Essay: Stray dogs and the curse of anthroparchal logic - Hindustan Times

Essay: Stray dogs and the curse of anthroparchal logic

ByLamat R Hasan
Feb 26, 2024 10:08 PM IST

With the idea of free-roaming animals suddenly being seen as a mark of an uncivilised society, violence directed at dogs and those who feed them has been spiralling in urban India

“To hell with animal welfare laws…society has the right to kill ferocious dogs roaming on the streets and the people who feed them,” reads a tweet on X (formerly Twitter) by one Joginder Singh.

Mumbai, India - May 26, 2022: A dog lover feeds kulfi to a street dog in the afternoon during the hot summer at Bandra, in Mumbai, India, on Thursday, May 26, 2022. (Photo by Vijay Bate/HT Photo) (HT PHOTO)
Mumbai, India - May 26, 2022: A dog lover feeds kulfi to a street dog in the afternoon during the hot summer at Bandra, in Mumbai, India, on Thursday, May 26, 2022. (Photo by Vijay Bate/HT Photo) (HT PHOTO)

Earlier this week, Singh, who has been spearheading an anti-stray dog campaign, reiterated the call to kill stray dogs and dog-feeders in a newly developed bustling residential area of Noida Extension. The video of his fiery speech is being circulated widely.

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This is the same area where on February 3, a 10-year-old had tossed a pup from a considerable height, leading to its death. This happened as his elders had spilled out on the streets to unleash their fury on a bunch of feeders who care for community dogs. In the commotion that followed, a woman feeder was molested and animal welfare activists had to move heaven and earth to get a case of sexual harassment registered at the nearby Bisrakh police station.

Such dog haters cut across caste, class, religion and region. The ghastly shooting down of 20 stray dogs last week by a man in Telangana is a case in point. And before this could sunk in, a man made news for wanting a licenced gun to protect himself from stray dogs.

Gone are the days when heated conversations over dog-feeding began and ended with – “If you love these dogs so much, why don’t you take them home?” In this age of anger, wooden sticks and steel rods are pulled out from under car seats to badger dogs, or they are deliberately hit or run over. Dog-feeders, mostly women, who dig deep into their pockets to feed these strays, get cursed, slapped and beaten. Often, they are meted out the treatment reserved for stray dogs.

The anti-stray dog sentiment is at an all-time high and leading animal welfare activists say the anti-dog lobby is working overtime to create a fuss over community dogs – such as the call by Singh to kill dogs and feeders – for a reason. The Supreme Court has set February 28 to hear a bunch of petitions relating to stray dogs in Kerala and other parts of the country. This all-important Supreme Court verdict will seal the fate of stray dogs. In the worst case scenario, they will be culled or sent to pounds.

While on paper, sending the strays to a pound may sound like a compassionate option, but nobody quite understands the politics of dog pounds leave alone the pressure on the state exchequer to allocate land and funds to run such spaces. Imagine passing by an unusually large number of dogs and cats in an overcrowded space caught in the stench of faeces, urine and vomit. A place where dogs and cats are caged for life, the dogs are never walked, and they fight for crumbs.

312pp, ₹2425; Stanford University Press
312pp, ₹2425; Stanford University Press

Life at a Shelter

Katja M Guenther, the author of The Lives and Deaths of Shelter Animals, fills in the gaps here. She spent three years volunteering with “nonhuman animals” at a high-intake public animal shelter in the Los Angeles metropolitan area which she refers to as PAW. Her life changed when she met a muscular pit bull named Monster, a day before he was to be put down. He regarded her dispassionately from his cell, aware that his fate had been sealed.

With Monster becoming part of a much larger statistic – three million companion animals are put to sleep in animal shelters in the US each year – Guenther decided to study the multiple processes that go into such killings. As she spent more time at the shelter, she noted that dogs and cats coming from “a community of lower-income people of colour” were at a higher risk of ending up at a shelter, and being seen as “market surplus” and killed.

She noted that certain breeds such as the pit bull, which are favoured by lower-income groups, were looked upon with disdain and the “breed discrimination… is itself grounded in racism and classism”. In contrast, companion animals who lived in affluent, predominantly white communities were likely to be sent to animal shelters that provide veterinary care and are committed to reunification or adoption. Had Monster ended up in one such shelter, his chances of survival would have been 95 percent.

Guenther points out that the human urge “to dominate and control human and nonhuman animals” extends to shelters which have a licence to kill: “Monster died because of who he was, who the humans he was attached to were, and how our society naturalizes and accepts the killing of animals.”

Woman dog-feeders in India have had a rough run. (Prashant Waydande / Hindustan Times)
Woman dog-feeders in India have had a rough run. (Prashant Waydande / Hindustan Times)

Violence Against Dog-loving Women

Woman dog-feeders in India have had a rough run. A woman was slapped by a defence personnel as she was feeding dogs, another had to run for her life as she was attacked with an iron rod, and an unlucky third slipped and fell and had to have a hip replacement surgery.

Guenther’s observations at PAW, which is populated with women as staff or volunteers, helps us understand the situation of women dog-lovers in India, especially those not residing in affluent pockets. The author ponders over feminist animal studies which emphasise the importance of seeing the connections between the oppression of women and animals: “Violence against animals normalises violence against humans, especially women who have been constructed as animal-like in the sense that they are voiceless and victimisable. Like animals, women have endured a long history of being silenced, devalued, and subjected to violence. Women’s bodies have been commodified and butchered like animals’, leaving both women and animals to occupy spaces as objects rather than subjects.”

The author addresses the issue of unmarried or childless women who are made fun of for seeing these animals as “substitute children”. She defends these women and says that they prefer “voluntary relationships with animals because they find these relationships more satisfying than those with humans”.

She asserts that the struggles of animals and women “is the outcome of everyday and sustained collisions of capitalism, anthroparchy, white supremacy, and patriarchy”.

History of Abuse

At PAW, when a dog is declared dead, his body is placed in an oil drum until the truck from the rendering plant comes to retrieve it. Sometimes the oil drums are left open and volunteers can see the dead animals for days.

In the US, until the end of the 1800s, close to 100 percent of animals picked up by animal control agencies were killed, often using brutal means, such as clubbing or mass drowning. In mid-19-century New York City, dogcatchers were paid by the dog and placed up to several hundred stray dogs each day in large cages to drown them in the East River. Animal control was about taking animal life. The fear of zoonotic contamination, especially of rabies, was a powerful motivator to capture and destroy unclaimed companion animals, writes Guenther.

Feeding strays. (Prashant Waydande / Hindustan Times)
Feeding strays. (Prashant Waydande / Hindustan Times)

Later, a combination of moral and religious arguments was used to promote kindness toward animals. Animal shelters began sterilising and vaccinating animals and around 2006 started implanting microchips, which can help reunite lost animals.

Zero Tolerance for Stray Dogs

In India, the idea of free-roaming animals is suddenly being seen as a mark of an uncivilised society, an indicator of economic underdevelopment and a threat to public safety.

However, among these free-roaming animals only stray dogs are the soft targets. In the bustling Noida area where a child killed a pup, and where the call to kill dogs and dog-feeders was reiterated, Singh didn’t notice the famished donkeys and horses – their hind limbs tied together to prevent their escape – fending for themselves. There are also dozens of cows and buffaloes scavenging in garbage dumps. Isn’t this an indicator of economic underdevelopment too?

As Guenther points out this is a classic case of “anthroparchal logic” – asserting human dominance over animals. While in the shelter where the author volunteered, unweaned puppies and kittens were euthanised within hours of their arrival, in India, animal-haters go a step further: mutilate puppies, throw acid on cats, tie crackers on dogs or just run them over for fun.

While it is easy for animal-haters to wish the dogs out of sight, Guenther envisions a world where shelters are unnecessary. This requires a change of hearts and minds, and a world which is a secure place not just for dogs, but for humans too. And, this would be the real indicator of an economically developed and civilised country – not one that kills its community dogs and the kind people who care for them.

Lamat R Hasan is an independent journalist. She lives in New Delhi.

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