Dogged by misery

Lt Gen Baljit Singh (retd) writes that stray dogs should be treated with compassion

From manís best friend to being considered a nuisance.
From manís best friend to being considered a nuisance. ó Photo by Parvesh Chauhan

While humans and animals began their journey together, yet in due course of time, animals like dogs, cats and house sparrows have been rendered homeless. Just as homeless human beings turn to begging, stealing and plundering for survival so do the homeless animals out of similar compulsions. Much as the civilised society will never contemplate eliminating its homeless fellows or neuter them for being homeless, it behoves that we understand the plight of stray dogs with comparable compassion and responsibility.

It was some 3000 million years ago that the dog cast his lot irrevocably and of his free will to be manís companion forever. This was the phase of evolution of life on Earth when man emerged as a hunter. Man welcomed the dog as a useful accomplice in his scheme of survival. The dog too found this equation beneficial as with minimal effort on his part, he could lead man to his quarry and let him do the arduous hunting. While man had the first pick of the hunted game, the dog feasted on the castaways. Over a period of time, this marriage of convenience also became a mutually happy companionship.

The dog has never been found wanting in his unconditional loyalty to man. He has given loads of affection, been an adorable playmate to his toddlers, has tracked criminals, in recent times saved countless lives by detecting IEDs and in times of depression and stress he triggers tension ó release by simply placing his head in the lap or over the feet of his master suggesting "Donít worry! Never mind if they all abandon you. I am here."

Epics, myths and real-life episodes from the world over have singled out the dog as "manís best friend". The most poignant story is provided by Japan of the 1940s. A commuter walked from home to the Yokohama railway station everyday to board a train. His dog would walk him up to the station, sit there and await his masterís return in the evening. One tragic day, the man died at work but the dog kept up vigil for his masterís return at the same spot outside the railway station till death claimed him. A bronze statue of that dog stands at the spot which the Japanese revere with awe and dignity akin to a Shinto shrine.

At the other end of the scale is the incident from the Mahabharata. After the battle, Yudhishthira was summoned by the gods. When he ascended to heaven with his dog in tow, Yudhishthira was stopped by the protocol marshals at the entrance to the celestial audience hall because the dog could not be permitted entry. Yudhishthira refused to part from his dog because he believed that all life forms are equal in the eyes of the god. Satisfied that Yudhishthira had passed the test of sworn loyalty, even if the object was a dog, the gods themselves came forward to receive him and his dog at the portals.

Senator Hillary Clinton who leads the race for US Presidential election due in 2008 has been confronted by the electorate on moral and ethical principles. Americans are seriously questioning whether Hillary is "too cold and calculating" to be entrusted with the presidency? They are citing the hypocrisy of Hillaryís pronouncements as the first lady that pets are an "adoption" instead of an "acquisition".

Hillary Clinton had added two "first pets" to the White House, Socks the cat and Buddy the dog. When the Clintons shifted out of the White House, the first pets were at once distanced from their lives. Socks was simply dumped on Betty Currie, the private secretary to Bill Clinton and Buddy was so neglected that he took to chasing cars on the street and was killed within the month.

Sarah Baxter writing in the Sunday Times, London, summed up the sentiments of the Americans thus: "In the annals of human evil, offloading a pet is nowhere near the top of the list. But neither is it dead last. It is especially galling when the said pet has been deployed for years as an all-purpose character reference. Clinton (Hillary) even wrote a book, Dear Socks, Dear Buddy and claimed that White House became a home with the first pets only."

Seldom a week goes in India without the print media reporting and condemning the phenomena of stray dogs. Let us pause and not forget that the dog is not a stray but driven homeless due to betrayal of an ancient trust.