Four years ago, a dog loving friend asked if I could come with her to look for a lost, emaciated Labrador she saw during her morning walk. We drove all over, looking near dhabas and housing societies. We whistled in vacant plots. We asked slum dwellers, who confirmed such a dog was noticed being chased by stray dogs and looking for food in the garbage dump, but we couldn't find him anywhere.
That determined friend found him next morning, a filthy, stinking, lice, flies, fleas and ticks infested white stray dog. He did not look like a Lab. His paws and many cuts bled. We locked him in my balcony, away from our dog and cat.
My maid Sangeeta thought he was lucky that he was being fed 'for doing nothing', he ate fifteen large chapattis, every morning, and fifteen every evening, and although I paid her extra, she grudged him these 'free meals' as she called them. “Anybody will be happy if you make them sit and eat, like this!”
I wasn't sure if he even was a 'lost' dog, until I took my dog's leash out, one look at the leash, and he transformed into a an excited, smiling, trotting, hopping, galloping bundle of foul smelling bones. He knew a leash meant 'a walk'. He had been walked before! He was somebody’s lost dog!
We had to find his family. We put advertisements in the local newspapers. No response.
Husband was away during all this, and when he came back, he gave him his first bath and we took him to our vet and got him his shots including anti rabies. Sangeeta watched all this with open dislike.
Husband introduced him to our dog and cat, and he was brought inside the house. The dog was stronger by now. His ribs had disappeared, he had turned golden from white, he ate much lesser, and he showed unlimited affection. We had discovered he recognized and loved bones, balls, leash and his own, new food and water bowls. He knew how to shake hands.
We wanted to know his name, and called him, Bozo, Zaza, Tommy, Blackie, Goldie, Dumbo, Dopey, Rocky, Vicky, Cheekoo, Ruffles, Leo, Kalu, Moti, Tiger.... endlessly, he responded to all with thump of a delighted tail.
He was like a lost baby. How many times I wished he could speak. He could have told us how he got the large gash on his right side! He barked ferociously at people with headgear and he hated all watchmen. He was terrified of sticks. And we made wild guesses why.
When I bent to pick a ball to throw for him to catch, the first time, he tucked his tail and cringed. How long was he on the road to have learnt the meaning of someone bending to pick a stone to throw at him? Sangeeta said it was good to be an adopted, greedy stray dog; you got to ‘eat for nothing’. One day, I asked her if she thought, we should let him go, now that we had found him, just like that, to live the same life. “He would have died, a kutte ki maut" (He would have died a dog’s death). She said, she knew maggots love open wounds on the forehead and near the tail, because the dog can't reach there to clean it by licking. Somebody near her house had fed rat poison to a dog with a maggot ridden wound on his head, out of pity, to save him a dog’s death. “No, he will not survive outside.”
Then Husband had to go out for a week. That evening the dog looked unwell. I wasn't pleased because I did not like the idea of taking him to a vet on my own. The dog refused his favorite treats, ate no food, just lay morosely all day. By next morning I thought he was going to die, he was not eating at all. Sangeeta asked if we had noticed he hadn't eaten since yesterday morning and said she would bring some chicken broth from her house (we are vegetarians) and the way we fed him was no way to feed a dog, couldn't we see the obvious, he was missing 'saab'?
He hardly knew him, how could he miss him? But she brought chicken and the dog refused it, and she said, teary eyed, "Even my children will not be ready to die like this for me. He has a human heart." I wanted to say he doesn't have a human heart; he has a dog's heart.
PS: Husband came back earlier than planned; the dog still eats only when Husband is around, though we are trying hard to make him get used to his frequent absences, we have had to call the vet many times.
The dog's fourth Re-BIRTHday was on 7th of this month.