Stephen Joseph is a computer hardware technician and businessman who lives in Bangalore, India with his wife and two daughters. He began writing in 2008. His stories have won honors in many competitions and have been published in Writers Digest, www.humorpress.com, www.thewritehelper.com, Perspectives Magazine, Halfway Down the Stairs, Inscribed, Raving Dove, The Smoking Poet, Puffin Circus, Moose and P—sy, among others.
The following work is copyright © 2010. All rights reserved. No distribution or reprinting in any form whatsoever without written permission from the author.
Dogs Are Human Beings
Everyone has a passion. If there is one thing that 10-year-old Amritha was passionate about, it was dogs. Amritha loved dogs of all shapes and sizes. She even loved the street dogs, which Bangalore had in abundance. In her house, there were not one, not two, not three, but four dogs, all adopted from the streets.
Amritha was also an avid newspaper reader, a trait she picked up from her father, who was a freelance writer. One day, Amritha was flipping through The Times of India newspaper, when a troubling headline caught her eye. On page 3, the prominent caption read, “Corporation to begin culling all street dogs.” The article stated:
In light of recent attacks on people especially children, the Bangalore Municipal Corporation has launched an aggressive plan to capture all stray dogs within the city limits and destroy them immediately. According to Commissioner Raju, complaints of stray dogs biting citizens, especially children, have risen dramatically in the past one year. More than fifty cases of dogs biting children have been reported in the past year alone, with three fatalities. The only way to effectively deal with the stray dog menace is to cull the dogs mercilessly, says the Commissioner.
Amritha read the article in her local newspaper again and felt her breath catch in her throat. It was impossible, surely this couldn't be true?
Numbed by the news, the fifth standard student showed the article to her father. He took one look at it and told his daughter, “Who cares? They’re not people, they’re just dogs.” Amritha protested with a mistake that only a 10-year-old could make by saying, “But Dad, dogs are human beings.” What she meant to say was that dogs are living humane beings.
Her father caught on and replied, “Sweetheart, trees are also living but people cut down trees all the time. And what about the chicken you had for dinner last night? Did that chicken also not have a right to live? We eat chicken, mutton, fish, … you have even eaten rabbit and said you liked it. Now it’s not fair of you to take the side of the street dogs when you eat all kinds of animals.”
“Yeah, but I don’t eat dogs, Dad, and neither do you,” Amritha tossed back angrily. “Dad, listen, you are a freelance writer. You have to write something to stop the Corporation from killing all those dogs. You have to do something, anything,” Amritha implored her father.
“Amritha dear, listen to me, the cheapest thing in India is the life of a dog. No one is going to get upset if a few hundred street dogs suddenly come up missing in Bangalore one day. Nobody.”
Her father abruptly left the room. He had things to take care of that were more pressing on his mind like picking up his shoes from the cobbler.
Amritha was devastated. She could not believe that her own father was so callous. I’ll never be that callous when I am his age, Amritha promised herself.
Amritha could not sit still that entire day. Worse, sleep evaded her that night knowing that soon the death vans would come to remove the garbage from the streets. She had heard that the dogcatchers beat in the brains of the dogs in order to kill them. The thought of the yelping of the hapless dogs and the terror of their final moments mobilized and energized Amritha to take action. Amritha stayed up all night in her room plotting of ways to stop the upcoming blood fiesta.
The next day, Amritha skipped school. She called two of her closest friends, Rekha and Rani, to get them to help her with her plan. The trio went to the nearby Hoodi bus stand where they found more than ten stray dogs lying around. In a corner of the bus stand, they placed a table and two chairs. Amritha instructed her friends to collect some puppies and bring them to the table. They placed the puppies inside cardboard boxes. They hung a huge cloth banner in front of the table that read, “Dogs for adoption. Free to good homes.” They hung another bigger sign in red bold letters that read, “DOGS ARE HUMAN BEINGS.”
By chance, a photographer and a reporter for The Times of India newspaper were driving by when they observed three schoolgirls trying to get members of the public to adopt street dogs. The reporter, Sanjayan, knew a good story when he saw one. He immediately approached the girls and asked them why they were trying to get people to adopt unwanted dogs. But Amritha was cleverer than the reporter. She told Sanjayan that she would only answer his questions if he arranged for the Commissioner to be brought to the bus stand. She wanted to tell the Commissioner to his face that his idea of culling the street dogs was not necessary because there were other alternatives such as organizing pet adoptions throughout Bangalore. Through his contacts, Sanjayan was able to speak to the Commissioner, who agreed to come to the bus stand.
Amritha explained to Sanjayan, “There has to be some other method of dealing with street dogs other than killing them all. I know that some street dogs have to be killed – those that are injured, diseased and bite – but these kinds of dogs make up a small amount of the total street dog population. Why punish the remaining street dogs for the problems caused by a few?”
Sanjayan knew he had a money story on his hands. Here was a little 10-year-old girl taking on the might and power of the Corporation with a simple solution: adoption. It reminded him somewhat of Mahatma Gandhi’s Salt March to Dandi in 1930 as a protest against the British occupation of India.
Sensing a public relations disaster on his hands and a public backlash, the Commissioner personally came to the bus stand and greeted Amritha. After speaking with Amritha for a few minutes, he agreed to withdraw the Order for culling of street dogs. Further sensing a political opportunity, the Commissioner rewrote his Order to make culling mandatory only for diseased, injured, rabid and biting street dogs. He spared all other street dogs and instead started the “Amritha Adoption Program.” A huge public ad campaign was started urging the people of Bangalore to adopt street dogs. Amritha herself starred in many of the newspaper and TV advertisements, wherein she told her audience that she was the proud owner of four street dogs and they were the best friends a girl could ever have.