t let you do it”, he said.

“Oh really? Well, you went on telling me about it, so here I am”, I retorted.

Again, he asked, “Do you believe it’s okay to make a dog poop in front of someone’s house”?

Let’s just get something straight here. You can’t make a dog poop anywhere. I’ll never understand why people say that. You can just about stop a dog from pooping in a certain place, but you can’t make them poop at will! Are these people potty or do they really not know jack-shit about dogs?

Here’s the deal, as I told him- People like him may be paid to walk and look after one dog. People like me pay to love and look after all dogs. We feed them so they’re friendly. We sterilize them so they don’t add to the population. We vaccinate them so they’re no threat to anyone. We pick them up and get them treated when they’re left injured and bleeding by some sod doing a 100kmph fly past on crowded, narrow roads. That doesn’t make us accountable for where they do or do not poop. I made one final declaration to the irate guard. I said, leave alone the street dogs, even if his pet dog, walking on a leash, were to poop outside my house someday, no, I wouldn’t be upset. I’d be magnanimous and say it’s a poor animal who doesn’t know any better.

But the whole incident still had me down in the dumps. I thought back to the many, many confrontations I’ve had with aggressive people on the streets, making a big deal about dogs pooping and I couldn’t help but wonder, when we keep on taking over more and more street space, where’s a dog to go?

If you’ve ever walked around any corner in your neighbourhood, you would at some point have been overwhelmed by the stench of urine from a local watering hole. Why is it that people living in posh colonies, with big, fancy houses and bright, shiny cars, can’t spare a toilet for their guards and drivers and what-have-yous to go and take a leak, instead of having them pee on walls?

Once on another night walk with my dog, we were rounding a corner when there was a big rustle in the tree next to us. I shrieked loudly, thinking it was some creepy crawly. Turned out it was just a creepy guard. Poor guy was so alarmed, I fear he might have injured himself as he zipped up and scooted off!

Then there’s that charming Delhi sight of people puking out of a bus window, with all the cars behind them trying to get out of the way of the offending onslaught. Yuck. Or a car door casually opening at a traffic light and some filthy, paan-stained brown spit being spewed on to the road. The smelly bidis. The empty bag of crisps or the plastic drink bottles. The construction materials generously spread out on the road. The big cars lined up on the pavement. All part of our voluntary roadside decoration programme. Why is it then, that when it comes to dogs doing their business, it’s the only time we give a crap?

There’s also the well-traveled camp which vociferously espouses ‘scooping the poop’, something they’ve seen in phoren  countries. I wonder, did they not also see the tremendously efficient efforts to recycle garbage? How come we don’t think of imitating that? What about our poor, ‘holy cows’ and their droppings? May I scoop that up for ya too? While I’m all for scooping, it’s not practical where you’re dodging traffic, there are stray animals on the streets, no garbage bins around and people throw their junk about like they own the whole damn place. In fact, it’s probably thanks to the poop that our streets even get swept. Ask the sweeper and I’m sure he’d say he’s a lot happier sweeping poop than removing animal carcasses when people run them over and leave them on the streets to die.

Unless we develop some civic sense as a community, it’s neither possible nor practical for pet owners to clean up after their dogs.

So, if sometimes you do find dog poop somewhere outside your home, just deal with it. It’s no big shit.

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A Call to Action

I didn’t expect to be writing on this subject again so soon. Then again, I didn’t expect such a thing to happen again this quickly. When the sweet, Indian dog ‘Bhadra’ was thrown off a two-storey terrace not three weeks ago, (read my earlier post- An Alarming Appetite for Brutality), the media and social media were belligerent as of course were animal welfare groups. And yet, days later, there was another incident, this time in Hyderabad, of the most unimaginable, heinous kind. I won’t elaborate on the details, but this too was all over the press. The act itself sends a shiver down one’s spine, but knowing that it was perpetrated by teenagers is truly shocking. It confirms the fears that impressionable minds would be attracted to the kind of sick and deranged atrocities which are becoming the subject of videos uploaded and shared on the internet. Today, they torture innocent animals. Tomorrow, they’ll be the kind of social deviants that terrorist groups readily induct. Is that when we’ll wake up and realise this is a problem that affects us all and needs to be addressed urgently?

For the past several days, I have been asking fellow animal-lovers why there isn’t a public protest or some such visible action to demand the revision of our appalling animal welfare laws. I’m usually referred to someone else, who is supposedly doing something about it. I’m certain that various animal rights activists and organisations have been and continue to fight hard for legislative change, but I can’t help but wonder, What’s a common person who wants very much to help, supposed to do? Why on earth should it be so difficult for someone like me to find out how I can pitch in? Why can’t one of the larger organisations lead a protest march or something so that all of us can come together and demand this change, not just to save our animals but to save our society from descending in to utter moral anarchy?

If you think you are far removed from such people and such acts of cruelty, don’t be so sure. A few days ago, I had just walked in to my house when I got a call from a poor man who has adopted three desi dogs whom I absolutely adore and whose vaccinations and medical records I manage, just like I do for my own dogs. He asked me to come quickly because someone was beating the dogs. By the time I reached, the person had run off but a concerned neighbour recounted the incident to me: one of the nearby residents had arrived in his car and beckoned to the dogs who were fast asleep. They went running up to him because they are trusting and friendly. Then,  he produced a stick and began to hit them. The lady ran out when she heard the dogs yelping and called the police, at which point this brute decided to drive off. Thankfully, the dogs had managed to dodge the stick and weren’t injured, though they were clearly traumatised.

So, here was an attack on dogs we know, love and look after, right here in the street behind ours. What were we going to do about it? Since the lady and all the guards and drivers who witnessed the whole incident, refused to give their names as official witnesses, our plans to lodge a First Information Report, were rendered useless. I imagine this is an all-too-common problem, among many, in our country. And yet, I was determined to put my money where my mouth is and do whatever I could, rather than just ignoring the whole thing. So, I signed a letter, along with several other compassionate neighbourhood residents, telling the man that this kind of thing was not appreciated and must never happen again. Hopefully, social pressure will be enough of a deterrent.

It will also help me sleep better at night, knowing that I have done something. All of us, if we put our minds to it, can actually help to stop violence, at whatever level, by standing up for the defenceless. Are you a lawyer, a journalist, a hotel manager? Can you use any of your professional skills to help spread the message of kindness and respect for animals and humans alike? More importantly, are you compassionate enough to care? There’s a lot we can do, whoever we are and wherever we are, to help, just like these wonderful guys at Arré have done by creating this beautiful, moving video:

While we wait for an organised animal rights call to action, we can help everyday by encouraging our children, domestic staff, colleagues, friends and neighbours, to respect and be kind to animals. The need is urgent. Let’s start now.

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Animal Testing-Are You Guilty?

Animal testing of a wide range of products and cosmetics intended for human consumption has long since been proven to be neither accurate nor necessary. Sadly though, it still exists, because of the greed of companies trying to sell their products in foreign markets and because of people’s apathy. Most people I know vehemently deny using animal-tested products, which would be great if it were credible. So, let me ask you- Do you use products which are tested on animals? Before you answer with certainty, let’s run through a typical morning routine, hmm?

You crawl out of bed and head to the bathroom to brush your teeth with a refreshing Colgate/Close-Up/Crest toothpaste? Oops, Animal Tested. A quick Gillette shave? Animal Tested. You hop under the shower and apply some wonderfully scented L’Oreal shampoo or if you’re a little more fancy, Trésemme or Kérastase? Animal Tested. Some Nivea moisturiser? Animal Tested. Put on your Acuvue contact lenses, apply some Guerlain make up and spray on the latest Armani perfume? Animal Tested, Animal Tested, Animal Tested. Meanwhile, your beautiful house is being mopped with Lysol, and your laundry is in the machine, being delicately washed with Surf Excel. Again, Animal Tested. You pop a sachet of Animal Tested Splenda in to your coffee and you jump in to your car, which smells nice and clean thanks to your Animal Tested AmbiPur car freshner.

The list, unfortunately, is very, very long.

animal testing

China is one of the countries which insists on animal testing, so any company which chooses to sell its products there is guilty of testing them at some stage of manufacturing, on poor, innocent animals. Elsewhere, especially in the European Union and the UK, there is widespread recognition that animal testing has no merits and that there are newer, scientifically proven alternatives which provide more accurate results and are which are humane.

India did me very proud, when in 2014, it became the first South Asian country to ban animal testing as well as the import of cosmetics tested on animals. Why such products are still selling on every shop’s shelves is something I haven’t quite understood. Still, the regulation is in place and that’s progress.

For most of us, it’s easy to err and buy products which are animal tested, even if we don’t intend to, because most companies that conduct such testing lie about it, the reason being quite simple: if people knew the horrendous, torturous experiments on dogs (especially beagles), rabbits, pigs, mice and all kinds of other animals, that went in to the creation of many of these popular products, chances are they’d never buy them. A lot of these animals are bred for the purpose of experimentation. Their lives are spent in cages, they are known not by names but by serial numbers. They never see sunlight, never know the feeling of grass and sand beneath their feet. The lucky ones, once they have served their purpose, are rescued by organisations such as Beagle Freedom Project (whose extraordinary work will be the subject of a future post). The rest end their lives a little more miserably than they began them.

That’s why companies will write “Against Animal Testing”, put some random bunny rabbit logo or say they test only “when required by law” (read: ‘to sell to profitable markets even if that means we compromise on ethics). They’re all lies and even I, who am very conscious about using only cruelty-free products, have been duped, like when I was happily using Himalaya toothpastes or when I bought one of those OGX Argan shampoos that recently came in to the market.

However, there is plenty of good news for people who no longer want to be passive accomplices to the horrors of cruel testing practices. There is an abundance of information on how to recognize and avoid such brands.

These websites list companies which are and are not cruelty-free:

http://features.peta.org/cruelty-free-company-search/index.aspx

http://www.leapingbunny.org/guide/brands

Also, there are three credible logos which indicate that a product is certified as cruelty-free:

animal 2

Source:www.crueltyfreekitty.com

But my favourite is Beagle Freedom Project’s Cruelty Cutter app, which you can download for free in seconds, on your iphone or android phone or windows phone. This easy-to-use app has helped me enormously to make ethical choices when I shop. It has a barcode scanner which immediately lets you know whether the product is animal tested or not!

http://cruelty-cutter.org/

There you go. Now you know. Both, about what a terrible thing animal testing is and how you can easily be a part of the global revolution against it, by making informed and caring choices. Let your beauty show from within. Go cruelty-free today.

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An Alarming Appetite for Brutality

Image courtesy Indiatimes.com
Image courtesy Indiatimes.com

Over the past ten days, many of us would have had the misfortune of seeing the video and learning about the poor dog that was thrown off a terrace by a medical student in Chennai, while an equally deranged chum of his filmed the incident to post on social media.

I didn’t watch the video and quite honestly, did my best to avoid learning details of what happened, but there was no escaping it since the video had gone viral and people everywhere were expressing their shock at what had happened.

For those of you who don’t know, let me first just tell you that the dog, Bhadra, a spunky, five-month-old Indian mixed breed, is ok, despite her fractured hip and is being nursed back to health by a team of vets and animal lovers. I reckon she’ll have a happy life ahead.

Now let me tell you a bit about the people who did this to her. These two men, mind you, were seeking to enter the medical profession, to be healers and life-savers. Their medical college, which had initially asked them to surrender themselves to the police or not be allowed to sit their exams, finally expelled them, a decision which I daresay was brought about by the public outcry and media attention.

This isn’t the first time that an incident like this has occurred. I am anguished at what we are becoming as a society, this sickening appetite for pain and suffering that people in our midst seem to have, which prompts them to perpetrate such new heights (or lows), of brutality as were seen in the 2010 Delhi rape case and in several animal-related incidents like a man hurling a dog against a parked car, leading up to this most recent one. It’s something that should deeply concern not just animal lovers but all of us. Are we developing a taste for unimaginable cruelty?

What could possibly prompt a person to do something like this? Are people that frustrated and desperate for a few Facebook ‘likes’ that they feel the need to come up with such heinous deeds for a little attention?

As of now, one is helpless to either teach these psychopaths a lesson they won’t forget or indeed to stop this social epidemic from spreading. For months, animal activists have been campaigning for the animal welfare laws in India to be revised. As of now, even the two medical students, whose crime to my mind was about as sadistic and brutal as they come, were remanded in to custody briefly and then promptly released on bail for the pitiful amount of Rs. 50, for which one can’t even get a cup of coffee at a good restaurant. That then, is the price of an animal’s life.

Oftentimes people react to such things by saying, “Well, what about human beings and their suffering?” to which I say, why can’t one be against cruelty towards all beings? People who commit such atrocities towards innocent animals pose a considerable threat to society. Who is to say the animal torturers of today won’t go on to becoming the rapists and killers of tomorrow? Which is why one doesn’t need to love animals to condemn such acts and demand befitting punishment for the culprits. I try to avoid either watching or sharing videos that I know are graphic and upsetting, partly out of fear that some other sick freak somewhere may draw inspiration from it. How sad is that? To not have enough faith in one’s society to believe that something which is intended to draw sympathy may not actually have the opposite effect?

If we are truly concerned about this societal malaise, and we really, really should be, then the next time we see an animal or a person being physically abused, let’s not just look the other way. Let’s pause to demand an explanation. Even something that simple is usually enough to deter a person. Let’s sign those campaigns that come our way, to get the government to make animal welfare laws stricter. And let’s pray for little Bhadra.

 

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Are your pets really a part of your family?

It’s been a hectic year for my family. Moving house is an arduous task as it is and more so when you have pets. We moved to a rented place nearby, while our home of many years was being rebuilt. A few weeks later, a taxi driver who had rescued a tiny pup decided to leave her outside our home. Usual story- we took her in because we felt she was too small to be left on her own, tried to find a good home for her but of course, people are most reluctant to adopt desi dogs. One of my other young female dogs was not in agreement and so the little one was sent to sleep in the servant’s room on the terrace. She got used to us and we to her and that was that. We had left with three dogs and returned with four.

When we moved back to our sparkly new home, we hired a trainer and had both the dogs enter together, so as to avoid either of them becoming territorial.

I miss the wonderful maid we had, with whom I could entrust my dogs completely, knowing that her fondness and concern for them was genuine and beyond the call of duty. Since she left for personal reasons, it’s been tough to manage them all. So, there I was, telling a dear friend about how the situation was stressful and made it difficult for me to have a normal social life these days.

“Well, then what are you going to do about them?”, he asked.

“What do you mean?”, I replied, confused.

“You got the dogs when you had help, but now that you don’t, why not give them away?”

I was dumbfounded that any good friend of mine could even suggest such a thing and I tried to laugh, telling him that was never an option.

But he argued that it was the only way. When I explained that for my parents and me, our pets are like our children and they are very much a part of the family, my friend retorted that one couldn’t possibly compare dogs with children. He has neither, incidentally.

I rallied that this was exactly the kind of mentality that I go out of my way to correct in people who get pets without comprehending the responsibilities towards them. It is all too common in Delhi for people to buy dogs as cute, little puppies and then find that they cannot or would rather not, manage them as they get older and bigger. As the conversation grew uncomfortably tense, we both sensibly decided to say bye.

But it brought back to me, the thought which has so often come to mind and left me baffled time and again. How can people abandon their pets? Admittedly, there may be circumstances so difficult that it would warrant giving up one’s pet- that too only to a good home, not abandoning them by the roadside- but I find that more often than not, it’s just the easy way out for people too uncaring and immature to bother with finding a solution to whatever problem they may be facing. Pets are meant to be treated like members of a family. They are intelligent, emotional beings that build attachments and become dependent on and loyal to their owners. Animal lovers have seen time and time again, what a traumatic thing it is for a pet to be abandoned. I wonder, if someone’s child were getting too boisterous, or a family member were sick or there was a big event at home, would one shoo away one’s parents or children? Why is it different then for pets?

One of the many great lessons in life that my grandmother taught me, was that the most valuable thing you can give to someone is your time. Time with parents, grandparents, children, uncles and aunts and of course, pets. I’ve found that interaction with dogs and I daresay other pets, helps them to develop their personalities and helps us to become more sensitive, kind and compassionate human beings. My commitment to my pets means I need time to engage with them individually every single day, take them personally to the vet, walk them occasionally and ensure that they are well looked after even in my absence. Yes, I need some physical help to do all this, but it’s important that I too am involved in my pets’ lives because they are very much a part of my family. However tiring it can sometimes be to look after four of them, they are and always will be mine to look after, just as they look after me. Whether it’s a period of stress, an economic crunch or a bout of illness, we’ll all get through it if we just manage to give one another what we need the most- time and love.IMG_20141016_125337