India is estimated to have over 1.7 crore stray dogs, a majority of which are Indian canines and those left abandoned to a life on the streets. A large number of people in India still prefer to purchase their pets rather than adopt, and Indian dogs are rarely their first choice, or even in the top three, because they’re ‘mongrels.’
The recent spate of incidents involving the slaughter and even torture of stray dogs in India have left the country shocked and animal lovers dejected. Step outside and you’re sure to come across at least one stray dog along your journey. Regardless of what their appearance may be these little canines are usually friendly, full of love and just waiting for someone to give them the some affection. But often in the race to acquire the best pedigree, these indie babies are forgotten, side-lined and left to fend for themselves. But there are those few people out there that recognise the love and affection that strays have to offer, and take them in, giving them a much-deserved forever home in their hearts. These people work towards changing the preconceived notions held by members of society and aim to dispel the bias many hold against Indian strays animals. One such gem among the lot is 25-year-old Hyderabad resident Arpita Rao, who started Mongrels of India, a project on Facebook and Instagram that is slowly gaining a lot of popularity.
Modelled on Humans Of New York, Rao showcases user-submitted stories of adoption and photographs of adorable four-legged fur balls in an attempt to change perceptions, one heartwarming story at a time. “For really long, I’ve wanted to do something for the strays. I’ve never had a pet at home until recently and till then I made friends with these guys around the several houses I’ve moved in and out from. 3rd week of September, 2016, I visited Goa and found so many of them on the beach and they were walking with me the whole time (even in the waters). One face was cuter than the other. It only left me wondering how people can bother themselves to gather so much hate towards them. On my journey back, I sat in the bus and drew out a plan, made an album and posted it in on my personal profile. The feedback was incredible and so unexpected, so a week later, I came out with the page,” Rao explains to us via email. Her trip to the beach triggered the creation of an online community that’s fighting the good fight in an easy and compassionate manner — stray or pedigree, all dogs deserve kindness.
After seeing the lovely pictures and stories that are a part of Rao’s project, it really makes us wonder why so many people hold such a strong prejudice against Indian dogs, but the case isn’t only in India, but all over the world as Rao comments, “[It’s] the concept of demonstration effect in economics if you know what I mean. People want things that others have, people want things that will convince the outer world of their riches and luxury.”
“Coming to India, the caste system seems to apply to dogs and other animals as well. People love to keep breeds at home and not care about the cuties right outside their door. People will buy exotic breeds of birds for lakhs of rupees but not feed the pigeons and crows right outside their window. It’s more importantly a habit that we’ve grown into more than anything else,” she adds.
Rao’s plan is simple — by posting one touching story everyday she wants to show people how strays can so easily be a part of your family. “The joy of having them, the solid wall of support they are for you when you’re in distress is shown in these stories. People from all over the world are sending me heart warming and such touching stories, it proves that we have so much potential to love and be kind, but we’re too busy to pay attention to these small details. After all, loving a dog, feeding a dog, taking your dog for a walk, all summed together, will take 45 mins of your day and keeping a pet is in fact beneficial to us humans in so many ways.”
In the past few months alone there have been a string of attacks not just against stray animals but even against people who try to protect and care for them, the most horrific is the situation in Kerala. But on the other hand, we cannot ignore people being attacked by animals either. As Rao puts it, love and affection is a two street. To people who hold the notion of stray dogs being dangerous, she would tell them that you don’t really have to show love to dogs more than once even, “If they’re convinced you’re a good person who won’t harm them, they’ll be ready to sleep at your feet everyday from there on, no matter how much you try and ignore them.”
“I won’t say that all of them are the same, very few dogs maybe out there who would cause harm because they get defensive very early, call the nearest rescue center in that case. Not all human being are perfect either, how do they expect dogs to be?” Rao comments.
In a country where there is little value for human life, where does the life of an animal stand? Rao is doing her bit to help create a strong base of appreciation, acceptance and support, grow to give a voice to the voiceless. Rao hopes for Mongrels of India to one day be a database for rescue centers all over the country as well, stating, “There are a million pages on Facebook where people in urgent situations are looking for help, but they aren’t connected to the right people.” Her mission includes neutering adult dogs and increasing the rate of adoption in the existing population so as to cut down on this problem as a whole. “Rescue centers are being filed up to their necks and its getting out of hand. Free neutering centers is probably the answer. We’ll take it step by step when I feel that our page has reached enough people to actually make a difference, be a voice.”
Getting dogs off the streets and into loving homes could in fact reduce the number of attacks on humans — dogs act out in defense in most cases as it becomes their natural reaction to human interaction after years of abuse and even torture at the hands of people while living on the streets. In their drive for survival and self preservation, aggression grows and at times innocent people with good intentions end up at the receiving end, and it is initiatives like Mongrels of India that are working towards creating safer spaces for humans and animals alike.
You can submit your own adoption stories and follow Mongrels of India on Facebook and Instagram. We’ve posted below some of our favourite stories from the project and eagerly await each now post Arpita puts up.