Life with animals offers a bit of peace in today’s fast-paced, individualised world, where we often feel there is no time for family, community and care. Pets often give us company in these increasingly isolating times. However, raising pets in a city like Chennai comes with its own difficulties, especially when you raise them in urban spaces, which can often be unkind and dangerous to animals.
Over time, Chennai has seen numerous initiatives that rescue, rehabilitate and take care of animals in the city. The most well-known initiative is Blue Cross, which mainly deals with abandoned, injured and sick animals.
Our welfare association, RK Nagarra, based in RK Nagar, is attempting to start a pet management committee, wherein members with pets as well as those without, can come together, discuss concerns and come up with solutions related to having animals in the neighbourhood.
Key concerns with housing pets in a Chennai neighbourhood
A common problem that arises when having pet dogs, is that owners often fail to pick up their droppings during walks. While there are numerous devices which allow for an easy and clean pickup of the droppings, many pet owners avoid these and prefer to leave the droppings where they are, sometimes even in the middle of the road.
Dog droppings are toxic, and can cause many health problems to those who come in contact with them. Often it is the conservancy workers who sweep the roads and collect household waste, who have to pick up these droppings when they are left on the road.
In our neighbourhood, we have a community garden, where people often take their dogs. As expected the garden is littered with dog droppings, and it is the gardener who ends up handling them, as the droppings are not immediately picked up and disposed of.
It is thus absolutely necessary that dog owners are made aware of such consequences so they safeguard the health of others.
Another important issue is that many people are afraid of dogs. When residents take their dogs out for walks, sometimes they hold the leash loosely and many elderly folks walking on the street are afraid to be around them. It is important that their fears are taken into consideration, by identifying ways to walk dogs in a disciplined manner.
Many of the pets in the neighbourhood and across Chennai were also born or rescued in the pandemic. They have lived their formative years in houses during lockdowns, with barely any interactions with other animals of the same species. There is a need to socialise our pets, and since many other residents have dogs and cats at home, there are many opportunities to begin this process within the community itself.
Something we have noticed is that many people who have adopted pets in the pandemic, have not been able to cope with it too well and have abandoned them. This is extremely disheartening to see. Maybe if they were to hear the stories of other pet owners, and their journeys raising their pets, it could help them be more patient during the difficult times of raising pets. If the community can also get to know when something like this is happening with another resident, then we can intervene or step in in some way.
How model community efforts can help Chennai’s pets
We had the idea of starting a pet management committee with these concerns in mind. An underlying reason for many of these problems is the lack of a streamlined system among residents. If residents were to speak of their concerns, share insights on why these problems could be happening, and share experiences of training and raising their pets, we could use these to come to actionable solutions.
Pet owners are also very protective of their pets, and so when someone raises complaints about their pet’s behaviour in public, they might not be very open to talking about it. This is why a community effort can help.
I have noticed how dog owners are often excited to speak to other dog owners; they share tips and experiences with each other on how to raise their dogs. We need to encourage community building through this shared interest.
We even want people who don’t have pets to be part of this community. Often many residents complain about the excessive barking of dogs living in their apartments. These kinds of problems often create hostilities among residents, as there is a lack of understanding between those who have pets and those who are not used to animals. We want to avoid such hostilities by thinking in a community-centric way, where the ultimate goal is a solution for everyone involved.
So far, the committee is in the developing stages. We currently have a WhatsApp group where different pet owners share pictures of their dogs, cats, and even birds such as parrots. One of the residents even has a cow living on their property.
Benefits of sharing information among pet owners
For many first-time pet owners, there is a lack of information on the basics of raising pets. For one, many people don’t know the kind of vaccinations to get, they don’t have much information on veterinary clinics in the city, they are unsure about the dietary requirements of different animals, etc.
The committee aims to be a space where we can ask questions and learn more about raising animals. In fact, when we started speaking to residents about starting a committee, we found out that there was a vet who lived in our area, who is now providing a lot of information on animal health to residents.
In addition, when residents start to become familiar with all the other pets in the neighbourhood, it could be beneficial when one of us decides to go out of town for a few days. Since we can potentially build trust and familiarity with each other and all the pets, we would feel comfortable leaving our pets under the care of another resident. This stems from a problem many of us face, as many people opt out of vacations or leaving town due to not having anyone to look after their pets.
Expanding the circle of care
We also want to include stray animals in the scope of our committee. It is important that we make sure all the stray dogs in the area are vaccinated. Even before the formation of the committee, we have been informing the corporation to come and vaccinate the dogs on a periodic basis.
The street dogs are also familiar with many of the residents in the area. Some of them have connections with certain residents and are considered to be under that particular resident’s care, as they move in and out of their homes.
For example, one of the residents has a dog called Harini in his house. Harini has a son called Brownie. Both of these dogs take care of the entire street. They often guard our street and they welcome us when we come back to our area. Many residents feed certain street dogs at night as well. So the care and health of these dogs also come under the scope of our committee.
We are also in discussion with Rotary on setting up a small shelter for strays and are in the process of identifying a suitable location for the same.
Our objective is thus very simple. We are trying to look at multiple aspects of community development, and co-existence. For this, we feel that we need to work with people on different aspects. Collective efforts to raise pets in cities like Chennai are one such aspect of community building.