Madam, ee beedi naayina yelladru bittbidi. Chennagiro jaathinaayi mari tandkodthini!” (Ma’am, abandon this ‘street dog’ somewhere, I’ll get you pups of a pedigree dog!)
“Ayyo! Beedi naayna maneyalli saakthira?” (Oh, you have a street dog as a pet?)
“Idu best breed-u madam! Saaki, devru nimge olled maadthane!” (This is the best breed, ma’am. Have him as a pet and God will bless you!)
“Your dog is so well-mannered around people. How have you trained him?”
These are real words, uttered by real people, in the last two years, all referring to Pippi — our four-year-old Indie. We have always heard more ‘ewws’ than ‘wows’. When we first met Pippi, he was a scarred dog in and out, with about fifty burnt scars. As a street dog, those were his badges of honour bestowed by some individuals of our own species. While the wounds had healed on the skin, they were agape in his heart. Over time, his world slowly changed, hopefully for the better, when he adopted us.
The Indian pariah dog, or Indies for short, is a naturally evolved dog breed that has thrived in our towns for centuries. With the advent of foreign dog breeds that came with the British, our dogs were named pariah dogs, a misnomer by all accounts (pariah also means someone who is despised and avoided). The humans who were once in love with our desi dogs started to fall for the firangi dogs; for their looks and oomph. Although the British eventually left, the tags of ‘dirty’, ‘rabid’ or ‘untrainable’ still cloud our awesome native canines. The misplaced demand for ‘pedigree’ dogs is now fuelling an unregulated and cruel breeding industry — a tragic story for another day.
In his Mann Ki Baat about two months ago, our Prime Minister set to change the tide and urged people to be atmanirbhar in their selection of dogs too. He mentioned how some of the majestic native breeds — Rajapalyam, Chippiparai, Mudhol hound and the likes — were excellent dogs to bring home. But, perhaps an oversight, he left out our Indies, which make up the most of our desi dogs’ population! These dogs were one of the world’s ‘first dogs’ and have a legendary association with the glorious times of Mohenjo-Daro. Today, the lives of our pariah dogs hang on a thread. While some turned globetrotters with foreigners going gaga over their charm, most are undesired in their own land.
As a naturally evolved dog breed, Indies are excellent guard dogs and bark the roof off when they sight anything strange! Amidst the bustling traffic of our cities, deafening noise, stone pelting humans and the vagaries of the weather, most have devised strategies to successfully feed their (and sometimes, their puppies’) growling stomachs. Yet, there is little recognition of their intelligence.
With the freedom to choose their mates, the gene pool of these dogs is very diverse, making them less prone to diseases like hip dysplasia, commonly seen in inbred ‘pedigree’ dogs. For most Indies, the yearly vaccination trip would be the only one to the vet. With a short coat that’s perfect for the hot tropical climate and no body odour, grooming these dogs is a breeze. The bonus — they regularly trim their nails and clean their paws themselves.
Unlike pedigree dogs that are often separated from their mums as teeny-weeny puppies, Indie puppies feed on the mother’s milk for a long time to build a robust immune system and a gut that makes no fuss. With their littermates around, the puppies learn to socialise better with other dogs. Their mother teaches them life skills such as finding food, avoiding danger and keeping themselves clean. Puppy antics like nipping, biting and jumping are growled at and discouraged by the mum, thus requiring no ‘puppy socialisation classes’ and ‘behavioural training’ later on!
To top it all, these dogs love you no less — you get all the wet kisses and tail wags — just like any pedigree pups. Now, even if you forget the cuteness and just do the math, you save big on paying for the pup, visiting the vet, grooming and training — all of which you can now use to splurge on the treats! If you aren’t into our Indies yet, whose loss is it?
Tailspin is your monthly column on everything that’s heartwarming and annoying about pet parenting.
The writer is a science communicator and mom to Pippi, a four-year-old rescued Indie, who is behind her drive to understand dogs better. She tweets at @RamanSpoorthy.