They are neither pedigreed dogs nor schooled in specialised tasks, but are finding themselves increasingly in demand along the troubled Line of Control where Indian soldiers have embraced the ubiquitous mutt.
It isn’t a patch on well-trained army dogs used extensively in Jammu and Kashmir for sniffing out explosives, tracking and patrolling — and even bestowed with gallantry awards for their exploits, yet the mutt has arrived.
Commanders at the LoC are being encouraged to ‘adopt’ strays at their posts as the canines have proved to be tremendously effective in providing early warning about the movement of Pakistani infiltrators, says Lieutenant General RR Nimbhorkar, commander of the Nagrota-based 16 corps. It is responsible for guarding a 224-km stretch of the LoC south of the Pir Panjal range.
“They are the best sensors and have helped foil infiltration bids,” he says. Forget the hierarchies in the canine kingdom, the presence of mutts at forward posts provides a break from monotony and dulls the effects of isolation on soldiers to a degree.
“Every post has its own dogs. It’s quite fascinating to see how they accompany soldiers on patrols. At night, they keep the sentries alert,” says Major Pranav Awasthy, 36, the second-in-command of 15 Bihar. A pup born recently at one of the posts under him is called Phantom, named after a Saif Ali Khan film that glamourises covert strikes against Pakistani targets.
The mutts have their own challenges to deal with — leopards prowl the breathtaking landscape dotted with towering ridges, dense pine groves, lush valleys and maize fields. And the big cat savours dog meat. “The leopards have killed several dogs in our battalion area. They hunt with stealth,” says a soldier from 15 Mahar deployed in the Barasingha area.
A brilliant innovation helped Indian soldiers neutralise the threat of Pakistani army dogs along the LoC some time ago. A senior officer reveals how leopard urine sourced from a zoo was sprinkled along vulnerable points to keep the hostile canines at bay.
At a forward infantry mortar position after nightfall, a two-man HT team is greeted by a pack of sturdy mutts -- with dominant features of the Bakharwal breed -- growling and baring their teeth, signalling us to stay away.
“They recognise our scents and consider you to be intruders. That’s how they alert us,” says a sentry, standing guard against the backdrop of the LoC fence illuminated by bright LED lights. The lights cast a glow that can be seen from the distant Krishna Ghati heights across Mendhar town, once a hotbed of terrorist activity.
The canines have come to be known as ‘langar dogs’ as they are fed by the army kitchen.