20 million – number of people who used #puppies on Instagram.
100 million – number of times people wrote #dogsofinstagram.
30 million – number of stray dogs in India.
6.5 million – approximate number of abandoned pets in the USA.
Statistically, more than a hundred million people are animal lovers. Practically, the percentage is quite small. The term ‘picture lovers’ is more appropriate for us netizens. But who cares about numbers? We just want adorable puppies – without the responsibility that comes with raising a living, breathing soul. If only puppies or #doggos ran on batteries and didn’t breath or excrete like us humans.
Shruti Dutta isn’t that big on batteries, hashtags, Instagram or other humans. A lawyer and an army brat, this genuine animal lover spent the last ten years rescuing and nurturing abandoned pets.
*Those of you who aren’t familiar with this term, ‘abandoned pet’ is an animal that was adopted or bought by an idiot who looked at cute pets of others and then decided to get one. Since they are dumb, they didn’t think that they just bought a living organism. Soon they realise that it is indeed a huge responsibility, so they do what any loser would do – abandon the animal.
Shruti has come across many idiots. But since we are focussed on getting more traffic on this story, we are going to give our audience what they really want – A cute, adorable, happy story with lots of pictures.
“The first rescue was Mahjong, a black labrador, one of my father’s patients had informed us about her.” says Shruti. The person knew she was an animal lover, “so he called up one day and told my dad about this dog that was lying on the streets of Lucknow where it was bitten by stray dogs, and couldn’t really fend for herself.”
She found her first pet starving and malnourished, “She was in a very bad state. My dad’s friend had the dog with him but he couldn’t really look after her. We went to see her one night (it was during my 10th boards) and we couldn’t resist. We brought her home, her ribs were visible, she was quite frail.”
Fortunately for Mahjong, her new family took all the measures to nourish her back to health, “Slowly within a span of two months, she turned into this hefty, fat dog. We fed her meat, vegetables, supplements, and got some omega oils for her. A lot of nutritional care and of course! A lot of brushing and grooming, and love… She was our first rescue.”
Your first pet is usually a lesson in raising an organism that isn’t human (at least for normal people). Was she prepared to take care of this new member of her family?
“We didn’t know much, and vets were pretty useless in Lucknow back in 2008.” But things eventually worked out for her, she applied a method that is used by almost every parent – “Trial and error”
She adds, “Dad being a doctor helped. Dogs are a lot like humans” (anatomically, yes. They are actually better than us)
They did make one small mistake though, “we fed her too much too fast and now, she’s obese. But then because she ate a lot and thanks to that her immunity is strong.”
“She’s 12 years old but quite healthy, apart from the obesity.”
The Animal Lover:
“I’ve always had an attraction for anything that crawled or hopped. My first pet was a baby house lizard called Nadi, since we were in Kargil and the river nearby was the most exciting thing there. I somehow managed to catch it and put it in a matchbox, and fed it small dead insects or mosquitoes.”
Her fascination with animals isn’t limited to cute cats or dogs. Shruti adds, “The fascination only grew with other species with like beetles, frogs, snakes, scorpions, you name it. There was a time I wanted to pet an alligator. In school and college, I was always called upon to get rid of lizards and all kinds of creepy crawlies coz I would not let people kill or hurt them. So I had the job of setting them free, including rats.”
By now you know that she loves all kinds of animals. It’s not like she poses with puppies and kills any other animal that dares to enter her house. She’s not that big on double standards either. She is a non-vegetarian though; a hardcore non-vegetarian like Ron Swanson. The question that pops in our Facebook addicted mind is – Aren’t animal lovers supposed to be against eating meat? That’s what their posts are mostly about.
Shruti says, “as a kid I had funny statement just to throw people off a bit ‘I love animals as much as I like to eat them'” she adds, “But I have a simple line of thought I help animals in need of care. I don’t buy pedigrees to put on display nor do I capture animals that are healthy and well, and create a museum for them in my basement.”
“Yes I am a meat-eater but that is a choice of food that I have. It does not mean I rescue animals and grill them on a pan.”
It doesn’t matter what kind of meat you eat. One should simply know the difference between sharing pictures online and actually doing something.
We form an emotional connection with our pets. If we consider them a part of our family, they are most than just animals to us. Sometimes we end up forming better relationships with dogs or cats. What makes us develop a stronger emotional connection with our dogs?
Shruti says, “We have a tendency to understand animals better because we know how they will behave.”
She explains her answer, “Now there are two things about that statement we need to understand that it is true and untrue at the same time. We know how they’ll behave in the sense we know they cannot deceive us like humans do or cause any emotional trauma to us. We know that if we don’t poke the bear he won’t pounce on us; we trust the animal as we know it can never lie to us.”
However, we can never be certain about how they’ll react to us as “we must not forget we can never absolutely predict an animal’s behaviour. A certain smell, heat or a mild tactile stimulation can instigate an animal. We need the animal to trust us more than we trust the animal.”
There are a lot of ways this emotional connection helps us in our daily lives. There’s also a therapeutic advantage, “because we don’t think twice before we open our book to them.”
Having a pet in your life has some value. We’ll happily become more vulnerable to a puppy we’ve never met before, an animal that can’t fully understand us; and we will maintain our distance from people we’ve known for years. The kind of therapy you’ll get from a dog or cat, you may not get that from another human being. Why is that?
To that completely weird logic, our dog and cat lover says, “Social isolation might be one of the reasons and I think that would make a better reason for people having pets but however I think having a pet is different from having a companion.”
But, “Most people have pets, not companions. So their pets are mostly an aesthetic element of the house and therefore, we have so many abandoned pets.”
While we are on the subject of abandoned pets…
On the subject of animal shelters in Delhi, she says, “In Delhi I know of one that is open to reaching animals in general – Sanjay Gandhi Animal Shelter, and the woman making it work, Ambika Shukla, is one of the most dedicated person I’ve seen in this field.”
“However they are full, way beyond their capacity, and there’s only so much they can do.”
No matter how big your shelter is, us humans will do our best to fill it up with adorable animals.
“Then there is Friendicoes who have better funds (well, private funds and donations), but the staff isn’t as experienced or educated about dogs as they should be. They are definitely improving but again it doesn’t cost a penny to leave your dog by the bench but to rescue him and sustain him requires money human effort and resources.”
If only our government paid people to adopt abandoned animals. But then again, we’ll find a way to ruin that whole adoption phase too.
She explains that “there are a couple of more private individuals that have rented land and rescued dogs. But to sustain it they have to be no better than those fund collectors for the local pooja during festivals.”
According to her, “we need regulations for breeders or rules for pet owners, and also for shelters, for cruelty against animals, have laws against neglect towards your pet and many more. Yes shelters aren’t ideal places for these animals but they have no choice. It’s better than being beaten to death or being shot dead in a deserted corner.”
She adds, “We need more volunteers, more sources of revenue. We need to fine the people who come and leave their dogs at the doors of these shelters.”
It’s not like the authorities just ignored these problems, “There are a number of laws and regulations pending to be passed or at least scrutinised in the parliament because well, dogs or animals can’t vote.”
Solving The Problem:
Shruti Dutta presently lives with her family and five dogs and one cat that she has rescued over the years. You may call it her own home shelter.
And like every other shelter she also has some problems that need to be solved. “Revenue is a big problem. I have to use my salary or savings from working as a lawyer, which is why the plan to open a shelter is a little later in life. Right now the plan is to help one at a time – which has now grown to five dogs and a cat.”
Taking care of six animals in an apartment can be a tough gig to handle. So you can understand why she plans to start her own shelter some day. It may not happen now, but it will work out soon and she has some ideas for solving her revenue problem, “For the revenue plan, I will definitely start by charging an amount for leaving your dog with me. Probably open a dog park for a reasonable ticket price (facebookers and snapchaters won’t be able to resist) and something of a petting zoo where you can come interact with the animals and learn about them as it won’t just be dogs.”
“Honestly I have no idea right now how I will execute all of this. It will take me a few years to figure it out.” It’s like the lady said, help one at a time.
For Shruti and her family, rescuing five animals wasn’t easy at all. It’s hard for readers to even imagine the effort that goes into all of this because it’s not like you guys went out, got an abandoned dog home, gave it food and made it a part of your family. You probably went to a breeder or got your cute pet from some friend.
What if instead of mongrels or street dogs, we found Corgis, French Bulldogs, Golden Retrievers roaming our streets. Imagine if the streets of India had fluffy Chow Chows instead of those mixed indies you won’t find in a ‘Dog Breeds’ book. There will be a drastic change in our stray dog population. But then again, we’ll find a way to ruin that campaign too.
We will pay thousands for a pure breed than adopt a street dog for free. “Like I said, people like to ‘own’ pets. These so called pure bred pups they buy are for only a few reasons and they are not the reasons you’d like.”
And the reasons are, “One, it maybe because they can earn money through breeding once in a while like a hobby that pays. Two, if it is a pretty breed then it should be a head turner or a status symbol if they live in those typical posh societies. Three, and the most dangerous reason is that people lack compassion and a general respect for life.
She explains, “If somebody walks a stray, he becomes a subject of laughter. If he fights for his residential rights in a society he won’t even be lent an ear because he owns a mongrel.”
According to her, the generic Indian mentality is that a home is no place for a mongrel. “It’s simply sad and disheartening how shallow the thought is. This thought is prevalent in our society barring no class no strata.”
Where’s The Compassion?
We form relationships with everyone around us. With pets, it’s a friendship that simply takes moments to develop. The pain of losing that friend cannot be explained here. Well, not of all of us feel that pain. Some of us get bored with our friend and then just leave our friend in some strange place. In our metros there have been instances where people found dogs tied up to trees, gates, poles… you name it. We have found so many creative ways of abandoning our friends.
But the four-legged pet doesn’t know that you left it. It doesn’t even realise that you are abandoning it forever. It just waits there. Spends time looking around, trying to catch a glimpse of you returning for it.
“It is a bad cycle of things. Lack of compassion leads to a diminished sense of responsibility while buying your pet and lack of research leads to taking on something you probably did not sign up for”says Shruti, “Most people fail to realise that bringing home a pup is nothing less than having a new-born baby at home.”
*Well, India has seen a lot of abandoned babies too. We really are a #sanskari bunch.
Back to the rescue lady you have been reading about. She says people forget to think about things like, “What food is it be given? At what intervals? Should it be liquid or semi solid? What foods are not to be given?” Now who has time to think about all that? A dog’s job is to be cute and funny – just like they show on Facebook.
“How to make sure there is no nutrient deficiency? How much exercise must be allowed before and after meals.? What kind of disinfectants must be used to clean your floors during toilet training? All that piss and poop, it’s no less than (rather worse than) diaper duty . Keeping constant surveillance whether it’s putting foreign objects in its mouth, teething, gestures and soothers what to use when oral hygiene teeth brushing grooming of the fur regular baths, tick infestations… The list goes on.”
Suddenly when that ‘aww’ moment turns into a huge responsibility. We do the responsible thing of chucking it out of our homes.
If Ned Stark was Indian, the scene with wolf pups would have probably gone like this – Sure you can take the pups, but they will be tied up outside the castle. You wil carry a stick when you take them for a walk. If they don’t listen, bring them back here and tie them to a tree. Oh! and leave the black one, I’ll take the pure white one.
If you feel the story is badgering against humanity, remember that some humans tie them to a pole or tree while abandoning them. Because they don’t want the dogs to walk on the road. They aren’t bad people, right?
Shruti says, “This dog has been domesticated and has no mother to teach him how to fend for himself what do you think happens to him?”
“The humans who bought him don’t think of that. For them it’s a commodity or an animal that is a magical creature that can survive anywhere anytime, right?”
Continuing the constant praise of us people, “Then there are excuses like we had to move and couldn’t take the dog. Well, why don’t they leave one of their kids behind leaving a note saying – ‘we had to move’ see how that goes.”
“There are also old dogs that cannot breed anymore those are the sins of our unregulated breeders”
Shruti has had some really special moments with breeders. But you’ll read that later.
The vetting process – It’s a like a background check before you adopt or buy a dog, “most of these shelters have it. But it’s not followed through always. There are so many dogs and few families willing to adopt. And of course it’s not a government mandate so it’s up to the handler and his moral conscience. We need the law to put the fear of punishment in people as is true in any sphere of life right now.”
You already know about Mahjong, the black labrador she adopted in Lucknow, “Then in Pune it was the Persian cats – Dimsum and Laksa (we lost Laksa in Dec 2015) who were abandoned by Korean students. We came to know about them through our neghbour’s vet.”
After that, “for about five years we did not think about another adoption. In December 2016, one of my dads patients in Jalandhar told us about a Pitbull Terrier pup who was the runt of the litter and probably was going to be used as bait in dog fights. So we drove down to the village of and brought Oreo home.”
Then in 2018, they tried to rescue a Great Dane pup from a pig farm near Delhi, “he was pulled down from inside our car along with a lot of drunk threatening by its owner which is another story. Mom was quite upset so we decided to buy her a Great Dane. In the process we got trapped in a breeder scam.”
Remember the line about her experience with breeders? “We were handed a yellow Labrador for triple the price who passed away within a week due to Parvo virus. All our dogs had to be quarantined. The house had to be bleached multiple times and of course! we were grief-stricken.”
She adds, “My personal experience with one of the scamming breeders was no less threatening. Vikas pet shop is a common name that pops up on India mart when you look for breeds online. He has the most unhygienic breeding ground, has multiple cases of selling sick puppies and still manages to open multiple pet shops in Delhi.”
Then the true friend of five dogs and a cat looked at adoption camps, “Stumbled over Sanjay Gandhi animal shelter where we adopted Bao and learnt that the breeder that scammed us had multiple pending case of selling pups with parvo, distemper all kinds of deadly diseases.”
“Subsequently various adoption cases approached us including Friendicoes where we adopted kimchi our first Great Dane. By now us adopting dogs had gone viral in our immediate social circle and Oreo’s surgeon (she recently was spayed) had a Saluki that was abandoned by a naval officer and Zoozoo became our latest adoption.”
For her beloved animals, she says, “There is a sad and difficult life each of our adopted dogs and cats have lived. Every single one of them has gone through mental trauma as well as physiological, right from separation anxiety to claustrophobia, to tick fever, colitis and liver damage.”
BTW guys, how does she do it? Nurturing, feeding and walking so many animals… just how?
Shruti explains, “With each dog coming from a foreign environment, the first week they had to be kept isolated till we were sure of any contagious diseases the dog might have or carry.
Once the dog is cleaned and taken to the vet, and given his shots and is certified healthy, “then we gradually let him socialize with the rest of the animals in the house.”
“Dimsum (our cat) however has never faced any problem with establishing the hierarchy with him at the apex. We had to be a bit vary of the dogs getting scratched. But, getting accustomed to the cat is merely a day’s process.” That’s another story – One cat ruling five dogs inside one home. A story narrated by her on her page.
“The dogs mostly need to be left alone to figure their place in the pack but were constantly supervise to prevent any dog fights. Within two weeks it’s a fresh pack for each new addition.” Don’t they sound more civilised than the contestants in our reality shows?
She adds, “The most difficult phase was getting Oreo (the Pitbull terrier) to accept Bao as she was the alpha and the most pampered of all till Bao arrived. All we needed was for them to interact independently without human interference.”
“A strict supervision is a must but nature eventually takes its course.”
What about fights between these pawfect animals?
“There were mild quarrels which had to be regulated by me, but gradually, it was all hunky dory.”
“Like I said constant supervision is a must. To answer your question, no dog fights have occurred rather they were all prevented from occurring through distractions such as a ball, a chewy snack or human contact.”
The Home Shelter:
The internet will give you millions of websites, e books, articles on different dog breeds, their personalities, how you should live with dogs, and some other really useful content on Corgi butts.
But why do you want to read those books when a person who has been living with six animals at home is answering questions here?
“Being understanding and having patience is the key to any dog’s heart. Recognising the creature’s identity as a unique one is important.”
Many potential dog owners go for pure breeds because they believe they can read about that breed online and know what to do. With street dogs or mongrels, there’s not much information online.
“The key point is learning the practical difference between adjectives such as aggressive, ferocious and hyper-active. People usually make the mistake of deriving just one meaning out of all three, that is dangerous or harmful.”
She explains with the examples of her own dogs, “Oreo is aggressive but not ferocious. Bao is hyper active but not ferocious or aggressive.”
“While moulding a dog’s personality does not require a handbook (it’s like raising a child). On the other hand, each breed has specific nutritional requirements, degree of exercise required varies. Like a jog with my Labrador is sufficient whereas I have to take Zoozoo (Saluki) on a cycle for multiple rounds in a day while Kimchi (Great Dane) needs only long walks.”
“So to have a healthy dog, you need to read up on the breed as the introductory step but the rest and majority of the effort has to be a personal initiative to step forward and understand your dog.”
Your dog isn’t like any other dog. You’ll realise that once you start treating it like a living being.
Also, “I need to include the comparison between Mahjong and Bao. Both are Labradors but they are poles apart. Mahjong is a therapy dog with an unborn tolerance of anything while Bao might snap if manhandled too much.”
All her dogs have been adopted, “they have gone through various kinds of mental trauma which has led to certain behavioural issues which have had to be dealt with separately”
Since we mentioned them somewhere in the story, “Mongrels are easy, haven’t been bred by us to artificially create their personality so they are accustomed to the climate and need minimum nutritional supplements outside of their meals.”
“For mongrels you just need be responsible enough to not let it fall sick or pamper it too much. Pamper it to the point of behaviour problems”
Before we move to our final point, there is an important point to be made about her dog, “Kimchi, the Great Dane pup, has been trained to poop and piss in the bathroom. Life has become easier” Now that’s something all dog lovers in big cities need to learn. You may need the Indian toilet for smaller breeds though.
“The first question one must ask before bringing a dog home is whether he or she is absolutely ready to take on the responsibility of another life.”
Shruti Dutta didn’t just adopt these animals, they have lived with her and have become a part of her family. The commitment shown by her and her family, in bringing these dogs back from poor malnourished health or other diseases, is evident in the pictures.
“One should ask oneself the same questions before planning to raise a child. That Himalayan trip you may have planned for next year might just have to be put on hold. The home decor has to be baby proofed.”
Next time you look at a puppy on your phone and just make a decision to bring one home, ask yourself, “Are you ready to raise a puppy which means a 100 % commitment to its feeds, toilet training, cleaning of poop and piss, calculating nutrients, managing finances and so much more.”
But, “If you do not have that kind of time then an adult dog is more apt.”
“Where in most cases they will have been toilet trained in case of an adoption, shelters will have already toilet trained them. They mostly won’t have teething and chewing problems.”
She adds, “but with adult dogs you have to be investigative initially to check for health issues, malnutrition, behavioural problems and treat them accordingly. A dog is a lifetime commitment to nurture another life. It’s cannot be a casual decision.”
Those were 10 Points with the lawyer/amateur home shelter owner who also believes that people just want a happy ending to every story.
In the end, she says, “the internet has all kinds of information, at least on dogs, right from training to health tips. Social media has all kinds of stories on adoptions or rescue.”
“It also has my story where it’s neither an NGO nor a breeder house; it’s simply a regular house which is welcoming towards ill-fated abandoned dogs with a broken sense of trust towards humans.”
The problem lies in the minds of the public, a rescue story isn’t even scrolled through, but a puppy licking its paws is viewed about a 100 times. It’s not the book’s fault if the reader decides to simply read the happy end skipping all the pages before.