David Stairs

I once saw a mounted policeman in Philadelphia charge down a street at a full gallop chasing a felon. In my neighborhood, South 9th Street, there were even a few remaining stables. This was, of course, a 17th century city that late in the 20th century that still had a mounted police unit. In most places in America, those times are long past.

Temple elephant on Pondicherry street

But India is different. While in India my son and I encountered urban animals on a daily basis. Cows are everywhere. They lollygag across busy streets, and lounge in front of temples. One can find them in the markets, being milked on the streets and chomping on vegetable waste. Once in awhile someone will shooo one away, but generally speaking, they are treated with great respect. Remember, Nandi was Shiva’s mount, deserving of great respect.

Cow being milked at a market

Horses and oxen are still used for hauling by some people. There were always ox carts near busy markets, and horse carts navigating the traffic of busy intersections.

Donkeys were common. There was a group that foraged in our neighborhood, and could always be seen grazing and crossing streets together.

In Benares monkeys, the descendents of Hanuman, are sacred. During our stay there a troop occupied the temple tree next door to our guest house on Kedawar Ghat, and some slept on our roof at night. In Bangalore traveling troops passed through our tree-filled neighborhood on a regular basis, moving from treetop to rooftop with relative ease.

Benares monkey

Dogs are always underfoot, and many careworn mongrels travel in packs and sleep on the sidewalks (but only on the shady parts). For the most part, these city dwellers are tolerant of and tolerated by humans, which is good because there are a lot of them.

Birds, of course, are everywhere and some, like crows, proved to be territorial, head-bombing any passerby they deemed too close. And goats; let’s not forget them!

Goat transport

For the most part, Indian tolerance for animals in the city struck me as very healthy. Unlike Americans, who differentiate themselves from even domesticated creatures, treating them as “other” and isolating them either on factory farms or in wilderness areas, Indians live with animals. Perhaps this is changing. The City of Portland, Oregon allows backyard chickens and is about to permit goats in town, too. Maybe there’s hope yet for us becoming as healthy as our “developing world” brethren.

Maya Mori’s backyard chicken coop, Portland, OR

David Stairs is the founding editor of Design-Altruism-Project