EX­TRA OR­DI­NARY

India Today - - LEISURE - —Ja­son Over­dorf

What Is a Dog of­fers im­por­tant ev­i­dence for both sides of the de­bate on street dogs from one of the world’s fore­most ca­nine re­searchers

Dog lovers and dog haters on both sides of In­dia’s fight over the culling of street dogs would do well to read Ray­mond and Lorna Cop­pinger’s fas­ci­nat­ing and en­ter­tain­ing new book, What Is a Dog? Based on the hus­band-and-wife team’s decades of re­search, as well as a long study of the street dogs that live in Mex­ico City’s garbage dumps, the book of­fers con­vinc­ing ev­i­dence that the lowly ‘stray dog’ is ac­tu­ally the truest ex­em­plar of ca­nine fa­mil­iaris.

They also note two points that In­dia can­not af­ford to ig­nore. The num­ber of street dogs waxes and wanes based pri­mar­ily on the amount of garbage and hu­man fae­ces they have

to eat. More­over, even in the United States, where street dogs are rare, only about half of the ca­nine pop­u­la­tion is un­der what they call ‘re­pro­duc­tive con­trol’. That sug­gests that it’s naïve to hope to curb ca­nine pop­u­la­tion growth through ster­il­i­sa­tions alone. But the Cop­pingers also hint that pro­tect­ing ‘pure­breds’ while killing street dogs is like breed­ing white tigers in cap­tiv­ity while wip­ing out the ‘or­di­nary’ kind.

That’s only the be­gin­ning of the book’s charms. A dog per­son’s ver­sion of Jared Di­a­mond’s best­selling Guns, Germs and Steel, it also of­fers near-ir­refutable ar­gu­ments in favour of the the­ory that dogs ‘do­mes­ti­cated them­selves’ and con­vinc­ingly an­swers many other hotly de­bated ques­tions about the ori­gin of the species.

What Is a Dog? By Ray­mond Cop­pinger & Lorna Cop­pinger Univer­sity of Chicago Press 240 pages Rs 1,590

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