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HindustanTimes Wed,03 Sep 2014
Gone to the dogs
Mitali Parekh, Hindustan Times
August 17, 2013
First Published: 15:09 IST(17/8/2013)
Last Updated: 17:02 IST(17/8/2013)

Have you spent hours and bundles of cash trying to sneak in your sick pooch for an X-ray? You know it can be a harrowing experience.

Do your neighbours scorn at your beloved Indian pariah? And what about ‘faulty’ pups that are left to die in shelters? The situation is quite grim for dogs – strays or pets – and owners likewise. People, housing societies and even the state is mostly indifferent if not vicious towards them.

But some women have taken it upon themselves to fight the hardest fight. They have set up shelters for strays and abandoned dogs, clinics where canines can get diagnostic services, conduct physiotherapy and games for the disabled dogs, and even train pets to become therapy animals.

Meet the ladies who show us how it’s done. And how you can do it too!

We don’t pick up strays unless they are injured or motherless

Priya Agarwal, Yoda
Priya Agarwal, along with Pooja Tash Sakpal and Abhishek Soparkar, have been running the Youth Organisation in Defence of Animals (Yoda) since 2010. Their premise is simple: Why buy when you can adopt? And their system for adoption incorporates a network of foster parents, rescue missions, adoptee interviews and an insistence on neutering.

Agarwal, now 23, discovered the brutality of puppy mills when she went to get a pet a few years ago. On visits to breeders, she saw dogs stuffed into cages, let out only to mate; ‘faulty’ pups left to die in a corner; and bitches forced to have six litters in three years. It moved her enough to rescue these dogs, coaxing breeders to give her the animals that were being neglected. “Many didn’t want to give them away, afraid that a sick puppy would damage their reputation,” says Agarwal. Yoda started off by offering to supply food to the puppies, but eventually moved on to rescuing and re-homing the pets of owners who were moving away or were unable to care for them.

Yoda’s strength lies in its knowledge of which dog truly needs help. “We don’t pick up strays from the street, unless they are injured or motherless,” Sakpal says. “We believe it is best for them to live free with their mothers. The best course here is to sterilise them.”

For adoptions, however, they rely on a roster of 50 foster families instead of an impersonal intermediary kennel. “We make sure someone is going to be home full-time during the fostering period,” Soparkar says. “Canine behaviourist volunteers work closely with these families to iron out adjustment problems and correct behavioural issues. They also encourage people to meet the dog in a comforting setting.” Yoda also checks up on the
pet to see how things are working out.
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The INDog is medium-sized with a short coat and curled tail (Photo: Anshuman Poyrekar)

Rajashree Khalap, Indog.co.in
The Indian native dog, commonly known as the pariah, may well be the original dog breed. But how would you define it anyway? Rajashree Khalap knows. The wildlife conservationist travels throughout the country to collect  all the data needed to identify and establish the INDog as a species in its own right.

Don’t confuse them with the street mongrel. “Those are a mixed breed that resulted when INDogs mated with European breeds,” she says. “The INDog is medium-sized with a short coat and curled tail. The ears are erect and the head is wedge-shaped. It resembles the Australian dingo and you’ll find them in the interiors of the country.”

Khalap’s website, Indog.co.in, encourages others to share photographs and information about the species. “We found that they have good problem-solving capabilities, higher intelligence and are cautious about new things,” she says. So if you want to train them, keep the sessions short and the treats high. The dog makes for a good pet in villages, where it guards livestock. They also make great pets – they’re less likely to attack fowl or humans, and don’t have the genetic defects as a specially-bred dog would.

Getting India to rethink its attitude is essentially Khalap’s aim. “I am not rabid about people adopting an INDog. I just want it to be recognised as a breed,” she says. “Not by kennel clubs (I don’t care about them), but so people can decide whether it is the breed for them and understand the care it needs.”
For those with a sick pet, finding a testing facility can be harrowing (Photo: Kalpak Pathak)

Sangeeta Vengsarkar Shah, Veterinary Cardiologist
Sangeeta Vengsarkar Shah decided she was going to be a veterinary doctor when she was in Class VII. “In a family of doctors, this was like saying I wanted to be a janitor,” she recalls. Luckily her father, a cardiologist, loved dogs and supported her decision. Today, 25 years later, Shah runs a mini hospital for pets. She offers X-ray facilities, a lab for blood, urine and stool tests and an operation theatre.

For those with a sick pet, finding a testing facility can be harrowing. You’d have to find a radiologist ready to sneak in an animal patient for an X-ray. This, incidentally, is how Shah met her husband. He was a radiologist she wanted to know if he would smuggle her patients in. 

At Shah’s clinic, pets get pride of place. “Earlier, people were pretty accepting of [their pet’s] illness,” she says. “Now many react to its illness like they would to their child’s.”

Shah has performed cataract surgeries and removed kidney stones. They have performed only one heart surgery yet. It was unsuccessful, but anyone who’s loved their dog will know that it doesn’t matter – that it is now possible to do one is a step in the right direction.
The dogs are taught not react to jerky movements (Photo: Praful Gangurde)

Minal Kavishwar, Animal Angels Foundation
A dog isn’t just a pet, sometimes it’s a healer too. Minal Kavishwar, a clinical psychologist, has long been drawing on pets, who have the potential to be therapy animals, to work with children with special needs, elderly folk and those with emotional trauma.

Kavishwar started off with a pilot project, in which a benign golden retriever had classroom sessions with children with autism, Attention Deficient Disorder and Attention Deficient Hyperactivity Disorder. She structured the project for three years and noted a significant drop in the kids’ behavioural problems and an increase in their well-being. It prompted her to set up a network of therapy animals – cats, dogs and rabbits. Her foundation offers animal-assisted programmes for stammering, sharpening motor skills, and has companion animals who sense the onset of an epileptic fit.

Kavishwar also conducts a set of temperament tests to check if your pet can be a therapy animal. “While many animals are calm and friendly, therapy animals know intuitively when to sit when you come to give a hug,” she says. The dogs are taught not react to jerky movements, loud sounds or the smell of medicines. They enjoy the sense of purpose, while the patients benefit on emotional and physical levels.
Fewer walks means pets release their energy in negative ways (Photo: Kunal Patil)

Shruti Srinath, PetZone
Dr Shruti Srinath is an ENT surgeon by training but a canine behaviourist by calling. She currently organises regimented playtime and physiotherapy for dogs at Mumbai’s Petzone, correcting canine behavioural problems through games. 

Most animal problems stem from big-city living. Not enough playtime and few walks means pets usually release their pent-up energy in negative ways. If a dog is mildly uncomfortable around children, Srinath takes along her toddler niece and makes her throw a ball so that the dog associates children with something positive. If it gets aggressive around food, they’ll play a game through which the dog starts welcoming a human hand to remove an obstacle that is keeping a tasty piece of chicken from him.

“Dogs need one-on-one playtime to bond with pack members,” she says. Srinath also pairs them with suitable canine partners to learn from. It’s all fun and games, but to a frustrated pet owner, it’s the difference between disaster and delight at home.

From HT Brunch, August 18

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