Monday, June 3, 2013

Of Dogs, People and Vets

I read a post on FB about the final moments of an abandoned dog. A Labrador, maggot infested, abandoned to die among strangers. I read a post the following day too. An image of the dog formed, in it I saw the reflection of my own pet, my baby, Bubbles, also a Lab. An uneasiness of sorts crept in. A pain, too strong to ignore.

A pair of maynahs nested in between the grill and the glass of our window in Vasant Kunj. 4 chicks hatched. We watched them grow, start to learn to fly. They began to leave the nest, one after the other, all but one. The third one left and even after a week, the fourth didn't.  I took a closer look. Its leg was broken. I kept a watch. I saw the parents bring in food for a few days, eventually, that stopped too. The last one was left to die. They day they didn't get food, I got really concerned. I looked at it, I could see small black insects crawling. It was night, I fed it Idli and rice. I called 7 different organisations – Vets, NGOs, animal societies. All I got was excuses. I waited for the next day. It stopped eating. I tried taking it out, but realized it was too scared. It kept flapping its wings, I was scared, it would hurt itself. After 2 days of persistent calling, one person agreed to take it if I took it out and took it to GK. I told them I had never handled birds, let alone injured ones. They refused to send anybody. I gently took it out with a towel, placed it in a shoe box with holes cut out and took it to the address they had given. It took me an hour in the rush hour, it didn't survive the journey; probably it died of a heart attack. The image of a cold stiff body of the bird that died because people didn't think it was important to save a common mynah will ever pain me. Did I delay taking it out? Could I have hurt it while taking it out? Why didn't I check on it earlier? Should I have given it water? Could I not have done more? Questions will haunt me. The thought that what I did was too little too late to save a life will always hurt me. I will forever seek some sort of prayaschittam. 

The thought of a Speciality Veterinary hospital is a noble one. I don’t know the the owner of the post too well. He was a few years my senior. I don’t remember much interaction in those college years or after. I remember nothing much. From that post, I know a little about the person than I did in all these years. I wish we didn’t have to win lotteries to do things. I wish I could help in some way. I will. People will help, someone just needs to start. Maybe it will take time, let it.
I remember a short story in my English course from school. Amber, abandoned, who found her way into the author’s home and heart. A golden retriever, who grew up in someone’s home, trained and in the time of disease, abandoned, like the dog in your post. The story was on the last days of Amber with the person who found her and took her in. He/ She was somebody’s pet too, grew in someone’s home, trained. He/She sat on the SIT command; definitely trained. Why would someone abandon a pet in the days of sickness? Is it so easy to forget all the love that one receives from a dog?

Growing up, we weren’t allowed to have pets. My father disapproved of it. Part of our childhood fantasy was to have a dog, like in the famous five. Like Scooby. My mother had dogs in her younger days. Shuppu, her Alsatian, intelligent, strong, protective, loving. His pedigree was a thing of pride to her and my grandfather. She loved the magnanimous creature dearly. Since the death of Shuppu, she dreaded at the thought of having pets. The grief of his death was too much for her to bear. She loved him dearly. She met his offsprings years after he died. Alsatians barking loudly as she approached the gate of her doctor. She recognized their bark. She gently put her fist through the bars to let them sniff her. They changed, the bark changed. They greeted her licking her face with their front paws on her shoulders, like how Shuppu used to. My mom was in her advanced stages of pregnancy then, my anxious father followed closely behind her. My brother is a born animal lover. It is said, there are two kinds of people, Dog kind and Cat kind – I know the third kind exists; the kind like him who love dogs and cats alike. Neighbour’s cats follow him around, till they are shooed away by my father. Another neighbour’s rather ferocious dog, wags his tail, lets him pet him, while he barks ferociously at passersby, even his own owners.

At home, we were taught to observe nature, nurture it.  I learnt about plants and gardening from my father. We would share observations on plants, trees, fruits, weeds, pests, ants, birds, waste, manure, everything that existed in and around our little home. We always had a kitchen garden, not a pretty one but a one that has yielded us fruits of our labor - and all organic. I learnt to feed squirrels from my mother. They would eat from her hands and later on, from mine. My husband would call them "Ammus children", the mynah chicks were "Ammu's birdies". My mom is an expert at animals. She would often say that her dream job is to be assistant to Steve Irvin. There used to be a stray dog 'Kaloo' in our Vasant Kunj house, that considered our building its home. People would feed her at the bottom of the stairs. She would sometimes climb up the stairs to the terrace. I neither petted her nor shooed her. A few years back, my parents were visiting us. My parents and I were stepping put when she crossed us, climbing the stairs to the terrace. My mom suddenly declared. Hey it is thirstry, give her some water. My first reaction was "How do you know?". She said "I just know." I carried a bottle of water downstairs and poured in the bowl and called to Kaloo. She came and drank water. I have asked many pet owners if they would know if a dog that is not theirs is thirsty. Most common answer I get it "I know if my dog is thirsty, I cant say for other dogs." It amazed me how she knew! My father is a professor in Chemistry, and Mom in Commerce (both retired now). 

I am not a born dog lover. I am definitely a convert. A recent convert. My first interaction with a dog was with Blacky. Bhagyammami’s dog, Blacky was a furry Pomeranian like black dog. Bhagyammami used to say “Blacky is my son”; I would proceed to address Bhagyammami’s husband as “Blacky’s achan”. She is the first true ‘Pet Parent’ I know. I remember I was a bit scared. The only reason I would approach Blacky was because Bhagyammami assured that Blacky wouldn’t bite. I want too happy sharing the affection.  

My best friends’s dog Fifi came next, though I may have interacted with her just once, I knew what Fifi meant to my friend. For the longest time, I exercised caution in the presence of dogs and cats. I was not too fond of them, was scared of their ability to inflict wounds, was scared of diseases they could carry. Jerry was the first dog to lick that dog lover out of me. Emmy’s theory is that Dogs have this thing, they sense the potential in people to be dog lovers, and with their puppy eyes, cold noses and mushy licks, show them that they are in fact capable of loving dogs. Jerry did exactly that. (Magi helped him too) We had to drop a friend at her house after a party and at her gate appeared her dog Jerry, also a Labrador. We went to meet him, though we didn't intent to go inside. I came out of that house converted. Getting a dog for my family was still way too far.

I knew I was taking up a big step of responsibility with Bubbles. He came as a gift from me to my husband on his birthday. In a few days, he stole my heart. He was a month old when he came. We didn't know if we were going to get a male of female one. (and hence the name ‘Bubbles’). On the first visit to his Vet, he climbed on to my shoulder from my lap and slept, like a baby. He depended on us for everything, food, water, warmth, love. It is a little overwhelming sometimes, but I don’t know how we lived all these years without a dog. It bothered me for the longest time, the ethics in keeping a dog at home. All animals are supposed to be free aren't they? What is the difference between him and an animal in captivity? Why should I buy a dog and keep him enclosed at home? Why should I contribute to the whole fad? Why contribute to the illegal and selective breeding?( Male dogs are often preferred over females). I often still think about it. The dilemma prevails. It is not an easy thought to confront. It is one of those contradictions; conflicts I will have to live with. I gave in to getting a dog, only because my husband adores dogs.

Bubbles showed me a side to myself that I didn't know existed. Being a first time dog owner, I don’t often know the right ways of handling a puppy. My hands and legs are covered with heal marks from his nipping and biting. I have more marks from bring up the dog than from Chicken pox. I am amazed at the patience and tolerance I had in bringing him up. Once in a while I am still greeted with torn cushions, chewed socks, bitten corners of furniture. I am as tough on him as I can be. I get annoyed if anyone addresses him as “Kutha”. I have a name and so does he. You can call him Puppy for as long as he lives.

Bubbles is my boy; wakes me up, follows me around the house, plays with me and kills me with his puppy eyes; everyday. He is almost 10 months old now, somewhere between a puppy and a dog. We have a routine, waking, walking, eating, playing.. He is a handsome boy, gets compliments on his looks even from random strangers. He is the friendliest dog around, plays with puppies, big and small, plays with children big and small. He doesn’t bark at other dogs, he gets confused when other bark at him he has this confused look on his face that almost says “but why is he barking at me again? I just want to play!” He adores his humans. He makes me wonder, how can a dog love human beings so much?  

I am no Menaka Gandhi, but I do get annoyed when I see dogs being ill treated. Yesterday, on my way to a shop, I saw a Saint Bernard, tied up in a scantily shaded lawn in a posh locality in Gurgaon. It was around 12 noon. It must have been over 40 degrees outside. The dog kept barking, pleading. He/She was a Saint Bernard, huge, hairy, the kind that needs to be kept in A/C environment. How can people be so cruel? Scenes like that make me angry; what can I do/ what should I do?

I know people who developed fear for dogs following unpleasant experiences, often bites at young age. I respect the fact that some people experience fear. Fear is a natural response, the intensity of fear is not something we can articulate in words. Our neighbour is one of those people with a genuine phobia for dogs. But I admire her courage to let her children come to play with our dog. They are not afraid of him, not anymore, they adore him, they are compassionate. Adorable children! They have experienced love of a dog, a valuable life lesion. My father, like me is a recent convert too. He stayed a month at our place recently. It was not too easy for him at first, but he changed too. Bubbles has brought out a side of him that we too didn't know existed. I admire the courage of people who give themselves a chance.

We are lucky to have found a group of Vets for Bubbles who are really good. They love dogs, you can say by the way they treat him, talk to him, care for him, they make things easy for him. They know how to handle dogs, with love, care, affection. They sense his pain, they understand our concern. He loves the trips to his Vet. He loves the ride in the back seat of the car with his head out, resting on me. He loves his Vets, he loves the treats after. We are lucky, I know many who are not so lucky.

I have heard of Vets who are scared of dogs. There is in general a little lack of respect for the Vetinary profession, compared to say Medicine. I think Vets themselves think of themselves as lesser to human doctors. The science is the same or aligned. The diagnostic techniques are comparable. Some of the medicines are common. Animals cannot tell the Vet what the problem is, they need to deduce based on symptoms, from what the animal’s people say. It is a challenging profession. And Man is an animal after all. We live in a Human centric world. Animals and birds and everything else living are considered only secondary. It is rather unfortunate.

I took biology in +2. The study of Zoology and Botony, particularly the practicals was centered on ‘specimens’. We learnt about making perfect slides. We learnt about dead bodies preserved in chemicals. We learnt about identifying Xylem and Phloem in plants. We learnt about cutting open cockroaches and rats and frogs. Did we learn about taking care of a plant/tending a garden or making a kitchen garden or taking care of an animal...hmmm no! These are hardly considered skills or something worth learning or teaching. The lack of compassion for animals is prevalent. I think part of the problem is our approach to teaching and learning ‘Life Sciences’. Are Botanists required to care for a plant during the time of their course? Not even a cactus? Is a Zoologist required to take care of a creature; one creature, any creature? ... No! But Why not? Compassion begins at home I agree, but if we make some changes to the approaches of teaching Biology, may be, just maybe we will have a population of compassionate people, who care for animals, plants, trees; everything living. How much can one learn about life if the method of scientific study of a science involves killing and bottling and making specimens? We don’t all need to learn Life sciences at the dissection table ; it will help the world if we all learnt how to take care of plants, animals, the wealth of the world around us.  Maybe then there will be more people who tend to sick birds. Maybe then there will be more people in this world who resolve of starting Veterinary Hospitals.

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