If one can even remember a time before the Covid-19 pandemic, one of the most familiar scenes on the streets of Dhaka were people gathered around tea stalls – snacking, smoking and chatting with friends, colleagues or even total strangers. And almost inevitably around every such gathering would be a friendly canine face or two, waiting eagerly for a kind soul to throw a piece of cookie or cake.
Stray dogs have inhabited Dhaka perhaps for as long as the city has existed, living in harmony with the urban ecosystem and adapting to it. While a cruel practice of culling was once commonplace, animal rights activists in 2014 succeeded in getting a High Court rule banning dog culling in the country.
However, media reports in the last two weeks about Dhaka South City Corporation's (DSCC) plans to relocate all stray dogs within its area to outside the city has worried animal lovers.
Yesterday morning at Satmasjid Road, a group of aggrieved animal lovers joined hands to protest the decision, not with banners and slogans but with brushes and buckets of paint.
People for Animal Welfare (PAW) Foundation organised the event, to depict the struggle of the furry four-legged friends in this city in murals on a wall. Renowned painters Abul Barq Alvi and Kanak Chanpa Chakma inaugurated the event by putting the first brushstrokes on the wall, between Dhanmondi's roads 9/A and 10/A.
A few dozen people were in attendance, some ready to paint the murals, some handling the logistics, while some others came just to support.
Shamim, a BGB personnel currently enjoying leave, was spotted appreciating the artwork. "I came here from Biswa Road to support the initiative, and plan to be here all day today and tomorrow," he told this newspaper.
"Back in my hometown Patuakhali, I have been looking after street dogs and rescuing injured ones since my teenage years. I think it is an unjust decision by authorities to move so many dogs outside the city, because they could all starve to death if they are sent to a new area."
Talking to The Daily Star, eminent artist Abul Barq Alvi said, "If us humans don't look after these animals, they will not be able to survive."
"I often see on my commutes homeless children who live on footpaths caring for and feeding street animals from whatever little they have, and it fills my heart with joy. Love for other beings also make us better humans," he further added.
Underneath the tarpaulin shed on the wall where the murals were being drawn, Richi and Neeti – two architecture students at a private university -- sat waiting for the drawing to finish so they could start the paint job.
"I have been an animal lover since childhood. When the lockdown began in Dhaka, me and some other animal lovers divided Bashundhara Residential Area – where I live – into zones and fed all the dogs there because they did not have food. When I saw that PAW Foundation was looking for volunteers for the event, I knew I had to join. I also brought my friend along to paint," Richi told The Daily Star.
"According to clause 7 of the Animal Welfare Act 2019, killing or removal of any animal without an owner is illegal," Rakibul Haq Emil, founder of PAW Foundation, told this newspaper. "The [DSCC] mayor is currently not in the country. When he comes back, animal rights advocates and other authorities will sit with him to come up with an alternative to this decision, but we thought we could raise some awareness about the importance of street dogs through this event," he added.
The event will come to a close today, with a ceremony scheduled at 4pm.