At the PDTE Annual Conference last year I presented my study on activity level in street dogs. Julia Robertson from Galen also visited in May to study the musculature of street dogs. Several of my students are starting out their studies on social interaction of street dogs. Given all of this, you may already know a little about our street dogs. I thought it might be a good idea to give you a further glimpse into the lives of our streeties (that’s a term of endearment we use for our street dogs).
When I present videos from my study, I often have people comment about how healthy all the dogs look. That is because many of them are fed regularly. Some people feed one or two dogs outside their house, with their leftovers. Some, however, take it very seriously. They cook special food for dogs and head out every day to find packs of dogs and feed them. To these people, street dog feeding is religion and they do it for the sheer love of feeding these dogs. Each of them feed anywhere between five dogs to more than a hundred dogs, each day! So I thought I would bring to you a part of their experience as a way to understand our streeties better.
I asked them, what got them started with feeding the streeties? Most times the story is of one dog who needed help and reached out and it just took off from there. But there are many things that seem to get people started. Prakruti says, “It runs in the family!”. Rajeev Chandra seems to have been inspired by another respected rescuer and feeder in the city. We then moved on to the topic of what is fed to the dogs and this clearly is something all of them take pride in. Many cook for the dogs and the love they put in it is evident. Bismi feeds the dogs broken rice cooked with mutton fat, chicken bones, turmeric and vegetables. And I must mention that she gets all of this cooked at home for 150 dogs! Preeti Klayanpur cooks a fantastic meal of broken rice, chicken liver and chicken for 38 dogs, every day.
Picture of Bismi out at night, never failing in keeping her commitment to the hundreds of dogs that have come to depend on her for their meals
I asked them if they ever face aggression amongst these dogs. And the answer across the board is that they do occasionally see it and it seems to be fights over food or when a female dog is in heat. Preethika, however, paints a bleaker picture with her lot of dogs. “My streeties were never aggressive. But then they were mistreated and abused by a few people over a sustained period of time and now they show aggression towards people who they perceive to be similar”. But this does not deter these people. They take it upon themselves to get the dogs neutered or spayed. And they all seem to have some kind of system to manage any fights. Bismi says, “They did fight initially. We had to even resort to using a stick or walk away without feeding at times. The policy is if anyone fights, no one in the group gets food. It seemed to work. The weaker ones and pups are always fed first and over time adults understood that too. As long as everyone gets sufficient quantity, the fights don’t happen “. Ganesh Sai resonates with this. He says “Yes, they were quite aggressive at first. But once I started feeding them, they became quite friendly”. Across the board, all the feeders notice that once they start feeding the dogs, the dogs get healthier, happier and friendlier.
Rajeev Chandra, despite feeding as many dogs as he does, humbly passes on credit to the Animal Lovers of Bangalore for inspiring him.
My next question clearly brought joy to many of them. When asked if the dogs recognised them and if they recognised each of the dogs they fed, I was given a string of names of all the dogs. It seems like these feeders are not just taking care of a population, but of individuals they love and bond with. Preeti Kalyanpur says “Yes, I recognize all the dogs I feed. My pals are amazed at that. But I see that each one has a beauty of his/her own”. Mahalakshmi Niranjan says, “They recognise me. These days I cannot walk around my house without being followed by all of them”. Karthik adds proudly, “Yes, of course, I recognise each and every tiny detail on them. I recognise all of them and they definitely recognise me”.
I wanted to know if any of the dogs missed any of the feeding sessions. It seems like most of them are very regular, but there are exceptions. Anterleena shares her astute observations, “Sometimes because a few timid ones are scared that they’ll get pounced on when eating. We usually feed them separately. Also, if any dog is sick or terribly hurt the first sign of knowing it is that they stop eating”. Shamalatha Rao tells me, “Occasionally if they have got food somewhere else or don't feel like eating on a particular day they miss the feeding session. We wait for them and see that they get their food instead of them waiting for food. “ Bismi adds, “Some of them are explorers, and miss it sometimes. But unless very sick, they don't miss it. Even if they are dying, they come to us and say good bye.”.
Swaroop explains that this photo is that of his good friend, Rajesh, a rescuer and ardent animal lover who was out to feed the streeties in Cubbon.
I asked them to explain their challenges to me. Most of them struggle to deal with social pressures not to feed the dogs, due to ignorance on the subject. Some are doing this at such a large scale that time and effort is their biggest challenge. For a few others, finance is a challenge. However, when asked how people can help them, the most common answer was that they wanted someone to help continue feeding the dogs on days they are not around. For these people, clearly, the most important thing is that these dogs get their food everyday.
Next I asked them to give some advice to people who might be interested in doing this. Antorleena has some sound advice, “First observe the pack or packs and get a fair idea of the behaviour of the various dogs with humans (few are shy and don't come close) and around food (the ones who are timid and have to be fed separately). Feed away from human populations, outside the apartment complex premises. Feeding at night is best, since humans are less active and the dogs are active then”. Bismi too recommends starting slow, “Choose a small pack and befriend them with biscuits. Slowly shift to nutritious meal. Meet them daily even if you can't feed them. They like human interaction. Play with them, pet them and take care of their medical needs. Help them become true community dogs”.
Karthik Vijayan calls them his children and explains Shadow is the guy with the blue collar, Buddha the hyena look alike and Bruno a new addition to our family
And finally, I asked them to share a few stories with us. Here they are. These stories will give you an idea of the dynamic we have with our streeties.
Bismi: "Julie was a super friendly streetie who we used to feed. One day she sat in one corner drooling extensively. I pet her and she wanted to take my hand to her mouth as if she wanted to bite. But knowing her nature, we knew it was something else. And found a bone stuck on her upper palate. She sat patiently keeping her mouth open for more than five minutes allowing us to remove it. Black Leader was an enthusiastic eater. But suddenly one day he disappeared and we searched for 2 days. On the third day he emerged and we found that he had a tumor that had burst. We tried to rush him to the vet. But it was too late. We lost him. It felt like he had come to wish us good bye."
Karthik: "Shadow actually loved locations from 5kms away. I used to feed him biscuits at a store and now he lives closer to me. He is the naughtiest of them all and is a bundle of energy even when the others have checked out for the night."
Antroleena: "There was this one dog, who suddenly went into hiding when he was very sick. But he surfaced a day before he died. We tried very hard to save him, but it was too late. It felt like he wanted to be with us in his last moments. There was this other female dog. We called her Mumma. Mumma trusted us with her new born pups and showed us where she had littered."
Sindhoor is a canine behaviour consultant, Galen myotherapist and educator in Bangalore, India. She is the country representative for Pet Dog Trainers of Europe (PDTE) and the founder of BHA, a premier canine education academy and Bangalore Hundeskole, a consultation service for holistic canine care.