On Sunday (August 30), Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘Mann Ki Baat’ address was music to the ears of most animal lovers, activists and rescuers across the country. As the PM spoke about the beauty and resilience of Indian dogs, and the induction of several indigenous breeds into the Armed Forces, it was a shot in the arm of efforts to eradicate a general tendency of viewing native breeds as inferior to their foreign counterparts. Read this story in Tamil
Indian dogs in history, lore
Centuries ago, native dogs were not relegated to the back benches of the breed hierarchy as they have been in India today. They were constant companions of kings, queens and aristocrats as adept hunters and symbols of stature. Their attachment to humans has even been documented in ancient cave paintings.
In his 1963 book ‘The Indian Dog’, W V Soman writes about a reference to the Indian dog in the Rig Veda as ‘Sarama’, a “female dog belonging to Indra and the Gods”.
He also mentions an excerpt from the Mahabharat, of Yudhishthira refusing to go to heaven if not with his dog:
Indra: “There is no place in the heavens for people who bring dogs with them. They erase the advantages of the charities done by them when they accompany men. So leave your dog behind and accompany me. There is no hard-heartedness in it.”
Yudhishthira: “There is great sin in discarding devotees and it is almost like the killing of a Brahmin. Therefore, under no circumstances can I give up this dog. A frightened devotee, who feels that there is nobody to protect him will not be abandoned by me even at the cost of my life. This is my vow.”
Which are the common native breeds?
A 2016 study titled ‘A new methodology for characterisation of dog genetic resources of India’ by Raja KN, P K Singh, A K Mishra, I Ganguly and P Devendran of the National Bureau of Animal Genetic Resources (NBAGR), Karnal, says: “There are numerous lesser known population/breeds…which have not been properly characterised and documented, so far.”
“In general, different dog breeds in world are classified based on their utility like protection/guarding, herding, flocking, mountain, companion, fighting, scent etc. In India, some breeds of dogs viz., Caravan Hound, Combai, Chippiparai, Rajapalayam, Rampur Hound, Kanni, Mudhol Hound, Indian Mastiff (Bulli), Himalayan sheep dog, Bhutia dogs etc., contribute to the domestic animal biodiversity of our country,” the study says.
“Combai, Chippiparai, Rajapalayam and Kanni are dog breeds of Tamil Nadu…Indigenous dog breeds are mainly utilised for guarding and shepherding of livestock and agriculture farm, in comparison to exotic breeds, which are reared a fancy and as companion animal at home. Very scanty information is available regarding the phenotypic characters of our indigenous dog breeds and their utility by the livestock keepers. Hence, characterization, documentation and registration of Indian dog genetic resources needs to be undertaken,” it adds.
Dr K N Raja, senior scientist at the National Bureau of Animal Genetic Resources, Karnal, an ICAR institute, had conducted a study on the characterisation of indigenous dogs in southern Tamil Nadu in 2013-2015. “Native dogs breeds in India have over the years been used for guarding agricultural land, shepherding grazing animals etc. Till now we have closely studied the Rajapalayam and Chippiparai breeds. During conversations with breeders, we have come to learn that in earlier days, Chippiparai dogs were also gifted to the daughter of the family during marriage,” he says.
“For breeders, these dogs are a huge matter of pride, and they are very attached to their dogs. These dogs are very good at hunting, they can run very fast and are highly obedient and loyal to the owner. In the ancient days, they were even used in battle. Chippiparai were also used to guard the premises during the construction of the Periyar dam,” he adds.
Asked about the breeds mentioned by the PM, like Combai, Chippiparai, Rajapalayam and Mudhol Hound, Tanya Kane, co-founder of RESQ Charitable Trust in Pune, said, “Most of these are hunting dogs that are originally from the southern parts of India, while Himalayan sheep dogs and Bhutia dogs are from northern India and used by tribes to maintain herds. Most of India’s indigenous breeds are from the hound family with ancestors that came from Afghanistan, the Middle East. They have a keen sense of smell, high energy and drive. Their typical physical characteristics are deep cavity chests and long legs.”
The most common Indian dogs, which can be found on the streets, are what Kane called mixed breed, or “a melting pot” of various breeds, including indigenous as well as foreign.
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Why are more foreign than native breed dogs found in Indian households?
Many animal activists say that a majority of Indians have a mental block against viewing a native breed dog as a pet. The term ‘pet’, to many, denotes a foreign, exotic breed — the most common being Labradors, Beagles, German Shepherds, Huskies, Shih Tzus, etc.
Rescuers exclusively working towards getting rescued Indian puppies adopted, and vocal in their criticism of the “cruelty meted out to dogs by illegal breeders and unauthorised pet shops by pushing them into an endless cycle of birth, mating and subsequent disposal”, say that whenever they put Indian puppies up for adoption, the first question a potential adopter askes is: “Breed?”, which is often followed by silence on coming to know that the puppy whose photograph they gravitated towards is a “street dog”, a most commonly used term in layman lingo for Indian breeds.
Rescuers also say that purebreds find more acceptability than mixed breed dogs, and hence an obsession with ‘breed’ has posed a serious obstacle to their work of rescuing Indian dogs — most of which are mixed breeds — that live on the streets. Many of these dogs are rescued under conditions (abuse, cruelty, hit-and-runs, illness) that prevent them from living a safe and healthy life on the streets, but there aren’t many takers for them because they are not ‘purebred’.
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How well do Indian dogs adapt to being homed?
Kane says she knows of many who have Indian breeds like Chippiparai, Mudhol and Rajapalayam as pets. “These breeds were never really raised as companion animals, but that does not mean that they can’t be. Anyone who wants to keep them as pets must understand their requirements. They need a lot of exercise and are not the kinds who can just sit in a room,” she adds.
Dr Raja too says, “They will need a lot of space as they are very active. Since ancient times, they are known to move around a lot. They are also very easy to train.”
Jess Brittany, founder of US-based non-profit ‘Delhi the Street Dog’, started rehoming rescued Indian dogs abroad after rescuing her own dog, Delhi, from the streets of the national capital. “People in the USA and Canada are very drawn to their stories and want to give them the life they deserve. Indian dogs have thrived in the USA and Canada as long as they receive positive reinforcement training and exercise. They tend to be high energy dogs who excel when given proper training.”
Till date, her organisation has rehomed 94 Indian dogs rescued from the streets, abroad. Delhi-based veterinarian Dr Premlata Chaudhary says, “Indian dogs have fewer genetic defects, strong immunity. Their life span is also longer, around 16-17 years. They are very intelligent and can adjust to different types of climate.”
How have animal activists and rescuers responded to the PM’s message?
Most have welcomed the move, as they feel it will create awareness about local dogs and inspire people to keep them as pets.
Neha Panchamiya, president of RESQ Charitable Trust, said, “The Prime Minister was promoting Indian breeds. But the message must not be misinterpreted. While I agree that indigenous Indian breeds are great dogs that are diminishing in number, these breeds are not your typical ‘urban home pet’.”
“Mudhol Hounds, Rajapalayams, Chippiparai are ‘pedigree’ dogs…They are also going to be bred by breeders, you’re not going to find them on the streets. Buying a dog from an unregistered breeder is illegal, be it an Indian breed or foreign/imported breed,” Panchamiya said.
She added, “This is also a good opportunity to put it out there that street dogs, which are ‘mixed breed dogs’ found on our streets, are amazing dogs to adopt. But as with any dog, you have to be ready to make a commitment.”