There are more stray dogs in India than you can shake a stick at.
A couple of years ago, for example, someone tried counting the dog population of Chennai (aka Madras) and came up with the figure of 170,000. If we assume the population of Chennai to be very roughly 10 million that’s 0.017 dogs per head, multiplied by 1.3 billion gives us a ball park dog count of 22 million stray dogs in India, which doesn’t seem too far out – I reckon I’ve seen and driven round a fair percentage of them these last few days on our latest shopping expedition from the farm to Solan to Nahan to Chandigarh to Nahan to Chandigarh (again) to Solan to the farm – roughly 600 km, to go shopping. Remember that, next time you pop down to B&Q and complain about the traffic on the ring road. 600 km of avoiding collisions with a wide range of human, animal and other physical obstacles coming at you from all directions, some of them at high velocity, often simultaneously and frequently surprising – although the degree of surprise is somewhat lessening after two and a half years. Man standing upright on motorbike, hands free, travelling at 30 mph down an extremely busy highway springs to mind.
Traffic police, in fact any effective policing at all, seems to be virtually non-existent.
‘Stray dogs’ is a misnomer, as it implies that the dogs have strayed from some previous existence whereby they were subject to some measure of control or even care. ‘Feral’ means they were born and continue to live without any such human intervention, and ‘street dogs’ refers to stray and feral dogs in an urban setting. Anyhow, the vast majority, urban and rural, appear feral – very few recognisable pedigrees so far spotted. (Although extremely surprisingly a ‘slum dwelling’ ‘Gurkha’ chicken-owning family down the valley had a Bernese mountain dog for a while – she looked remarkably like Luna. Another life.)
India comes top of the global list for human deaths by rabies, from dog bites – 20,000 a year. And yet it seems that these dogs are not only tolerated but positively encouraged, along with the cows and monkeys. Huge amounts of food are left around for them to gorge themselves on. There is no effective waste disposal system, although I have read somewhere that the surprisingly high figure of 20% is actually collected and dealt with, somehow. One suspects that the principal means of dealing with it is to throw it into an even larger ditch than it would have been thrown into otherwise. Today, for example, we drove past and around an immense apple dump – truckloads of unsellable apples which the government compensates the orchardists for, being dumped wholesale into a ravine at Kalka. This is in a country where millions of people are suffering from poverty-induced malnutrition. It must be another government department that deals with that. Shame they can’t join up the dots.
We regularly collect rubbish from our surrounding area and take the recyclable bits to the recycling centre – a curiously under-resourced and under-utilised facility, despite the fact that we are paid two rupees a kilo for glass. If we proffer difficult items like light bulbs – metal and glass combined – they are unceremoniously, if a tad flamboyantly, thrown into the ditch. The ditch that will one day, a a few millennia hence, wash our light bulbs into the Ganges, perhaps with the help of an Ice Age. And then of course the Earth will evaporate into the Sun which itself is dying, so cosmically speaking nothing really matters.
When broken bottles were refused, we asked what we should do with them – ‘Throw them in the forest’ came the reply.
It’s an uphill battle.
Another researcher, or possibly the same one, points out that the population of Mumbai is 12 million (I seem to be becoming obsessed with statistics – a worrying trend, especially as I have noticed that a couple of close statistic-obsessed acquaintances seem to rely on them to stem the tide of their own insecurities), and that they collectively accumulate 500 tons of uncollected rubbish per day. Moreover, half the population can be categorised as ‘slum dwellers’.
‘Slum dwellers’ are apt to keep dogs, in a loose sense, for security, if nothing else.
Not only is there a great deal of rubbish almost everywhere (even on remote mountain peaks, dumped there by urbanite hobbyist ‘trekkers’ seeking to admire and enjoy the pristine, ‘divine’ beauty), a good proportion of which is presumably edible (and cows can often be seen eating paper and plastic crap), but there is also a huge amount of fresh beef – old cows, no longer productive, and all the males, are abandoned, even feral. When they die, often at the side of the road, the dogs tuck in with glee, smacking their lips and hardly believing their luck.
This job of cleaning up the beef used to be shared with the vultures. Up until the 1980s there were an estimated 80 million White-Rumped Vultures in India (Ed. There he goes again – statistics…), while now there are only a few thousand. Of the nine species of vulture in India, most are now in danger of extinction. Extinction. During the 1990s their numbers dropped by an average of 95%. One of the reasons for this is the use of an anti-inflammatory drug (Diclofenac) used on cattle to treat fevers and wounds, but which is almost immediately fatal to vultures. It has now been banned, but vulture numbers are still decreasing. Happily, for us, the local mountain-dwelling Himalayan Griffon Vulture population seems (perhaps) stable – we see them often. (I can feel another long-term research project coming on…).
Apart from all the generous amounts of garbage and dead cows lying around, some people also consider stray dogs to be at least associated with their mythological gods and deities, if not intimately connected, and therefore give them the first chapatti of the day as a form of worship.
Or the second – stray cows rank above stray dogs, religiously speaking.
So anyway, Bobby had a dream the other night.
His office is in a gated compound. He would drive in in the morning, park his car and two or three stray dogs would appear and lie under it. This would infuriate him to the extent that he would threaten them with a stick, despite the fact that they were peaceful, and attempt to scare them off. But by the time he got inside his office and looked out of the window, the dogs would be back lying contentedly under his car.
Then he had a dream about not appreciating what he’s got.
Then one evening he left something in the office and went back to the now closed compound in the dark. The daytime sleepy dogs were full on barking behind the gate, protecting their territory, which also happened to be Bobby’s – they wouldn’t let him in.
Bobby now feeds the dogs every day, religiously – one chapatti each.