By Sharon St Joan
The 500 year old peepal tree, majestic, lifts its branches into the sunlight. In front of it stands a stone Ganesha which has been there even longer, for around a thousand years, extending his blessings of profound peace to all. This is a special place near the buildings of the C.P. Ramaswami Aiyar Foundation. The land of the Foundation was originally the ancestral home of the family of Dr. Nanditha Krishna, the Foundation’s Honorary Director. She recalls that when she was a child, much of the area was covered in trees with jackals scurrying through the brush and deer browsing among the leaves. Now, among the buildings built in the past few decades, trees still stand tall offering shade and tranquility, though sadly some fell during the recent severe cyclone, Vardah, which blew through in December.
As the site of regular pujas, ceremonies to express devotion to the Gods, the air of this special place becomes filled with incense and ancient songs to Ganesha, who grants prosperity and knowledge, and who has the power to overcome all obstacles.
One day in 2006, when Dr. Chinny Krishna, who founded, with his parents, the well-known animal organization, Blue Cross of India, and who is the husband of Dr. Nanditha Krishna, had come to this site to spend a few quiet moments with Ganesha, he spotted a small brown form, barely visible, concealed in the brush off to one side.
With a lifelong understanding of street dogs – he and Blue Cross have rescued many, many thousands — he knew that a subtle approach was required with a frightened dog. Dr. Krishna sat down on the stone steps. Quietly, he called to a staff person and asked him to bring a little milk in a bowl and a leash. Leashes are always handy because rescuing dogs is a common event. Placing the bowl beside him on the step, Dr. Krishna waited. After half an hour or so, the brown form emerged from the bushes, gently approached the milk, and the thirsty dog began to drink. Within a few minutes, Dr. Krishna was able to slip the leash over the dog’s head. He did not touch the dog or try to pet him, and when he stood up, the small brown dog went with him. He put the dog into his car, into the back, and gave him a few moments to settle down while he went to have a bite of breakfast, then he drove him to Blue Cross to be neutered.
All street dogs rescued by Blue Cross are spayed or neutered if this has not already been done, along with many thousands of dogs on the streets of Madras, as part of Blue Cross of India’s ABC program. Blue Cross of India runs the world’s first and longest continuously operating spay/neuter program that began in 1964.
Giving the little dog time to recover from his surgery, Dr. Krishna picked him up a few days later from Blue Cross. He set him down by the gate of the C.P. Ramaswami Aiyar Foundation, and walked away, giving the dog the chance to return to where he had come from. Generally, street dogs live in a neighborhood which is their home, where they know the other dogs who are their friends, and where one or two kind people will feed them and keep an eye on them. In this way they lead a stable life and may live for many years.
TNR (trap/neuter/ vaccinate/return) for dogs, not just for cats (as in the U.S.), is the accepted best practice way to relate to community dogs in most countries in the world. A shelter system, as is found in the U.S. and other developed countries does not work, and, for many reasons, wherever it has been tried in developing countries, putting street dogs in shelters creates an inhumane, over-crowded situation. TNR is the best and only workable solution for the many millions of street dogs in India. All animal welfare organizations in India are no-kill, and it would not occur to any of them to kill homeless animals. Also, it would be illegal to do so.
By evening, the small brown dog had shown no signs of going away and had found his way back into the center of the compound among the trees and the buildings. The next morning Dr. Krishna put him once again out by the gate. And by evening, he had wandered back. Clearly, he had no attention of leaving such a calm, welcoming place.
Soon given the name of Bhairava, or Bhairu for short, he joined the twelve to twenty rescued street dogs who, at any one time, are part of the family of Dr. Nanditha and Dr. Chinny Krishna. They go where they wish, inside or out, are much-loved and cared for, and they are safe within the gates of the large, walled compound, which contains the buildings of the C. P. Ramaswami Aiyar Foundation.
Now perhaps fifteen or sixteen years old, Bhairava has a touch of arthritis, but otherwise he is fine. Appropriately, a natural white mark on the fur of his forehead resembles the sign that devout Hindus wear as a mark of devotion. Bhairava is the form of Lord Shiva who wanders the world as a homeless outcaste, always accompanied by his faithful dog. When reminded that, since the little dog Bhairava appeared, as if dropped from heaven, in the middle of the centuries-old site of worship of the peepal tree and the little stone Ganesha, he must certainly be a sacred dog, Dr. Krishna, replied, “Yes, of course, all dogs are sacred.”