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A Calmer You, by Sonal Kalra: To feed or not to feed a stray!

Enough of people fighting like dogs, over dogs.

columns Updated: Apr 20, 2019 16:20 IST
Sonal Kalra
Sonal Kalra
Hindustan Times
Sonal Kalra,A Calmer You,Stray Dogs
What could be more stressful than seeing neighbours in so-called educated and posh residential areas fighting like dogs over… well, dogs.

Earlier this week, the Nisarg Heaven Society in Mumbai fined a woman resident ₹3.6 lakh for feeding stray dogs in the society premises. A few days earlier, a fight between two residents of a posh Gurgaon society got ugly and physical, when one objected to the other feeding stray dogs. When the news was being narrated in the news meeting, my boss shook his head and said, “Mark my words, the next civil war will be fought between animal lovers and those who they think cause nuisance.” The word play may have been extreme, but what he said comes from a deep sense of understanding of a societal problem that’s growing at an alarming rate. Well, just as the number of stray dogs in India — 30 million, as per a 2016 report published in Washington Post.

Some colleagues asked me to not take up this topic in the column. ‘Too emotional’, said one. ‘It’s impossible to remain objective and neutral’, said another. But kya hai nah, the whole point of advocating calmness is to take on genuinely stressful situations head-on. And what could be more stressful than seeing neighbours in so-called educated and posh residential areas fighting like dogs over… well, dogs. Before I go on, here’s a disclaimer. I am a dog lover and I have three of my own at home. Let me promise, though, that it doesn’t keep me from looking at both sides of this stress in a fair manner. Almost every other day, one gets to see the conflict between those whose hearts bleed for cruelty against animals, and those who feel that the animal rights janta tends to go overboard in behaving aggressive. I spoke to a cop who said that they get countless calls and requests for FIRs from residents fighting over dogs, pet or stray. The law in our country theoretically stands in the favour of animal welfare. The practical on-ground situation is different. A Delhi High Court judgment of 2017 says that the law does not prohibit anyone from feeding stray animals as long as those doing it ensure that they don’t become a nuisance for other residents. Further, anyone trying to harm a stray animal can be charged under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960. Both the above lead to a lot of complaints flying about in the police stations, but hardly anything ever comes out in the form of conclusions. Because the problem has much more to do with mindset and social behaviour, than what’s written down in the lawbook.

I feel that in this whole debate, there are three kinds of players:

Category 1:You are a certified animal lover. See a puppy and an awww sound involuntarily starts to emit from your mouth. You see someone mistreating a stray dog and your blood starts to boil. You’ll go around putting jackets and blankets on them during winters and given a choice, turn the entire society into mini feeding booths for dogs, who are helpless, homeless and at the mercy of human beings, who don’t think twice before kicking them just for some perverse pleasure.

Category 2: You like dogs, but probably from a distance. You’ll never ill-treat them but you’ll also not lead a march or take up fights with insensitive neighbours everyday in trying to convert them into loving beings. You’d wish that all creatures, including stray dogs, co-exist happily with humans. But, you’d also want safety of yourself and your loved ones, and to see your surroundings kept clean in the process of that co-existence.

Category 3: You are the Don. Really. You hate everything that creepy-crawls on four legs, creating noise and pooping outside your house. You have grown up on horror stories of ‘stomach mein 14 injections’ due to a dog bite that your 15th cousin suffered and you’ll just not have yourself exposed to that threat because of some stupid dog lover who sneaks out at night to feed strays who’d be better off in some sarkari shelter, if at all alive. You can’t stand the hypocrisy of dog lovers when they feel nothing for homeless human beings sleeping by the roadside, and are busy feeding an army of dogs who chase your car, barking away to glory in the middle of the night. Utter. Unadulterated. Nuisance.

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The deal is that you could belong to any of the three above, and be perfectly well within your rights to do so. But life would be calmer if you are flexible, and not rigid, in trying to understand where people from the other categories stand. Here’s what I want to say to each…

Category 1: You guys are kind souls. It’s heartening to see you stand up for the right to dignity for animals that can’t fight or fend for themselves. My daughter firmly belongs to your category. But here’s what I tell her, too. If you have the love within you to feed stray dogs on the road, also have the sense of responsibility to clean up after them. Compassion can’t end at putting a bowl of food at a public area, and looking the other way when you see heaps of poop on the pathways on which your elderly neighbours do their daily morning walk. Also, never look down or try to make villains out of people who may not feel the same love that you do, for dogs. Instead focus your energies in ensuring that stray dogs in your area are neutered, vaccinated and trained for behaviour, so that they can’t harm kids who have an equal right to play around their house without feeling scared.

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Category 2: Yaar, aap chaalu log ho. It’s safe to be a fence sitter but the fence starts to poke after a while if you stay on it for too long, watching your neighbours fight. You have a critical role to play, in bringing about co-existence between warring factions. Speak up, and be the ones to formulate guidelines that keep the interests of both sides in mind. Tumhe toh punya milega dher saara. And by the way, pat a dog some day. They give unconditional love and loyalty. Convert ho jaoge.

Category 3: Ji bhai, aap toh pehle gussa thook do. Bullying others won’t do any good in life, especially when they have the law on their side. You do know, don’t you, that no law in India can forbid anyone from feeding stray dogs in public places. And that getting RWAs to issue notices and forcing security guards in the locality to hit the poor puppies would get you no legal sanction or moral support. Having said that, I’m absolutely with you in understanding the irritation that the behavior of dog lovers may be causing. You want to shout ‘Itna pyaar hai toh apne ghar mein rakh lein’. But, you do know that it may not be practical. So let’s think positive. Take the lead in designating a specific area in your locality where strays could be fed. Explain to a dog-loving neighbour, with patience and no yelling, that it’s not good to cause a mess outside your house, because you and your kids have a right to a safe, peaceful and clean existence, without having to force-feel love for another species. I’m sure they’ll understand. If they can feel so much love and compassion for animals, they can’t be insensitive and cruel to their own beings. Shayad humne kabhi pyaar se samjhaaya hi nahi. Ya shayad kabhi samjhaa hi nahi.

Sonal Kalra is going to adopt two more dogs, soon. She’ll be thrown out of her house after that. Somebody please adopt her. Mail your feedback to sonal.kalra@ hindustantimes.com or facebook.com/sonal.kalra. Follow on Twitter @sonalkalra.

First Published: Apr 20, 2019 16:20 IST