animal world

Abused on Indian streets, desi dogs are finding loving homes in the West

The canine migration began 12 years ago, when a Canadian schoolteacher rescued a pup from being thrown off a cliff by a group of boys.

For over ten months after her visit to Peepal Farm, a recovery centre for stray animals in Dharamsala, Rachelle Hanson couldn’t get Tiny out of her mind. Tiny was a month-old puppy rescued from the streets of the Himalayan town and was awaiting adoption.

In December 2015, after a three-month exchange programme which entailed voluntary work in return for free accommodation and food at the farm, Hanson, a student of environmental science, was due to return to Seattle. She began to seriously consider taking Tiny home with her – but, given that the US had its share of homeless dogs in kill shelters too, she decided against it.

Back home, Hanson continued to look at pictures of Tiny on the Facebook page she had created for the puppy, hoping that someone in India would come forward to adopt her. “But since that wasn’t happening, I decided to fly Tiny to Seattle,” Hanson said. Along with Tiny, Hanson received a bonus puppy – Poppet, another stray from Peepal Farm who had been hit by a car.

Along with the droves of Indians migrating to Canada, a street dog called Inde has been enjoying the good life. His “desi-mom”, as Olivia Craven describes herself, said, “Inde, short for India, is particularly fond of the snow. We take her snowshoeing every winter and she bounds in and out of the snow like a deer.”

Tiny, Poppet and Inde are among the numerous strays, or desis, as Indian breeds are known, who have found loving homes across international borders. Delhi-based veterinarian, Dr Premlata Choudhary has sent more than 200 dogs on plane rides in the last three years. “There are many dog lovers in the world who go to great lengths to adopt stray dogs, including those that are disabled, blind and incontinent, from India,” she said.

Poppet at Rachelle Hanson's home in Seattle. Credit: Rachelle Hanson
Poppet at Rachelle Hanson's home in Seattle. Credit: Rachelle Hanson

The canine migration began earnestly about twelve years ago, when a schoolteacher named Barbara Gard, who was on a visit to Mussoorie, saw a group of school boys trying to throw a yelping pup down a cliff. Gard rushed to rescue the pup and moved by all that he had endured in his young life, decided to take him back to Canada with her.

But love, particularly across continents, is rarely easy. Gard had to leave Francis, as the pup was christened, with Chaudhary for three weeks, before he was allowed to join her at his new home. “This was after Francis underwent all the mandatory treatments and got the vaccination certificate stating that he wasn’t carrying any contagious diseases,” said Chaudhary.

Since then, organisations like Chaudhary’s Desi Furries Worldwide, Adopt an Indian Desi Dog, Desi Dogs in Vancouver, the International Street Dog Foundation in Chicago, Stitching AAI and Dierenopvang Koningen in the Netherlands, Guardians of the Voiceless in Patiala, Peepal Farm and websites such as PetFinder are helping those who want to adopt street dogs and promise to love and look after them.

According to Chaudhary, the process is further facilitated by rescue organisations in the respective countries, who raise funds and look for families who would be happy to adopt street dogs from India.

Inde and Olivia Craven also met through PetFinder. “While all her litter mates died on the streets of Delhi, the vets managed to save her and nurse her back to health,” Craven said. Before Inde moved to Craven’s home in Abbotsford, Canada, Craven had no idea what a desi even looked like – once she did, it was love at first sight. “She had these very unusual habits – like she wouldn’t drink out of a bowl but only out of a drinking glass, immersing her whole nose inside just to get the tiny bit of water left in the bottom,” she said.

Thrilled with her desi girl, Craven said she wishes she could adopt another 30 puppies from India. “It often pains me to think what may have happened to Inde if she hadn’t been rescued,” she said. Craven said she hoped more people in Canada would adopt dogs from India and popularise the desi breed.

Inde out for a run in Abbotsford. Credit: Olivia Craven
Inde out for a run in Abbotsford. Credit: Olivia Craven

While the favoured destination for desi dogs travelling to the West began with Canada, dog lovers in the US, the UK, Netherlands, Finland, Germany, France and Spain too have begun arranging for desis to join their families abroad. In the last two years, Peepal Farm has already sent four strays to the US and one to Finland. Three years since Guardians of the Voiceless was set up, over 29 dogs have gone to the West, said Maryland-based Luzma Gomez, one of the organisation’s founders, who visits Patiala every few months. “People here are falling in love with the street dogs from India – they find them beautiful, strong and healthy and want to give them a loving home especially after hearing about the pitiable conditions they live in,” she said. “They will go to great lengths to give them a second chance in life.”

Accustomed to years of abuse, street dogs do not always instantly bond with humans – when they finally do form a connection with their adoptive parents, the bond is incredibly strong. Sheru, for instance, had lived on the mean streets of Delhi for almost five years before he was sent to Chicago. “It must have been a huge adjustment for him,” said Dawn Trimmel, his American pet-parent. Sheru was a “veteran of the street”, Trimmel said, who needed rehabilitation before he could be moved. It was only once he overcame his initial stress that he began to trust his new family.

An accountant and dog-rescuer, Trimmel founded the International Street Dog Foundation in 2011. She had first seen Sheru at her foster home run by Chaudhary, someone Trimmel described as her “rescue-partner”.

“When one of my dogs passed away, I thought of bringing Sheru to Chicago,” she said. Since Sheru’s arrival, Trimmel has rescued three more desi dogs, two of whom are dog-meat trade rescues from Thailand.

Pam and Jeff Spain, an Illinois-based couple, also decided to adopt a desi when their beloved Jack Russell Terrier passed away in October 2016. Pam had visited Delhi nearly ten years ago, and Jeff Spain had been to Pune once in September 2016 – on their respective trips, both remembered meeting severable adorable Indian street dogs.

Roxy at her new home in Illinois. Image credit: Pam Spain
Roxy at her new home in Illinois. Image credit: Pam Spain

After checking out various dog shelters online, the couple fell in love with a puppy who had been rescued from India and brought to the US as a six-month-old, by the International Street Dog Foundation. Originally called Rani, the dog was rechristened Roxy, once the Spains adopted her.

When she first arrived, Roxy was afraid of men – particularly young boys. “It probably was because some kids troubled her enough to leave a scar on her mind,” said Pam. Thankfully, it took only three days for Roxy to bond with and trust Jeff. Now fully acclimatised, Roxy has learnt to move beyond her traumatic past with visits to the dog park, doggie play dates, car rides and runs in her own one-and-half acre fenced yard.

“She still struggles with separation anxiety sometimes,” said Pam. “When left alone, she will destroy anything near a door or window, but we are hopeful this will change over time.”

Chaudhary said she wishes more Indian families would consider adopting desi dogs. “This is our native dog and we need to take pride in it.” While the list of kennel club breeds includes dogs from almost every part of the world, Indian breeds feature nowhere on the map. “We need to work towards this – our desi dogs are much more intelligent and hardy than most pedigreed dogs that people spend so much money on.”

Roxy's first snowfall. Image credit: Pam and Jeff Spain
Roxy's first snowfall. Image credit: Pam and Jeff Spain

Yoav Karny, a Washington-based journalist was in India to cover politics in 2012, but found himself disturbed by the constant state of turmoil Indian street dogs lived in.

“People treat them with varying degrees of compassion, others treat them inhumanely, in a way inconsistent with Hindu teachings and traditions... which is really sad,” he said.

Along with reporting for the Israeli financial newspaper Globes, Karny began to spend his free time volunteering with organisations like Friendicoes in Delhi. While he never thought of himself as a dog-person, during the four years he spent in India, Karny arranged for eight dogs to be flown out of the country – seven to the US and one to Canada. At the end of his stint in India, he adopted two dogs who had been hit by cars in Delhi – Coco and Rosie. “They’re doing well, leading a happy co-existence with my cats,” said Karny.

Rachelle Hanson with Tiny, whom she first met in Dharamsala.
Rachelle Hanson with Tiny, whom she first met in Dharamsala.
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Ten awesome TV shows to get over your post-GoT blues

With those withdrawal symptoms kicking in, all you need is a good rebound show.

Hangovers tend to have a debilitating effect on various human faculties, but a timely cure can ease that hollow feeling generally felt in the pit of the stomach. The Game of Thrones Season 7 finale has left us with that similar empty feeling, worsened by an official statement on the 16-month-long wait to witness The Great War. That indeed is a long time away from our friends Dany, Jon, Queen C and even sweet, sweet Podrick. While nothing can quite replace the frosty thrill of Game of Thrones, here’s a list of awesome shows, several having won multiple Emmy awards, that are sure to vanquish those nasty withdrawal symptoms:

1. Billions

There is no better setting for high stakes white collar crime than the Big Apple. And featuring a suited-up Paul Giamatti going head-to-head with the rich and ruthless Damien Lewis in New York, what’s not to like? Only two seasons young, this ShowTime original series promises a wolf-of-wall-street style showcase of power, corruption and untold riches. Billions is a great high-octane drama option if you want to keep the momentum going post GoT.

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2. Westworld

What do you get when the makers of the Dark Knight Trilogy and the studio behind Game of Thrones collaborate to remake a Michael Crichton classic? Westworld brings together two worlds: an imagined future and the old American West, with cowboys, gun slingers - the works. This sci-fi series manages to hold on to a dark secret by wrapping it with the excitement and adventure of the wild west. Once the plot is unwrapped, the secret reveals itself as a genius interpretation of human nature and what it means to be human. Regardless of what headspace you’re in, this Emmy-nominated series will absorb you in its expansive and futuristic world. If you don’t find all of the above compelling enough, you may want to watch Westworld simply because George RR Martin himself recommends it! Westworld will return for season 2 in the spring of 2018.

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3. Big Little Lies

It’s a distinct possibility that your first impressions of this show, whether you form those from the trailer or opening sequence, will make you think this is just another sun-kissed and glossy Californian drama. Until, the dark theme of BLL descends like an eerie mist, that is. With the serious acting chops of Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman as leads, this murder mystery is one of a kind. Adapted from author Liane Moriarty’s book, this female-led show has received accolades for shattering the one-dimensional portrayal of women on TV. Despite the stellar star cast, this Emmy-nominated show wasn’t easy to make. You should watch Big Little Lies if only for Reese Witherspoon’s long struggle to get it off the ground.

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4. The Night of

The Night Of is one of the few crime dramas featuring South Asians without resorting to tired stereotypes. It’s the kind of show that will keep you in its grip with its mysterious plotline, have you rooting for its characters and leave you devastated and furious. While the narrative revolves around a murder and the mystery that surrounds it, its undertones raises questions on racial, class and courtroom politics. If you’re a fan of True Detective or Law & Order and are looking for something serious and thoughtful, look no further than this series of critical acclaim.

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As the name suggests, AHS is a horror anthology for those who can stomach some gore and more. In its 6 seasons, the show has covered a wide range of horror settings like a murder house, freak shows, asylums etc. and the latest season is set to explore cults. Fans of Sarah Paulson and Jessica Lange are in for a treat, as are Lady Gaga’s fans. If you pride yourself on not being weak of the heart, give American Horror Story a try.

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6. Empire

At its heart, Empire is a simple show about a family business. It just so happens that this family business is a bit different from the sort you are probably accustomed to, because this business entails running a record label, managing artistes and when push comes to shove, dealing with rivals in a permanent sort of manner. Empire treads some unique ground as a fairly violent show that also happens to be a musical. Lead actors Taraji P Henson and Terrence Howard certainly make it worth your while to visit this universe, but it’s the constantly evolving interpersonal relations and bevy of cameo appearances that’ll make you stay. If you’re a fan of hip hop, you’ll enjoy a peek into the world that makes it happen. Hey, even if you aren’t one, you might just grow fond of rap and hip hop.

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7. Modern Family

When everything else fails, it’s comforting to know that the family will always be there to lift your spirits and keep you chuckling. And by the family we mean the Dunphys, Pritchetts and Tuckers, obviously. Modern Family portrays the hues of familial bonds with an honesty that most family shows would gloss over. Eight seasons in, the show’s characters like Gloria and Phil Dunphy have taken on legendary proportions in their fans’ minds as they navigate their relationships with relentless bumbling humour. If you’re tired of irritating one-liners or shows that try too hard, a Modern Family marathon is in order. This multiple-Emmy-winning sitcom is worth revisiting, especially since the brand new season 9 premiers on 28th September 2017.

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8. The Deuce

Headlined by James Franco and Maggi Gyllenhaal, The Deuce is not just about the dazzle of the 1970s, with the hippest New York crowd dancing to disco in gloriously flamboyant outfits. What it IS about is the city’s nooks and crannies that contain its underbelly thriving on a drug epidemic. The series portrays the harsh reality of New York city in the 70s following the legalisation of the porn industry intertwined with the turbulence caused by mob violence. You’ll be hooked if you are a fan of The Wire and American Hustle, but keep in mind it’s grimmer and grittier. The Deuce offers a turbulent ride which will leave you wanting more.

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9. Dexter

In case you’re feeling vengeful, you can always get the spite out of your system vicariously by watching Dexter, our favourite serial killer. This vigilante killer doesn’t hide behind a mask or a costume, but sneaks around like a criminal, targeting the bad guys that have slipped through the justice system. From its premier in 2006 to its series finale in 2013, the Emmy-nominated Michael C Hall, as Dexter, has kept fans in awe of the scientific precision in which he conducts his kills. For those who haven’t seen the show, the opening credits give an accurate glimpse of how captivating the next 45 minutes will be. If it’s been a while since you watched in awe as the opening credits rolled, maybe you should revisit the world’s most loved psychopath for nostalgia’s sake.

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10. Rome

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Hotstar and not by the Scroll editorial team.