Stray dogs find shelter and community support amid rising tensions in Chennai

While House Owners’ Association and residents’ associations have been cracking down on dog parents, the ones that are facing equal trouble are dog owners who don’t ‘own’ dogs
Thiruvanmayur based dog lover feeds the stray dogs at Besant Nagar beach, while it is closed for public following lockdown evening in Chennai
Thiruvanmayur based dog lover feeds the stray dogs at Besant Nagar beach, while it is closed for public following lockdown evening in Chennai (Photo | P Jawahar, EPS))

CHENNAI: In a cloudy morning, Sripad Sridhar, a wildlife filmmaker, received a unique delivery along with his daily newspaper at his Nungambakkam home. Upon taking a closer look, he saw from underneath the grey papers, brown snouts peeping out. A mamma dog and her four pups had taken abode from the rain, cuddled up cosily next to each other.

This was four years ago. Now, Govind, one of the neighbours who used to feed the pregnant dog, takes them for shots and arranges for their food. They have been sterilised, collared, and are allowed to run free in the neighbourhood. But, no matter what, they have had a place to call their own at Sridhar’s, every night. When asked about how many pets he owns, he shrugs off the question saying, “There is no question of anyone “owning” dogs here. I provide them with a space to live, that’s all.”

This is a story of collective responsibility, individuals coming together to care for furry friends who cannot fend for themselves.

A dog activist, who requested anonymity, dedicated to feeding over 20 stray dogs in her neighbourhood in south Chennai, finds herself facing opposition following the incident where two rottweilers attacked a five-year-old child at a park in Thousand Lights. “People who were staunchly against feeding strays were even coming around,” she says. However, now house owners demand her eviction, citing concerns over safety. “House owners have been cracking down on pet owners and feeders. In fact, most security guards are instructed to ‘strike on sight’ when it comes to stray dogs,” she adds.

Post the rottweiler attack, some apartments even want the eviction of existing pets. To put up a rottweiler or a husky for adoption or just dump them on the streets is not feasible. It is inhumane for the dog and the pet parent to part ways just because of the recklessness of one pet owner.

The activist comments that choosing a breed that cannot adapt to Indian conditions could prove detrimental to both the pet and the community. She concludes by saying that irresponsible ownership can cost other pet parents and feeders too, and as a consequence, the dogs that depend on them.

Maria, a resident of an apartment society in Koyembedu states that post the incident, there were strange requests to remove all strays from the apartment premises as they “eat pigeons”. A pet mom of four golden retrievers points out that whenever she tries to keep water bowls outside her house for thirsty stray dogs, disapproving neighbours often break these bowls. “If I have to face this despite having my own house, imagine the plight of those living in residential areas or rented houses.”

Breaking the rules

Many would be surprised to know that according to the Constitution, housing societies cannot prohibit pets/stray dogs. Fortunately or unfortunately, it also states that it is the duty of every citizen to have compassion for animals. It also adds that no one can be banned from feeding strays in their locality. Simultaneously, it has been mandated that it is essential to create ‘guard and dog partnerships’ where responsibility should be taken by the pet parent to ensure that residents of the housing society are safe from any potential harm. “No one is born a dog-hater, people are just afraid. Instead of emotionally-driven activism, a more practical approach is required where we consider people’s inhibitions,” says Antony Rubin, an activist

Advocating for responsible feeding, he says, “Don’t just throw plastic packets filled with food out on the street, take responsibility for the dogs you feed.” Antony points out that the challenge lies in sterilisation as it costs up to Rs 3,000 per dog in private clinics or NGOs. The Greater Chennai Corporation (GCC) needs to increase the rate of sterilisation as it cannot match the birth rate.

Mahanya V, founder of Dogs of Madras, a pet adoption agency, also faces similar issues, “A lovely family visited us recently, and they were eager to adopt a female pup but they were not allowed to do so due to association rules preventing them. They seemed like a good match for that pup, so we were disappointed.” Mahanya adds, “At least twice or thrice a month, we get requests from people who want to drop their dogs off for adoption. The problem is, nobody adopts adult Indian dogs and we do not have the space to take them in. There’s a good chance they may abandon the dog on the streets, which will again increase our stray population.”

Shedding light on the matter, and claims that pet lovers are asked to vacate their residence, an apartment association’s secretary from Ambattur says, “Associations don’t entertain stray dogs because they disturb the pet dogs in the apartment societies which lead to howling and barking late at night. They are worried that young children could be an easy target for stray dog attacks. The common areas become unhygienic with the dogs rummaging through garbage bins for food. The dogs tend to defecate and cleaning up after them poses as a challenge.”

But the fear of stray dogs is also real. Vijay, a pet feeder from Nugambakkam, says that riders find it difficult to travel at night due to the stray dogs chasing behind the vehicles. This has instilled fear among commuters in his neighbourhood.

Break the cycle

In our cities, a distressing cycle ensnares stray dogs: Step one, ignoring hungry, thirsty dogs sifting through garbage bins; step two, kicking away the same hungry, thirsty dogs when they look at you with eager eyes expecting food; step three, feeling victimised when the same dogs get vicious and start attacking people; step four, making a call to the corporation to take away the dogs; and step five, repeat from step one.

Breaking this cycle requires compassion and sustainable solutions such as vaccination and sterilisation drives to ensure the well-being of all members of our community, says Narmada, an activist. “Animals should be fed at late nights or early morning to avoid them coming out in search of food during the day. This will reduce human contact with animals. Hence, attacks could be reduced,” she says.

Instead of a single person taking up the responsibility to feed all the stray dogs in their area, if an entire community takes responsibility to help the dogs in their neighbourhood, the confusion and hunt for food among the pack will lighten,” she adds.

The rottweiler incident is a cautionary tale regarding breed selection and pet ownership but it should prove to be more than a knee-jerk reaction. Everything in nature, which was supposed to be shared among all living beings, is being encroached by human beings solely. This has displaced animals, including dogs, leaving them without proper shelter or food. Like every other man versus nature battle, it seems like human beings will gain the upper hand due to the unfair advantage of the sixth sense. For ages, dogs have been man’s best friend but have we failed this friendship?

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