Thursday, March 29, 2007

THE CANINE OUTCAST

I know that this blog is supposed to be wildlife centric, but I couldn't stop myself from putting this article up here. Here goes to the oldest breed of dog in the world- India's ubiquitious "Desi".

I had been to a reputed pet shop to buy food for my dogs. In the shop there was this important looking man conversing with the owner, the conversation largely being about how great his show winning Great Dane and Labrador were. As I was about to leave, the he asked me what dogs I have. “A Rottweiler and a Desi (Indian Pariah Dog)”, I said. “N******t for a Desi?!” he exclaimed. “Lucky dog… that stray must have done some really great deeds in his last birth to deserve this!” How wished I could rub it into him that Desis are not necessarily strays or mongrels, and that they deserve a LOT more respect than they are being given. But I had neither the time nor the inclination for an argument right then, so I tried wrapping it up saying “it’s not that my dog is extraordinarily lucky, it’s just that the breed is extraordinarily unlucky to have been ignored for so long.” “Today’s kids talk a lot” he snickered.

The Indian Pariah Dog has been abused like this since a long time. Its name alone makes it an outcaste. Very few people even acknowledge it as a breed. It is better known as “stray” and “mongrel” than as a specific breed. No kennel club recognizes it. Not even the Kennel Club of India. These dogs have roamed the streets of India since years living upon garbage and scraps and are rarely considered worthy of being kept as pets. So much so, that many people are embarrassed if somebody in their family has one- “Oh, it’s just a friendly stray, not our dog” they tell guests. Why such bias? I don’t think I can as yet correctly answer that, but all I can guess for now is this- the British were the ones responsible (largely) for introducing the practice of keeping and showing dogs as pets in our country. They were too busy importing aristocratic canines from ‘back home’ and never bothered to develop local breeds. May be they even actively dissuaded local breeds (we know they did this with a lot of other local stuff, including people). The few Indian breeds that did get recognition were mostly the ones promoted by a few enterprising Maharajas. Little wonder then that most Indians, especially the snobbish kind, believe the Pariah (I’m tired of that name, lets just call it the Desi) to be the scourge of the canine world rightfully belonging in the streets and never to be seen in any self respecting man’s yard.

Dogs are not wild animals. They are just domesticated wolves that have changed morphologically due to years of isolated, selective breeding. They don’t ‘exist’ naturally on streets. All stray dogs, Desi or not, are on the streets because they have been dumped there by their owners, or, have been born to dumped dogs. Again, I repeat, no dogs ‘belong’ to the streets. Experts opine that the origin of the domestic dog can be traced back to Asia, particularly India, and that it is in fact a direct descendent of the Indian wolf Canis lupus. Here are a few facts about apna Desi for those of you who still need proof about their eligibility to the show ring:


· It is the oldest, in fact first, breed of domestic dog. Its domestication dates back 12-15, 000 years- older than any other breed.


· Since this is the oldest breed of domesticated dog, all other breeds can trace back their ancestry to this breed. Almost all other breeds have been developed by selectively breeding from this gene pool. Yes, your Doberman, Rottweiler and Bullmastiff had Desis as their ancestors somewhere down their lineage.


· It is spread across the globe from Israel, through Africa and Asia right into Australia with slight regional variations. The Israeli variety has been recognized as the Canaan dog and the African variety is called the Basenji. They are being bred to meet high standards and are excelling in the show ring all over the world. The Australian Dingoes are descendants of dogs left behind by Asian sailors. The Dingo is perhaps the closest one can get to the original domestic dog. In India they are struggling for recognition and are, more than anything else, treated as pests.


· They belong to the Spitz family but show many wolf like traits not seen in modern breeds. For example, modern breeds have two breeding cycles in a year while Desis have just one. In India this coincides with the breeding cycle of the wolf, i.e., during the Monsoon.


· They are extremely hardy and well suited to India’s sweltering tropical climate. They breed doesn’t have any inherited faults/diseases and have the most genetic diversity among dogs- that ensures that they don’t suffer from the ills of inbreeding.


· They shed remarkably less than other breeds and produce very little odor.


· They are beautiful, well proportioned dogs.


· They are highly adaptive and, though they thrive with lots of exercise, will happily adapt to more sedentary lifestyles.


· They are highly intelligent, extremely loyal, even tempered, brave, dogs with a strong guarding instinct.


· They are easily trainable but some can be a little headstrong- blame their hunting pedigree for that. They are still used by tribes in India to hunt everything from hare and deer to wild boar- you need a very determined dog to face a wild boar.


· They are among the few breeds that go closest to being the ideal dog. They are a brave guard dog, yet loyal and friendly to their family. They are strong and athletic, but easy to maintain and extremely hardy. Their intelligence makes them very trainable. Their size is big enough to make them look intimidating to unwanted visitors yet they are small enough for easy handling and affordable feeding.

The breed is fast losing its purity to mixed breeding. It is extremely crucial to preserve the breed now. Like minded promoters of the breed need to get together, set a high standard, and start breeding these dogs selectively to achieve that standard. Every effort should be made to get the breed recognized at least by the Kennel Club of India and give it the respect it so truly deserves. A lot of us Indians need to stop being snobs and start appreciating the fact that the very purpose of keeping a dog is to have a companion for life. They are not status symbols born for the show ring and nothing else. The purpose of dog shows is to promote a breed and encourage breeders to strive for making every litter better than its parents. Glamour is not the point of a dog show. Even if you are looking for glamour, take this- the Desi is the oldest living breed of domestic dog. It’s the original domestic dog. The one that started it all! To me, nothing can be more glamorous than that, because it is impossible for any other breed to ever achieve that.






3 comments:

Anil said...

well said aditya..... i didnt know it was a breed myself thanks a lot for the information....hope the IKC recognises the breed

canis said...

Good show Aditya!I agree with you entirely.I have a 3 and 1/2 yr old desi female and she is a darling!
DrYajnesh Shetty.

Aditya said...

Thanks for your support guys... with increasing support i'm sure the Desi will get due rcognition in time :-)