Lonely Planet Writer

Mystery explained: local vets solve the curious case of Mumbai’s blue dogs

‘Blue dogs’ might sound like the ultimate Elvis Presley medley, but in Mumbai, people have spotted the real thing, running around the streets of India’s most populous city, and as blue as Papa Smurf. The first of these bottle-blue canines was spotted earlier this year in the Mumbai suburb of Taloja, and there have since been dozens of reports from surprised locals.

This photo taken on August 17, 2017 shows a stray dog with a light blue hue on a street near the Kasadi River in the Taloja industrial zone in Mumbai. Image by STR/AFP/Getty Images

Now vets from the Navi Mumbai Animal Protection Cell, the Mumbai equivalent of the RSPCA, have provided an explanation after capturing one of the bluebottle dogs and giving it a thorough examination. Despite worries that the dogs had been poisoned by chemical waste, initial studies suggest the dogs have been swimming in the outflow from chemical dye factories, which empty their waste untreated into the Kasadi River.

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Despite the sky-blue paint-job, the dogs appear to be healthy and seem to be suffering few ill effects from swimming in the chemical waste. Vets were able to return one captured pooch to its natural colour after a few vigorous baths with strong detergents. In previous years, the blue dogs might have been left alone as a curiosity, but India is currently engaged in a national programme to protect the estimated 30 million stray dogs roaming around its towns and cities. In May this year, an amendment to the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960 imposed strict regulations on the breeding of dogs, and new requirements on owners to provide adequate food and shelter.

One of Mumbai’s free-roaming dogs. Image by Bhavin Lapasiya / EyeEm/Getty Images

According to reports from the Indian Humane Society, some 60% of India’s dogs are ‘community-owned’, living off scraps handed out by local people, but effectively feral and living wild in areas of human habitation. While many are quite tame, the strays are often mistreated and carry diseases from their poor diet and drinking polluted water. Hundreds of volunteers travel to India every year specifically to provide care for these resourceful but neglected animals.