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    Volume 9 Issue 8 | February 19, 2010|

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Food for Thought

'Mobile Hostiles' and Culture Clashes
(Part II)

Farah Ghuznavi

You may have assumed from my less-than-enthusiastic approach to the Spanish donkey rescue campaign mentioned in this column last time ( see the following link: http://www.thedailystar.net/magazine/ 2010/02/01/ food.htm for the full story), that I am hard-hearted in my attitudes towards our four-legged friends. That's not the case. Honestly. Though the six-legged ones are a different matter...

Hence, it's certainly true that unlike a one - time German colleague, I do not consider cockroaches to be “animals”. Or, for that matter, living creatures and therefore deserving of survival - let alone protection! My colleague, on the other hand, refused to allow me to use bug sprays on roaches on the grounds that it was inhumane. But my hostility is essentially limited to the beetle brigade, so before I lead you to believe otherwise, I will confess that I'm an animal lover, with a particular weakness for dogs. And while I don't feel strongly about the issue, I would probably agree that there's no harm in being kind to donkeys either!

Attitudes towards animals vary widely the world over, and it can be almost a litmus test of cultural differences in some instances. I strongly believe that it's important to treat animals with kindness and respect, and that the conservation of endangered species (such as the Royal Bengal Tiger) is a valid cause and worth targeting resources towards. But I do find it hard to swallow some of the excesses lavished on pets, particularly in countries like the US. The so-called grooming of pet animals is a multi-million dollar industry in states like California, and the amount spent there on pet food alone would suffice to support any number of families in the developing world for years to come. Meanwhile, India (Shining) has taken its first steps in this direction with the aggressive advertising of Pedigree Chum dog-food a bag of which may well end up costing more than the average Indian slum-dweller spends on his or her daily meal!

Perhaps the most idiotic example of this kind of behaviour can be seen in the diamond dog-collar wearing fraternity of tiny fluffy canines used as accessories by the super-rich (such as the American hotel heiress Paris Hilton), who carry them around in their handbags. Before we in Bangladesh get too smug however, attributing such folly to “bideshis" only, I must say I was shocked to hear from a young friend, Emmy, that at a recent Dhaka party she attended, two people turned up with similarly-groomed dogs in their purses! While this is thankfully far from common in Dhaka, it's worth remembering that this is a road which can lead to real madness. One notoriously eccentric socialite with more money than sense, Leona Helmsley, shocked America a few years ago by leaving millions of dollars to her lapdog, aptly named "Trouble" though this was later "redistributed" more equitably by a judge, some of it going to Ms Helmsley's long-suffering relatives!

These are obviously over-the-top examples, and closer to home, we tend to do things a little more modestly. In nearby Nepal, I have often felt that Kathmandu is a place in which to run into the distinctly weird and sometimes wonderful - one of the best aspects of travel, as far as I am concerned. So I was intrigued when a friend mentioned a rather unusual animal charity based there. Lisa said that the organisation had launched an initiative to send out an ambulance with a vet, whenever they received a phone call reporting an accident involving a stray dog. I have to admit I wish we could guarantee the same for human beings in our part of the world, but for South Asia, it seemed like a remarkably animal-friendly approach. I was more than a little sceptical of the procedures mentioned, but Lisa had personal experience to prove the veracity of her claims.

Apparently, she rang the dog-lovers up one day when a stray dog was hit by a car outside her house. The organisation immediately despatched an ambulance, and asked her to go back and “stay with the dog” until the ambulance arrived. Upon returning to the spot, Lisa found to her horror that the dog had disappeared! She searched in the vicinity but saw no signs of the animal. So she rushed back inside and called the charity again, telling the man who answered the phone not to bother sending the ambulance, since the dog had gone. "Oh, the ambulance is already on its way, so I'm sorry to hear that the animal is no longer with us," he said, and it took her a minute to realise that he thought that the dog was dead.

In the event, it all turned out well enough, since the dog was presumably well enough to head off so swiftly, and Lisa and the charity were both relieved that it wasn't dead. Lisa (who had been curious about the genuineness of this organisation) was given an opportunity to test that the charity was in fact putting its rescue team where its mouth was, since the ambulance was despatched so promptly; and the organisation benefited because Lisa felt so guilty for calling them out when there was no dog to pick up, she even made a donation on their website. A win-win situation all round!


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