Illustration courtesy of Samantha Kallis, http://www.samkallis.com/
The holidays are upon us, and in the spirit of being mindful of the needs of loved ones, I am particularly interested in keeping my dog safe from twinkle lights and the abundance of dropped food, curried or otherwise, that could lead to an unfortunate visit to the vet. The American Kennel Club released a guide to keep your pet happy and healthy during the holidays, which includes Christmas, Thanksgiving, and the Fourth of July. But I thought to myself, what about the whole host of Hindu holidays that give you more things to consider beyond mistletoe, poinsettia and stray turkey bones?
I’d love to ask the Kennel Club why us brown folk aren’t feeling any love, but I can’t blame them too much. Truthfully, nobody’s really gotten the ball rolling on discussing how dog ownership relates to ethnicity. And on top of that, a vast majority of the South Asian Americans I've come across, particularly those not raised in the United States, harbor a prejudice towards dogs and other domestic animals that is puzzling to those who live in this dog-centric nation. How can I expect the Kennel Club to write us a guide when it seems like many of my fellow South Asians would prefer it if dogs didn’t exist at all? Online commentary that speculates as to the reason asks a valid question, but often gives way to ignorant musings. Take a look at an answer from this enlightened citizen:
Inquiring mind: "Why do my very nice Indian neighbors hate dogs?"
Random Racist: "BECAUSE THEY EAT THEM!!!"
As much as I enjoy this fabulously inventive dog-eating joke, there is a much simpler explanation. In India, a nation plagued with high unemployment and poverty rates, many individuals simply don't have the resources to care for animals. So while dog ownership is on the rise in India, for many it's just not practical, and therefore hasn't had a chance to become a custom. We in the United States have approximately 77.5 million pet dogs, but a vast majority of the dogs living in India are strays, ones whose healthcare and well being are quite naturally, not prioritized. As a result, many Indians get bitten by diseased and feral animals. In fact, it is estimated that 20,000 people die annually in India because of rabies that originated from dog bites. So many of the people I've come across are afraid because they were bitten or menaced by a dog while living in India, and the feeling stuck with them.
But that’s not to say South Asians have dismissed these furry friends altogether. I for one, as a dog lover from the West, cannot fathom our eastern counterparts who so ruthlessly slaughter thousands of dogs to prevent disease, just as people in India can’t imagine the brutal and inhumane ways some of the animals we eat are killed. My brain tells me to calm my inner cultural chauvinist; but having to kennel my dog when dog-phobic relatives visit makes me want to eat a juicy steak in front of them just to even the score.
Even my parents and close friends, many of whom have dogs, were afraid at one time or another. But the warm and fuzzy part is that as their fear dissipated, they got puppies, raised them, became obsessed, and now my friends and I are second class citizens who get called "Cookie" and "Joey" by mistake while our dogs get hand-fed and sleep in beds ten times their size. I'm not complaining, I'm equally enamored with the happiness that comes with a little canine company. But the point is, many individuals who were accustomed to being indifferent to strays and dogs in general now include their pets in religious festivals and consider them a part of the family. It’s ultimately a symbiotic relationship.
Soon enough there will be a holiday guide that will keep the South Asian pet safe from Diwali sparklers and the raisins in blessed rice pudding. Help create some demand. After all the holiday madness has wrapped up, consider providing a loving home for a stray animal. Support a no-kill shelter, or visit http://www.humanesociety.org/ to find your local humane society.