No doubt the adage goes, “Its a dog’s life”. What else will you call the fall of the breed that have gone from being souvenirs of pride, sporting diamond collars to street strays that not many deem worth even knowing anything about. S Theodore Baskaran in ‘The Book Of Indian Dogs’ takes the reader through the times, the types and the troubles of man’s best friend in this part of the subcontinent. Here is an excerpt.
It is a sad commentary on the regard we have for our own native dogs that their breeding has been neglected for centuries now. We have seen how the bloodlines of Indian breeds were diluted by European breeds. Also, in more contemporary times, the craze to acquire foreign breeds for pets has exacerbated the neglect of local breeds, especially as far as the middle class is concerned. To
make matters worse, they are even being neglected by traditional hunters and people in the rural areas because of the ban on hunting by the Wildlife Protection Act 1972 and the emphasis on wildlife conservation. For many owners in the rural areas of Tamil Nadu,for instance, the main reason for keeping dogs was hunting, and this was indulged in mostly as a hobby. Hunting is part of the rural culture of Tamil Nadu along with rooster fights, jallikattu (bullvaulting) and rekla (cart race).
In 2011, in Sivaganga, Tamil Nadu there was an attempt to introduce dog racing with indigenous breeds but it did not catch on. The last race was held in 2014 in which thirty-four canines participated. The home of many of the fabled breeds of the region like Kombai and Chippiparai is along the foothills of the Western Ghats in the western part of Tamil Nadu where there were communities that eked out a living by selling bush meat acquired through hunting.
One of the memories of my childhood in a village in Tamil Nadu is the arrival of trappers at our doorstep hawking hares and partridges. The other traditional work done by these dogs, like guarding and keeping watch, have become largely redundant due to modern surveillance measures and equipment like CCTV cameras. The only Indian breeds that have thrived are Himalayan breeds such as the mastiff, the Lhasa apso and the Tibetan terrier because of interest in these dogs in Europe and America where, as we have seen, there are organizations for their preservation.
Some Indian breeds have competed at prestigious international dog shows such as the Crufts Dog Show, the biggest in the world in which 25,000 dogs compete. A few Indian breeds have won the Best in Show title. In 1984, a Lhasa apso won this coveted title.
In 2007, it was a Tibetan terrier that won and recently in 2012 a Lhasa apso was once again chosen the Best in Show. However,what is to be borne in mind is that not a single Indian breed has been recognized as a distinct breed by the Fédération Cynologique Internationale, the apex body which governs classification. Based in Brussels, it recognizes 343 breeds from eighty member countries including dogs from Indonesia (the Kintamani Bali dog), the Taiwan dog and the Japanese Akita.
Neglect of Indigenous Breeds
While writing this book, I was saddened to find that many legendary Indian breeds are on the point of vanishing or have already disappeared. In the eighteenth century, a Frenchman travelled around the country and identified as many as fifty distinct Indian dog breeds. These included breeds like the Lut, a blue or fawn coloured dog, which is no longer found. The breed Alangu, from the Thanjavur region of Tamil Nadu, and the Malaipatti dog from the Sabarimala area in Kerala, have vanished. Other breeds such as the Bhallar dog from the Himalayan foothills, the Gazelle hound, the Mahratta hound and the Shencottah have not been seen in living memory. Even our best-known breeds like the Rampur hound or the Kombai have not received the attention that is their due. Likewise, a breed from Manipur called Tangkhul hui, a stocky medium-sized dog, with bob tail and bat ears, remains uncared for.
There are many reasons for the gradual disappearance of local breeds. The primary reason, as we have seen, was the arrival of exotic breeds of dogs during the colonial period due to which the local breeds suffered neglect. Moreover, there was little interest on the part of the government to preserve the various breeds that existed in the country. What was true of the government of British India was also true of Indian rajas. As we have noted,few Indian royals were interested in indigenous breeds. Out of the 565 kingdoms in British India, only a few like the Nawab of Rampur(Rampur hounds) and the Raja of Kolhapur (Mudhol hounds) cared for them. Even this limited patronage for local breeds was reduced when the princely states were abolished following the independence of India. Rajas had so many other pressures to deal with during that transition that dogs were neglected. More recently, as I have noted, other developments such as the ban on hunting led to the neglect of Indian dog breeds, especially in the rural areas. The dilution of bloodlines due to interbreeding with foreign breeds has hastened the decline of Indian breeds.
Excerpted from The Book of Indian Dogs by S Theodore Baskaran, Aleph Book, 2017 with the permission of the publisher.