I have just returned from another fantastic trip to India. It’s one of my favourite places to visit – largely because of the stark contrast to our UK way of life, which simultaneously makes me forget about everything back home, whilst also developing a newfound love for it! (Who knew I could learn to appreciate concrete and socks on a new level?)
This time my travels took me to Goa. A place I hadn’t visited before, but just as beautiful as Kerala. The majority of the time was spent on, or very close to the beaches, and you couldn’t go near the beaches without noticing the beach dogs. Or as I took to calling them, the “free” dogs. I don’t mean in the sense that they didn’t cost anything! There were also a lot of free cows about.
In our society, we’ve come to think of a dog which doesn’t live in a home as a ‘stray’ and many would assume that this dog is unhappy, has been abandoned and/or needs to be taken in by someone. The truth is that this is how many many dogs in India live, and it’s no bad thing. They aren’t fools, they know where to go to to get food and how to look after themselves day to day. There are charities that look out for them to make sure they aren’t sick or injured, and help them out if they are. Their basic needs are taken care of. If you really look at them, you will see that they are very very content.
Much like our UK dogs (because they are following their canine instincts), they operate in packs. The big difference is that for a UK house dog, the pack includes the humans in the family. For the Indian free dogs, the pack will be dogs. This is better for Indian dog – why? Because there is no confusion. The dogs all understand each other, because they speak the same language – ‘Canine’. They care about the same things – protecting the pack from danger, ensuring it’s survival and defending the territory if necessary. And the teaching of how to deal with different things is passed down from generation to generation.
We watched a lot of territory protection unfold. In front of our accomodation there was a consistent pack of 4 dogs – with another 2 on the outskirts, who seemed to work a slightly larger area, but they were comfortable with one another. A couple of times a day, someone would come along the beach that the dogs weren’t sure about, so they’d then work together as a pack to defend their territory. On one occasion it was a jogger with another dog with her. Another time it was person who’d shooed away they birds they were chasing. The dogs all joined together to bark at and ‘warn off’ the unwanted intruder.
On my travels I saw a note from the charity that keep an eye on them advising well-meaning tourists not to rescue them – in particular the puppies. I appreciate that if you have only ever known our pet keeping dog scenario, to see a puppy seemingly on its own, could be quite worrying. These animals are very intelligent and they work together. If a pup is on it’s own, it’s because mum is out finding food. Personally, seeing dogs in this environment makes me so happy. Chilling out in the shade, digging themselves little comfortable nests to rest in, cooling off in the waves…
Day in day out at home, I see stressed and confused dogs who aren’t understanding their human owners/environment and what they are meant to be doing. Yet so strong is their loyalty to the pack, that they will do their very best to try to look after us. To see the stark contrast of dogs living freely as they please is wonderful. Yes they are a bit slimmer and their furr isn’t in as great condition, but I bet their stress and anxiety levels are far far lower!
Now the aim of this post was just to share with you my observation of how happy it is possible for a dog to be who is ‘stray’ – so if you are visiting a country where you see dogs out and about, before your heart breaks for them, have a proper look and see – do they look well? If so, they are probably okay! It’s different if there are obvious signs of abuse or illness, don’t get me wrong!
I also want to finish by saying “don’t panic” – if what you’ve read has made you worried about the wellbeing of your own house bound dog. Unfortunately in the UK we are not able to give dogs the freedom they would thrive on, for many reasons. That doesn’t mean they can’t be happy. If you want a happy dog, I’d strongly recommend a read of “The Dog Listener” by Jan Fennell. Learn to empathise with what’s going on for your dog and to speak their language. You’ll have a fabulous relationship of mutual respect and trust.