Indians believe they have four mothers: Mother India, Mother Ganges, a biological mother and Mother cow. Mother cow is the giver of milk and therefore life. Cows wander freely through traffic, nap on medians and nibble on vendors’ veggie stands (sometimes getting a bad-karma bop on the nose, which some of my travel companions witnessed with surprise and amusement). Indians believe it’s good luck – or more accurately – good karma to feed the cows. Some people buy hay to feed the wandering cows.
The first thing an Indian woman does after baking bread each morning is give some bread to the cows.
Next she gives some bread to the street dogs. Lastly she gives bread to her family.
The ubiquitous meandering cows that still give milk all belong to someone. Cows no longer lactating are basic welfare cases that the people look after, receiving good karma to do so. Bulls wander around, too, and are as docile as the cows. Hindus do not eat beef. Many Indians also have water buffaloes, whose milk is consumed and used in cooking. Although water buffaloes are not considered sacred, and don’t have the status and free rein that cows enjoy, they are still considered beef and off limits for consumption.
Indian street dogs don’t look half as miserable as dogs in other third-world countries.
It was reassuring to know that the Indians were looking after them somewhat and treating them more kindly. The Indian dogs were restrained and humble – never barking at people, who they know might feed them. Being a cat lover, I was dreading seeing feral cats, but saw only a handful. Our guide Ranvir said people don’t tend to keep cats as pets, but do have pet dogs. Feral cat numbers are low due to all the feral dogs – a dog-eat-cat world, unfortunately.