IT’S A DOG’S LIFE
Travel to any corner of the country and there’s one sight that’s ubiquitous to the Indian scene – the stray dog. Our streets, be they town or village, are overrun by these animals, and even in the vast empty stretches of the countryside, the lone farmer toiling in the fields with a faithful cur at his heels is a common metaphor. We may not be dog lovers in the fashion of the West, where the canine becomes a part of the family and is given as many privileges as any member of the household – a place of its own, a special diet, special toys, accessories, clothes, etc. But we do allow these faithful beings to live in our midst and be part of the milieu. Which brings me to an issue that makes me want to say grrr! There are many people, I notice, who tote along packets of glucose biscuits when they set out for a walk. The purpose? To feed them to the stray dogs, thinking that they’re doing the curs a kindness. Alas, what they’re essentially doing is killing them with love. No dog, not even a stray, needs these starchy non-foods, unless it’s starving. And that’s a scenario highly unlikely in cities where tons of food find their way into garbage. Perhaps a dog lover may believe that the biscuits are a more ‘hygienic’ option. But note that mutts that forage for food seem more healthy, lively and alert than the canines you see lying outside stores, restaurants and housing complexes that have adopted them. Overfed, obese, and somnolent from lack of exercise, these dogs appear to have taken on some of the more undesirable characteristics of mankind. The difference is that human beings know better and follow such a lifestyle out of choice, whereas our canine friends have it thrust on them, and it is quite literally sickening them. If you want to show your love for a stray, give it some water and a pat or two. Otherwise just leave well enough alone. Still on the subject of dogs, this time the ones that are lucky enough to be a family pet, have you observed that the legions of dog walkers have now become a mini cottage industry? On one hand it’s nice to know that dog owners understand that their pets need to be exercised and have made suitable arrangements to have them taken out daily while they’re away at work. On the other hand, it also makes one wonder – if you aren’t around to enjoy the sight of your dog frolicking, what’s the point of having a pet in the house? Without this pleasure, essentially your role as his master boils down to offering the mutt a meal, a hug and carrying out the poop. The dog walker gets the moolah, the bonding and all the fun. And also the mind-body benefits of playing with a dog. On a different note, talking about mind-body health, many of us worry about heart disease, diabetes and cancer. But I think a bigger, unexpressed fear that we harbor deep down, is acquiring a mental disease. We can find ways to manage most lifestyle diseases and even learn to live with cancer. But the prospect of developing a psychiatric condition strikes terror in our hearts. Why? Because whatever form it takes, be it Alzheimer’s, depression or schizophrenia, a mental illness eats into what you see is the essence of ‘you’, and reaches the point where you can’t recognize yourself or even maintain the dignity of a human being. Depressing as it is, this is all the more reason to turn the pages to this month’s ‘Heal Thy Self’ and find out what your chances are of developing a mental disorder.