CHENNAI:S Theodore Baskaran’s The Book of Indian Dogs manages to at once be slim and comprehensive, an elegant introduction to man’s best friend native to the country, their historical value and current situation.
You use a legal case to illustrate how under-appreciated native breeds are — the 1974 incident in which a dog’s anti-theft work in the Tiruchy police force was not held up in court as it was ‘a mere country dog’. Can you elaborate on this kind of widespread discrimination, which is reflected also in pet-buyers’ preferences for exotic breeds?
This is one dimension of the prejudice we have about things Indian. Like our attitude to languages for instances. Secondly, Indian breeds have been raised by farmhands and the working class. So you have a class prejudice also at work here. These breeds are not known internationally, say like the Cocker Spaniel or German Shepherds. People who talk and write about dogs in India are in a different world than the world of native breeds. That’s the problem.
Even where efforts to save native breeds exist, people display preference for some (such as the Rajapalayam, and increasingly the Chippiparai) over others. Are these reasons purely aesthetic, or is there more to it?
True. Some people own dogs for prestige, like having a BMW car. Some have a Rottweiler and are proud of it. Similarly, Rajapalayam and Rampur hounds, some of the earliest Indian breeds shown in the rings, have captured the fancy of pet-buyers. Notice how the Pug, which appeared in a mobile phone ad, became immensely popular. It had nothing to do with its temperament or characteristics…just like a Lhasa Aspo or a Tibetan Spaniel.
As a naturalist and conservationist, how do you see native Indian dogs, and their gradual extinction, in the context of the larger ecosystem and what’s happening to the environment?
I do not think these two realms are related. Both wildlife and native breeds are disappearing, but for different reasons. Indian breeds are degraded because there are no standards and there is no scientific breeding. Only the Karnataka Government is taking care (of Mudhol hounds) and doing well. No other breed is getting this kind of attention. The Indian dog breeding centre in Chennai has been neglected. The documentation on indigenous breeds started in southern Tamil Nadu and in 2014 went on for two years, but was abruptly stopped by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research.
Culling is a practiced even in other countries with better regulation and care. What do you feel can be done that is fair to both animals and humans?
The action of some well-meaning supporters could ruin a cause. The latest is the issue of stray dogs. The situation is really bad. There are 30 million ownerless dogs, roaming the streets uncared for, spreading disease and living on garbage and carcasses. All are unprotected and are carriers of one of the deadliest of diseases, rabies. In no other country does PETA support stray dogs. The first step is to accept that the Animal Birth Control scheme has been a total failure. Then we can examine a way out, based on
science, without emotionalising the issue.