This blog post from one of our staff in Kolkata is a great example of how badly a project like our Animal People project is needed. The problem with animal welfare in India is overwhelming and complex. In order to properly address the issue we need more trained animal caregivers, nurses and vets. People is the one resource India has in abundance but very few of them see working with animals as a noble or desirable career. We are working to change that by offering training to survivors with limited income and employment opportunities. By training them and getting them placed at animal NGO's and vet offices, we can solve two issues at the same time: employment for vulnerable women and proper care for stary animals.
I have lived in a middle class housing complex in a suburb of Kolkata for the past 19 years. I feel we have a unique, community-based system for looking after the dog friends who strayed into our complex several years ago, and who have been adopted by several of us in the housing complex so that they can safely call it “home.”
I‘d like to share the story of our “complex dogs,” as we call them, because it represents a microcosm of some of the issues that face not only the animals themselves, but those who are trying to help them. The dogs would not be with us today if the animal lovers in our complex did not step up and join forces. Over many years, each person has played a special role to ensure that the dogs can live their semi-street, semi-domesticated way of life. It seems it would be easy to care for street dogs, just give them love and bring them some food from time to time, as many people do when they see the dogs. But behind the scenes, it is a very different story and several factors, including dog fighting, injuries caused by humans and other health issues from being outside, are constantly working against us. In general, most people fear stray dogs and have been told from a young age that they are dirty and not to be touched or loved, they are rarely taught how to approach them to gain their loyalty and to live in harmony.
Caring for our four dogs now has become a full community effort. At 5 am I let the three dogs out and they head to B Building to get their breakfast. At 1:00, Ruku and her mother see to it that the dogs are all fed a good lunch of rice and meat. By around 6 or so they follow my son upstairs and they are up for the evening. At approximately 9:30 pm, Bittu heads to Papai’s house, where they are already cooking for their own two dogs anyhow – so they make extra for our four dogs and two dogs who live outside our complex. He collects the big bowl of dog stew to feed his own Moti and then comes to my house for home delivery for my three, and then goes out the complex gate to feed two more dogs that live near the bus stand and the bank. That’s daily coordination and it never skips a beat.
The complex dog family
Ludo and Johnnie are the mother and father dogs who currently live with us. Their daughter, Kuttush, is the only one from her litter that still remains as a semi-street dog, and roams with her parents. One of the young girls in the complex, Papai, and her sister Mithai got involved in helping the dogs long before I ever did. She wrote me:
“From Ludo's litter, I only remember Ludo and her brother. Her brother had a bad infection on his back and a neighbour poured hot water to get rid of the puppy. We had called for a vet but it was too late – we could not save him. Johnnie was an outsider at first, but when he invaded Vidyasagar, he became a strong Alpha male and soon got rid of the then Alpha male dog in our complex, named BK. Since this, he has became a part of our dog family within the complex. Johnnie was strong and courageous while Ludo was pretty and dominating; and he always doted on Ludo and was a very caring father.”
As you can see, the dogs have long and very complex family trees and stories to go along with them.
Mother Ludo gave birth to multiple litters within a very short interval of time and residents in the complex got worked up because according to them, all dogs will bite. Papai remembers instances when the dogs were kicked by neighbours if they were loitering around the outdoor Puja Pandal during an annual religious festival. A caring person who was a member of the complex’s Ladies Club informed us that one of the latest agendas of these busy ladies was to have the dogs seized by the Municipality and taken to the pound – not a nice place. It was then that Papai and her sister, Mithai, took quick action and enlisted the help of another older neighbour, Sushmita. They visited each and every flat, discussed the complex dog issue with all residents and asked them to sign a petition that stated “if the dogs were vaccinated and sterilized, they would not object to their presence in the complex.” The whistle blower in the Ladies Club agreed to adopt one of the puppies from the latest litter and Sushmita-di and her sister adopted three and kept them in their home. Ludo and Kuttush were vaccinated for rabies and sterilized. Proof of this was submitted with all required signatures to the housing complex office with the assurance that the dogs would be able to stay here as a family of three, unharmed. Vaccinations have been taken care of every year since, with documentation submitted to the complex. Something had been accomplished through quite a bit of communication and hard work!
After the intervention by the community with the most infamous litter of dogs, it had been three-dog night here for many, many years and things were quite settled – despite some health problems and a car accident (a story for another blog!) – until about three years ago when another male dog was introduced into the mix.
Moti was from a litter of five dogs whose mother died on the street when they were a few weeks old. Papai and her sister began nursing and feeding them, when one of the pups died of distemper. They quickly called the vet and had the remaining puppies vaccinated for Distemper and Parvo. They were able to find home for three of the pups but then one of the male pups, Moti, had a bad accident and Papai decided to bring him home to our housing complex brought to nurse him. He was kept in a rescue cage but Papai already had two adult dogs of her own and a father were severe health problems, she could no longer keep the cage inside her house. She asked a young boy, Bittu, and his grandfather who live in a small bamboo shack within our complex and run an ironing business, if they would keep him there. Papai came daily to administer his medicines and nurse his wound while Bittu ensured that Moti was comfortable. In the meantime, Bittue and Moti became best friends and it would be difficult to part ways now that Moti was well again. Now, Moti was also one of the dog pack residing in our complex.
It was evident that both Ludo and Johnnie were too old to go through any more surgeries, so neutering Johnnie at this point made little sense. Ludo has become too weak and fragile to be getting involved in such vicious fights with Kuttush (she had been run over on the hip by a car right in complex less than a year ago, just after finishing her fifth round of chemo for vaginal cancer.) I spoke to our highly dedicated vet, Dr. Roy, about the possibility of having Moti sterilized. I wanted to know if this would settle him down a bit, and thereby settle down all the dog relations once and for all. I read over the pros and cons of sterilization extensively and had come to the conclusion that it was the next necessary step. Dr. Roy informed me that over time he could guarantee a good outcome but he could not guarantee that the surgery would change the situation at hand overnight. Since Moti is still an outdoor dog, living in the park along with Bittu and his grandfather, it would be difficult to catch him and take him for surgery. The vet suggested that (since he no longer keeps a chamber due to an infestation that closed it down earlier in the year) we make a makeshift operating theatre right in my flat, “If you have a spare table and some Dettol, we can do the surgery right in the children’s library. . .” Gulp. Uh, ok.
Two days later we had lured Moti up to the flat and the doctor and his assistant arrived around 1:30 in the afternoon (surgery was scheduled for 10 am sharp and my son stayed home from school to help. We first gave all the vaccinations to the other three dogs since they were also being kept in the other room. Moti gave us a very difficult time and we were unable, after about 1.5 hours of trying, to pin him down to inject the anaesthesia. I was disappointed at the lack of creativity in harnessing the dog by the handler. He had not even brought a muzzle or biscuits and didn’t seem to know anything about gaining the animals trust. Needless to say, at the first possible opportunity the dog fled down the stairs after being traumatized by being wrapped around the grill of the door, which didn’t work. Outside, we could easily get the dog close to us but it was impossible to get the injection in without him tearing off the muzzle, as it was the wrong size. By now another neighbor had come on the scene and joined the dog-catching force but it was obvious we had to let it go because the dog was becoming aggressive and was clearly traumatized. We came back in and formed a new plan. I was happy to hear that the doctor was promising to be back by 9pm to do the surgery. I asked if giving a sedative would help make it easier to give the anaesthesia and he told us the dosage, etc. to administer before the vet returned for the second try. It is obvious that the goal of Animal People Alliance, to train more compassionate individuals as animal handlers and vet assistants is absolutely needed in this field. We were grabbing at straws and no one could offer good advice and technical help.
I went to bed at 11:30 pm thinking that the vet must have had other animals to tend to but at 1:00 in the morning my son whispered that the vet, the handler, neighbor Ruku and Bittu were all here and they were going to give one more sedative and go for it. “Let me know if you need me,” was all I could reply. By 2:00 am I went into the community library room we run from our home to find a dog atop a table, vet and assistant operating, and three able helpers there to get anything that was needed. They’d somehow managed to anaesthetize Moti and the operation was in full gear. Forty minutes later the dog was waking up and all the helpers got him back to his home with Bittu for the night. For the next week we carefully watched, fed and administered meds and watched Moti pop back into action.
Now fully recovered, Moti has certainly become less aggressive and less interested in Kuttush. In fact, the difference in all of the dogs’ temperaments has been very noticeable. They still put on quite a show, with their competitive growling and obvious territorial instinct but so far things have remained manageable and getting better each day. Moti is no longer going after Kuttush’s affections and Ludo and Kuttush can now stay in our house together, we’d been keeping Kuttush outside all night because Ludo needs to be watched due to her health conditions. The other bonus is that this will basically keep Moti from roaming out of the complex during mating seasons and will prevent further “unwanted” dog populations. I feel it has made a significant difference and I feel proud that our community could work together to make healthy decisions for the dogs. As citizens we need to find solutions by working together closely to protect and care for street animals in Kolkata, if we unite and take the help of professionals and other concerned individuals animal birth control and safe human-dog relationships is truly possible. We have to step up for the animals and make decisions for them, this is not easy if you are all alone, and many times people around you will not agree with your choices. It takes a compassionate community.
Maura Hurley works in Calcutta for MBS - for both our School Sponsorship Program and our Animal People Project