The dogs are here to stay

As long as there are open garbage dumps and free food, the number of stray canines are going to increase

Published - August 27, 2023 12:37 am IST

All over the country, we share our road space with packs of stray dogs and abandoned cattle. 

All over the country, we share our road space with packs of stray dogs and abandoned cattle.  | Photo Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

It is past midnight. All is calm, but not quiet. A dog begins to bark in a measured way — not for, or at, anything particularly, but as though just establishing its presence — and wakes up households around a half-a-km radius. A few other dogs from near and far respond to the barking, each creating individual high-decibel circles of a half-a-km radius.

It’s like a Venn diagram of partially overlapping barking circles with my apartment in the middle, getting it from all sides. I am startled awake by this motiveless tranquillity-busting, and I wait out the nuisance. I’m sure this is no watchdog alert — no burglar has ever been challenged by dogs in our area. Any burglar with a pack of biscuits is welcome. So the cause of the initial commotion is likely to be a cat on a wall, minding its business, or a sewer-hopping bandicoot. Soon, the other dogs go quiet, but this dog — the one near my window that inaugurated the barking circuit — takes its time winding up.

I try to recoup the deficit in my sleep cycle, and nearly succeed. But session 2 of barking commences more urgently. This time, it’s a dogfight settling a turf war in a brief and one-sided skirmish, followed by the Doppler effect of receding yelps signalling the departure of the vanquished. End of session 2, and I realise I’m constructing a dog story based only on the audio input. My writerly imagination is running amok, and it is goodbye to any more sleep. From then on, I am alert to sporadic canine activism till dawn breaks.

During my morning walk, I come across packs of well-fed dogs on the street, resting after their nightly labours. Now it is their dawn showtime. They all wear happy but unhinged expressions, intent on chasing nervous joggers, cars, and two-wheelers. Theirs is a purpose-filled life.

The dogs are here to stay, as long as there are open garbage dumps on the streets, and benevolent citizens whose life mission is to offer them biscuits. Despite the efforts by the municipality to control the canine population, some of the animals slip through the cracks and go about increasing their constituency. Their turf war in the middle of busy traffic is a regular feature. And it is tough on two-wheeler riders having to go past skirmishing dogs while also negotiating coccyx-cracking potholes.

Later in the day, it is time for the stray cattle scene. It is school time and I just witness a bull casually trotting across the street and knocking over a school-going boy on a cycle. The boy picks himself up and carries on, pushing his dented bike, a little embarrassed at being the chosen one, in public. The onlookers are indulgent and try to cajole the bull to a side. It doesn’t work. The bull apparently lives in the street, and probably has a proper postal address, too. Soon, it gets set for another go at some random passers-by. Everyone runs for cover, thrilled, and some are videographing the entertainment for social media posts, assured of a hundred ‘likes’ and ‘shares’. There is never a dull moment on our streets.

All over the country, we share our road space with packs of feral dogs and abandoned cattle. In a way, speeding on our streets is impossible, with one having to weave through dogs, cattle, potholes, and jaywalking citizenry. Indifference to our circumstances, even a little indulgence, is our survival skill. We may lose sleep with all the night-long barking; we may be pursued by dog packs and wayward cattle and we tumble over potholes, but our collective indifference prevents us from seeking solutions to the issues. We don’t talk about these animals snacking on roadside garbage dumps, and upending trash containers, or worse—causing us bodily harm. This is the mystery of our long-suffering Stockholm syndrome: we love our tormentors and those who exasperate us.

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