Posted on 21st Apr, 2015: There are many more such cases around the world, where faithful canine companions refuse to leave their parent’s side even when the human parent has passed on. If you want to know what I’m talking about read about Hatchiko, Spot and others here. But what happens to the dog whose human parent has moved on, leaving the dog behind to deal with the sense of abandonment and loneliness? Can a dog die of a broken heart?
Answering this question is imperative to the welfare of the thousands of dogs that are abandoned in India for various reasons – old age, disease or the more unthinkable, because the dog’s breed is no longer the flavour of the month. Pets ending up alone and abandoned is a huge animal welfare crisis around the world. In Indian cities, animal shelters are called in for rescuing hundreds of such animals every month. A few are picked up in horrible conditions - with matted hair, disoriented and scared, dehydrated and starved – and delivered to shelters by passers-by. Pet dogs who grow accustomed to being looked after, cannot be expected to suddenly fend for themselves. Especially, as being abandoned places them in dangerous and unfamiliar circumstances. Also, dogs develop bonds with their human family. A bond of companionship and trust. It does great harm to the mental and physical well-being of the dog when this trust is broken.
Pet parents rarely neuter their pets in India and the ones abandoned multiply in great numbers, exacerbating the problem. While municipal corporations try to control the number of strays on Indian streets, animal shelters just don’t have enough space to take in the number of abandoned, sick and dying animals being turned out of their homes. Unless, these animals are rehomed (which rarely happens), they either die of disease, starvation or injury on the streets or at the shelter, or live out their lonely, sad lives in a miserable street corner or forgotten alleyway.
Have no doubt about it - abandoned pets are put to death to control the population. In Romania and Bulgaria, abandoned pets are poisoned or starved to death, while in Ukraine they are burnt alive. In Mexico, they are either beaten to death or electrocuted. And in the US, they are culled by gassing them or with the heart stick method. In the UK, abandoned dogs are killed using a lethal injection.
No rescue, no remorse
While volunteering at an animal shelter in New Delhi in 2007, I came across many, many cases of dogs being abandoned. They were simply tied to the railway tracks behind Lajpat Nagar or left on the streets, far away from home so they could not find their way back. There was the no-one-knows-how-many-years old Great Dane who was the kindest and gentlest soul I have met; old girl Ruby, a Labrador whose old age-induced tumour was too much effort and trouble for former owners (owners because parents would never abandon their pet) and then there was Max. Max was a young (vet’s guess is between 2-4 years of age) fawn-coloured Labrador who developed behavioural problems from being abandoned. I say ‘was’ because the young animal had to be put down because of his unpredictably aggressive nature. My brother-in-law immediately wanted to take Max home when he first saw him at the shelter. He got him a leash, made him a bed at home and readied his family to accept their newest family member. Max seemed to get along with my brother-in-law, as well. Which was surprising to the shelter staff as Max had bitten two other handlers and mauled a small dog that was visiting the adjoining clinic.
But on the day Max was supposed to come home, the dog attacked my brother viciously, completely unprovoked. My brother was attempting to put on the brand new collar he had bought for Max, but it was not to be. Max perceived this as a threat of some sort and dug his canines into my brother’s torso. It was the end of the road for poor Max. Dogs that are not socialised or develop behavioural problems because of abuse or abandonment are almost never rehomed again. These dogs are put down. And abandoned dogs, in more cases than not, develop trust issues and become too scared or aggressive to be able to live with human beings ever again.
Shelters in India are bursting at the seams. Not only do they need to care for the sick and injured stray dogs from the street, they are forced to take in these abandoned pets. The abandoned animals are more vulnerable to the dangers of living on the street since they are have no experience or ability of roughing it out. Crowded shelters means there isn't enough space to isolate the sick and dying. So disease travels easily among the animals and those that aren't used to being in such close quarters to other animals, get into fights and injure each other. So while there is no direct evidence that dogs die of a broken heart from being abandoned, it is true that they are doomed, the minute that they are abandoned.
Walking out on man’s best friend
It is reported that some pet owners wait for occasions such as the festival of Diwali to disown their pets in the accompanying noise and confusion. It is also reported that some irresponsible parents will get their young kids a puppy to keep them from getting bored over the school summer vacations. As soon as the summer vacations are over, the puppy is promptly abandoned for being too much ‘work’.
Surprisingly, pedigree dogs suffer the worst fate. And it is usually, the large breeds – Rottweilers, Great Danes, St Bernard’s and German Shepherds - that end up on the streets because owners just don’t have the time or resources needed to take care of these dogs. And they don’t realise that fact when they are ‘buying’ the puppy. Gingertail has earlier reported on the menace of cruel puppy mills operating in our country. Breeders who are only interested in turning a profit from selling pedigree pups to unsuspecting owners, are known to kill unsold or imperfectly bred puppies in inhumane ways, such as dumping them in a gunny sack and drowning them in a river.
Cruel and Unforgivable
It isn’t just dogs alone, unfortunately. Cats that are abandoned on the streets or in shelters don’t make it either. It can be understood that cats who’re bred and raised in a human home with a human care taker would not be able to, suddenly, go back to their natural instincts. Similarly, cows, mules, horses and other such working animals that are just let out onto the street because they are too old to work, meet with grisly ends.
Animal welfare organisation, across the country, abound in cases of domesticated animals – such as dogs, cats, cows and buffalo – becoming deranged, distrustful and eventually dying from disease and starvation; from being abandoned on the streets, by their owners. This is why the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1960 can legally punish anyone who “Being the owner, without reasonable cause, abandons any animal in circumstances, which render it likely that it will suffer pain by reason of starvation or thirst” - unfortunately, enforcement of this law is weak as it is almost impossible to trace the culprit owners in most cases. Therefore, the need of the hour is strict registration drives for all kind of pets by municipal corporations - that should at least provide some hope of tracking down such rogue owners and bringing them to the book. And what can we do as caring parents, pet-lovers, pet-sitters/trainers, and vets? Make sure pets you come across are registered, service providers like vets and trainers should insist on parents getting their pets registered. And finally, in case you see a pet standing alone on the road or someone tying their pet to a lamppost or a grill and walking off - please do go and check - you may just help prevent a crime and save a life!