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Saints and Sinners

It’s very seldom that one can speak of saints quite literally. This then, is a rare occasion. On Sunday, 4th September, 2016, amid the cheers of a crowd of several thousands, Mother Teresa of Calcutta was canonised by Pope Francis, in a beautiful ceremony at Vatican City.

The Pope spoke of Mother Teresa’s noble and selfless service throughout her life, which he said she had dedicated to “bowing down before those who were spent, left to die on the side of the road, seeing in them their God-given dignity.” Born in Skopje, then a part of the Ottoman Empire, Mother Teresa arrived in India in 1929 with the Sisters of Loreto and made India her home until her death in 1997. She set up the ‘Missionaries of Charity’ order in 1950, whose purpose, she said, was to care for “the hungry, the naked, the homeless, the crippled, the blind, the lepers, all those people who feel unwanted, unloved, uncared for throughout society, people that have become a burden to the society and are shunned by everyone.” She was a global ambassador for India and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979, of which she humbly said she was ‘unworthy’.  The process of her canonisation was expedited by Pope John Paul II and finalised today by Pope Francis to the joy of many millions around the world, whose lives she touched.

Meanwhile, back in Delhi, even as people watched the canonisation ceremony live on TV, two other souls were finding their saviour. I had received a message a few days ago, about two labradors whose owner had suddenly realised that dogs grow and require care and that he could not provide that. So, they were up for adoption. I just happened to think of a friend of my parents, who has a particular soft-spot for labradors as well as a gorgeous farmhouse, staff, etc., all the trappings for a perfect home for them. So I reached out to him and he made the necessary calls and agreed to having himself and his home “checked out”. As it happened, the lady who was in charge of the adoption failed twice to keep her appointment to go and meet the family and that was that. I apologised to them on her behalf and said that I’d let them know if another such case came about.

It did. Just two days later. A golden and a black labrador, both a year-and-a-half-old, were being kept caged by their owner who didn’t want them anymore because their daughter-in-law didn’t like them. I timidly approached our friend again and to my surprise and delight, he again stepped up, called the number given and arranged to meet the dogs the following day. And so, on the very auspicious day of the canonisation of Mother Teresa, these two lovely dogs were introduced to our friend and shortly after, drove away with him to a home where another older labrador awaited them and where I am sure they will find all the love, comfort and care that had been denied them.

Rewind to earlier in the week to a separate incident. A golden labrador, believed to be about three-years-old, was dumped outside D.A.V. School, Vasant Vihar, along with a carton full of his medicines and other belongings. He has been rescued by some very competent people who are taking care of him and will eventually find him a suitable home, but every time I think of the picture of him sitting there on the roadside, it tears me apart to imagine what he, and any other abandoned or lost pet for that matter, went through.

Whether abandoning an animal is better, worse or equally deplorable than abandoning a human being, I think just depends on one’s perspective. Since there are many to plead the case of the humans, let me try to offer an insight in to the animal’s thoughts. Try and imagine finding yourself all alone in an unfamiliar world, devoid of all that is familiar to you. Unfamiliar place, unfamiliar faces, unfamiliar food, unfamiliar sounds, unfamiliar commands and demands (if you’re lucky enough to be rescued), hell, maybe even an unfamiliar name. Imagine being amongst a different lot of a different species, whose language you don’t understand, who are taking you places and calling you by a name you don’t recognise, but you can’t even tell them who you are. So, in addition to your family, your home and your sense of security, you lose your identity too. Just like that. That, I imagine is the predicament of the poor creature someone has just had enough of.

These animals too, are very much amongst, “the hungry, the naked, the homeless, the crippled, the blind, the lepers, all those people who feel unwanted, unloved, uncared for throughout society, people that have become a burden to the society and are shunned by everyone.” There is no excuse for us to inflict such suffering on them.

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I hope the person who left this dog gets to see this and has some sort of epiphany, of how a thoughtless act can destroy someone’s world altogether, humans and animals alike.

While the story of the two dogs who got adopted has a happy ending in sight, once they have settled in to their home and the world starts to make some sense to them again, there are many more, waiting for someone who will recognise their God-given dignity. Someone who will be to them their savior, saint and God. They revere us without judgment asking merely for our love and acceptance. Can’t we find the saint inside of us?

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Farewell, sweet friend

I had been expecting it for days and yet when the news came yesterday morning, that sweet, little Santoshi had passed away, it took me by surprise.
This adorable, little dog had taken up residence at the local nursery several years ago, where another dog lived with her puppies. When this other dog got injured in a car accident, Santoshi looked after the pups, apparently even breast-feeding them. She was named ‘Santoshi’ (Hindi for Contentment), because of her calm and peaceful nature. She had many well-wishers like the chai wallah and the nursery guards, who would give her and the other dogs mathri and biscuits through the day.
A few years later, the puppies’ mother was run over by a car. As they cried desperately for her, Santoshi took them under her wing.
When my family and I moved on to the street opposite the nursery, the two pups- Kali and Lalu- were by now full-grown and Kali had acquired a strikingly handsome companion in the timid and gentle Lekhraj. I never got to know Lalu- he too was run over and killed by a car, the same week that two other dogs in the vicinity died in the same way.
Ironically, it was a similar incident that facilitated my formal introduction to Santoshi. It was early winter and she had been sitting on the warm sand at the corner of the street, when a speeding car apparently hit her. I returned home from a hectic day’s work to be greeted with a report of the accident before I could even enter my house. I called the wonderful lady who had been feeding these dogs, among 70-odd others, every single evening for the past four years. She quickly arrived and together, we tried to coax Santoshi out from under a parked car where she had gone in to hiding. While I gingerly tried to lure her out with a biscuit, the lady put me to shame by going down on all fours without any hesitation, checking her for injuries and offering her food and water. Since Santoshi refused to budge and it was already well past the clinic’s closing time, we decided to take her to the vet first thing the following morning.
The whole thing proved to be a serendipitous event, because while she appeared to have no injuries whatsoever from the supposed accident, the x-rays revealed severe arthritis. For the next three months, I religiously sent her some food with a healthy dose of joint supplements and by spring time, she had a spring in her step, as she began trotting about, going off on long walks and joining the other dogs, cats and cows in scavenging at the garbage dump.
Knowing we would not be living there for long, I deliberately avoided getting too close to the dogs, especially she who was quiet and kept to herself. As it happened though, we stayed a few months longer than expected and so, I got her a coat for the winter and decided to build kennels for her, Kali and Lekhraj. Given her small size and my rather generously spaced kennels, I swapped the one for her with a smaller one given by someone to a much larger street dog. Santoshi’s cozy, small kennel was placed on one side of our lane and opposite it, the large kennel which I hoped would permit Kali and Lekhraj to snuggle together as they usually did. To my great delight, Santoshi took to her kennel in no time at all and seeing her happily curled up on a soft cushion, burying herself deep in to the warm blanket, sheltered finally from the harsh Delhi winter air, my heart jumped with joy.
The following day, as I was walking my dog, I saw her again in her kennel, but half an hour later, she was gone. I panicked. It was a bitterly cold day. Where had she gone? I looked around but couldn’t see her anywhere. And then my gaze fell on the big kennel on the other side of the street. Lo and behold, there was little Santoshi, blissfully bundled up and sound asleep! I burst out laughing. What a clever girl! She had obviously seen the kennel still lying vacant and thought, why scrunch up in this little house when there’s a luxury bungalow on offer?!
She battled her way through the winter but had clearly begun to lose a lot of weight and despite my growing concern, I sadly could not manage to do more than go across and give her a small meal and some biscuits every now and then.
When I learned a couple of months ago that she had grown even more frail, I hesitantly asked a friend if she would help out. I never had to repeat my request. She was taken to the vet almost daily, put on a special diet for renal trouble, given fresh, clean water, a comfortable new cushion and God knows what more. Just being her quiet, dignified, self-sufficient self, Santoshi managed to generate a lot of love. She brought together our Dog Squad (See ‘The Birth of the Dog Squad’, August 6th, 2016), and had been till now, its central focal point. She has shown us how much we can help animals and each other by working together and thanks to her we hope many others will be benefitted.
She has also raised a thought in my mind, which I feel merits some serious consideration- Why don’t people adopt old dogs? The street is no place for any dog really, but much like puppies, old dogs require greater care. They are at great risk having lost their agility to dodge traffic, fend for food, run around in search of shelter, tolerate the extremities of weather, not to mention that with age, many develop health issues just like human beings do but alas, they are seldom given the care they need. Imagine them all cleaned up. Well fed. Secure. Happy. Comfortably sprawled on a sofa or a bed or just curled up on the floor, being able to sleep without having to keep one eye half-open for fear of something coming at them. I wish Santoshi had known that feeling. I wish I could have given that to her.
I also wish that I had followed my instincts in the last couple of days and bothered to make the two minute trip down to see her. Every day I told myself I would go, before something happened to her. Every day I found a reason not to. So I had no one but myself to blame for the enormous sense of guilt I felt yesterday, when I finally managed to quite easily find the time to go and see her. Only this time, it was to say goodbye and lay her to rest. Together with another wonderful member of our Dog Squad, who had personally taken great care of Santoshi in the short time she had known her, we buried her close to her home with our love, blessings and thanks.
Santoshi was about 15 years old and had developed renal failure. She will be fondly remembered and missed. God Bless You, sweet Santoshi. May you roam free now in Doggy Heaven and have all the love and comfort you so well deserve.

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When the Sh** Hits the Fan

Let’s go with the American word for it. Poop. It sounds so much better. Everyone does it. Peeing. Vomiting. It’s all perfectly natural but it’s meant to be done in private. And yet, on the streets of Delhi, one sees these activities performed unabashedly in full public view. By humans. When it comes to animals though, we frown upon them doing their business anywhere on our ever-expanding territories.

The other night, I was enjoying the cool, post-rain breeze, walking with my dogs. Our street dog friends escorted us as usual, running ahead and around us, tails a-wagging. We went on our usual route, on to a nice, quiet road in front of the park, a road where most people own and love dogs. A road where the street lights haven’t been working for weeks. As we turned back, I saw one of the street dogs starting to poop in front of someone’s gate. The guard, who had been sitting and chatting with his buddies further down the road, saw the dog at the same time as I did and both of us called out to him to stop. The dog immediately moved away, but he’d already left his visiting card.

The guard immediately turned and asked me, “Do you think it’s right to make a dog do his business in front of someone’s gate?”

“Well, of course not”, I responded, puzzled. It wasn’t my dog who did it. So why do I get the credit, I wondered.

The man continued on his rant. The dogs come with you. Wouldn’t you feel so very upset if a dog pooped outside your house? My feet will get dirty…On and on he went.

I was so annoyed that after dropping my dogs home, I returned to the spot, armed with a roll of toilet paper and a plastic bag, ready to clean up the mess and tell the man what I thought of him.

“I cleaned it. Of course I can’t let you do it”, he said.

“Oh really? Well, you went on telling me about it, so here I am”, I retorted.

Again, he asked, “Do you believe it’s okay to make a dog poop in front of someone’s house”?

Let’s just get something straight here. You can’t make a dog poop anywhere. I’ll never understand why people say that. You can just about stop a dog from pooping in a certain place, but you can’t make them poop at will! Are these people potty or do they really not know jack-shit about dogs?

Here’s the deal, as I told him- People like him may be paid to walk and look after one dog. People like me pay to love and look after all dogs. We feed them so they’re friendly. We sterilize them so they don’t add to the population. We vaccinate them so they’re no threat to anyone. We pick them up and get them treated when they’re left injured and bleeding by some sod doing a 100kmph fly past on crowded, narrow roads. That doesn’t make us accountable for where they do or do not poop. I made one final declaration to the irate guard. I said, leave alone the street dogs, even if his pet dog, walking on a leash, were to poop outside my house someday, no, I wouldn’t be upset. I’d be magnanimous and say it’s a poor animal who doesn’t know any better.

But the whole incident still had me down in the dumps. I thought back to the many, many confrontations I’ve had with aggressive people on the streets, making a big deal about dogs pooping and I couldn’t help but wonder, when we keep on taking over more and more street space, where’s a dog to go?

If you’ve ever walked around any corner in your neighbourhood, you would at some point have been overwhelmed by the stench of urine from a local watering hole. Why is it that people living in posh colonies, with big, fancy houses and bright, shiny cars, can’t spare a toilet for their guards and drivers and what-have-yous to go and take a leak, instead of having them pee on walls?

Once on another night walk with my dog, we were rounding a corner when there was a big rustle in the tree next to us. I shrieked loudly, thinking it was some creepy crawly. Turned out it was just a creepy guard. Poor guy was so alarmed, I fear he might have injured himself as he zipped up and scooted off!

Then there’s that charming Delhi sight of people puking out of a bus window, with all the cars behind them trying to get out of the way of the offending onslaught. Yuck. Or a car door casually opening at a traffic light and some filthy, paan-stained brown spit being spewed on to the road. The smelly bidis. The empty bag of crisps or the plastic drink bottles. The construction materials generously spread out on the road. The big cars lined up on the pavement. All part of our voluntary roadside decoration programme. Why is it then, that when it comes to dogs doing their business, it’s the only time we give a crap?

There’s also the well-traveled camp which vociferously espouses ‘scooping the poop’, something they’ve seen in phoren  countries. I wonder, did they not also see the tremendously efficient efforts to recycle garbage? How come we don’t think of imitating that? What about our poor, ‘holy cows’ and their droppings? May I scoop that up for ya too? While I’m all for scooping, it’s not practical where you’re dodging traffic, there are stray animals on the streets, no garbage bins around and people throw their junk about like they own the whole damn place. In fact, it’s probably thanks to the poop that our streets even get swept. Ask the sweeper and I’m sure he’d say he’s a lot happier sweeping poop than removing animal carcasses when people run them over and leave them on the streets to die.

Unless we develop some civic sense as a community, it’s neither possible nor practical for pet owners to clean up after their dogs.

So, if sometimes you do find dog poop somewhere outside your home, just deal with it. It’s no big shit.