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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