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Journalism of Courage

What to do when dogs run free

Avoid entering a park where there’s a large pack of feral stray dogs or getting into a lift with a dog because small enclosed space heightens its guarding instincts

eye, synday eye, Ranjit LalOnce a pack goes into hunting mode, because they are hungry or have pups to feed, there is no looking back for the victim (Photo credit: Ranjit Lal)

Out in the wild, where they run free, the canids, be they the painted dogs (wild dogs) of Africa, dholes (red dogs) of India, or the wolves of North America, Eurasia and India together, form the most fearsome of predatory animals around. The hunting success rate of African wild dogs is around 67 per cent (though dragonflies beat them hollow with around a 97 per cent success rate) far surpassing that of the big cats. They work in teams, with each team member being assigned a particular role and they gun for the weak, very young and vulnerable – ironically, strengthening the gene pool of their victims because only the fittest get away. They’ve been persecuted to the edge of extinction since time immemorial because they scare us no end and take down our livestock – sheep, goats and cattle. Once a pack goes into hunting mode, whether because they are hungry or have pups to feed, there is no looking back and very little hope for the victim.

In cities, towns, villages and hamlets all across India, packs of feral dogs run free and have spread fear and anger among us: people have avoided going into parks and gardens where these packs roam – especially with children (small and vulnerable) and the elderly (also usually small and vulnerable). Because there’s no telling what can happen if a pack’s hunting instincts are triggered. To add to this is the rabies bogey: and yes, rabies is not a disease you would wish on your worst enemy. So, in many places, the war cry has gone up: Get rid of the dogs. Well, one can only hope that a similar cry goes up against the gangs of young louts who loaf about in these parks, leering at girls and interfering in young romances and worse.

Battling for the “strays” are battalions of dog lovers: many, who, in the face of fierce and sometimes violent opposition, will continue to feed these dogs every day and take care of them, including getting them neutered and vaccinated. Well, Gandhi did say that you can judge the character of a nation’s people by the way it treats its animals… But dog lovers do tend to go overboard from time to time, behaving like marshmallows – and overdosing a bit on the cootchie-cooing bit, which doesn’t go down well with their detractors or more skeptical if neutral sorts.

So what’s to be done about our best friends who run amuck? At the moment, I would avoid entering a park where there’s a large pack of feral stray dogs, roaming around – dogs that I am unfamiliar with – and who are unfamiliar with me. I would also avoid getting into a lift with a dog (and owner) who I am unfamiliar with, for the simple reason that the small enclosed space heightens the dog’s guarding instincts (the elevator is now his or her “territory” with his or her owner who needs to be protected from strangers.) My own dog, Wag, used to behave in the same manner if anyone approached the car when he was in it.

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Dog people and dog owners too, must own up to most of the responsibility for the behaviour of their pets and wards. But like parents protecting a hideously spoiled brat, most will try and defend the indefensible. Frankly, if your pooch has taken a chunk out of a child’s leg in a lift without any provocation – well, you are squarely to blame and you cannot fault the child for having a juicy-looking leg! Your dog may have thought it was doing its duty (protecting you, itself and what it now thinks is its territory) – but it’s up to you to instruct it that it is “off duty” and can stand down. This is going to be tough, if even at home, it is the little Chihuahua that wears the pants in the family and not you. And so, naturally, the call goes out: leash all dogs, muzzle them, tie them up and ban them from parks.

Of course, all this can be avoided if owners (I will not call them “parents”) undergo mandatory training along with their wards. A car can be a pretty dangerous item in the hands of someone who doesn’t know how to drive it (which is why the equivalent of a jumbo jet full of passengers, die every day in India on the roads). You get a German shepherd pup and it must mandatorily attend training school, preferably for German-shepherd pups as must you, (and you can celebrate graduation together) before you are both given licenses (passing out certificates). I think Germany has some kind of scheme of this kind.

Dog parks have come up in some cities in India, where the dogs can run free: but I would think this is the place where you have to ensure that ‘pack mentality’ (like ‘mob mentality’) doesn’t take over. As many know, a well brought-up, well-socialised dog can make a better, more sensitive companion than a human equivalent (they can read moods now), but one thing they will never be able to do is to pick up after themselves. So, that’s on you!


Civil wars are raging over the doggie issue in many RWAs all over the country, but, frankly, I’m now more worried about that other lawless hoodlum that is running amuck in our cities: the Rhesus macaque.

First published on: 12-10-2022 at 10:46 IST
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