“I walk through Kalhaar daily with my own two former roadway dogs, so I know all the street dogs here,” e-mailed Dogstop founder Lisa Warden on August 1, 2009 from the suburbs of Ahmedabad, India, attaching several photos of a terribly emaciated puppy.
“The dog pictured here just turned up three days ago,” Warden said. “I guess it’s safe to say that he’s one of those who isn’t going to make it, don’t you think?”
This was relatively early in Warden’s work on behalf of street dogs in many different parts of India, Indonesia, Vietnam, and Hong Kong. Only a few weeks later Warden would have recognized the same issue that I did.
But perceiving emaciated street dogs, cats, cattle, horses, and donkeys as starving and irrecoverably suffering is the usual response of Americans, Canadians, Australians, and Europeans to those whose bones protrude as much as this dog’s had.
Yet the problem in such cases is seldom that the animal is not getting enough food, especially in the streets of developing nations, where refuse, rodents, and thriving populations of street animals typically abound.
Rather, the problem is usually that the animal is not getting adequate nutrition from the food due to intestinal worms.
In this case, I had personally done a dog census in the neighborhood where Warden found the young dog, in January 2007, and had thereby verified the abundance and accessibility of food sources.
“He actually looks quite healthy–no sign of mange, tumors, or serious injury,” I wrote back. “De-worm and fix the poor mutt and he’ll probably be just fine. “
Warden, as it happened, had already de-wormed him. She also had him neutered. Three days later Warden posted video of the rapidly recovering little dog to YouTube. On August 8, 2009 Warden posted a second video, showing the dog playing in a small park in front of her home.
In barely more than a week the dog’s protruding ribs had receded.
“Someone in Canada saw him on Rajashree Khalap’s Indian pariah dog website and wrote me asking if she could adopt him! So now he’s going to Canada!” Warden wrote on August 20, 2009.
Warden meanwhile had written often to Ahmedabad newspapers in favor of restarting the Animal Birth Control program that the local organization Animal Help had begun in 2005, sterilizing 53,000 dogs in two years before political foes cut off the funding.
Animal Help went on to become an Animal Birth Control program service provider in several other cities, including Bangalore, and to conduct a nationwide program in Bhutan, sponsored by Humane Society International.
Despite repeated efforts, Warden could not get her letters published. But she had an idea about how to remedy that, by prefacing her message with a compelling true-life story and before-and-after photos.
On August 21 the Times of India carried the story of the “Slum Dog Millionaire” she had rescued and his subsequent adoption on page one.
“Unfortunately, they didn’t cover any of the substantial points I raised with them about the issues surrounding street dogs,” Warden lamented. “I even gave them a media sheet I’d put together, but no luck. I will approach someone at a different paper soon about doing a more serious article.”
On August 28 the Times of India followed up. Warden’s father and friends in the Ottawa and Montreal areas sent the Times of India coverage to Canadian media, knowing that the large and growing Indo-Canadian community would forward any coverage back home to India–and would thereby increase appreciation of Indian street dogs. Fourteen Canadian newspapers picked up the “Slum Dog Millionaire” story within the next three days. It reverberated to India, as anticipated, and back again. On September 8 the “Slum Dog Millionaire” made page one of the South Asian Post, the leading news periodical serving Indo-Canadians. The South Asian Post led from the story of the one lucky little dog into a discussion of Animal Birth Control programs and dog issues in Delhi, Kolkata, Ludhiana, Ahmedabad, Chennai, and Mumbai.
Beyond becoming the most famous dog in both India and Canada, for a few days at least, the dog had become an ambassador for all his kind–before even acquiring a permanent name.
And chiefly because Warden de-wormed him.
“I stress the importance of de-worming to our vets, staff and volunteers, etcetra,” Kathmandu Animal Treatment Centre founder Jan Salter e-mailed from Nepal, “but have been cried down on the premise that the dogs go back on the streets and again pick up worms. I am not a vet, so sometimes what I consider is just common sense is not heeded.”
Every street dog is ex-posed to worms, like every other scavenger and every animal who eats from the ground. Street dogs often expose themselves to worms by eating the feces of other animals. Yet not every scavenging or grazing animal is debilitated by worms. Dogs are known to be especially resistant to debilitating worm infestations.
“Although nearly all dogs are infested with parasites at one time or another, most develop an immunity that keeps worms in check,” explain James M. Griffin, M.D., and Liisa D. Carlson, DVM, in the Dog Owner’s Home Veterinary Handbook. “This immunity can break down under conditions of stress or ill health. When that happens, the worms increase in number and eventually produce signs of intestinal infection, including diarrhea, weight loss, anemia, and blood in the feces.”
Among the most intensely stressed and therefore vulnerable street dogs are juvenile pups who have just been weaned.
Parasitologists have recently recognized that healthy street dogs, like other wild carnviores and non-human primates, keep worms under control to some extent by eating grass.
Explained Cindy Engel in Wild Health: How Animals Keep Themselves Well & What We Can Learn From Them (2002):
“Grass seems to have two effects. One is emetic, stimulating regurgitation or vomiting. The other is a purgative scour, ridding the body of worms farther down the intestine. Thus grass could work at either end of the intestine, depending on which orifice is nearest to the problem.”
Noted Engel, “Herbalist Maurice Mességue,” author of numerous books on the healing properties of plants, “claims that some dog species discriminate between different grasses for different medicinal functions, using hairy grasses for emetics and couch grass as a purgative.”
Benjamin L. Hart, DVM and colleagues at the University of California at Davis School of Veterinary Medicine presented further findings at the 2008 Central Veterinary Conference in San Diego.
“Although the prevalence of plant eating in domestic dogs and cats has not been documented,” Hart opened, “wild canids and felids in nature are known to eat grass and plants-plant material has been found in 2% to 74% of scats and stomach content samples of wolves and cougars…One explanation,” Hart et al finished, after reviewing and rejecting other theories, “is that plant eating played a role in the ongoing purging of intestinal parasites (nematodes) in wild canid and felid ancestors who were always exposed to intestinal parasites. As observed in wild chimpanzees, who eat whole leaves from a variety of plants, the plant material passes through the intestinal tract, increasing intestinal motility and wrapping around worms and thereby purging the tract of intestinal nematodes.”
Many animals, including street dogs, also control external parasites to some extent by such activities as dust-bathing, swimming, and wading.
But whatever help these behaviors provide to otherwise healthy animals, a stressed animal may be attacked simultaneously by multiple parasites, including worms, mange, ticks, fleas, and fungal, bacterial, and viral infections. The effects of each parasite increase the animal’s vulnerability to others. Thus worm control is an essential part of any sort of effective animal health care.
This is no new observation. It is part of Ayurvedic medical teaching, which includes recommendations of herbal oils that have been given to dogs and other animals since ancient times, to deworm them, fight mange, and keep their coats healthy.
Giving dogs and cats an occasional dose of an edible oil to keep their fur shiny is also part of the western pet-keeping tradition.
Recalled Salter, “Our in-house dog Lucy, whom we often mention in our blurbs, had extremely bad mange. For years every volunteer vet we had tried to treat it. Lucy would improve for a while, but continued to have outbreaks, and always had a nasty mousey smell, until a volunteer vet from Ukraine came and treated her with mustard oil. It not only did the trick at the time; she has not had an outbreak since. And the smell is gone.”
Mustard oil is a natural fungicide. In Lucy’s case, the mustard oil may have killed a persistent fungus that infected her after the severe mange made her vulnerable.
Note from Lisa Warden: “Here is footage of the puppy on his third day with us: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pxtugbjX0bQ. Here he is exactly three weeks later, wrestling with a couple of my other dogs: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lofcqlagw1s. You can see how much better his body condition is. (Plus of course he’d had a couple of baths and had the tar cut out of his coat.) He had not been neutered yet. The vet advised us to wait because he was so weak and malnourished when we first found him (had rickets too). Here he is a year and half later: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u_44DnEpbxQ.
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