Most of us have a pet or two at home. They are our friends, an extension of our families. We might forget to take them out sometimes and they may soil our carpets but we still love them, and they us. But when we bring in pets on a whim or consider them status symbols or guards, we blur the line between compassion and cruelty.
Recently, animal shelters have rescued many abandoned dogs from the streets. They are often in a bad state—dehydrated, unable to stand or walk, blind, suffering from different skin issues, etc. Some are beyond saving.
What generally happens, say activists, is people bring in a dog for a purpose—to placate their children, to scare away intruders, or to keep up with that neighbor who got an expensive purebred. The novelty wears off pretty quickly. “Puppies get bigger and aren’t ‘cute’ anymore, or people discover that the dog has needs, that it needs to be fed, groomed, and occasionally taken to the vet,” says Shristi Singh Shrestha, an animal rights activist. And what follows is utter inhumanity: They are left on the streets. People take them for a walk and leave them tied to a tree or a pole, or they are put in cars and dropped somewhere far off so that they can’t find their way back home.
“Pedigree dogs are all the rage. Everybody wants a fancy, good-looking dog. But they don’t understand what it means to have a pet at home,” says Shristi. Every dog has a personality and will grow and adapt to its surroundings differently. Besides having specific feeding and grooming needs, how a dog turns out largely depends on how it’s raised. Many dog owners keep their pets chained or caged. They beat the animals to ‘train or discipline’ them which in turn make them aggressive and lead to behavioral issues. Then, as seen in Kathmandu, their owners get rid of them.
Animal Nepal, a non-profit animal welfare organization, rescued seven pet dogs in the past month. This is not counting the dogs that have died on the streets or been abandoned in forests where they have been attacked by wild animals. Sushant Acharya, veterinary technician who is a part of the Mobile Rescue Team at Animal Nepal, says they had been rescuing at least a couple of pet dogs a month for a while now but the number has gone up recently. Earlier it was mostly German Shepherds on the streets but now they find Boxers, Pugs, Huskies and Labradors too.
Sneha Shrestha, founder of Sneha’s Care, a non-profit animal rescue organization, says when you bring a dog home, you must understand it’s a lifelong commitment. A dog isn’t a toy, she says, not something you can outgrow and toss out. Sneha’s Care gets many emails and messages requesting the shelter to ‘adopt’ their dogs as the family is migrating abroad or their dog bit someone and they are now scared of it. Despite Sneha’s team trying to convince people that they are responsible for their pets, most of these dogs invariably end up on the streets. “I believe, more than ever, that there’s no humanity. Everything is a matter of convenience, even an innocent being’s life,” says Sneha.
Ananda Dahal, chairman, Nepal Animal Welfare and Research Center, says abandoning pets when they become aggressive, ill or old is classic apathetic behavior. It is no surprise to him because humans always put themselves first. We consider ourselves superior and our lives more valuable. Everything else is disposable. Dahal says people routinely abuse street dogs and get away without even a warning. Instead, the police have declared that dogs are a nuisance, a threat to the community. “Our system fuels animal cruelty by devaluing other forms of life,” he says. Abandoning pets, he says, is perhaps the highest form of animal cruelty.
Pet dogs aren’t street-smart. They aren’t able to take care of themselves—they can’t scavenge for food and they don’t know what to do on the roads. They usually get run over by vehicles. The problem isn’t lack of awareness. The sad reality is people know what will happen to their abandoned pets but they don’t care. As there are no repercussions for their actions—their dogs cannot be traced back to them—it has become convenient to get rid of unwanted pets. This is why registration, some sort of taxation, and microchipping pets is important, says Shristi.
Leaving pets on the streets is an escalating problem but not a difficult one to solve, say activists. The key lies in making it tricky to bring a pet home. Right now, anybody can just walk into a pet shop and buy a dog they want. If pets had to be registered at the ward office, people would think twice and only those who are absolutely sure they want one would go through the hassle.
Microchipping would prevent pets from being lost and if someone were to abandon theirs, the dog could be traced back to the owner and punishment meted out. Currently, the Animal Welfare Law provides for up to three months’ jail-time for those found guilty of animal-cruelty. But there is no way of proving who an abandoned dog belongs to.
Raina Byanjankar, founder of Oxsa Nepal Animal Welfare Society, says keeping pets has become more about showing off than about their companionship. People see Golden Retrievers and Labradors in ads and social media, and celebrities carrying tiny dogs in their purses, and they want that. We saw dire wolves—Ghost, Summer and Nymeria among others—protecting the Stark family in the ‘Game of Thrones’ which aired for eight years. Ghost was an Arctic wolf while Summer and the others were a crossbreed of Siberian Huskies, Samoyeds, and other northern breeds. Following global trends, in Nepal too everyone now wanted a Siberian Husky aka their own dire wolf.
Though Siberian Huskies are known as hardy and adaptable dogs, they thrive in colder climates. Extreme heat can be discomfiting and lead to skin and other health problems. It’s the same with other breeds of dogs being reared for commercial purposes at various pet shops, clinics, and breeding centers. Meanwhile, Nepali dogs, which are some of the world’s oldest breeds, have strong immune systems and live for up to 20 years. These dogs are acclimatized to our climate as well.
“But they aren’t trendy enough for most Nepalis,” says Byanjankar. The result is an unethical breeding industry that practices and promotes animal cruelty. Recently, actor Priyanka Karki put up a bunch of Siberian Husky puppies for sale, drawing flak from animal lovers and activists who fear her action would endorse breeding. “It’s also necessary to control dog breeding in Nepal. We simply don’t need European or American breeds,” says Raina.
To create awareness about adopting local dogs and not buying pets, Animal Nepal in collaboration with The Jane Goodall Institute Nepal is celebrating July as the National Month of Dogs. Eventually, they hope to put this on the calendar. “It’s all about being compassionate towards animals. We must start at our homes by taking full responsibility for our pets. The best practice would be to adopt dogs from animal shelters instead of buying them from breeding centers,” says Shristi. “If you love dogs and want a pet, why does it have to be an expensive one?”