From prized export to picture of neglect: the story of Indian dogs

Naturalist S. Theodore Baskaran’s new book is a valuable and comprehensive guide to a subject that merits considered attention

March 04, 2017 09:31 pm | Updated March 14, 2017 01:11 pm IST - CHENNAI

A file picture of the Rajapalayam breed.

A file picture of the Rajapalayam breed.

There is an interesting story in naturalist S. Theodore Baskaran’s The Book of Indian Dogs. Chippiparai, a native of Tamil Nadu, is one among the Indian breeds that was inducted into a police squad in Tiruchi in 1974. The dog helped nab a thief from his hideout following a scent trail. But the judge would not accept the findings as evidence because they came from a country dog.

If that incident bears testimony to how native breeds are viewed, another explains the lack of breeding standards for Indian dogs, which is necessary to get recognition for them in international kennel clubs.

As soon as Mr. Baskaran’s book with a cover picture of a Caravan Hound came out, it evoked objections from a group of people on social media.

“They claimed what was on the cover was not Caravan Hound and their hue and cry led to the publisher, the Aleph Book Company, changing the cover, replacing the Caravan Hound with a Combai, a native of Tamil Nadu,” says Mr. Baskaran.

The introduction of exotic dogs and the dilution in the bloodline of Indian breeds caused by inbreeding poses a great challenge to evolving breed standards. Individuals who keep native breeds disagree with one another on the breed standard. Since the government also remains indifferent, no sincere attempts have been made to scientifically study native dogs.

Little-known facts

Mr. Baskaran, a former Chief Postmaster General, took initiatives to produce postage stamps of four Indian breeds — Mudhol hound, Rajapalayam, Rampur hound and Himalayan sheepdog — points out even the pioneering attempt to set standards for Rajapalayam and Chippipaprai dogs by the National Bureau of Animal Genetic Resources (NBAGR) was discontinued.

Tracing the history of Indian dogs through references in literature, stone carvings, rock and wall paintings and accounts of British and other colonial officers, Mr. Baskaran says depictions of hunting parties accompanied by dogs in rock paintings at Stone Age sites in Tamil Nadu have provided clear evidence that dogs were domesticated as early as the Stone Age. “From India comes the dog that is larger than others,” he says, quoting Pliny the Elder.

The book, probably the first comprehensive guide to Indian dog breeds, gives details about most of the native breeds, classifying them as working dogs, companion dogs and hounds. Mr. Baskaran has also dedicated a chapter to stray dogs and rabies.

“Historians have recorded that Indian hounds were exported to Rome and to Egypt,” points out Mr. Baskaran. “Sadly, some of the Indian dogs have already disappeared due to indifference. This is unfortunate, especially given that in ancient times, they were much prized around the world. Old travel accounts tell us that dogs from India were sent to Babylon.”

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