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Whisky

A few months ago, while at the local beauty salon and in the course of some polite chitter-chatter, the beautician mentioned to me that she had recently got a puppy. “Oh how nice!”, I said, asking what breed the puppy was and hoping she’d say it was a local desi dog whom she had rescued. When I heard it was a Beagle, I gave her my number and told her to call me if ever she decided she didn’t want him.

“No, no. We are very fond of him”, she said, telling me all about his daily antics. I smiled. “Just keep my number…in case you ever change your mind”.

A couple of months later, the call came. Whisky’s family were not very well-off and when all of them went out to work during the day, there was no one to watch him. He would howl through the day, locked up in a small apartment. So they realised he would probably be better off in a larger home and with people always around him.

My plan for such a situation was very simple and straight-forward. There is a wonderful lady I have come to know well, who runs a great place where rescued dogs or others in need of a home are kept in a very dignified, hygienic and happy environment while she finds them a befitting home. By her own admission, her vetting process (no pun intended), often puts people off, but I agree with her completely that if someone who ostensibly cares about animals is unprepared to convince her that theirs would be a home where the animal would be respected, loved and looked after and that they have the space, help, family consent and finances to be able to do so well, how can they possibly be relied upon? So, I thought I’d send Whisky to her and that she would find him a super home and we’d all live happily ever after.

If only I’d stuck to the plan. Instead, I remembered a friend with an old, female beagle was looking for a male pup to keep her other dog company. When I checked with her if she wanted Whisky, she said she unfortunately couldn’t take in a new dog at the time but she pleaded with me to get him out of his existing home as soon as possible. She would keep him with her and through her work with a very well-known animal welfare organisation, she thought they’d find him a good home very soon. I agreed.

I went to collect Whisky, who greeted me warmly and readily jumped in to my car. I felt very bad for the beautician’s young daughter who was there to hand him over to me. I hugged her as she cried and promised her I would find him a wonderful home where he would be very happy and that she could always check with me about him, if not even get to see him.

Off we went to my friend’s house, where her Beagle and Whisky hit it off pretty quickly and were chasing each other around the garden and in and out of the house, in no time. I secretly hoped my friend would change her mind and keep him.

Alas. A few days later he was sent to a foster home, arranged by the welfare organisation. It was a group of college students who shared an apartment and someone was always there with him but they didn’t have much experience with dogs and were finding it hard to manage a confused, young, naughty little puppy. I wasn’t happy.

Then I learned he had been adopted by a rich family who had a large house in a posh, South Delhi neighbourhood. The girl had apparently been looking to adopt a rescued Beagle for a long time and had begged and pleaded for Whisky to come to her. I decided to call them in a day or two to check on him, since I felt he was my responsibility, having promised his first, young little owner.

Imagine my surprise and horror when I saw him the next day, totally per chance, on facebook, up for adoption. The post didn’t give his name and I couldn’t really recognise him from the picture but it seemed uncanny for another Beagle of the same age to be looking for a home at the same time. I made desperate enquiries and my fears were confirmed. Whisky was up for adoption. Again. When I spoke to the man who had put up the post, I found him completely unapologetic. His sister was the one who had been wanting to get Whisky but she hadn’t thought to check with their mother, so when he arrived at home, the lady of the house threw a right, royal fit. The man insisted that they were a family of great animal lovers but then also informed me that the staff had left Whisky in the living room all night. It was all I could do not to lose my temper, especially not before I had rescued the poor dog, who was clearly in the wrong place. I was very angry with the organisation too for having let this adoption get so botched up.

I wanted to get him back immediately but the friend whom I trusted to find him a good home couldn’t pick him up that evening. Where would he spend the night? A lady had responded to the facebook post and they had pretty much decided to give him to her before I jumped in to the picture and they realised they would need my ok. In my desperation for him not to go to YET another foster home, I decided to check out the lady myself. She seemed very nice. I went to pick her up and then to get Whisky. They appeared to bond well in the car ride back to her house. Her maid was another story, completely unimpressed by him and devoid of even the basic curiosity which one would expect from someone when a new pup arrives home. But the lady assured me she would manage and all would be ok. It wasn’t a large house. The help was not helpful. But the lady was kind and loving and the situation was a desperate one. So I left Whisky with her.

To her and her son’s credit, for about a month, they tried to do the best they could for him. He was naughty, he would sometimes attack their other Beagle, they had to toilet train him, etc., etc. and they gladly did. But things weren’t settling down and I didn’t like the reports I was getting so I asked her if she wanted me to ask my friend to find him a home. “Not yet”, she insisted over and over again. Then finally, she tearfully asked me to go ahead.

The very next morning, she messaged to say Whisky had been adopted. A family driver had recommended someone and in a moment of utter madness, she had gone and given Whisky to him. Within a day, he had been passed along to another driver in Karol Bagh. I was livid. I persuaded her to get him back and early the following morning, she handed him over to my friend. My original plan. I paid for his boarding- the least I could do for this poor, sweet dog who had changed five homes in one month. The thought of how traumatic it must have been for him made me cry and kept me awake at night. Now, finally, he was in safe hands.

Whisky now has a new home, a new family (including a lovely, black Labrador with whom he gets along famously), a nice, new red coat and a new name. He has settled down very well and is loved and cared for. He sleeps a lot and is calm and relaxed, quite unlike how he was before. He probably realises he is finally home. May his worst days be far behind him.

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What NOT to buy when the sales are on

For the past few days, a rather disturbing ad has been appearing on my facebook timeline. The picture of two cute little puppies instantly caught my eye. When I read the accompanying text however, I thought I had perhaps misunderstood. I read it again. And again, with growing consternation. The ad read: “Get a new buddy” with “Assured next day delivery”. I immediately wrote a comment advising the site to stick to selling pet accessories and not pets themselves in this most flippant and careless way. My comment was soon removed. I tried again. Again, my comment was deleted. A couple of days later, I saw a similar comment by someone else, asking why this site was selling dogs when so many are in need of homes, to which the wholly unconvincing reply was that some of the dogs they sell are shelter dogs. Yeah right.

Where do I even begin on why this sale of pets online is so totally, totally wrong?

On any given day, there are innumerable adoption appeals for dogs (both pedigree and non-pedigree), who are either homeless, abandoned, injured or abused. Excuses for abandoning dogs, some of whom are old and have lived with their family for years, range from “Our son has just got married and our daughter-in-law doesn’t want the dog in the house”, to “the dog has grown too big” to “the dog smells”. Each more deserving than the other of getting the owner one tight smack. Clearly, these kind of people have never understood the true meaning of having a pet- of the pet being an inherent part of the family or of their responsibility and commitment towards the animal. Perhaps they bought their pets online…

Perhaps not. But such things are happening. Every day. And it’s heart-breaking for the animal of course and for anyone else who has half a heart and a little empathy. Sites like the one in question- www.mypetshop.in or the infamous OLX, who voluntarily offer animals for sale online, show a complete lack of understanding themselves of the meaning of owning a pet. Aside from obviously working hand in glove with breeders who are notorious for the torturous conditions under which they confine animals and breed them until their bodies give way; in-breeding which is responsible for increasing health issues in so-called ‘highly-pedigreed’ dogs and for seperating pups from their mothers long before they should, such websites encourage the spontaneous, thoughtless, unprepared acquisition of a pet which, more often than not, is likely to end badly. It is callous, irresponsible and immoral to say the least and such websites should be boycotted if not banned altogether.

 

 

 

As for prospective buyers from such sites, one cannot help but wonder if they truly understand the enormity of bringing home a new family member or if they even realise that that is what having a pet is supposed to be all about. And if they can’t take the trouble to go and see the puppy or kitten and have a few moments of bonding with them before bringing them home, can they really be expected to love them and care for them well for the rest of their lives?

I also fail to understand how people who claim to be animal lovers can, at the time of taking on a pet, become so very selective of whom they shower that love upon. While day after day, street dogs, (new-born, young and old), or abandoned pedigree dogs (new-born, young and old), all with a special story of their own, fail to strike a cord with such people, a puppy with some certificate (most of which are fake by the way!), finds a home all too easily, often till it ceases to be a pup and then guess what? It joins the many in the abandoned list.

If you really do care for animals, if you really do want a pet, please consider joining one of the many adoption groups on social media or through well-known NGO’s such as Friendicoes, Sai Ashram, Red Paws Rescue, etc. Allow them to ask you questions and judge whether your home is fit for a pet. If you really, really do care, listen  to them. Make your home the right home. It is in the interest of the pet you supposedly care for and in yours. And if you don’t have the patience to check out your pet or be checked out yourself, then please save your money, spare the animal the trauma and buy yourself a nice, cute, furry little stuffed toy online. Because that would probably be more your thing.

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Sound, Light and Smog

 

It’s that time of the year again, the so-called festive season. If only one person’s idea of merriment wasn’t at the cost of another’s health.

The Delhi winter is every bit as brutal as its gruelling summer. From the scarcely tolerable 46ºC, temperatures dropped dramatically last week, the day after Dusshera. Soon, just when one has started to enjoy the balmy autumn weather, it will be gone and the short but harsh winter will be upon us. We Dilliwallas are pretty well-attuned to dealing with the vagaries of temperature, but that is the least of Delhi’s problems. Winter brings with it a grey, toxic, smothering smog, which envelopes the city and brings in its wake asthma, allergies, cardiac problems, headaches, colds, coughs and more. With each passing year, the alarm bells sounded by state and non-state organisations, newspapers, radio and TV channels grow louder and the warnings more ominous. Those who can afford it run around buying air purifiers for their homes. Those who can’t, miraculously carry on with their lives as normal, braving the cold and the deadly air without masks and sometimes without shelter. As an asthmatic myself, my heart bleeds for the millions who suffer bronchial disorders. It’s something I would not wish on my worst enemy. But at least humans can express their discomfort. When I think of the poor animals on the streets and their suffering, well that is what really, really kills me.

Just this week I bumped in to a lady from our neighbourhood who had brought her lovely, young Golden Labrador to the vet’s. She told me he’d been coughing and was on the nebuliser. I realised suddenly that this seemed to be becoming quite a common complaint from fellow pet owners whom I have recently encountered. It made me wonder that while people are constantly being advised to take measures to safeguard against the Delhi pollution, our poor animals are subjected to a far worse dose of it. Who’s looking after them?

 Aside from the pollution and smog, we senseless creatures insist on adding to it with fireworks and noise. Diwali- the festival of lights, albeit a Hindu festival, is celebrated by people across religions, regions, castes and socio-economic classes in India. It is a celebration of the return of Lord Ram from Lanka, having rescued his kidnapped wife, Sita, from the demon Ravan, whom he slayed. It is essentially a celebration of the triumph of Light over Darkness, Good over Evil. Much like every other celebration in India however, it has been degraded in to not a day, but rather several weeks of unruly, thoroughly uncivilised “celebrations”, which are very much in-your- face and whose damaging effects are for all to bear as the already polluted air fills with the toxic chemicals, ear-shattering sound and suffocating smoke of several million firecrackers bursting across the country.

I have long wondered why, given that our pollution levels are life-threatening, our government doesn’t put a ban or at least some very serious restrictions on people bursting fireworks. It seems like the most logical, necessary thing to do. Sadly though, it requires both, a civilized society and a caring government to take such a measure and we seem not to have either. A government which worked sincerely in the interest of its people would not hesitate to take a firm and likely unpopular decision with regards to giving people free rein to further pollute the almost unbreathable air. But we haven’t seen that ilk of politicians for a while. No government would be willing to piss off the majority Hindu populace, which is too short-sighted to realise that their uncontrolled expressions of joy and festivity are costing lives- those of others and their own. I’ve tried to imagine telling a zealous firecracker supporter, “Don’t burst firecrackers! They’re polluting the air!” And I imagine the reply being, “What?! No firecrackers? It’s Diwali! Firecrackers are a tradition!” Right. Of course. Because somewhere in the mythological tale of the Ramayan (a part which I obviously missed), Lord Ram killed the evil Ravan, rescued Sita, then returned home to a lavish party where he and the other Gods played the popular card game Teen Patti and set off Chinese-made fireworks.

Morons. Don’t people see that if we don’t let go of some of these daft, self-created “traditions”, there may be no traditions at all for future generations. We’re shortening our lives and of those around us and there is no justification for that.

I do remember a happier, healthier time, when I was a child and half the neighbourhood would gather at my grandmother’s house on Diwali night. It was a very different kind of Diwali party than the ones you see today. There were no fancy caterers, but rather my Dadi’s home-made, delicious matar-ke-parathe and hare dhaniye ke aloo, along with hot tea in earthen kulhars and alcoholic beverages for the so inclined. Several generations of people would land up. Yes, there were some fireworks (and no pollution in those days), but there were also a lot of traditional, handmade decorations, lighting, puja, etc. It was the ‘real thing’ and everyone was a part of it. Over the years though, the fireworks and gambling somehow took over. Along with the skies, the festival itself got terribly polluted somewhere down the line, with the invention of new firecrackers that emit sound, rather than light. The most idiotic invention of all time I think.

There was realisation very early on of the damaging effects of firecrackers and I remember my own mother coming to my school in an official capacity along with a very popular radio jockey, to launch one of the very first anti-firecracker campaigns. It made sense to us, even as kids and for a couple of years, things greatly improved. But there are always those who spoil it for everyone else and when India’s economy opened up a few years later and created millionaires overnight, firecrackers became yet another ridiculous measure of opulence and social standing.

My breathing trouble kept me indoors, in an air conditioned room, along with my poor dog, who was petrified of the noise. Ironic, isn’t it, that the pets who bring light in to our lives should be so traumatised by the Festival of Lights? For most pet owners, it’s a dreaded time. Dogs tend to run away or get terribly frightened. Street dogs scurry around, desperately seeking shelter from the noise and bright lights. Many are abused and maimed by godless people who think setting off firecrackers near them is amusing. The roads are littered with soot, gunpowder and toxic remnants from the previous night’s extravaganza, which mix in the food and water those poor animals live off. Night after night, at all unearthly hours, bombs and fireworks go off, preventing hard working labourers, elderly people and animals from even getting a proper night’s sleep. One helluva festival, eh?

It is very much in our own interest to voluntarily stop bursting firecrackers or lighting lamps which emit smoke. Let’s tone down our Diwali celebrations so we may live to have some more. Let’s open our hearts in the true spirit of festivity, allowing others their peace and quiet. Your freedom ends where mine begins.

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In Good Times and in Bad

It had been a perfectly nice Raksha Bandhan day, with much sibling love being spread around the world via every possible mode of communication. I tied a Rakhi on my little Beagle, as I do every year; we had relatives and friends dropping in with delicious mithai and it was generally a day of celebration of family ties.

For our dear friends who live two houses down though, the good cheer was about to be brought to a rude, abrupt halt. As the news of a fire in their house made its way down the rather short grapevine between our homes, I immediately ran across to see if everyone was okay and if there was any way to help.

Typically, there was already a crowd that had gathered outside the house. I quickly found the lady of the house and asked if they were all safe.

“The dogs are there”, she said to me. Gosh, I had quite forgotten about the dogs, since I’d only met them a couple of times. They were safe on the terrace, she told me, describing how she had tried to bring them down, but they refused. The old dog, with a hip problem, wouldn’t come down the stairs from the fourth floor anyway, since she was accustomed to using the lift. The lady had tried and tried and then had finally managed to convince the dogs to go up to the terrace where they are used to playing. The tiniest of them all, she had scooped up in her arms and brought out of the building, when after several minutes, a family member had managed to cajole her in to evacuating the premises.

Normally, I would have panicked at the thought of dogs on the roof of a building on fire, but A. the fire itself seemed well under control and not even visible from the outside, and B. I knew these people to be big-time and long-time animal lovers, who would definitely have ensured their pets’ safety.

The incident, although far less dramatic, brought back disturbing memories which have yet to turn foggy, of a fire that had occurred on the floor above ours in the house we used to live in. To be honest, calling it a fire is a gross understatement. What began as a gas leak in the upstairs kitchen, causing a fire, then spread to the air conditioner cables of three 2-tonne  ACs which exploded all together. The noise was deafening and the explosion sent a shower of glass just past our balcony, set off car alarms and destroyed the upstairs apartment entirely. Fortunately, the poor inhabitants escaped with injuries they have since recovered from.

Down at our place, I had just poured a glass of wine for a visiting fellow-journalist, whom I had been helping and who I was meeting for the first time, on his way to the airport. I had his large backpack shoved in to my room, so that my inquisitive, little Beagle, wouldn’t decide to have a pee on it. We had barely been sitting five minutes when the explosion occurred. No one immediately comprehended what had happened, since there was no visible fire. The cook’s wife opened the door to the stairway to try and see what had happened. Big mistake. Right behind her was my desi dog, Lily, who is absolutely terrified of loud noises. In fact, she’s a basket case not only when it comes to Diwali, but also when a door bangs loudly, a clogged motorcycle pipe makes a loud report or even when the lights go out and the UPS beeps. So, given that the noise of the explosion was enough to scare the living daylights out of anybody, it was not surprising that Lily took off, with the cook running behind her and me behind him, entirely forgetting the poor, bewildered journalist in my living room. As I went around desperately asking people if they’d seen my dog, he suddenly appeared behind me and  joined the search. My parents meanwhile, called me saying we needed to evacuate the building because it seemed there had been a fire on the floor above. I temporarily abandoned the search to go home and gather my other three dogs. Fortunately, they cooperated and I quickly loaded them in to the car. The journalist, who had been standing quietly outside, then timidly reminded me that his bag and passport were inside. Poor guy! We made a dash in to the house, retrieved the bag and ran out. When he asked if I could call him a cab, I thought I might beat him! Luckily, the cook had by then, caught up with Lily and was waiting for us to come and pick them up, so I decided to call the cab and get the poor guy out of the way.

With Lily now safely back with us, my father parked the car around the corner from the building and returned to see what was going on. Away from the noise and the fire engine and the crowd, I sat in the car with my dogs for nearly an hour, reassuring them that it would all be okay. It was a night I would rather forget.

 

Having experienced that traumatic event, I could well empathise with our friends now, waiting for permission to get back in to their building and to their dogs.

As I lay in bed that night, imagining what our friends and their dogs must be going through, I couldn’t help but wonder- in a city like New Delhi where such situations are not uncommon, when it comes to our own safety and more so, that of our pets, how prepared are we to handle a crisis?

Google had some useful links to offer:

http://www.akc.org/learn/dog-health/evacuation-caring-dog-fire-natural-disaster/

http://www.humanesociety.org/issues/animal_rescue/tips/pets-disaster.html

However, I think any disaster plan needs to take in to account your particular circumstances. Is your pet one to stall or run? Can you carry your pet? Where would your pet be safest? These are questions that we must keep in mind while devising a plan for an emergency situation. I also came up with a few very basic things which could apply to anyone:

  1. Keep your pet’s collar and leash close by or near the exit so you don’t risk them running away or towards harm.
  2. Avoid leaving your pet alone in a closed house. If you must, ask someone to keep an eye on them.
  3. Avoid leaving your pet alone in a closed room, with or without air conditioning. Even if the air conditioner is on, it’s best to leave the room door ajar so they can get out if they are uncomfortable.
  4. Have your vet’s emergency number handy at all times.
  5. Once the immediate crisis is over, remember to provide water to your pet.

Most importantly, I think, we need to stay with our pets during a crisis because for them, familiarity is probably the greatest reassurance of all. Unfortunately, we live in a country where emergency services are not entirely efficient and the lives of animals are not a high priority. That is why it is incumbent on us to look out for the safety of our pets. Please, take a few minutes to put together a contingency plan to keep you and your pets safe. Staying safe and staying together. Isn’t that really all that matters?

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Are your pets really a part of your family?

It’s been a hectic year for my family. Moving house is an arduous task as it is and more so when you have pets. We moved to a rented place nearby, while our home of many years was being rebuilt. A few weeks later, a taxi driver who had rescued a tiny pup decided to leave her outside our home. Usual story- we took her in because we felt she was too small to be left on her own, tried to find a good home for her but of course, people are most reluctant to adopt desi dogs. One of my other young female dogs was not in agreement and so the little one was sent to sleep in the servant’s room on the terrace. She got used to us and we to her and that was that. We had left with three dogs and returned with four.

When we moved back to our sparkly new home, we hired a trainer and had both the dogs enter together, so as to avoid either of them becoming territorial.

I miss the wonderful maid we had, with whom I could entrust my dogs completely, knowing that her fondness and concern for them was genuine and beyond the call of duty. Since she left for personal reasons, it’s been tough to manage them all. So, there I was, telling a dear friend about how the situation was stressful and made it difficult for me to have a normal social life these days.

“Well, then what are you going to do about them?”, he asked.

“What do you mean?”, I replied, confused.

“You got the dogs when you had help, but now that you don’t, why not give them away?”

I was dumbfounded that any good friend of mine could even suggest such a thing and I tried to laugh, telling him that was never an option.

But he argued that it was the only way. When I explained that for my parents and me, our pets are like our children and they are very much a part of the family, my friend retorted that one couldn’t possibly compare dogs with children. He has neither, incidentally.

I rallied that this was exactly the kind of mentality that I go out of my way to correct in people who get pets without comprehending the responsibilities towards them. It is all too common in Delhi for people to buy dogs as cute, little puppies and then find that they cannot or would rather not, manage them as they get older and bigger. As the conversation grew uncomfortably tense, we both sensibly decided to say bye.

But it brought back to me, the thought which has so often come to mind and left me baffled time and again. How can people abandon their pets? Admittedly, there may be circumstances so difficult that it would warrant giving up one’s pet- that too only to a good home, not abandoning them by the roadside- but I find that more often than not, it’s just the easy way out for people too uncaring and immature to bother with finding a solution to whatever problem they may be facing. Pets are meant to be treated like members of a family. They are intelligent, emotional beings that build attachments and become dependent on and loyal to their owners. Animal lovers have seen time and time again, what a traumatic thing it is for a pet to be abandoned. I wonder, if someone’s child were getting too boisterous, or a family member were sick or there was a big event at home, would one shoo away one’s parents or children? Why is it different then for pets?

One of the many great lessons in life that my grandmother taught me, was that the most valuable thing you can give to someone is your time. Time with parents, grandparents, children, uncles and aunts and of course, pets. I’ve found that interaction with dogs and I daresay other pets, helps them to develop their personalities and helps us to become more sensitive, kind and compassionate human beings. My commitment to my pets means I need time to engage with them individually every single day, take them personally to the vet, walk them occasionally and ensure that they are well looked after even in my absence. Yes, I need some physical help to do all this, but it’s important that I too am involved in my pets’ lives because they are very much a part of my family. However tiring it can sometimes be to look after four of them, they are and always will be mine to look after, just as they look after me. Whether it’s a period of stress, an economic crunch or a bout of illness, we’ll all get through it if we just manage to give one another what we need the most- time and love.IMG_20141016_125337