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When pet lovers and haters collide

As the recent conversation about banning dogs in Cubbon park proves, a little sensitivity could go a long way towards protecting our animals, the victims of conflict for public spaces

There are few public spaces that allow animals
There are few public spaces that allow animals (iStockphoto)

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Online petitions are a dime a dozen but one caught my attention last week. It was a petition against the Karnataka government’s proposed ban on pets at Bengaluru’s 300-acre Cubbon Park, in the heart of the city.

Bengaluru is more pet-friendly than other cities but animals are banned in most parks, leaving little space to exercise dogs that, more often than not, live in small apartments. Cubbon Park was one place where dogs were allowed, both pets and community animals that have been vaccinated, spayed, christened, fed regularly by dog lovers and volunteers, and even have a Facebook group, The Cubbon Park Canines.

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Two weeks ago, the state’s horticulture department decided to impose a ban after a flurry of complaints from walkers and joggers about dogs running freely in the park. I signed it; though I am not a dog parent, I love animals and firmly disagree with the deeply-entrenched presumption that every ecosystem belongs only to humans.

Going by social media, the decision raised the usual flurry of polarised opinions. Harshu A., whose Twitter bio describes him as someone who loves martial arts and adventure sports, for instance, seemed to welcome it. “The ban of dogs by @HorticultureGoK is a welcome move, and thanks for the same,” he tweeted on 28 June. “It was very tough for families to enjoy in Cubbon Park due to dogs left unleashed and also dog poop in many places not cleaned @CMofKarnataka. Please continue this ban.”

Pet owners and lovers, on the other hand, appeared distraught. A pet parent, with the Twitter handle Sitting Duck, tweeted. “I am/we (my husband and I) are pet parents. It will be a BIG tragedy if Cubbon Park should close for our pets.” Her opinion was shared by someone who goes by the Twitter handle Runner. “This is one of the very few parks left for both pets as well as people to use. Please let us be sensible and not ban pets,” he wrote.

The proposed ban is currently suspended, owing to the backlash from animal lovers and the intervention of Bengaluru Central MP P.C. Mohan. But it drives home the fact that the conflict between people who love animals and those who dislike them or are petrified of them, seems never-ending. Whether it is resident welfare associations trying to ban pets (illegal), attacks on people who feed community animals (it’s allowed, with caveats) or poisoning of strays (definitely illegal), these debates come to a head frequently.

As someone who has been feeding community animals for the last decade or so and has frequently gotten into trouble with building associations for it, I do believe that animal lovers too need to be sensitive to the fact that many people are petrified of animals, something they have little control over. It is all too easy to be condescending, dismissive or confrontational when facing someone else’s fear or dislike of animals. It doesn’t help. A little sensitivity and caution could go a long way in protecting our animals, the real victims of the conflict.

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Allowing dogs in public spaces is the outcome of a long-drawn battle, and pet owners must stop jeopardising these hard-won victories. The rules at Cubbon Park, which has a dog park where animals can be unleashed, have always mandated they be kept on a leash in the main park and that owners clean up after them.

The ban was proposed partly because some dog parents flout these basic stipulations. Priya Chetty Rajagopal, animal welfare activist, Cubbon Park regular, and founder of the CJ Memorial Trust, which started the petition I signed, says dogs and responsible pet parents are being penalised for the behaviour of a few. “People have to realise this is a privilege, not an entitlement,” she says. “Pet parents need to step up.

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