As a child, I was never allowed to go near animals – particularly dogs, because my mother was petrified by them. She associated dogs with germs, unwanted hair and perilous infections, due to which dogs were never permitted in our home.
As I was growing up, my need to have a four-legged companion increased with each passing day. Each time, I used to bring up this topic at home, I was given the customary negative reply – this, despite the fact that I was raised in a very liberal and supportive environment.
Being a psychologist by profession, I have a tendency to analyse situations and behaviours deeply. I felt an urge to comprehend the reasons for my family’s contempt towards dogs. I realised that the major reasons for their aversion towards dogs were misinformation, irrational beliefs (under the garb of truth) and a general fear of the ‘animal’.
Much against the wishes of everyone, I took a deliberate and life-altering decision of bringing home a dog. My fiancé (now my husband) was equally keen to have a dog at our home. So, we both decided to get a beagle for ourselves. Beagles are highly active, playful and friendly dogs with a small stature.
However, at that point, both of us were pretty naive about breeds, behavioural patterns, nutrition and other essential things related to dogs. Anyhow, Pluto entered our lives in the most dramatic manner. He was a 25-day-old pup who could barely see or walk. His size was literally that of a big fat rat!
We were later informed by his vet that no puppy should be separated from its mother till 45 days to two months. Thankfully, even after this (unintentional) blunder, he turned out to be a healthy puppy. Nurturing him required lots of effort and time. In fact, for about two months after his arrival, I had sleepless nights.
Those days were quite taxing, indeed. Yet, they were also the most satisfying days of my life. Becoming a pet-mom was a beautiful road to self-discovery. I never knew I was capable of giving so much unconditional love to another being.
Pluto attracted the attention of everyone in the family. My brother and grandmother eventually grew really fond of him, taking care of him during the times when I was at work.
Fast forward to the present – Pluto is about to turn two this month. He visits his naani’s (maternal grandmother’s) home quite frequently. My mother, too, has grown quite fond of him. Pluto never misses a chance to give her ‘free licks’ when she is sleeping. I am sure even she doesn’t mind any of them!
Lately, I have been contemplating much about the idea of adoption rather than shopping. Therefore, I thought of becoming a foster parent to an Indie pup – and contribute in his journey till he found his loving family. I contacted PAWS in order to become a volunteer and foster parent.
Soon after the home check, Cookie came along, wagging his tail, to our doorstep. This was our first experience with an Indie pup – even though I have never had any particular inhibition towards petting stray dogs.
Cookie was a delightful pup, who exuded much energy and love. I could train him in a couple of hours, and he was always up for cuddles and licks. This over-enthusiasm was clearly misconstrued by his previous adopters who had abandoned him. It makes me wonder if these people would abandon their children for their behavioural issues!
Pluto was also once a very rowdy and ill-mannered dog with various behavioural issues. Now, he is so peaceful and calm than he can be in the running for a Nobel Peace Prize!
In my experience, love, patience along with systematic behavioural training are all that’s needed to nurture a dog and help him/her adapt to your home and get along with the family members. In fact, we were also quite apprehensive of Pluto’s reaction towards Cookie. However, he turned out to be a true gentleman in every sense. Not only did he share his toys and bed with Cookie, he learnt to behave more responsibly and set up a decent example for Cookie.
I would like to appreciate the team at PAWS, who have tried their best to rehabilitate Cookie in a loving home. I am also in constant touch with Cookie’s rescuer who was really concerned about him and his settlement in his Forever Home. In fact, every one of us were facing great difficulties in finding a loving home for Cookie where his new family would be genuinely concerned and love him for what he is – rather than expecting him to behave the way they want.
It is essential to understand that like humans, every dog has its own personality and temperament. Hence, an effective rehabilitation or training can happen only in accordance to this. After much effort and another failed adoption, Cookie has finally found with his Forever Family in Dehradun. I was really elated at this, but I also started wondering how many other dogs get such an opportunity?
This short experience as Cookie’s foster parent impacted me deeply. Since Cookie was temperamentally very different from Pluto, I had to put in a different kind of effort altogether. I wouldn’t say that it was a bed of roses, because it wasn’t. But again, it is never so with any puppy!
Fostering Cookie was quite challenging in its own way. What I appreciate is the immense love that I received from him in return and a change in my outlook towards animals. Whenever I see any dog now, I feel a deeper connect with it rather than superficially appreciating its ‘cuteness quotient’, like many dog lovers do. I have now started realising that you don’t become a ‘dog lover’ just because you have a dog at home whom you really love. You can become one only when you are compassionate towards each and every dog, irrespective of breed, age, health, physical appearance, etc.
Nowadays, when I consciously recognise the state of dogs, I feel quite despondent. I believe that the fault lies with us – the ‘(pedigree) dog lovers’. Our ‘want’ (read ‘demand’) of pedigree dogs has not only grown and sustained this cruel breeding culture (after all, they are catering/supplying to our demands) for years, but also belittled the importance of Indie dogs.
I think a lot about whether Cookie would have faced so many rejections and abandonments, had he been a pedigree dog? Moreover, I am also forced to think about the plight of female pedigree dogs who are just treated as ‘puppy producing machines’. When they are no longer fertile, they are either abandoned or killed. Sometimes, the unwanted puppies are also euthanized or killed brutally, which clearly indicates their ‘commodified’ identities.
There is also a huge gender-preference, even in pet industry. Most of us want to have male dogs to avoid any unnecessary hassles of ‘unwanted pregnancies’ or ‘going into heat’. Consequently, the breeders are left with more female pups which are treated brutally for purposes of breeding. Moreover, some of the dog breeds have evolved by cross-breeding. This increases the long-term health risks, especially in the relatively newer breeds.
On the other hand, the likeability of stray dogs is still very low. There are horrible cases of dog-abuse being reported every now and then. On any festival, be it Holi or Diwali, stray dogs are the ‘silent sufferers’ who are affected with pollution, hazardous chemicals, and other forms of life-threats.
Besides, it is shocking to see not only adults but even children engaging in intense acts of insensitivity and cruelty in order to have fun and ‘feel a kick’. I believe that this is a matter of serious concern – is the younger generation deriving pleasure from burning alive puppies, throwing dog from rooftops, and spilling boiling water on them? If yes, then there is definitely something gravely wrong with their upbringing and our culture.
In addition to this, if you are explicitly compassionate towards animals (by feeding or showing love towards the strays in your locality) it is likely that you may have faced opposition by neighbors or even resident welfare associations.
These kinds of behaviour reveal our contempt and disgust for stray animals and also represent the collective mindset and character of our society. I think that a society which is not compassionate towards its animals can never really be progressive and happy. It will always have to bear the burden of the silent suffering of its innocent animals. As Anatole France had once remarked: “Until one has loved an animal a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.”
Finally, I would like to emphasise that I am not against any pedigree breed, since I am a proud beagle mom, myself. However, I am against the atrocities and discrimination that the Indie or pedigree dogs have to face – just to fulfil our wants, beliefs, greed and entertainment purposes.
Only now do I truly realise that adopting a dog instead of shopping for it, is much more humane and satisfying. We have decided that whenever we will bring Pluto’s furry sibling, it will surely be an adopted one.
It shouldn’t matter whether you open the doors of your home for an Indie or pedigree dog, as long as you refrain from contributing to the breeding industry and/or economy. If you don’t believe me, try becoming a foster for these furry balls and experience the love and contentment for yourself!
The author can be found here.