Stray dogs in India have long been considered a menace but they’ve been getting some seriously bad press this year.
Last month, in the southern state of Kerala, a pack of 50 dogs brutally attacked a 65-year old woman. After she succumbed to her injuries, the state government declared war, promising to kill the “dangerous” strays who have reportedly bitten over 100,000 people in the state over the past year.
Kerala’s stray dog crisis is drawing a lot of attention because rabies is a serious issue in India, killing around 20,000 people every year. India accounts for 35% of total rabies deaths, according to the Global Alliance for Rabies Control, more than any other country in the world.
Indeed, in March, Mumbai’s civic authorities declared that between 1994 and 2015, 429 people died from rabies caused by dog bites. That’s more than the combined death toll of the 1993 and 2011 terror attacks in the city, which together killed 421 people.
Understandably, Indians are on edge. But a new Facebook and Instagram community, Mongrels of India, is out to improve the reputation of the country’s stray dogs. Inspired partly by the wildly popular Humans of New York, the project aims to change the popular perception of Indian strays, one impossibly cute photo at a time.
Founded by Hyderabad-based Arpita Rao, the community has been posting photos of stray dogs since Sept. 20, gathering over 700 Facebook followers (and counting) in a week.
“Yes, some dogs can be dangerous, but that’s when they’re brought up in a hostile environment and treated aggressively,” Rao said in an email. ”My aim is to educate and inspire (people). Show them the million ways in which mongrels can be their source of happiness (and) protection.”
The project also plans to feature the stories of Indians who have adopted stray dogs, crowd-sourced from across the country, to encourage more people to welcome local breeds at home. That’s a better option than spending lakhs on foreign breeds, like Siberian Huskies and Saint Bernards, that are utterly unsuitable for the climate.
In its small way, Mongrels of India is an essential counterpoint to all the scary stories about stray dogs.