My name is Garima and I prefer dogs to humans.
I have always had a soft spot for animals but this discriminatory love surfaced only when I started visiting and volunteering at an animal shelter a few years ago.
How I began volunteering at a shelter is a story out of a novel, or so it seems in my head.
It was a cold December evening in Delhi and I was returning home from work. At one stretch of the busy Ring Road I noticed a dog sitting on the divider. It had a collar on, so I assumed it was probably someone's dog. I saw her again the next day and called a local animal shelter, Friendicoes, to pick her up. Since I did not see her the next few days I figured she was somewhere safe. A cold December had turned to a very cold January when I suddenly spotted her walking on the same divider one evening – a bundle of skin and bones. This time I slammed the brakes, got out of the car and started calling to her. She didn't come to me easily. Carrom (that's what I later named her) was definitely happy to see a human, but she wasn't willing to trust me completely. I gave her a few slices of oranges and apple, the only edibles I had with me at the time. She gulped them down but ran off each time I tried to pick her. Finally, I opened my lunchbox and showed it to her. That got her complete attention, and gave me an idea. I put the lunchbox inside my car and prayed that she get in for the food. She did! I shut the door immediately and got into the car, while she licked the lunchbox clean (my mother does not know this!). I took her to Friendicoes, where she was put on a drip and then admitted into their shelter. I visited her every evening, and took her out for walks.
During these visits, I started noticing how many dogs Friendicoes has under their care. Most were dogs from the streets that were reported injured, but a sizeable chunk of their dog population included abandoned pet dogs! I signed myself as a volunteer and three years and seven months later, I'm sharing a few things I've learned.
Buying a puppy is possibly the worst thing one can do. Pedigree pups come from puppy mills where dogs are kept in unimaginable conditions, bred endlessly and are given no medical care. The dogs are forced to breed (females are held tight in a contraption so they don't bite or scare away the male). Breeders do not follow rules and regulations set by the government to maintain proper and healthy breeding centres. Many times pedigreed dogs are stolen for this breeding business.
Humans are crazy. Most have no idea why they're bringing a dog home. Many people buy dogs on an impulse or as a gift and then abandon them within a year or so. They suddenly realize that the dog is “too big” for their house, or he eats “too much”, or that he is “too unwell” or “too old”, or (the best) that they've gotten “bored” of the dog.
Humans are also crazy because they're probably the only species who abuses and tortures other living beings for pleasure.
Adopting a dog from a shelter is one of the best decisions you can make. It saves two lives – the dog you adopt and the other needy dog the shelter is able to take in because of the space created. This also reduces demand for breeder puppies. If everyone adopted a shelter dog, breeding puppies would stop being a business. Shelter dogs are not broken. They've only gone through a very rough patch in their lives. All they need is time and lots of love and reassurance to become amazing pets.
You can also adopt a dog from the streets! Desi dogs – our Indian dogs – are rock stars and make amazing pets, too. They're as intelligent, as loyal, and as gorgeous as any “breed” dog. They also cost you less. Their medical expenses are half of any Labrador, German shepherd, Dalmatian etc, as they are used to the Indian weather and other peculiarities of our land.
Animal NGOs and shelters need your help to neuter/spay dogs. Animal birth control helps to reduce dog population, which in turn reduces chances of attacks by dogs (a natural behaviour for dogs to maintain territories), and reduce hit-and-run cases and other types of abuse suffered by desi dogs on the streets. But there are so many dogs that animal shelters just cannot cope with the pressure. Take an injured dog to the shelter yourself, instead of calling an ambulance. Bring the strays from your colony yourself for neutering/spaying, or at the very least, arrange a pick-up ambulance with the shelter in advance. Street dogs that have already been neutered will have a nicked ear, as a mark.
Dogs, all animals in fact, are great teachers of living in the moment. Dogs do not remember the past. I have met rescued dogs, who've suffered unimaginable pain, wagging their tails because they know in that moment they're safe and in loving hands. Dogs don't care about the future. They don't plan and speculate what is going to happen to them. They eat when they're hungry, they sleep when they're tired and they defend when they feel threatened. All other times, all they want is some love and all your respect. Some treats never hurt, of course!
Carrom now lives at Friendicoes's animal sanctuary in Gurgaon. I don't meet her often, but I know she is safe, healthy, and happy – just what she deserves.