All-India dogs thrive at Chennai exhibitions

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, September 2009:

CHENNAI–Nature selected the humble All-India street dog as
the best-suited dog for the Indian environment at two of the most
renowned Indian dog shows, in a manner no exhibitor wanted.
“Heat and humidity took a toll at the Madras Canine Club’s
championship show, where a Rottweiler collapsed and died due to
dehydration and two mastiffs were hospitalized,” reported Shalini
Umachandran for the Times of India on September 14, 2009.
“We had a vet and emergency facilities available, but we
were informed too late,” said Madras Canine Club committee member
Sanjay Reddy.
The show included 350 purebed dogs, many of them reportedly
visibly suffering. “As the afternoon progressed, German shepherds
and golden retrievers lay panting on sheets, St. Bernards rolled in
the mud while handlers tried to groom them, Great Danes stood
patiently as owners squirted water to keep them cool, and
Chihuahuas, miniature Pomeranians and pugs looked exhausted,”
Umchandran wrote.

“These dogs are not used to the heat as they are always in
air conditioning,” said an exhibitor of St. Bernards.
Formed in 1976, the Madras Canine Club is among the older
south Indian affiliates of the Kennel Club of India, begun in 1896
as the Northern India Kennel Association. The 38 Kennel Club of
India affiliates and 300 member breeders have created a boom in
purebred pet dog acquisition, even as the central government funds a
national Animal Birth Control program to reduce the population of
street dogs.
“As more Indians enter the middle class, having a
Pomeranian, Shih Tzu or Neapolitan mastiff at the end of the leash
has become a symbol of new wealth and status,” observed Lydia
Polgreen of New Delhi Journal in August 2009. “Unlike backyard
Indian mutts of old, these dogs, like the pampered pets of affluent
Westerners, are part of the family. With young middle-class Indians
waiting longer to get married and have children, and with would-be
grandparents impatient for grandchildren, designer dogs have filled
a void created by the realities of modern urban life.”
The Animal Birth Control program has cut the Indian street
dog population to about eight million, down from 10 million in 1997,
but the total Indian dog population has increased to more than 12
million over the same time. Of the four million dogs claimed as
pets, about half are believed to be purebreds or the accidental
mongrel offspring of purebreds.
Blue Cross of India chief executive Chinny Krishna
conceptually outlined the Animal Birth Control program in 1966, and
established ABC as Chennai city policy in 1996, after conducting
numerous demonstration projects. Watching the growth of the Madras
Kennel Club meanwhile, Krishna by 1984 recognized the possible
consequences of a purebred dog acquisition boom, if it occurred
before pet sterilization became widely accepted as necessary. He
also recognized the adaptations of street dogs to the Indian climate.
First Krishna posted signs at the Blue Cross of India shelter
(now four shelters) and at his electrical engineering plant: “If
you can’t decide between an Alsatian, a Doberman or a Poodle, get
them all. Adopt a mongrel from the Blue Cross shelter and get
everything you are looking for–all in one dog. The intelligence of
a Poodle and loyalty of a Lassie, the bark of a Shepherd and the
heart of a St. Bernard, the spots of a Dalmatian and size of a
Schnauzer and the speed of a Greyhound. A genuine all-Indian has it
all. Get the best of everybody. Adopt a mongrel!”
The several dozen all-Indian former street dogs at Krishna’s
home and on his factory grounds reinforced the point.
To further promote adoptions of all-Indian street dogs,
Krishna founded the Blue Cross Well Dog Show, held each year two
weeks before the Madras Canine Club show, usually in the most
intense heat and humidity of the Chennai summer. The venue is the
C.P. Ramaswami Aiyar Foundation Arts Centre, directed by Krishna’s
wife Nanditha–a prominent cultural anthropologist. The surroundings
help to emphasize that the all-India dog is in truth a breed as much
as any other, produced by nature rather than human manipulation.
“The show brought together 75 rambunctious non-pedigree dogs,
along with about 200 of their human friends,” wrote Shonali Muthaly
of The Hindu. “There were the showoffs, like Devi, who did the
moonwalk with her person Bryan. The rock stars, who defiantly
mooned the judges while waggling furry eyebrows at their delighted
audience. And then there were the busybodies who pawed the table and
stuck their nosy snouts into the paperwork (and occasionally into an
amused judge’s water glass). There was even one dog–who shall
remain nameless to protect her reputation–who slunk behind the table
to butter up Letika Saran, Additional Director-General of Police,
in a brazen attempt to win the crown. None of the participants were
forced to perform,” Muthaly explained. “The bottom line was to
organise a stress-free show and demonstrate how affectionate,
colorful and interesting a nonpedigree dog can be. Twenty-six
puppies were adopted over the three hours that the show ran.”
Among the contestants were a one-eyed dog, a three-legged
dog, and dogs who had recovered, with loving care, from horrific
cases of mange.
“There were only two conditions to participate: your pet
should be non-pedigreed and on a leash,” added G.C. Shekar of The
Telegraph. “The unwritten rules were that you should love them, and
not care if they stopped to pee on a potted plant before walking up
to the judges.”
Noted Shekar, “Even Chennai’s Airport Authority of India
sent its candidate, the sprightly and well-trained Asha, discovered
by the railway tracks, adopted by officials, and trained to be a
sniffer dog.”
As Asha performed, Blue Cross veterinarian R. Sivashankar
seized the teachable moment. “It’s a misconception that non-pedigree
dogs cannot be trained or imparted special skills,” he told the
assembled media.
“This is probably the only dog show where the owners ask each
other from which street they picked up their dog,” said Krishna. “We
have nothing against foreign breeds, but pride in owning and loving
Indian dogs is what we recognize. Our people are proud to own and
display mongrels.”
And the all-India dogs –and people–at the Blue Cross show
clearly had a lot more fun than the purebreds did two weeks later.

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