This is Parker. He lives on the streets around Kamala Nehru Park and he has become our friend. His full name then, I guess, is Kamala Nehru Parker. We don’t see him every day; though some afternoons, in need of a dog fix after school, we gather up our canine magnet and lover all things animal, Ellinore, and walk down the lane toward the park.
Inevitably—if he is not out on other business—Parker rouses himself from the shade, tail a waggin’ and always a smilin’, to greet us. Often, if we are walking further afield, he’ll follow us through our errands, sometimes with another dog or two, only to end up back at the apartment building.
Most of the city dogs in India have pointed ears, a wedge-shaped head with a pointed nose, and a long erect tail that curves over their backs. They have a short coat that varies in color from light tan to dark reddish-brown. And most of them live difficult lives. They have mange and fleas. And some are pretty roughed up.
But despite these hardships they have found their niche as resourceful urban scavengers. With little regular municipal collection here, garbage collects in the streets, and the dogs forage these piles of trash at street corners, or below overflowing rubbish bins.
These street dogs are skinny, too, though in comparison, Parker does better than most. One afternoon Parker followed us back to our building. As Rebecca climbed the stairs to our apartment to fetch some food, a sari-clad woman stopped to talk with Ellinore. The woman, our daughter reported, addressed Parker in Marathi or Hindi. She told Ellinore tht Parker regularly stops by her house for a treat. And he happily agreed, it seemed, to drop by her place later. It seems Parker is not only resourceful, but can manage in more than one language. Kamala Nehru Parker is charismatic, multilingual, and has a pretty red collar.
Dogs are everywhere. The Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) sterilizes many of them. You can tell by the little square brand on Parker’s hind leg that he has been targeted by the PMC. We learned about the program from the veterinarian down the street when we took Parker in for a check up.
I’ve also learned that there are two common terms for the Indian street dog, the “pariah dog” and the “INDog” (short for Indian Native Dog). Indeed Kipling’s “Yellow-Dog Dingo” from the Just So Stories is classified in the subspecies Canis lupus dingo.
There are organizations in every city that provide care and support for the legions of dogs. But the stray city dogs are also a “nuisance”—especially when they start roaming in packs. Rabies is a terrible problem here—with more than sixty percent of the estimated 35,000 annual global rabies deaths occurring in India, according to the World Health Organization. (We took rabies medicine before we left the US.) In fact, the news reports this week that Srinagar officials have begun an anti-rabies program that will exterminate more than 100,000 dogs.
So while there are pet dogs and guard dogs in the cities of India, it’s mostly the strays that rule. These animals, survivors to be sure, lead a tenuous life on the crowded streets and lanes of the cities. There are cars to contend with, and the young men we’ve seen, laughing, chasing dogs on their two-wheelers. And now the mass extermination programs, like a nightmare. No, we are not planning to bring Parker home with us. But I won’t say that every one of us hasn’t thought of it.