‘Indians Prefer Pedigree Dogs But Know Little About Pet Ownership’

Gargi Sen, a Kolkata-based documentary filmmaker, says the middle class often scoffs at native dogs and shirks their responsibilities as a pet parent. Her views:

Large cities contain several cities within themselves, often distinct from each other, with well defined boundaries and cultures, at times language too. Kolkata has several such pockets. It is a city with a large population that defies imagination. The fault-lines that carve out the city are not visible easily unless you know what to look for. And the prism to view might not be the city at all. I found a prism in the dogs of Kolkata.

The ‘Mahanagar’ is strangely kind to its population of street dogs. I say strangely because I have not encountered this level of care and compassion anywhere else. At the opposite end are pedigree dogs kept by the middle class. And this too is strange because I have met very few middle-class families who keep Indies, or rescued, as pets. It is a prestige issue really!

I have five ‘rescue dogs’ and two cats. The cats came with me from Delhi but the dogs got added here. I was looking for a dog as I was living alone, and cats, though the most lovable companions, are no good with strange noises or disturbances. They run away. My friends brought Star (Tara) to me from Bombay. A few months later, my neighbour, Soma, asked if I could keep two dogs in the gallery outside my home. They have to be kept tied and once they settle in, they can be let loose. It didn’t work.

I couldn’t bear to have the two dogs tied up. The gallery is open to the elements. Moreover, two street dogs live near my home. Elderly and lovable, they would get disturbed with this new element. Laali and Tara had spent their entire life being tied under the Gariahat Bridge. They are delightful companions. Mahadeb had been abandoned twice. A big dog with sad eyes, he behaves like a pup. Finally, Bagha. He was abandoned outside my house by his owner. Initially, I let him be outside and only fed him. But my neighbours didn’t like him at all and he faced violence. So, he joined my menagerie.

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I brought in a dog-trainer, consulted my friend Aaron in Delhi, who is an animal behaviour specialist, and I read. The Hidden Life of Dogs by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas opened up the mysteries of dog-behaviour. I found this to be the most useful of the lot. The advice went against the grain of popular beliefs and very soon my dogs settled in and by and large became easy, happy and obedient who lived in harmony with each other and the two cats. Actually, the cats rule the roost.

The pejorative term for street dogs in Kolkata is Neri Kutta. My neighbours are offended that I keep Indies. My sister-in-law’s friends complained to her about my strange behaviour, living alone and keeping street dogs. My immediate neighbour snarled at me: “Why do you keep Neri Kutta? Can’t you keep ‘good’ dogs?” His wife threatened to send Mafuza, my house-help, to jail. Yet, this gentleman is silent when members of the ISKCON, behind my house, sing so loudly, and tunelessly, with drums, at ungodly hours. Or, during the Navratras, the Ved Bhawan held all-night singing sessions with instruments, on a mic, and periodically raised the battle cry of ‘Jai Shri Ram’. He neither snarled nor protested. In fact, the quietude of the ‘bhadralok’ residents was loud indeed. Not a peep in protest!

The middle class keep pedigree dogs, bought with obscene amounts of money. Dog-walkers walk these pet dogs mostly, though there are exceptions. Most dogs are muzzled to stop them from smelling or eating the garbage. No one carries a poop scoop, which, in Delhi, is a law. I used to carry one but people laughed so much that I stopped. Therefore, these entitled pets of the entitled, take a dump anywhere, on the road, pavements, in front of doorways. The dog-walker is not bothered. Indeed, the classist behaviour of the entitled middle class is adding filth to this already filthy city.

As told to Amit Sengupta

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