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Wednesday, June 19, 2024

The Canine Dilemma- Revisiting a Timeless Dharmic Relationship

LifestyleThe Canine Dilemma- Revisiting a Timeless Dharmic Relationship

The soulful connection between our canine friends and humans is a timeless Dharmic and is recorded in the Mahabharata as well.

Manu Singh, environmentalist and a social justice and peace activist writes, “In the Mahabharata, a dog travels with the Pandavas and Draupadi as they set out on their arduous final trek to the Himalayas in quest of Swarga-Loka (heaven). Indra, the lord of all the Devas (gods), appears in front of them as they ascend and only lets Yudhishthira, the eldest Pandava, enter. Yudhishthira, however, is adamant on keeping the devoted dog who has been with them the entire way.

The dog happens to be none other than the god of righteousness, Dharma, in disguise. The dog is an embodiment of Yudhishthira’s unwavering loyalty and compassion, which reflect his adherence to the dharma’s precepts and his dedication to treating all beings with kindness, compassion and respect.

Dogs have always been placed in high regard in Hinduism. Known as shvanas in Sanskrit, they are the symbols of loyalty, vigilance, and protection. Dogs are frequently portrayed as defending temples and homes, signifying their duty as diligent guardians of spiritual realms.

Their presence denotes a vigilant force that is always on guard for danger and negativity. Bhairava, an aspect of Shiva, is often depicted with a dog as his constant companion. This depiction emphasizes the dog’s loyalty and serves as a reminder of the divine tie that exists between the deity and the devotee. The god of death, Yama, is also accompanied by two watchdogs who patrol the gates of the afterlife and ensure the righteous passage of souls.

 If one was to believe the lore of the religion, one would assume that dogs hold a significant place in the cultural tapestry of the nation. The reality could not be further from the truth.

According to the statistics from the State of Pet Homelessness Index developed by the American pet-care firm Mars, a staggering 85% of companion animals in India are homeless, with a whopping 62 million dogs on the streets and 8.8 million rotting in shelters. These dogs face numerous challenges, including starvation, disease, and abuse. Then with such a large stray-dog population, there is obviously the case of risks to public health, with incidents of bites and transmission of diseases like rabies. With both these conflicting realities, the divide between the community dogs and humans has become larger than ever.

 The calls to completely ‘eradicate’ the community dogs from the streets have gotten stronger, but is the solution as easy as the gimcrack culling of the stray dogs? Can we evade our collective responsibility towards the community animals and then blame them for their exponential growth when we, as the advanced species, are directly responsible for the control of their population through humane means? Not only is the approach of muss-culling of dogs cruel, it is also not sustainable in the long run. This issue demands compassionate and effective solutions that prioritize animal welfare alongside human safety.

 Implementing large-scale sterilization programmes is one of the most important measures for the humane management of stray dog numbers. These programmes entail trapping stray dogs, sterilizing them, and then releasing them back into their natural habitats. Sterilization reduces the number of unwanted litters and reduces aggressive behavior in dogs.

 Educating the public about community dogs plays a vital role in changing perceptions and behavior toward stray dogs. By raising awareness about the importance of responsible pet ownership, community members can be encouraged to adopt dogs instead of buying them. Education programs can also help dispel myths and misconceptions surrounding stray dogs, fostering empathy and understanding among people.

Additionally, teaching children about dog behavior and safety can instill a sense of compassion from an early age, promoting coexistence between humans and stray dogs. Promoting responsible pet ownership is another crucial step toward regulating the stray dog population. Most stray dogs are a result of unethical breeding between pedigree pet dogs and street dogs. The pet owners let loose their pet dogs on the streets when they go into heat and this results in the proliferation of the stray dog population. Procedures such as mandatory registration, licensing, sterilization, and microchipping of dogs need to be implemented so that the number of abandoned dogs and subsequent stray populations can be significantly reduced.

 All the above measures are natural to the spiritual fabric of India. In Hindu spirituality, dogs are regarded as companions on the path of self-realization and enlightenment. They symbolize the qualities of devotion, humility, and unwavering loyalty that are essential in a seeker’s journey toward union with the divine.

We cannot reduce them to religious tokenism where we offer them rotis for grah shanti but beat them with sticks when they approach us hungry, asking for food. That poses a significant challenge to the authentic expression of spirituality and overshadows the deeper essence of Hindu teachings. A country where dogs have been revered since time immemorial, it is only reasonable to treat the community dogs with compassion and love and aim for a solution that has the wellbeing of everyone in mind.”

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