About Kolkata’s street dogs – what are they and where do they come from?
The Indian street dog, also known as the pariah (‘outcast’ – horrible name) dog, pye dog and various spelling variations thereof, native dog, stray dog, Indie and INDog, has a history going back thousands of years – some estimates suggest as much as 14,000 years.
Wikipedia says it is “a descendant of an early Chinese immigrant, according to Peter Savolainen, a professor of evolutionary genetics at the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm. However, the place of origin has not yet been determined. Urban Indian street dogs are of Indian Pariah Dog ancestry, but usually admixed with other breeds.”
A 2001 law made the killing of street dogs illegal in India. In 2014, Yahoo reported plans to train some of Delhi’s street dogs for police work. “City authorities said they would enlist police animal trainers to work with the strays and press the canines into service as guard dogs alongside a newly formed ‘May I Help You?’ city security force which aims to assist the public and bolster safety.”
Origins Wikipedia goes on to say that street dogs are “one of the few remaining examples of mankind’s original domestic dog and its physical features are the same as those of the dogs whose fossil remains have been found in various parts of the world, from very early remains in Israel and China to later ones such as those found in the volcanic lava at Pompeii, near Naples in Italy.
In India these were the hunting partners and companion animals of the aboriginal peoples of India. They are still found with the aboriginal communities who live in forested areas. Since these dogs have never been selectively bred, their appearance, physical features and mental characteristics are created by the process of natural selection alone. The INDog has not been recognised by any kennel club although similarly ancient or ‘primitive’ dogs have been recognised such as the Azawakh and the Basenji both of which are also sighthound and Pariah. It has been recognized by the Primitive and Aboriginal Dog Society…”
They are thought to be the ancestral stock of Australian Dingo. Although a 2004 Swedish study of mitochondrial DNA found that dingoes originated from southern China, not from India, more recent genetic research (2013) on aboriginal DNA seems to support the conclusion that seafarers from India brought their dogs to Australia 4,000 years ago and these constituted the ancestral population of the dingo.
Temperament In temperament, the Indian street dog “is an extremely alert, very social dog. Its rural evolution, often close to forests where predators like tigers and leopards were common, has made it an extremely cautious breed and this caution is not to be mistaken for a lack of courage. They make excellent watch dogs and are very territorial and defensive of their pack/family. They need good socializing as pups and do well with families and children if provided with such socialization. They are highly intelligent and easily trainable, but can get bored equally easily and not want to play typical, repetitive dog games like ‘fetch’. They are modest eaters and will rarely overeat. They are a very active breed and thrive with regular exercise and very long walks, several times a day. They bark at the slightest doubt or provocation and can hence be noisy.”
Territorial Indian street dogs are highly territorial. A single dog or a small group of dogs will often ‘claim’ a stretch of road and vehemently guard that territory against canine intruders.
Aggression Like many breeds, street dogs are usually at their most aggressive during the mating season, when they are attacked or teased by people, or when they feel that they or their puppies are threatened. While many street dogs are gentle, some can be particularly aggressive, barking loudly and without apparent justification at passers by or at other dogs.
Breeding Indian street dogs breed once a year.
The Animal Welfare Board of India has produced an excellent paper on street dogs. Here is the full document. Here is an extract:
Street dogs have always been a part and parcel of Indian urban and rural life like many other developing countries in the world. Many of these animals live in close contact with human beings.
In India, for more than 150 years upto 2001, mass killing of street dogs through various forms, including electrocution, shooting and poisoning were seen as the only solution by the authorities to address the issue of over population of street dogs and deaths due to rabies. Some sporadic but illegal killings still continue to take place in many parts of India.
Much of the research and experiences of internationally reputed organisations such as the World Health Organisation (WHO), World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, (FAO) and independent researchers suggest that killing street dogs can have no correlation with the objective of reducing their population, or reducing the number of dog-bites or deaths caused by rabies. Much of this research is collated and included in this report.
Background : Understanding the Issue
What are street dogs?
Most free-roaming dogs belong to an ancient canine race known as the Pariah Dog. Dogs have existed all over Asia and Africa ever since humans started living in settlements. They were the first animals to be domesticated, and their loyalty and love for their care-givers is what earned them the title of man’s best friend. They are, and have always been, scavengers. In India the breed has existed for perhaps 14,000 years or more. In addition to scavenging, they are widely kept as free roaming pets by rural and urban slum households.
The word ‘stray’ is used for street dogs in the context of the animal not being an ‘owned’ dog or a ‘pet’ dog. However, all dogs whether owned or stray/street share the same characteristics of being a loyal friend, a watch/guard dog, eager to please humans and exist in harmony with them.
A large proportion of the urban street dog population consists of mongrels or mixed-breeds, i.e. dogs that have descended from pedigree dogs which have been allowed by their owners to interbreed with street dogs. Not all street dogs are in fact stray or ownerless animals. There are street dogs which do not have owners or are feral household but may still be accepted by the neighbourhood as belonging to the community. These animals are ‘community owned’. Members of the neighbourhood assume occasional responsibility for these dogs by feeding them, treating them when they are ill and getting them vaccinated, and also by protecting them from people who intend to harm them.
Why do they exist?
The size of the street dog population usually corresponds to the size and character of the human population of the area, before an animal birth control programme is put into place. Some of the reasons which create and sustain street dog population:
Large amounts of exposed garbage, which provide an abundant source of food
- “The abundance of dogs is dependent on the habitat, especially the availability of resources such as food, water and shelter. Access to these resources depends on settlement patterns, rubbish and waste disposal, rules for keeping animals and other cultural practices. To understand the population biology of the species, it is important to keep in mind the differences in ownership status,
- degrees of restriction on their movement, social interaction, reproduction and levels of dependence on human care.” (Wandeler et al, 1993). It is clear to us that the population of street dogs is directly related to the amount of food and edible waste matter in an area. Areas of the city which are kept clean, usually because they house affluent, influential people have a very low dog population;
- areas of the city with dense, poor quality housing and large amounts of waste have a much higher population. The overall, ultimate answer to street dog population control is to control the availability of edible wastes.
Large human populations living on the streets or in slums who keep the dogs as free-roaming pets/neighbourhood dogs
“In India, 60% of the dog population falls under the neighbourhood dog category” (Reece JF and Chawla SK, 2006). Food is very often provided to street dogs by local communities. In a large number of cities and towns, many people live on the streets or in slums. Such people keep street dogs as pets and also feed them. They work with animal welfare organizations to catch, sterilize, vaccinate and treat them when they fall sick. In return, the dogs give them security, love and companionship. Such dogs become easier to catch when they have to be taken for sterilizations (ABC) and re-vaccinations against rabies (ARV).
Adoption: give a street dog a home
The most important thing to understand about adopting a street dog is that you are making a commitment to look after that dog for its whole life. If you are willing to make that commitment for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, and if you’re prepared love your dog unconditionally, regardless of how often he chews up your favourite chair, you will find your love and commitment repaid many times over. That ‘love interest rate’ is better than you’ll get at any bank.
If you want to adopt a dog straight from the street, it’s probably best to wait until it’s at least one month old. That will allow it to benefit from its mother’s vital nutrition in those all-important first weeks of life. It can be hard to adequately substitute a mother’s milk.
Kolkata has some NGOs that work with street dogs and can offer dogs for adoption. They include:
Mother of Stray Dogs and Cats 57-2A,A P Chatterjee Ln, Chittaranjan Avenue, Kolkata 700 052. Tel: (033) 2413 8019
Ashari Hospital 2, Netai Nagar, Mukandapur, Kolkata 700 099 (near Metro Cash & Carry, EM Bypass). Tel: 033 2423 9100, Mob: 9831677822
Maya Madhyamgram Awaiting contact details.
There are some important things you must do immediately after you bring your new dog home:
De-ticking Get rid of any ticks and fleas on the dog. You can buy sprays and powders from your local pet shop or vet.
De-worming There’s a high chance that your new dog will have worms if it’s spent any time living on the street. Your local vet will advise on how and when to do this, and where you can buy the de-worming tablets.
Vaccination It’s very important to get your dog vaccinated against, for example, distemper, hepatitis, Parvo virus, leptospirosis and rabies. Your local vet will do this.
Also, it’s a good idea to take your dog to a vet early on for a general check-up, which includes a nutrition check.
Feed your dog a nutritious and well-balanced diet.
Useful link: Dogspot has this comprehensive overview of the street dog.