Bangalore, known as the Silicon Valley of India, is growing rapidly. As it expands, so does its population of stray dogs. There hasn’t been a census since 2012, but local animal rights NGOs estimate that there may currently be more than 350,000 in the city. These strays have a reputation for being aggressive and carrying diseases, especially rabies.
When I moved to Bangalore from the UK 18 months ago, I brought with me a misconception: stray dogs are abandoned and uncared for. But I soon realized how wrong I was. While it’s undeniable that many stray dogs in the city lead a precarious, difficult existence, others are “community dogs,” cared for by the neighborhood.
I live on a quiet, shady side street in central Bangalore. It has attracted four small packs of stray dogs, each of which has claimed part of the street as its territory. The sidewalk outside our apartment block is occupied by three of the dogs. Spending most of their days lying indolently in the sun, they did much to challenge my initial perceptions.
Walking past the dogs on a regular basis, my husband and I soon got to know them better, and gave them names. (Unfortunately, we did so before checking their gender.) Buster is the leader of the pack; she’s rarely aggressive, but the other two seem to defer to her. Of the three, she bears the closest resemblance to the Indian pariah dog, an indigenous type with a lean frame and pointed ears. We named the most nervous dog Timmy (short for “timid”). She’s terrified of cars, bikes and people, and spends the busiest parts of the day hiding in the drain underneath the pavement. Mel (formally, Mellow) is the most relaxed of the three; a graceful brown- and-white dog, she’s very popular with the male dogs on the street.
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Parle-G biscuits are a popular snack in India and are often fed to the dogs. We began to purchase these plain, sweet treats for our pack, and managed to train Buster and Timmy to eat from our hands and to catch biscuits in their mouths. But I soon became worried that they weren’t eating a balanced diet, so we started feeding them a mixture of dried dog food, chicken and rice.
Feeding the dogs allowed us to get to know them better. We learned that Timmy was easily the greediest of the three, quick to snap up the other dogs’ portions and then quickly run away. We also discovered that Mel was picky with her food, and would only eat if we turned away and didn’t watch her. As soon as any other dog came close, however, she’d quickly wolf down her portion.
Recently, we’ve started feeding another dog, a boisterous young pup we’ve named Scootie. He’s easily the most sociable dog on the street, always running up to humans to be petted. He’s very popular with the watchmen and male college students who congregate on the sidewalks after class, and will often lean up against one of them and fall asleep. Despite his sociability, however, he doesn’t have a pack of his own. Buster, Timmy and Mel were initially disgruntled when we started feeding him alongside them, but they’re slowly accepting him into their midst.
Every now and then, the dogs would refuse their morning feed. We were concerned until we realized that this was because they had already been fed. Once, taking a break from work, we encountered an old woman stomping down the street, waving a bone.
“Brownie! Come, Brownie!” she yelled, attempting to rally our dogs.
She explained to my husband in Hindi that she and her friend had chicken biryani to feed the dogs. Her friend, who had trouble walking, was at the top of the street in a rickshaw with the food. While most of the stray dogs immediately hurried up the street after her, our dogs remained where they were. But the woman didn’t forget about them, and returned with a portion of biryani for all three.
She’s not the only one who does this. I’ve regularly seen people leave small piles of rice for every dog on the street. Many Indians believe in the importance of seva, a Sanskrit word that means “selfless service.” Caring for stray dogs is a way of serving the community.
Feeding stray dogs is one thing, but taking care of their medical expenses is a different matter. Bangalore’s civic authority, the BBMP, funds the city’s animal birth-control program (ABC). They pay private clinics and animal rights NGOs to pick up dogs and take them to a vet, where they are sterilized and vaccinated against rabies; a small triangle cut in the dogs’ ear indicates that they’ve been processed. They are given a few days to recover before being returned to the neighborhood they were picked up from. (This strategy helps prevent unvaccinated dogs from moving into the unoccupied territory.)
However, the program has faced many challenges in recent years, including a lack of funds. There have been reports of clinics releasing dogs early due to lack of kennel facilities, resulting in several deaths from post-surgical infection. Taking matters into their own hands, some of Bangalore’s inhabitants pay for dogs to be sterilized from their own pockets. They’ve also petitioned the BBMP to improve their ABC program.
But of course, stray dogs’ medical needs don’t end with birth control and vaccinations. Any other expenses must be met by Bangalore’s citizens, not the civic authorities. Luckily, the people who live and work on our street don’t just feed the dogs, they also try their best to look after them. Buster limps from an old leg injury, and the muscles are badly wasted.
“She had a really bad cut once,” our neighbor Doris tells us. “Then maggots got in the wound. This woman who lives on the street took her to the vet and then nursed her back to health.”
I’m impressed with this unknown stranger’s compassion, not to mention patience. Coaxing a stray dog into a car or rickshaw so you can take them to the vet is a difficult task. Buster is incredibly wary of people and, like many street dogs, won’t let anyone touch her.
Last year, the oldest dog on our street, who’d made it to the venerable age of 17, was hit by an Uber driver. Chandru, the local greengrocer, called the vet repeatedly, trying to persuade him to come out and see the dog. Until he arrived, there was nothing anyone could do except make the poor dog comfortable and ensure that food and water were close at hand. When the vet finally arrived and examined her, he said nothing could be done. It was Chandru who arranged and paid for the dog to be put down.
A few months ago, my husband performed first aid on Scootie, the boisterous boy dog. We came outside for a walk early one morning to see him pawing the ground in pain, very distressed. A lady sweeping the street told my husband that the dog was choking. After whistling Scootie over, my husband stuck his hand into the dog’s mouth and removed a huge bone shard from his soft palate. Scootie immediately tried to eat the bone again, and I had to quickly move it out of his reach.
More recently, Buster stopped eating and quickly lost weight. Worried about her health, we managed to find a vet who did house calls to come and examine her. Buster wouldn’t let him—or us—touch her, but the vet suggested that she might have worms. We purchased the tablets and managed to feed them to all four dogs. Buster made a quick recovery, and we vowed to keep deworming the dogs regularly.
Living in Bangalore has opened my eyes to how rewarding it is to care for dogs who aren’t your own. It’s also made me realize how much the city’s stray dogs depend on the kindness of its residents for survival.