The real Gangs of India and the loss of a companion.
Gang Dogs rule the streets of India. They have built up structures and territories sharing their place with humans, but not with other gangs. Their fights are merciless and they happen every day. The Gang Dogs of India are sometimes a problem for humans, but mostly for their own species. Here follows a story about the loss of a companion.
Dogs are everywhere in India
India has the highest number of stray dogs in the world. About 20 million of them live in cities, villages, fields and even in the desert. This observation may be nothing new to anyone who has ever enjoyed travelling the country. Dogs are everywhere, especially during nights, when the streets belong to Dog Gangs. Wherever you are, you will hear their barking in the distance or right in front of your window. Mostly, if one gang starts, another one will join and soon the whole neighbourhood resonates with their barks. Earplugs are the best way to sleep through the night as a traveller.
Parallel territories. Gang Dogs and humans.
Dogs live side to side with humans. They lay down in the sun on public places and search for garbage right next to your favourite tea-stall. In fact, the omnipresence of garbage is one of the main reasons for the high population of stray dogs. Leftovers from humans are a perfect breeding ground for dogs. It also nourishes goats, cows, pigs and other animals that you will find on the streets. Most of the time, dogs and humans share space peacefully. I have a friend who will insist of petting every street dog she finds, and she receives a lot of love from them in return. Yet, one should be careful. With about 20.000 rabies deaths per year, India suffers from a big problem, which is hard to tackle. Not only are the humans endangered by dogs, but dogs also become victims of human viciousness. Killing and harming animals on the streets of India is illegal and can be punished with up to five years in jail. Still, violence and mistreatment often occur even beyond the necessary defence against rabies-bites.
Don’t be scared, be prepared
I am also an animal-lover. When I am approached by a dog, I will evaluate the situation. Usually it is easy to see, which one will be peaceful, which one is sick and which one is aggressive. For the latter, there is a good recipe: Sticks and stones. I never hit a dog with one of them, but throwing stones close to them usually also makes groups of 3-4 dogs run away. Brandishing a stick adds to it. The gang dogs of India usually know that they should not mess with grown-up humans. Even though I have encountered a lot of dogs by now, I never got attacked yet. Still, I’d recommend everyone to get a rabies-vaccination when you plan to go to India. It is not on you to decide, which kind of dog you will meet, but it’s definitely on you to be prepared, just in case.
You can help
In the case of filthy dogs, I think it is best to simply avoid them. If they have a huge amount of fur scratched off and you see bleeding scratches, they probably host a good amount of flees. So take care. I once saw a dog, who completely lost his upper skull and you could see his brain, while he was running along the street. You probably would not want to mess with him.
At that time, I unfortunately did not know, but there is something that you can do: Help. Dogs with major injuries can often be treated by local veterinarians or other animal-loving groups. The same dog-patting friend I mentioned earlier, showed me how easy it was to find someone to help a street dog with a half-cut throat even in a rather remote place. She searched and found a local animal-care group who forwarded the case to a local veterinarian. Just use the web!
Pet dogs and semi-pet dogs.
Street dogs are a controversy even in India. At one place they are cared for and welcomed by a whole neighbourhood. At other places people do not want them to be dropped in the area even after being sterilized and vaccinated. There is also a trend of having pure-breed pet dogs at home in India. What I mostly love, however, is the idea of the semi-pet dogs: Street dogs that can be fed and patted by everyone. They live right next to your door, enjoy their freedom and you still can play with them. How cool is that? You do not need to care for them when you’re on holiday, because your neighbours do. The dogs are also accustomed to get along by themselves quite well. No cages for the animal, no duties for the human.
A dog named Ladu
One morning, when I went out to shoot some landscapes in Solan, Himachal Pradesh, I was accompanied by Ladu, the neighbourhood’s semi-pet dog. I know her for one year, since she was a puppy. She loves to play - mostly too much - and once you've started, your clothes will be covered in street dust. A few scratches on my arms and a hole in my glove was my experience so far. She’s young, she loves to play.
Ladu followed me to my photo-location and even helped me out to find the way back home. It is indeed very easy to lose track on the red stairways that wind themselves up the mountains of Solan. Parting, joining and ending up in a dead end, they often give you the feeling to be in a giant, natural Hogwarts-castle, where the stairs are always connected in a different way. Where I started doubting my own orientation, the dog brought me home safely.
The loss of a new companion
I made a very early morning trip to the top of a local mountain with one of my small Indian brothers, the other day. We had to walk to the foot of the mountain in the night and Ladu decided to accompany us. I already expected it to be a different experience to walk a dog in India. especially through the different territories of the gang dogs. Yet, it was easy to protect Ladu from any of the barking strays. Like I mentioned earlier: A few stones into the direction of the gangs helped. We went up the mountain and shot beautiful images in the morning light.
Being that light-hearted, we did not expect that we would have a fatal encounter, just ten minutes before we returned home. We passed a group of three dogs. I already saw the problems coming, but as Ladu is a free dog, I could not force her to keep her distance from the gang. I just managed to pick up a single stone, but it was already too late. The leader of the gang attacked her and they started a fight without mercy. Ladu unfortunately fled into the wrong direction, so we could not help her. A ball of four whining, barking and snarling dogs rolled down into the sewage and for a moment I held my breath. Then Ladu dashed forward, out of the sewage. She ran for her life and disappeared behind the corner, the three other dogs chasing her, leaving nothing but a distant barking and whining behind. That is the last time, I saw Ladu.
Are gang dogs evil?
I don’t know what happened to Ladu. Maybe she made it and got injured, maybe a car hit her while she tried to run away or maybe the dogs caught her. I do not know if stray dogs kill each other. Ladu has not been seen in the neighbourhood the whole day, so I decided to walk to the place where we lost her the next morning. I could not find her anywhere, but I found the gang. They were peacefully lying in the sun and indifferently watching the people who walked their way to work or wherever you go in the morning. There was no hint of the evilly twisted flews, no snarling and no aggression. There was no tension in the air and no spit dropping on the ground. The gang dogs of India live in a different space with different rules of territory for human beings and dogs.
I haven't seen anything or heard about Ladu until now. I feel very sad about what happened and also a little guilty, because we could not protect her. Usually she comes to the house every morning. If I get any news, however, I will share it here.