Adopting an Indian street dog: Myth and the mystery

‘Adopt don’t shop’ is the new motto, increasingly driving many animal lovers to choose to bring home a pet. Breaking through the pre-conceived notions and love for foreign breeds, people are increasingly open to adopting the more commonly seen Indian street dogs or ‘Indies’ as they are popularly referred to. This is also a reason for the increasing popularity of adaptathons that have now almost become a standard calendarized event in some of the metros like Mumbai, Bengaluru and Chennai, to name a few and occasionally held in some other cities too – An opportunity to give a ‘stray’ a home.

Healthy, but happy?

First, to the reference of adopting an Indian breed – the advantages are plenty. Good health could possibly stand out as the foremost one. Since, these commonly found breeds are best acclimatized to the local weather and living conditions, Indian dogs tend to have fewer medical troubles and tend to cope with seasonal vagaries much better – simply translating as fewer visits to the vet.

Yet, they come with their own challenges as well. For a dog already used to a carefree life on the streets, even if adopted when they are pups, these strays may not find ‘home life’ easy. “One big drawback with street dogs are, the inability to ascertain their lineage. Who their parents are, and their exact breed with the combinations they may have gone through. Obviously then translating to the biggest problem – it is always difficult to predict their behaviour,” says Uday Kulkarni, CEO of Ventura, a pet neutraceutical company and a an expert dog trainer himself.  “This challenge remains throughout the lifetime of the dogs – you are always trying to guess whether they really are happy dogs or is there a dormant aggressiveness or even whether they really are social – this can be quite daunting for a pet owner.”

Reap as you sow

Saloni Tirodkar, Chief of Adoptions at ‘World for All Animal Care and Adoptions – a Mumbai based animal welfare organisation, believes that the behaviour of a dog has got more to do with the way it is treated. “Abandoned dogs go through some amount of trauma, and that has nothing to do with Indies as a breed. They are more understanding and know what it is to live on the streets, and are tough,” she says.

Tirodkar holds mini adoption events every month where around 10-20 kittens and pups are adopted. Around 100-120 of them find homes during these mega annual adaptathon events, and and she has never heard of an unhappy customer. “In fact, most of them are non-descript breeds. There are so many abandoned breeds on the streets, and adopted pets too mate with strays leading to mutts and mongrels. But lineage does not affect adoptions,” she says.

When adopting stray Indian dogs;

Respect their territory

Even the most benign of street dogs are territorial by nature. They tend to turn aggressive when it is breached. Male dogs are much more aggressive than females and vets advise early neutering to reduce it to some extent. Pet parents should understand that street dogs have been ‘protecting’ themselves for generations, staving off threats and feeding themselves. They should be parented, keeping this in mind. Those who adopt pups too, should be ready to handle a few behavioural problems.

Give them freedom

In case of Indie dogs, dog should choose the owner and vice-versa. Otherwise, for a breed which has been known to do what it likes and roam freely, adoption can be a restrictive affair. They should be given liberties that a pet might otherwise not have. 

Training however according to experts remains a trying phase when it comes to Indian street dogs. Indian purebred dogs take twice as much time to train, as compared to a German Shepherd. In the case of strays without pedigree, pet parents have to carefully study their behaviour right from the scratch, and train them as it goes. Indian dogs are much more intelligent than most other purebred dogs, which means they are capable of learning quickly. That, however, does not mean that they will put it to good use!

“The strays are used to running several kilometers foraging for food and even playing around with other dogs on the street. Most pet owners think taking them for a 15-20 minutes walk each day is enough. These dogs are high on energy and get frustrated holed-up in apartments with lack of real high energy exercise and running around, that they actually thrive on, says Dr. Umesh Karkare, Director and Co-Founder of Happy Tails Veterinary Speciality a popular chain of Veterinary clinics based out of Mumbai with a recently launched 24×7 Emergency and Critical Care Facility.

“For these dogs, this pent-up energy might emerge in aggressive behavioral traits that they display at the slightest provocation. It is totally unfair then to call this aggression – these are just their natural instincts of staying alive”, Dr. Karkare adds.

A 2012 survey places the numbers of street dogs in India at between 25 to 30 million and growing. Government sponsored measures to keep these numbers under check are progressing well in several pockets of the country. But instances of dog bites and resultant death in some case keep bringing back the debate of how really to manage the issue. Giving them a safe home maybe one good way out, or maybe not.

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About the Author: Katya Naidu

Katya Naidu was a former business journalist who changed tracks to chug along her real passion, pets and parenting.

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