When he wandered onto The Groom Room property in Magnolia, Peanut was a 3-lb Chihuahua. Our groomer, Leigh, took him in and nursed him back to a healthy 6 lb. We adopted Peanut a few months later, and he is now an 8-lb Chihuahua.
Before she was rescued by Best Friends, Spice was a feral dog roaming an Arizona reservation. When we decided to move to India, we decided that Spice would not come with us. As much as we loved her, we knew that she would be miserable cooped up in a flat all day. She loves the outdoors too much. Here, there is no acre of grass for her to patrol; there is only concrete. Here, she would be leashed outside—always. So, we decided to give her to my parents where we have been assured that she is happy, even if Dad says Mom does not feed her or give her any treats. Spice also resembles a Mumbai street dog a bit too much.
Needless to say, we have a bit of a weak spot when it comes to stray dogs, and Mumbai is full of them. Brian in particular has a weak spot and wants to feed the dogs around our building when we go on walks. I have asked him not to. Not because I don’t feel bad for the dogs (I do), but because I don’t want the street dogs to see us as a source of food while we are walking Chip and Peanut, who might also be confused as a potential food source. As far as I am concerned, the city block around our flat is Chip and Peanut’s territory.
A few weeks ago, we found a good Italian restaurant within walking distance that is also well out of our dogs’ territorial range. Several street dogs live on this block, but one dog caught Brian’s attention. The dog is much smaller than the others, red-haired, and thin. We think he is a puppy. The first night we saw him, we gave him our leftover bread. The pup was less than impressed, but he ate it. The second night we saw him, we passed him, turned around, and bought him a sausage roll. Yep, we bought food for a street dog. Our own dogs did not get a sausage roll, a fact that Chip finds unacceptable.
After going to all the trouble to feed the dog, why did we not just bring the puppy home with us? Well, leaving aside our landlord’s and Chip’s obvious objections, it is just not that simple. We are not talking about just a couple of dogs roaming the streets. By some estimates, more than 2 lakh (2,00,000) street dogs live in Mumbai. Several factors contribute to the population size:
- Open garbage dumps provide an easy source of food. Much like the bears in Yellowstone once did, the Mumbai street dogs scavenge food from open garbage piles. As long as these piles exist, the street dogs will, too. In the gardens, we have garbage containers that discourage the dogs from eating the garbage—something Spicy was adept at.
- Slum dwellers adopt the dogs as unofficial pets. People in the slums often take pity on the dogs and feed them, but do not have them neutered, so the population continues to increase. Most animal welfare groups target street dogs for sterilization and vaccination to reduce the population and keep the dogs healthy. Sterilizing and replacing the dogs in their original locations is the preferred method of population control because simply removing the dogs creates an atmosphere where dogs are constantly fighting for territory.
- Pet dogs mate with the street dogs. Many pet dog owners do not sterilize their dogs and allow them to breed with the street dogs. As long as owners are not responsible, the sterilization programs will continue to have limited effect on the population growth. As Bob Barker always said, “Help control the animal population by spaying and neutering your pet.” Of course, our dogs are neutered. No one wants little Chips running around Mumbai.
The life of a street dog is complicated. On the one hand, they are loved by those who believe that all life is sacred. In a country where cows are sacred, and many gods have animal forms, people here have great love for animals and feed the street dogs because doing so invites good karma. The garden across the street where I walk does not allow dogs, but there are a couple of street dogs who frequent the garden, nevertheless. The guards don’t chase them out. The dogs wander in and eventually just leave. I think they know when the park closes.
I frequently see people feeding the dogs around the neighborhood. These dogs don’t really beg for food. Most dogs just lay around on the street corners and wait for people to give them food. They are, of course, strategically located outside restaurants and markets.
On the other hand, the dogs are feared because they are seen as carriers of diseases such as rabies. India has the highest incidence of rabies in the world, and dog bites are common. When Chip nipped at our first housemaid, we were unsuccessful in convincing her that he had all his shots and was not rabid. This fear leads to a negative attitude toward the dogs.
We have experienced this dichotomy of attitudes with Peanut and Chip.
People have two reactions to our dogs: fascination or fear. Chip and Peanut are quite small compared to the street dogs here. The puppy we fed is bigger than both of them put together. Many people want to meet the dogs and ask us if they are full-grown. Some have been known to take photos of them, and I once met a woman who was a stranger to me but knew Chip and Peanut. Just as many people are afraid of them and will give them a wide berth on the street. Like many people here, my tutor was afraid of dogs. And, let’s face it, if you are afraid of dogs, Chip does not exactly help you overcome that fear at first sight. But, gradually, my tutor learned Chip’s ways and is now thinking about getting a dog.
Several animal welfare organizations in Mumbai work with street dogs:
I found a great photo essay online about the street dogs. Please be aware, however, that some images show the dogs with injuries and are quite disturbing.