Our Best Friends
Caligula elevated his favourite horse Incitatus to the status of a senator
Guess who are the super sleuths of Mumbai police? Their sniffer dogs!
Take this recent incident of a break-in in the city. The thieves had carelessly left behind a screwdriver at the scene of the crime. And that was all it took.
A cop dog sniffed the screwdriver, proceeded to track the scent and led the cops straight to the culprits.
Such is dogs’ extraordinary power of smell that, at a crime scene, a dog is the one person who always nose whodunit.
Trained at the NTCD in Gwalior (the National Training Centre for Dogs) and at Bangalore’s Dog Training and Breeding School, our sniffer dogs are a boon to our cops, CRPF and customs police.
They are trained to sniff out contraband like narcotics or weapons. At our international airports, they do a fabulous job of making a dope out of dope smugglers trying to sneak in their concealed stuff.
No wonder dogs are called our best friends. And history is witness to this. Attila the Hun kept dogs as extra guards around his military camps. And during the Second World War, dogs were entrusted with carrying vital messages at the front.
Actually if you think about it, animals in general have always been our best friends. They cooperate with us and serve us well.
Elephants have been trained to moved lumber for us. Bullocks and buffaloes have ploughed our farms through famine and flood. Camels have served as cargo ships of the desert. And horses took us places.
Rana Pratap rode his faithful stallion Chetak into bloody battle. And Napoleon's Marengo carried him 3,000 miles to Moscow and back through Russia’s arctic winter.
Roman emperor Caligula even elevated his favourite horse Incitatus to the status of a senator in his cabinet. Now don’t ask me whether the horse advised the emperor on the economy of ancient Rome. Was this the cause of the empire’s galloping inflation and ruin?
Other humans have gone to bizarre lengths in exploiting their fellow creatures. For instance, after Pearl Harbour the US seriously pondered the possibility of training bats as dive bombers, so they could be sent soaring over Japan to drop small but potent bombs on vital installations.
And during the peak of the Cold War the CIA, America’s premier Creatively Indulgent Agency, implanted bugs under the fur of a Soviet embassy cat! This way the CIA spooks could eavesdrop on embassy personnel.
Man, aren't we clever? You could pin a donkey tail on our back and call us smartass.
Sometimes I think if the chimps ever realised we’re such close relations, they'd be mighty embarrassed.
While humans arrogantly claim to be the superior beings, the masters ruling this planet, the difference between us and other animals stares us stark in the face.
They have stood by us with unconditional love, loyalty and devotion, but our insatiable greed has found every way and means to enslave them, taking advantage of their heart simplicity and innocence. Even deriving mean entertainment from them.
We whip race horses into a frenzy of breakneck speeds around the race course. We tease and torment bulls with spears and swords in the name of bravery.
We force bears to perform bone-crunching somersaults in circuses, and elephants to do impossible head stands.
We test our cosmetics, chemicals and drugs on animals because it would be too excruciating to test them on ourselves. Painful experiments are carried out on rats and monkeys in scientific labs.
In Bangalore, a research lab was banned for severing the vocal cords of beagles so those cute, cuddly little doggies couldn't bark aloud when they were in pain.
We poach wild animals for their fur, skin, bones, horns, tusks and what not.
In Zimbabwe crocodiles are still bred and fed food supplements to enhance the quality of their hide. We slaughter them and this hide fetches the highest prices in the fashion centres of the world like Paris, New York, Rome and Milan, for the making of handbags, shoes, wallets, belts and other accessories.
So, don't we just love our best friends, the animals? We love them so much, we see to it that they get into high living and high fashion!
We love them and even emulate them, opting for trendy zebra prints and leopard spots on our outfits. Some men go for the pony-tail or the goatee. Never mind the jokes that kissing you feels like kissing a billy goat!
We need these creatures to sustain us. We need them for company. To guard us and love us. And we love them so much, we cannot do without them – in our cooking pots and pans, and on our plates and platters, in our ice cream and butter.
We can't even do without them in our popular culture, literature and entertainment. But we humans are so beastly, we turn creatures into monsters.
A huge, perfectly huggable dog becomes a howling demon from hell in The Hound of the Baskervilles. A shark turns into a man-eating maniac in Jaws. To say nothing of blowing up a harmless little lizard out of all proportion, into Godzilla!
Conservation is not a new concept for many human societies. Since ancient times we have known that Mother Nature and her bountiful flora and fauna need to be protected, preserved and nurtured. No wonder animals have always found pride of place in our culture, religion and mythology.
Today, if we humans know what is good for us, for ecology and the planet as a whole, we should be doing more, much more for the welfare of all creatures, domestic and wild.
Otherwise we are headed for a sad future indeed, when your doggie will not just fetch your newspaper but mournfully ask you to turn to the obituary section and find out how many endangered creatures became extinct the day before!
Many, many interesting creatures like the dodo have already become extinct. And other species will continue to disappear unless we stop being dumb dodos ourselves.
Then our only hope would be the miraculous strides being made by science. The wizardry of cloning may one day pull extinct animals out of test tubes. Will they be our apology to nature?
Cover photo: Asha, one of India’s top sniffer dogs