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‘Brownie never hurt us before’—Pit bull case shows India’s misplaced obsession with fancy dogs

In India, an increasing number of people are spending thousands on expensive dog breeds. They lack the knowledge to train them.

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Lucknow: A status symbol is easy to spot. It could be a Prada bag, a Savile Row suit, an Aston Martin — or a dog. But unlike a bag or an haute couture gown, pedigree dogs, especially large breeds like pit bulls and rottweilers, need proper training and exercise.

The death of Sushila Tripathi, an 82-year-old woman mauled by her pet pit bull in Lucknow on 12 July, has once again raised questions on the risk of people keeping pedigrees that need extra attention and care. According to the family members, Tripathi was in her courtyard when the pit bull attacked her. Her son, Amit, told the media that he found her body in a pool of blood. “There was another female Labrador inside the house, but she did not attack her. Clearly, the pit bull exhibited aggressive behaviour,” said Arvind Kumar Rao, veterinary officer, Lucknow Municipal Corporation. The Lucknow Municipal Corporation has already issued an advisory against ‘aggressive’ dogs and plans to ban households owning more than two dogs.

But not everyone is convinced. For one, Brownie, Tripathi’s son’s pit bull, is a female, which makes the aggressive behaviour an anomaly. It was reportedly confined to the terrace of the house due to pressure from a neighbour. Although they had a licence, her owners had not gotten it sterilised.

Training is necessary

It’s very rarely the dog’s fault, say dog trainers, veterinarians, and animal activists. The onus lies on pet parents to ensure that their dogs are socialised, mentally and physically stimulated and well-trained. But more often than not, that doesn’t happen.

In India, an increasing number of people are spending tens of thousands of rupees on expensive dog breeds. “The problem is that most of the time, people, especially in big cities, opt for fancy breeds without understanding the nature and needs of the dog,” said Kaveri Rana, a member of the Wildlife and Gaushala committee of Gautam Buddh Nagar, Noida.

Lucknow-based Kamna Pandey, a sitting member of the SPCA (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) and former member of the Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI), called out the corporation for issuing an advisory cautioning people from keeping American pit bulls, rottweilers, Siberian huskies, Doberman pinschers, boxers and German shepherds as they are dangerous breeds.

“Rather than issuing such advisories, it should regulate breeding centres that are selling these dogs without seeking any information from the owner about his or her background and whether the dog will suit a particular owner,” she said.

Dog behaviour therapists and trainers said it was a misconception that some breeds are seen as more aggressive. “Pit bulls, or rottweilers are not harmful per se. In fact, pit bulls are the most faithful breeds, but they need proper training and discipline,” said Rana.

But that’s the catch. “They are high-energy dogs that need to run at least 10 kilometres every day,” she said, adding that pet seekers with elderly family members and children should not opt for pit bulls as pets.

Also read: After Rottweiler attack, army formation recommends against keeping 5 dog breeds in Delhi Cantt

A female cause?

As the incident ignited a debate on the behaviour of the pit bull and other exotic breeds, the revelation that the dog is a female further startled animal experts and activists. Now they have called for a medical examination of the animal, reasoning that female dogs seldom resort to extreme, aggressive behaviour.

Veterinarians who handed Brownie over to the House of Stray Animals (HSI), said that because she was not sterilised, the behaviour it exhibited could possibly be due to ‘hormonal issues’. Dr Abhinav Verma, a vet at Lucknow Municipal Corporation conceded that hormonal issues are at play. “The behaviour seems to be an aberration. This is possible due to physiological aspects and pathological reasons. It is a strong breed and the woman was very old, so its bite resulted in deep injuries,” he said. While the doctors have conducted a physical test, a full medical examination is yet to be conducted.

“The two possible reasons for the display of such a heightened level of aggression is a possibility of the dog being in excruciating pain or a possible trigger like a fight between two dogs. If a female dog has fought with another dog and someone intervenes, it may result in such an aggressive attack. In such a state, the animal takes time to comprehend what has happened,” said Pandey, who, along with Rana, said that female dogs generally don’t display such behaviour.

Also read: India wants zero rabies cases by 2030, but there’s no central data on dogs or dog bites

‘Not the dog’s fault’

Brownie’s owner and Sushila’s son Amit Tripathi owns a 5,000-square feet house but mostly confined the dog to the terrace after a neighbour complained. Showing pictures of Brownie with his mother, Amit said that it had never hurt anyone in the house except for one incident a few weeks ago. He also mentioned that Brownie would get triggered by the sound of the doorbell. He said, “I am unsure if there was anyone who rang the doorbell that, but that’s the only thing that I remember would trigger her. I left around 4:30 am and since I was not there, I can’t guess if there was anyone who rang the doorbell. It’s just my guess that someone was ringing the doorbell and Brownie got triggered.”

“In May, she tried to nibble on my mother’s hand. But it developed into a serious injury, as my mother’s skin had lost its elasticity with age. She, however, asked me not to punish Brownie because she felt that it was not the animal’s fault. Before that, Brownie has never attacked anyone or exhibited any aggressive behaviour,” said Amit.

On Tuesday, after Sushila was mauled to death, Amit returned home to find Brownie hiding from him. Pandey said that it was possibly exhibiting remorseful behaviour. “Another breed would not have caused so much harm,” he said, adding that it’s more about the structure of the jawline of a pit bull rather than its behavioural characteristics. Pandey elaborated on the reasons for the breed being seen as ‘ferocious’ and ‘aggressive’. “Because its teeth are aligned inwards, a normal bite of the pit bull can result in deep wounds. The dog may not even realise the harm it is doing. In this particular case, there was a culmination of unfortunate events. The fact that the woman was an octogenarian and suffered deep wounds due to age is also there,” she said.

Such incidents have occurred in parts of the country as well. Last year, for instance, a pet pit bull escaped from its owner’s house and mauled a labourer to death in Bengaluru. At the time, there were calls for more checks on breeders as well and creating awareness among people looking to buy a pedigree dog. “In a setting where one has an elder or a child in the family, one should opt for dogs like Shih Tzu or the Lhasas,” said Rana, making a case for desi dogs. “They are the most harmless and adaptive of all breeds.”

Meanwhile, doctors confirm that Brownie is sitting quietly in a cage in the animal shelter run by the HSA. “It is absolutely calm and not even barking, perhaps because it is trying to adjust to new surroundings. It was not sterilised by the owner and we are getting it sterilised now,” Verma said.

(Edited by Humra Laeeq)

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