By Arun Kumar Sahu*
“Can we have a puppy, Papa?” My eight-year-old son pleaded as he hugged me.
“Hah! No point in asking,” added my fifteen-year-old daughter. “They’re cynophobic.”
“Well there’s a bit of a problem. We move every three years, each country’s got different laws for the entry and exit of animals. It’s not very convenient.” As always, I was trying to explain.
“Yeah, yeah, you know pets! Especially dogs! They get so attached, it’s not fair to leave them behind. It’s a lot of work to take care of them, too. You have to walk them, clean them and feed them. We’d also have to rope in a vet. I’ve heard it all before,” my daughter pitched in louder this time.
My closest association with puppies was when I was a child, in my birthplace in Odisha. Come winter and the mother dog delivers a swarm of puppies. They fondle with their mother under the winter morning sun. Often, they follow passers-by. They eat anything that’s thrown at them from puffed rice to bread to rotten bones.
In due course, a few get adopted and become the security guards of a few households. They bark at the slightest disruption around the house. Other dogs lead unruly lives, chasing people, other animals and vehicles; occasionally biting innocent pedestrians. I was bitten once by a stray in Delhi, just before departing on my very first foreign assignment in the late 1990s.
My ideas about the canine world are still evolving. I’ve seen dogs from all over in the last two decades. In modern China, fashionable “foreign-bred dogs” have become a status symbol, purchased and adopted by the nouveau riche of Chinese society. The domestic varieties, however, continue to contribute to her food security. In Iran, they remain as stray as they are in India, mostly found in vegetable and meat markets. In Bhutan, they’re cute and floppy; but contribute to the increasing medical cases of dog bites.
In Europe and North America, they are pampered. They have “fundamental rights”. In Canada, there exists a licence raj for adopting a dog. The pet needs to be registered by the city council. It needs to be sterilized and microchipped so it can be tracked if lost. It has to be spayed or neutered so that it does not attract suitors. This is all of course for a substantial fee at designated service centres. The owner has to walk the dog, lease it, “stoop and scoop” the waste and dispose of it appropriately so as not to pollute and to prevent potential health hazards.
In Canada, a vast landmass with rich resources and a small population, a dog is a loving companion. Every public facility has a place for a pet dog. They hardly bark, are never bothered by strangers. They just sniff, and instantly befriend. Sometimes I wonder, having been adopted and pampered in serenity for so long, whether they’ve forgotten how to bark altogether!
*Arun Kumar Sahu is the Deputy High Commissioner of India to Canada. He may be contacted [email protected]
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