The sight of Ashoka University security guards hitting poor and defenseless stray dogs, and that too, absolutely unprovoked, was nothing short of repulsive. I don’t understand how we can expect the dogs to treat us with kindness when they have seen so much unnecessary cruelty. It seems reasonable to me that they should be wary of us and maybe even defensive. Just because they don’t look, walk, talk, or shamelessly pollute the environment as we do, does not give us the right to hurt them. These creatures might seem scary, but they are certainly not malicious.

I can somewhat understand where the initial fear comes from. Until I had a dog of my own, I would sprint to my parents and practically climbed upon their shoulders on the slightest vision or inkling of a nearby dog, as if I were escaping the clutches of a venomous, fanged serpent. However, by the time I had turned nine years old, after reading a very enthralling novel about a puppy, I decided that I wanted to give dogs another chance. A few months later, our family got our first puppy, Muffin. Over the years, I became increasingly responsible for feeding, cleaning, and walking her, and I enjoyed the unconditional love she gave in return. Whenever I came home to her, she frantically leaped on me, her tail wagging furiously as she smothered my face with her soft pink tongue. I am no longer scared of dogs, because, for almost ten years, I have been touched by the immeasurable amount of love that they have to offer. The moment when I found out that Muffin died was the greatest loss I have faced thus far, as she was as close to me as any member of my immediate family. When I read both, the heartwarming stories of loyal dogs, faithful to their owners until the last minute, and heart-wrenching stories of despicable cruelty towards dogs, I am especially touched because of my personal experience with Muffin. These stories motivate me to fight for the lives of other animals.

My recent decision to become vegan has been an extension of my childhood wish to devote myself to animals. At first, it was because I found them “so cute,” but there is so much more to animals than cute, furry bodies. There is something about the non-judgmental attitudes of these beings that attracts me to them. It is ironic that, while focusing on issues related to equality, people do not include animals in their struggle for justice. Is it because we consider them less intelligent and capable than we are? First of all, intelligence and utility should not be a measure of how much a being deserves to live a good life. We do not consider the issue of utility when we consider the value of the lives of mentally and physically handicapped humans, do we? And how can we be sure that we are so much more intelligent than animals? Sure, we industrialize and they do not, but there are many things they do that we cannot. Guard dogs, for example, can recognize the scent of intruders and react much more quickly than we can. There are even guide dogs who help their blind human owners navigate their surroundings with a devotion that many humans would not be capable of possessing. Sea creatures can swim much deeper and faster than we can, and spiders can weave unimaginably intricate webs. More and more research results are coming out, showing us that dogs, dolphins, and birds, to name a few, are much more intelligent than we ever gave them credit for.

My classmate, Sayali Palekar, is also an animal lover, and a dog lover in particular. During our first weekend at Ashoka, we planned to visit a Veterinary hospital in Dwarka. I wanted to get involved in animal care in some way, and volunteering there seemed to be a great way to give back to the community and simultaneously boost my resume. However, on the way to the hospital, as we sloshed through the relentless monsoon rain from metro line to metro line, I became immediately aware of the impracticality of being a regular volunteer. When we arrived, dripping puddles of rainwater from the journey, the head vet at the hospital, Dr. Dheeraj, expressed his opinion that students like us shouldn’t go through the hassle of spending five hours of total travel time to volunteer for a maximum of three hours. Moreover, our responsibility lies with the stray dogs in our own community. “Do not feed the overfed,” he suggested, as the dogs who come to him are pets with loving owners who look after them, feed them and ensure their well-being. However, the stray dogs living near our own campus have no one. His words inspired me to give birth to an organization on campus that fundraises to bring food, shelter, and medication to the dogs living outside the campus gates. I have begun my fundraising efforts, and I have found many classmates and faculty members who are interested. The organization, named PAWSitive, will promote animal equality through the distribution of paintings and tote bags with animal themed subjects. The proceeds from paintings and tote bag sales will go towards obtaining food and shelter for the stray dogs on campus. Dr. Dheeraj has agreed to provide us with free medicine from his Veterinary hospital.

“An animal,” Dr. Dheeraj assured us, “will never forget you after you feed him.” At first glance, the stray dogs, who are accustomed to contempt and cruelty from humans, appear withdrawn, unapproachable, and sometimes downright scary. Yet after feeding leftover bread to a lean and graceful yet dangerously undernourished black dog at Ashoka, she lept towards me, wagging her tail in excitement. In that moment, I saw a glimmer of the spirit in Muffin that had coated my childhood with so much happiness.

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