x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

How has man's best friend become a menace in India?

A story from long ago proves that the dog really is man's best friend, but modern statistics show that canines can also spread a deadly disease.

Bibiji yelled at her husband, Sardar Sohan Singh: "You just cannot toss him out of the house. After all, he has been with us for over six months and is part of the family."

But Sardarji was adamant: "Moti has to go. We live in just one small room. It is winter and Moti, too, wants to huddle in this room with us in the nights. There is no place for him."

The subject of this heated discussion between husband and wife was a white dog who had adopted this family. The partition of British India had driven Sardarji out of Lahore. He now stayed in a room about 19 square metres, in Darya Gang, Delhi, with his wife and two sons. To add to his problems, when I arrived in Delhi after partition as a homeless refugee in 1947, I had no place to stay. Sardarji, being a close friend of mine since college, would not hear of me and my wife residing in a hotel.

It was tight accommodation for four adults, two growing kids and a dog. Sardarji was clear - Moti had to find another home.

Early one Sunday morning, he went for a long outing with Moti. He returned home around noon, without him. Bibiji was vexed. "What have you done with him?" she thundered. Finally, Sardarji explained: "I tied him with a leash to my bicycle and rode seven miles out of this locality. There, when he was nosing around, I untied the leash. Then, I biked back quickly."

Bibiji was livid. "Is this the way to treat a dog?" she asked. There was silence in the room. Throughout the evening, Bibiji kept haranguing Sardarji for having abandoned Moti to the streets.

The milkman tapped on our door, as usual, about 5am the next morning. Bibiji shuffled to the door with a vessel in her hand. And then she yelled with delight: "Oh Moti, you have returned!" Bibiji dropped the milk vessel and hugged the delighted dog, who lay on the floor and looked at her with doleful eyes. The clanging of the vessel on the brick floor woke us all up.

Sardarji had presumed Moti would find another home. However Moti did not want to give up his home, his family and Bibiji. He must have remembered the various lanes and roads he had traversed, and found his way back. There was all-round relief at Moti's return. Even Sardarji relented, saying: "If he is so keen to be with us, then so be it." And thus Moti was accepted back into the household.

A few months later, Sardarji was chatting with some friends at a tea shop, close to the residence. Suddenly, Moti rushed to him, barking loudly. When Sardarji could not understand the urgency of the situation, Moti caught hold of his trousers in his mouth and dragged him home. Sardarji was shocked to see Bibiji lying unconscious on the floor next to an electric iron.

Apparently she had been ironing some clothes, sitting on the floor; some faulty wiring or a short circuit had knocked her unconscious. A doctor was hastily summoned and Bibiji was quickly revived. Of course, after this incident, Moti became the hero of the neighbourhood and a true part of the family.

Over the past 66 years I have often remembered Moti's sense of loyalty and direction in returning home after he was abandoned, and his cleverness in knowing that Bibiji needed urgent help. Since then, I have also read about guide dogs for blind people, and of dogs who help the police find drugs and even bombs. It's no wonder that many dog-lovers pamper their pets with toys, gourmet foods, customised beds, sweaters and other luxuries.

So it is distressing now to see large numbers of stray dogs, unkempt and often aggressive, loitering in city streets and villages around India. Large mounds of uncollected rubbish attract them. It is almost impossible to walk in many areas at night for fear of being attacked by a dog. Many people contract rabies - a painful and frequently fatal disease - after being bitten by unvaccinated street dogs.

The World Health Organisation estimates that there are 20,000 rabies-related deaths each year in India. In Mumbai, 80,000 people were bitten by dogs in 2011. The stray dog population of 35 million is increasing; governments and NGOs must work together to find creative and humane solutions to this issue.

Dogs should continue to be man's best friend, not a danger lurking in the dark shadows of the streets.


Hari Chand Aneja is a 91-year-old former corporate executive who now keeps busy with charity work