Opinion: On the eve of Deepavali, when warnings are issued on the responsible use of fireworks to safeguard pets, I am reminded that there was a time when our dogs were not afraid of firecrackers. True as Bob.
Our dogs actually revelled in the festivities around Deepavali - our four-legged comrades may not have had an oil bath or got new clothes, but they had lots of goodies to eat and were as excited as humankind’s children when fireworks were let off.
Before the younger generation accuses me of being cuckoo - of getting soft in the brain as the salt becomes more prominent on my head than the pepper - I discussed my conviction about our fireworks-friendly pooches with my older friends.
My buddies that I spoke to, all six of them, unanimously agreed that dogs of yesteryear were fireworks resilient. They did not behave the way today’s party-pooper dogs do during Deepavali when, with ears back, tail tucked and body trembling, they hide in the bathtub or crawl under the bed.
The dogs we grew up with were pyrotechnics-proof - they were unfazed by booms and bangs, sparklers, and showers of bright lights.
Retired veteran journalist Deven Moodley who grew up on a sugar plantation at Kearsney on the KwaZulu-Natal North Coast said the big bangs of those days reverberated as loudly as shot gun fire.
“We would burn a truck tyre and many families from all around - Black, coloured, Indian and white, and including Christians, Muslims and Hindus - would come to our house to participate in the fireworks display,” Moodley said.
“We had several dogs and they would also join in the merriment. There was no need for tranquilisers for our dogs during Deepavali, unlike nowadays when pet shops and pharmacies are inundated with requests for sedatives to calm dogs that otherwise would go berserk from the noise of fireworks.
“With their tails wagging as a sign of happiness, our dogs would chase after fireworks, jump in the air and grab them. They did not howl or whine or run away from the celebrations.
“At the end of the fireworks display, my father would bring out his shotgun and each male fired two shots into the air to signal the end of the fireworks display,” he said, adding the dogs were clearly disappointed that the party was over.
Media marketing executive Shoba Hemrajh grew up in Reservoir Hills, Durban where one of the largest importers of fireworks known for lighting up the skies, lived in the same street.
Now settled in a leafy Johannesburg northern suburb, she said fireworks were almost taboo today because of the city’s strict fireworks regulations and the rights of residents to demand action against illegal fireworks usage.
“However, I can clearly recall that in the days of the Group Areas Act when Reservoir Hills was an entirely Indian suburb, there were fireworks galore in the residential area and hardly any enforcement. Yet there were no issues with the dogs which seemed to cope well,” Hemrajh added.
Information technology expert Jay Naidoo, now settled in Melbourne, Australia, grew up in Asherville, Durban. He recalls that about four decades ago, there were no animal activists complaining about pets being traumatised during Deepavali or even on New Year’s Eve.
“Our dogs did not run away from fireworks. In fact, they ran after fireworks and were not deterred by the loudest thunder crackers,” he said, adding the SPCA did not have to find space in its kennels to accommodate any terrified dogs that had run away from their homes.
Retired Telkom training manager Logan Moodley who grew up in Cavendish, west of Durban, when it was still a farming area, also said the dogs of years gone by definitely handled fireworks differently from the way canines of today do.
“We had lots of space between houses and dogs were not as troubled as they are today. Our dogs were not molly-coddled and taken to the parlour for regular grooming which only thins out the fur. Our dogs had thick coats which must have also acted as a sound barrier, naturally swaddling the animal,” he said.
Support for my belief that many years ago, dogs remained calm, despite loud sounds and explosions, also came from a respected and expert source, Durban veterinarian Dr Sanil Singh.
He said he had personally observed that dogs of yesteryear were more “street wise” than today’s hounds.
“In days gone by, dogs were outdoor animals. They were not cossetted and protected indoors. The dogs roamed the neighbourhood from the time they were puppies. There were few fences between properties and dogs would be fed by neighbours. The dogs became conditioned to withstand loud noises.
“During Deepavali when the fireworks started, owners played with the dog, gave treats and expressed positive emotions. Such dogs were less scared during fireworks.”
Dr Singh said societal changes had also influenced the behaviour of dogs.
“In the past, our dogs ate whatever was left over in the kitchen. Many dogs were fed a diet of phutu and some bones from the dining table. Today, our dogs are fed scientifically-formulated pet foods,” he said.
I remember that my mother would regularly give our dogs curry and rice and they lived long, contented lives. We never bought pet food. Yet some people say curry is not good for a dog as it may lead to unpleasant, painful digestive issues.
Rajah and Balu, the two German Shepherds that share our home, and also fear thunder and fireworks, must have Teflon-coated tongues and stomachs because they thrive on curries - the spicier the better.
Dr Singh reminded me that millions of stray dogs in India survive quite well on just dhal and rice that a caring person may throw their way. Such pavement dogs may never see a piece of meat during their entire lifetime.
Coming back to dogs and fireworks, it must be accepted that our dogs have evolved from wandering wolves into whimpering wussies and, therefore, we must do all we can to protect our pets.
If you really love your pets, refrain from bursting fireworks. Today’s dogs do not dig Deepavali.
On this auspicious and sparkling festival of lights (remember, not fireworks), may the glow of lamps illuminate your life and bring you good health, spiritual prosperity and limitless happiness. Happy Deepavali.
Yogin Devan is a media consultant and social commentator. Reach him on: [email protected]