My Stray Dogs

When I call myself a mother to Casper and Junior, I also call myself a mother to my stray dogs. It has been almost 8 years that I have been feeding, medicating, vaccinating, etc. the stray dogs in my neighborhood. My heart fills with joy every time I see them running towards me each time I get out of the house. However, today, I am going to share some experiences which have left deep marks on my life and soul.

Let me start with my best and oldest stray pooch Caddy. I don’t remember when and from where he started taking shelter in my building, but I do remember, he was just a small cute puppy when I first saw him. I was scared of dogs that time, but my Mom encouraged me to feed him. So I started pouring milk in his bowl and running away in the fear that he might bite me. After I got Casper, and eventually when I stopped getting scared of dogs, I got closer to Caddy. He lived in my building where we had made a little shelter for him to sleep and had his dedicated bowls for food and water. He lived for 16 years, and one day he disappeared. I knew he wouldn’t make it for long as he had started falling ill, barely walked and ate. I searched for him for weeks, asked around, asked the municipality if they had picked a dog, everything, but I never found him. I know stray dogs never die in front of us. And one day, I accepted the fact that he was gone.

There was another puppy which I was feeding in my vicinity. Actually they were a litter of 5 puppies. I got the mother neutered after she stopped milking her babies. But sadly 2 puppies died in an accident. I tried a lot to get the remaining 3 puppies adopted. One day, 2 of them got adopted and the third one was left alone, so I took him with me. Unfortunately, both the puppies were returned the next day. So the puppy that I had, I returned him to his siblings and mother. Soon, one of the puppies developed high fever and started crying in the night. I thought she had tick fever and took her to the vet and started her treatment. When her blood reports came, she didn’t have tick fever, but the puppy had started trembling by then. That’s when the vet realized that she had distemper. That horrible day I can never forget when I carried that puppy in my arms and drove from north to south Mumbai, 3 hospitals, 8 hours of agony as no hospital had an isolation ward for distemper. Finally, one of the worst hospital agreed to treat her and I had to get her admitted against my will as she was critical and no clinic too would treat her. She passed away after 4 days of being admitted. It doesn’t end here, as distemper is contagious and the other puppy, her brother too had contracted it and he too passed away after some days. The remaining one puppy, was saved as he was vaccinated by the adopter before dropping him back.

There was an under construction building which was home to a lot of dogs. Some big, some puppies, some old. I was feeding nearly 25 dogs there. A dog had just given birth to cute puppies. They were so adorable that I would leave early from home just to play with them before I hit the office. One morning, as usual I told the watchman to whistle so that all the dogs would gather at the feeding spot and I could feed them and play with them, but 2 puppies didn’t come. I told the watchman to go look for them and after 2 minutes he came running to me telling me fanatically that they were not waking up. I went there and tried to shake them and realized, they had passed away in their sleep hugging each other due to the cold weather. They were just 1.5 months old and my heart was shattered into pieces seeing their position. I still cry thinking about it.

Another one was, I had shifted to a new apartment. And as usual, I got down to look for dogs to feed them. I found 10 dogs. 4 older dogs and 6 puppies. Soon they became friendly with me and Junior. The routine started as always. Junior and me would get down for walk, feed them and play with them. All these dogs would walk with us and protect us and never let anyone near us. Living in Mumbai, we have very heavy rains and I always fear about the puppies as big dogs find shelter somewhere or the other, but puppies stay where they have been staying. And one night, my worst fear became a reality. We received the first heavy rainfall of the season. I immediately took my umbrella and torch to see the puppies and transfer them to a safer place as they were living in a gutter. I searched but couldn’t find them. Neither did I find the big dogs. I thought that they must have followed the mother dog to a safer place. Next morning when the rains had stopped, I got down and the watchman told me that the municipality truck had picked up the bodies of all the six puppies and 2 big dogs. They all drowned in the gutter. In one night, I had lost 8 dogs due to rains.

And my last so far painful experience is, the two dogs that were left behind or let’s say, that were saved from the rains were living well and healthy. 4 years had passed since the last incident. I continued looking after these two dogs. One of the dog had a maggot wound and I had recently treated her. She had completely recovered and was doing fine. The other dog is a senior dog, around 12-13 years old and this dog was 5 years old. One morning when I got down for Junior’s walk, I noticed she didn’t eat her food and was trying grasp for air. I did a little physical examination and didn’t see any wound or bite mark or maggot wound. I assumed she must be just acting out weird because of the weather or something not so critical. After a few hours, I got a call from one of the building guys telling me that she has puss coming out of her eyes and cannot breathe. I immediately ran down, looked at her and she tried reaching out to me, but couldn’t. She was lying down below a car breathless. I started calling various NGOs and Animal Helplines but not one single person was ready to come to check on her or send her an ambulance because it was a Sunday. I couldn’t take her myself as she was snapping. During my phone calls, she came out from below the car and threw up green bile, ran inside the gutter and let out a loud cry. That was the last I heard from her. She passed away within minutes. Till date I don’t know what had happened to her.

Some incidents, good or bad, always leave an impression on my heart and I can never forget them. Sometimes I wish I could bring all the stray dogs home. What a sorry state they live in. Such beautiful creatures, yet we humans treat them so poorly. All they give is unconditional love and loyalty. I have vowed that after Junior if I ever think of getting a pet, it will be a stray dog. I have realized that whether you have a stray dog as a pet or a pedigree dog, doesn’t matter. All dogs fill your heart with lots of happiness and love. I will also continue to look after all the strays I can; I know I have limitations and there are times my best is not enough. But I will continue doing what I can and save as many lives as possible. There is a saying which goes “How do you change the world? One random act of kindness at a time”. I urge all of you to be kind and compassionate. It could be something as small as leaving a bowl of water in your building for stray pets or getting as involved as you can. Step by step, we can all make this world a better place for all living creatures!

Don’t shop, Adopt!

Many of you must have heard the latest catch-phrase, “Adopt, Don’t Shop?” If not, then you might be wondering what it means. Adopt, Don’t Shop is a campaign slogan that a growing number of animal rights proponents are using to promote adopting pets from shelters, rather than buying them from pet stores. Now you must be wondering that I had 2 dogs, both Labradors, one passed away and the other I can’t top raving about, and, I am talking about adopting and not shopping? As oxymoron my title and my current life may sound; I can safely confess that I realised this only after getting my dogs and becoming an animal lover. Today, I take care of some stray dogs, and over a period of time I have realised that no matter the breed, each and every dog has only two things to give, unconditional love and loyalty.

Initially when I was a new dog mom, wasn’t much involved with strays; as funny as it may sound, my involvement with stray dogs has also been accidental. One day, I was driving through my local market and had to suddenly brake as there were puppies on the road. On reaching home, I couldn’t stop thinking about them, and so, the very next day, I went back to the same spot with a packet of milk. I wasn’t even aware how many puppies were there or if they were even being looked after; I just went there to feed them. Now that I think about, my love for strays didn’t exactly start there. When I was living happily with my husband, I would always see a stray dog at a particular hour come near my apartment in search of food. I guess it all began back then; I would feed that dog every evening after realising his pattern.

Post separation, I shifted to a rented house and continued to take care of any and every dog I could. Once, I recollect, I saw a puppy limping at a traffic signal which was at walking distance to my house. I immediately went there and noticed there were not one, but two puppies out of which one was hit by a car. I called an NGO and got the puppy admitted to a hospital. Since I was in continues touch with them, the NGO volunteers informed me that the puppy’s internal organs were inflated and had to undergo a major surgery for the same. I donated some money, and after the puppy recovered, he was adopted by a loving and caring lady. His brother, unfortunately was not so fortunate, and while I would take care of him and give him the vitamins he needed, one day when I went to feed him, he was nowhere to be found and the locals informed me that the puppy passed away suddenly.

A piece of advice for all those of you who want to feed puppies’ milk; dogs genetically are lactose intolerant. So, if you intend to feed them milk, please dilute the milk with water. 1/3rd Milk and 2/3rd Water. When I used to feed the stray puppies in the market, a very old gentleman man there as well would come often to feed them. I was glad to see that there were still people living who cared. Soon it became my routine to feed those puppies on my way to work. From there, my journey began and without even noticing, I started looking after more than 40 stray dogs. Each one I would get neutered, vaccinated, fed, etc. I have even had a million fights with people for feeding them. Some for religious reason, some for spreading dirt, some with the fear of being bitten and some for no reason at all.

Not many people in the world know the realty about stray dogs; majority believe strays are untouchable beasts and carrier of rabies whose only motive in life is to bite them. What they fail to understand is that no creature bites without a reason. They bite only if threatened, or if they have had a bad past experience with humans.  If you have hit them, or something that a human has done has scared them, their natural defence mechanism will kick in and they will tend to bite as a reflex action.

The one thing we as humans are the worst at is being human! At times, we are so harsh and cruel that we forget that even strays are living beings who feel pain, anger, sorrow and happiness, just like us! All these strays want is some food, and a little love. It is a pitiful situation for them to run about for food and they don’t even know when and where their next meal will come from. To add up to their misery, the harsh weathers of the country severely affect them. I have lost several dogs and puppies to rains in Mumbai. Last year, one of my stray dogs had 6 puppies right before rains. Let me tell you, rains in Mumbai are pretty heavy. After the first rainfall, I lost all the 6 puppies as the bitch and one more stray dog got stuck in the drainage as they were trying to take shelter from the rains. Another incident that still brings tears to my eyes; I had once gone to feed some puppies in an under construction building. All the puppies came running towards me except two. When I went towards them, they had both passed away hugging each other in their sleep due to the severe cold weather. I have seen many dogs run over by cars, many being poisoned and some even being stoned. The laws in my country are weak and not at all strict against animal cruelty. So, the culprit always walks out free on bail within minutes of being reported. I myself face a lot of issues in my apartment because they do not like dogs and pick up fights for no reason. People have actually threatened me to throw me out of the building because of my dogs’ inspite of laws clearly saying that no apartment complex can ban dogs.

What people don’t understand that Indian strays are not only intelligent, but over the years their survival skills have made them live longer with lesser medical complications. My parents had adopted a stray dog in their apartment building. We called him Caddy. He was such a calm and patient dog. At the same time, he was so alert that in his entire life spam of 16 years that he lived in their building, they didn’t have one single robbery or theft. Even today, every morning when I go down to walk Junior and feed my dogs, they are eagerly waiting for me wagging their tails at the building gate. Not just that, there has been an incident when I was inappropriately approached by a man, but my stray immediately realized the danger and started barking at him, ensuring he left me alone. Love, loyalty and security, this is what every dog gives. No matter the breed or colour. And this I learnt after having Casper and Junior. I have pledged that if ever I get another dog, it will be a stray dog or an abandoned dog or a dog that has been the longest in a shelter or the most undesirable one. Because, every dog is an angel and every dog deserves a home.

Playing with one of Junior’s toys