Due to some recent changes in my lifestyle, I often find myself walking or cycling on the streets in Bangalore alone late in the night. The part of the city I live is relatively well lit, the weather is extremely pleasant, and the locality is pretty safe for a 25 year old guy. There is no reason to worry about muggers, rapists, drunk drivers or the police but dogs, man’s alleged best friends, have been my number one enemy lately.
The worst thing about dogs is that no one comes forward to help you if they trouble you. Think about it. A lot of heroes are ready to rush to help a damsel if she is troubled by some asshole on a bike. They don’t stop to consider possibilities like, “What if the asshole on the bike has a knife? Or an uncle active in politics?” But if the same damsel is distressed by a street dog, even Batman will think “Do I really want to get involved in this?”
In the spirit of The Godfather (Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer), I tried to be friends with all the dogs in my regular route but there are just way too many of them and they don’t remember me at all. One day I am feeding them fresh Iyengar Bakery bread and the next day, they are still chasing me! Whoever said dogs are the most loyal creatures was a morning person.
Over the last couple of months, I have been doing some independent research on dogs (you know collecting statistics, normalizing the raw data, drawing probability density curves, adjusting for bias in fill conditional distributions and shit like that) and I think I have reached a level where I can look at a dog and its surroundings and predict with a fair degree of accuracy whether it will chase me or not. I am here to share some wisdom.
The first thing I noticed was that not all street dogs are the same. They may be the same breed, the same color or even from the same mother but social conditions and childhood experiences make a lot of difference in the personality of dogs.
The Feral Dogs
There are some stray dogs that purely depend on garbage zones. In India, we don’t have garbage bins. We have but we don’t throw trash in the garbage bin. We throw trash at the garbage bin. We stand 40 feet away and aim for a Hole in One. Since most of the garbage disposers are middle aged women in saris (attire not very suitable for athletic activity), they often fall short or get the projectile wrong and it creates a garbage zone.
Feral Dogs depend on and survive by scavenging from these Garbage Zones. These feral dogs form friendships, alliances, and even gangs that share a food source. This food source forms a part of their territory. The territories have fragile and dynamic borders marked by invisible scents (piss on parked cars) and are fiercely protected from rival feral gangs, cats, rodents and other scavengers. Humans however are allowed to peacefully pass through and dispose more trash.
The feral dogs may look and bark aggressively but they almost never bother humans. Most of the barking you hear in the nights is just dogs sorting out territorial disputes among themselves. A few girls in our neighborhood misunderstand this territorial diplomacy. They are so scared of them that they always recite Hanuman Chalisa while passing by! I told them it is unnecessary but they didn’t trust me.
H1B dogs are stray dogs that depend on charity from humans. These dogs learned to shake their tails in the right way in their puppyhood and are patronized by families or shopkeepers who give them leftovers. They gradually build these relationships by wagging their tails respectfully from a distance.
H1B dogs diligently perform all the duties expected of full time pet dogs but don’t get any of the benefits that full time pets are entitled to. They are just happy that they are allowed to stay in the neighborhood. They have to defend their territories too but not as aggressively as the feral dogs.
You can find these dogs in the gullies, on the footpaths near small shops napping in various yogic postures. However this indulgence in unrighteous indolence is only during the day. At night, they take their H1B status with pride and “defend” their master’s neighborhood aggressively.
You should be wary of H1B dogs at nights. They sit silently in a dark corner and growl at anyone who passes by. If they sense that you are scared, they upgrade the growl to a bark, and the bark to a chase. Once the chase starts, other dogs join them and it is all adrenaline rush after that. Things can go either way.
If you are on a bicycle or a motorbike, your best defense against H1Bs is to ignore them. Don’t panic if they start chasing you. Just keep moving. They don’t chase for more than a 100 meters or so.
If you are on foot, then running is a bad idea. Most dogs are better sprinters than you are and running intimidates them. Your best bet is preemptive aggression. You have to gesticulate aggressively like you are about to throw something. They retreat as a conditional reflex and growl from a distance. When they are growling, yell at them to shut up. They usually shut up. You have to justify your top-of-the-food-chain status. They respect that and retreat. If they don’t, start reciting Hanuman Chalisa.
Statutory Warning: Do not take financial, health, safety and relationship advice from an amateur cartoonist. The NRI is not responsible for any dog bite wounds that you may encounter as a result of this post.
Upper middleclass Koramangala is home to a lot of exotic dogs that come in all shapes, sizes and classes. I’m not good with the names of fancy breeds. I just categorize them as small, big, cute, ugly, huge, scary, weird, dorky, ‘Is that a dog? I thought it was a rat!’ and so on. These rich pets are tightly leashed and follow strict a regimen which may include special grooming sessions in one of the air conditioned dog parlors.
Rich pets are walked twice a day, once by the master and the second time by the watchman. The walks with the master are tightly scheduled. The dogs are walked in a straight line at uniform speed around a rectangular park. I cannot imagine anything more boring than that. Did you ever see a free dog walking in a straight line and then taking a ninety degree left turn? No, that is not how they walk. Dogs like to walk in random directions and pee at random things. That is how they should be walked.
The rich pets get along very well with feral dogs during their evening walks. Every pet dog is followed by two or three feral dogs. They hang out by eagerly sniffing each other’s bottoms but their masters don’t seem to like it at all. They are almost embarrassed by the scene they create but the dogs don’t care. They don’t discriminate on the basis of breed, color or social status.
Middleclass Ejipura doesn’t have many exotic breeds of pet dogs. Most of the dogs are the good old Pomeranians, Dobermans, or sometimes German Shepherds. They are relatively free to mingle with H1B dogs but don’t participate in the street dynamics of dog society.
As a rule, I don’t trust other people’s pet dogs. They bark at strangers for no reason. I don’t know what they bark about but I suspect they incite H1B dogs to chase people like me.
In the lower middleclass neighborhoods of Ejipura, the dynamics of canine society are totally different. The distinction between a feral dog, an H1B dog and a pet dog almost vanishes here. Most of the dogs are taken care of by someone or the other. The only difference between a pet and a stray is an awkward handmade collar around the neck.
They have aggressive territorial wars like feral dogs. They are also mild H1Bs and hence unpredictable. Sometimes they chase your bicycle but when you stop and look at them in the eye, they are confused and wag their tails happily. And sometimes they don’t wag their tails happily in which case you should get the hell out of there. It is never a good idea to take a risk with them.
Apart from these three classes of dogs, there are also some significant minorities.
Cross breeds are legitimate children of exotic breeds and feral dogs. They are a funny kind. A few are super lucky like the cross between the German shepherd and a regular street dog. It has the face of a street dog but the body and the size of a German shepherd. It rules the garbage zone and lives like a king.
A few not-so-lucky dogs inherit totally useless features from an exotic parent. There is a dog at the end of our street which looks exactly like a stray dog but for its exceptionally fluffy tail. The tail looks as out of place as a wig on a bald man’s head.
And then there are the totally unlucky ones like the cross between a regular dog and a goofy little Dachshund. Their short legs, exceptionally long limousine-like body, and the street dog head offer a negative evolutionary advantage when it is chased by rival gangs. It is quite an amusing sight to see these things run.
Apart from the cross breeds there are also abandoned pets among the minorities. A lot of pets are abandoned in upper middleclass Koramangala because humans are assholes who sometimes get carried away by the cuteness of a purebred pup in a pet store and get it without thinking through the high maintenance responsibility of keeping it alive and healthy.
Narrow, unenlightened, consumer-minded people for whom a puppy is just another thing sold in the mall they can buy using an add-on credit card. Some people think puppies make great gifts, so they surprise you with one!
Because of this fundamental lack of respect for life, a lot of these gift pets end up abandoned on the streets. These homeless dogs can be found circling garbage zones hoping to gain acceptance in one of the feral gangs. A lucky few manage to do that but for the rest, it is survival of the fittest and they are not the fittest.