"Stray dogs" - my travels in India

Date: 19/03/2018

"Stray dogs" - my travels in India

I still remember it vividly. Riding in an auto-rickshaw down a major thoroughfare near the city center in Jaipur, Rajasthan, India, I looked to my left. There, sprawling about a dead-end side street, was a pack of at least 20 stray dogs. Animals catch my interest, and strays roam everywhere about the streets of India, so I kept watching. Looking a little bit closer, I saw two dogs in action around the same item. A moment passed before I realized what I was looking at. Two dogs were standing over the carcass of a third dog, tearing it apart. Then it hit me. India can be a real dog-eat-dog kind of place, sometimes literally.

India, a beautiful place full of beautiful people who are often stranded in destitute and seemingly hopeless situations, has many problems requiring a myriad of solutions. Yet I may be so arrogant as to suggest the one thing the country should consider doing first. India may want to hire a dogcatcher.

Of course, the law of unintended consequences dictates that, if India does hire a dog catcher, the rat population may spiral out of control. Perhaps the stray cats, whose population is more elusive and secretive but no less significant than that of the dogs, will then step up to do their part. Thanks to the nature of the feline community, stray cats are far less noticeable as well as far less dangerous for society — although they do still pose a major health hazard.

While cats usually skulk about and scatter away from humans, dogs (on their own) are much bolder. Additionally, they instinctively form packs and roam about the city. Dog packs are bolder, more intimidating, and far more menacing. Dogs are loud creatures, howl at night, and frequently become involved in fights with one another. They also eagerly eat garbage, which is unhealthy for them and increases their disease rates. It also leads to garbage being spread about the city. Stray dogs drastically increase the general filthiness and unhealthiness of a city space.

According to one study, “Stray and roaming dogs and cats are usually poorly cared for and are often carriers of disease.” The deadliest of these diseases is rabies — which is fully preventable. Vaccines exist for humans, dogs, and cats, and infection is treatable. Nevertheless, a report issued by the World Health Organization, warns,

“In countries of south-eastern Asia the disease is still an important public health problem. An estimated 45% of all deaths from rabies occur in that part of the world. The situation is especially pronounced in India, which reports about 18 000 to 20 000 cases of rabies a year and about 36% of the world’s deaths from the disease. The situation is especially pronounced in India, which reports about 18 000 to 20 000 cases of rabies a year and about 36% of the world’s deaths from the disease.”

Of course, stray dogs and cats are hardly the only members of the animal kingdom which dominate the streets of India. Cows are, famously, revered as holy and the urban sectors of India are littered with countless numbers of free range cows who eat trash. Wild monkeys are everywhere. Beyond that, however, I’ve witnessed stray horses (sometimes in herds), stray goats, and, most shocking of all to me, stray pigs.

Pigs and dogs share some similarities. Both devour garbage. Both are generally dirty animals. Dogs, however, are less commonly eaten by human than pigs. Eating infected swine can spread disease, and pigs are virtual petri dishes of disease. One source reports, “Wild pigs are known carriers of at least 45 different parasites (external and internal) and diseases (bacterial and viral) that pose a threat to livestock, pets, wildlife, and in some cases, human health.” These diseases pose a threat not just to single individuals, but to entire populations.

The 2009 Swine Flu Pandemic terrified the world. The particular strain was not only resistant to common antiviral drugs, but also proved particularly deadly. A study by The Lancet medical journal concluded that up to 575,400 people died from the virus in 2009. As reported by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, “A disproportionate number of deaths occurred in Southeast Asia and Africa, where access to prevention and treatment resources are more likely to be limited.”

Globally, swine flu was generally contained after 2009. In India, however, it was never fully controlled. In 2015, a swine flu outbreak in Gujarat and Rajasthan left approximately 2,000 dead. As reported by The Times of India, across the whole of India, “8,543 people succumbed to deadly swine flu virus between 2010 and October 2017.” Meanwhile, news outlets reported in March 2018 that Rajasthani Governor Kalyan Singh had tested positive for swine flu. Retesting proved he had not actually contracted the disease, but knowledge that the threat of infection poses a real risk to even the most elite of Indian society should inspire consideration to the dangers facing the poorest segments of society — the people who actually live on the streets among the stray pigs.
The hazard of free ranging pigs in Indian cities does draw some attention. Reporting on the situation in Bengaluru, Karnataka, The Hindu states, “One of the biggest problems of the locality was the stray pig menace, which posed a grave health concern, especially for children.” A local official, however, explained that solving the problem is not so simple, saying, “Pigs usually attack men and bite back during its capture. Catching stray pigs needs special skill and a large team.” Compounding the difficulty of dealing with the pigs is that they thrive in filthy environments — and prevailing social attitudes in India accept disposal of waste all around human inhabited areas. For instance, The New Indian Express reports on the situation in a suburb of Hyderabad:

“What helps the stray pigs flourish in the locality is the garbage that is dumped all along the road in many areas by restaurant owners and also residents of the area. “People even get down from cars here to urinate by the roadside. Several people dump wet waste on the road itself which decomposes and emanates stench,” said Vaykuntam, principal of a school which is located in the ward."

Therein lies the rub. Cows are revered, but when treated as holy animals who should be allowed to range freely about urban centers, they eat trash and become sickly creatures. Dogs dominate the streets, but when no one catches them, they eat each other. Pigs wander about the city, rooting through garbage, but become four-legged receptacles for incubating and transmitting disease. Cities are strewn with trash. People urinate by the roadside. In Delhi, walking past a stream near the upscale Saket District, I frequently saw cars stopped by the side of the road while drivers or passengers urinated into the stream — sometimes more than one person at a time.

By Pieter Friedrich. Pieter is a Californian researcher, author, and speaker on the interconnections between historical and current affairs as they relate to world religions, human liberties, economic action, and imperialism.