For long, I have wanted to attend a proper dog show, where you can see the various breeds on display. With the Madras Canine Club organising a dog show today at the university grounds in Chetpet, I made it a point to go. It wasn’t easy in the first place. The morning was taken up by the usual visit to the temple and the afternoon by a visit to an old colleague’s home. She had invited me for lunch; in her email she tempted me by saying she was a good cook. She didn’t disappoint though. There was chapatti and potato and salad and pulav topped with cashew. Followed by semiya payasam with cashew. It was nice talking about old times. We had all (25 of us) met for the first time in May 1985 when we joined United India Insurance Company Limited as direct recruit officers. I was one of the youngest in the batch and so was she. By some coincidence we happen to stay close by but have hardly met over the years in regular fashion. Our batch is planning a grand get-together in May this year, to mark 25 years of the batch. Our meeting today was to discuss how to go about once the venue was decided. At the moment, it looks like Yercaud but there are some who want to go to Munnar. Well, the lunch was heavy. A siesta would have been ideal, especially being a Sunday, which is my off day. But determined not to miss the dog show, I gave the siesta a miss.
I had half-wanted to take my camera along but the batteries were not charged. Not that I mind now. For, as I trooped out of the show, I was left wondering whether we need such events at all. Yes, the dogs were all lovely, or actually made to look lovely. While some owners (breeders and trainers really) kept brushing the dog’s coat endlessly, there were others talking about applying lotion to make the coat glisten. All the dogs I saw – there were more than a hundred – were panting for breath. The sun was warm and it was quite hot out on the ground. I saw ice cubes being rubbed on a Labrador, some pieces being stuffed into its mouth. Many dogs were confined to what looked like cages. Many others were restless, a few barking, not knowing what was happening.
I had expected to see families and children, but was quite surprised to see breeders, trainers, staff and assistants all over the place. The whole air reeked of commerce. A small trophy or award would catapult the animal into the big league and then the rate for the puppies in its litter (or fathered by it) would perhaps double. There were Great Danes, many of them, a couple of St Bernards, Golden Retrievers, Labradors, Dobermans, an Irish Setter, a Cocker Spaniel, a Spitz… The dogs were all well looked after but it was clear they were not relishing the experience at all, confused, scared and unable to bear the heat and crowds. Not only were they waiting for the event for hours, once led in they had to stand erect, display their teeth and gums, go round on a trot and stand to attention again – quite a regimen. The two judges had their hands full – both of them were wearing ties and I was wondering how they were managing despite the heat.
Well, there is no better time for a dog show in Chennai than in January when the temperature is the lowest in the year. Even so, the dogs were all finding it difficult. Perhaps there has to be a faster way of judging so that the animals are put to the least difficulty. During another recent dog show a dog had died due to dehydration and exhaustion.
The other thing that struck me was the commercial aspect of the whole drama. The event was literally taken over by breeders and trainers for most of whom the animals are only a moneymaking machine. I have no doubt that most of the dogs on display were from the kennels, not from homes as I had thought they would be. There were stalls selling all kinds of things for dogs - from Pedigree food to bedsheets and quilts. It was almost like a 'home-life' exhibition at the Kamaraj Memorial grounds, complete with a food stall.
At the Well Dog Show hosted by the Blue Cross last year where only Indian Dogs were exhibited there was hardly any breeder. Almost everybody had come with families and grandparents and uncles and aunts and friends. All the dogs, I'm sure, belonged to homes, and that is what dog shows should be all about. The air there did not smell of commercialism as it did today, and there were no stalls hawking stuff and announcements being made on the loudspeaker enthusing the crowd to buy them. Also, at the Blue Cross do, puppies were offered for adoption and many went home with a puppy, delighted. Not only that, there were children, passionate about animals, who were advising the new owners how to take good care of pets. It was all great fun. Today, that sort of innocence and fun was missing, and missing badly.
As I exited, I noticed a few people gathered around a typical breeder (many of them looked like spot boys, cameramen or stuntmen you see on film sets). He had a Labrador placed atop a basket. I asked him whether it was for sale. Rs 4,500, he said. I then asked him what was inside the basket. There was a Daschund for Rs 3,000, he said gruffly. I opened the lid to see. The poor, half-starved puppy was seated on newspaper wet with its own urine. The breeder then quickly tried to remove the paper and replace it with a dry one. Here were two suffering pups that were being hawked like commodities, and for prices that were definitely much more than what they were worth. Not surprisingly, there seemed to be no takers. But the troubling aspect was how breeding dogs had become so commercial. I shuddered to think how long those pups would have to suffer till they found good homes. Or would their luck tie them to one breeder after another till they were used to breed another round of pups?
I finally decided I would not go for such a dog show again. And I am happy that I didn’t take my camera along.