A Dog’s Life First Half of My Lifetime, Lynn de Souza

Till now… Moti was picked up by Golu from his littermates and bought to Brindavan building, where he meets Tiger (another dog), Harichander (the watchman) and Pinto girl. He gets hurt and is driven away. He seeks refuge in the drain but with the onset of monsoon, the drain gets clogged. With the help of Pinto mother, he gets acceptance in Brindavan, which becomes his home now. All through this, Pinto girl remains by his side. He befriends Rani and even becomes a dad…

The dog van is the one thing that all stray dogs dread. There are of course many types of dog vans, and some of them are actually run by hospitals to capture and treat sick stray dogs and make them well again. But in this story, I am talking of the death dog van, the one in which cruel men used to drive around, to catch stray dogs which had to be put to death in an electric chamber. The one that took Tiger’s mom away.

The death dog vans no longer exist, because many animal loving groups protested against them to the government, which then abolished their use.

But during the first half of my lifetime, they were very much around.

“You must be very careful of this van,” the Pinto girl warned us, “That’s why I’ve given you collars, which you mustn’t lose. The dog catchers are paid twenty five rupees for every dog they catch, so they’d love to catch you”.

What we didn’t know then, but learned only later, was that though they were meant to pick up only stray unlicensed dogs, they would often go after other dogs on the street wearing collars, like me, because we were easier to catch being friendlier with and more trusting of humans. Then they would remove the collars and license tags, throw them away, and pocket the illegal income.

Tiger and I often observed the action from a safe distance. There were usually three or four men in every van, including the driver. The van would start patrolling the streets early in the morning, and stop wherever it found stray dogs running about. Then two men would jump out of the van, and begin rounding up the dogs, one at a time, by backing them up against a wall or a gate and shouting loudly at the same time. The third man would carry a long metal pole at the end of which were the metal clamps. He w?ould grab the terrorised dog around the jaws with the clamps, and then drag the poor animal by its neck and teeth into the van.

Since the dog would be struggling hard to free itself from the clamp, there was no way it could bite, nor could it turn around because of some contraption that was in those clamps. I saw a couple of dogs choke to death right before my eyes even before they made it to the van.

One early morning, Tiger and I trotted back from our stroll with the Pinto dogs and the Pinto father, and were still sniffing around in the cool dewy air on the street aimlessly indulging in our favourite morning occupation – when the death van arrived. The men came up so stealthily behind us that we were taken completely by surprise. Tiger got caught first. He screamed when the clamps descended around his mouth, but the men were too quick, grabbing him by the hindquarters and flinging him into the van.

Then they came after me, as I knew they would. I should have run away, but didn’t want to leave Tiger alone, so I stood there and did what I do best-yelled and howled with all my might.

I was thrown roughly into the van, and barely managed to straighten myself, when I heard the Pinto girl come charging.

“You have taken my dogs”, she scolded. “They have collars and license tags, you have no right to do that”.

“We haven’t taken any dogs without tags”, the driver lied.

“I don’t believe you”, she insisted. “Let me look inside and check”.

“You can’t do that”, he replied rudely. “We won’t let you”.

“Oh, just try stopping me”, she defied him, and then boldly jumped up into the front of the van, and peeped back into the rear area where Tiger and I wagged our tails furiously, surrounded by five or six other cowering dogs. “There they are, those are mine”, she cried, when she saw us. “You just take them off this van at once”.

“We won’t do anything. Even collared dogs are not supposed to run about loose on the street. If you don’t get off the van, we’ll report you to the police”. The driver was getting really rude and threatening now.

“Ok, let’s go straight to the police station then”, she retorted. “I have their licenses here, and I will complain to them about how you are taking dogs for money”.

By then many people from the building were looking out of their balconies, and Harichander and the watchman had gathered around to watch.

Meanwhile her parents were watching the scene from the balcony above, and from time to time, they issued words of caution. When they realised that she was taking no notices, her father came rushing down.

He forcibly wrenched open the driver’s door, and threatened him loudly. “First you show us your own license”, he demanded.

The driver fumbled around in his pocket, no longer as cocky as he was earlier. When he couldn’t produce the license immediately, the Pinto father pulled at his shoulder and shouted. “Get out of this van at once, I am taking you to the police station for driving without a license”.

I don’t know whether the driver really had a licence or not, but he certainly got very scared of the Pinto father, and immediately gave orders for us to be released.

We jumped off the van, and she came running over to us and hugged us hard. But tears were rolling down her eyes.

“I wish I could have got those other dogs off the van as well”, she said. “Oh, I’ll never forget the look on their faces, all scared and hopeful, their eyes pleading with me to save them too”.

But hey, wait a minute. I haven’t even got to the electrocution bit yet. My death van story isn’t over. Barely a month later we got caught again, this time when the Pintos weren’t at home. So we were taken away, yes, all the way to the death chamber.

Every city corporation has a pound, a place where lost and stray animals are kept for a few days till they are reclaimed by their owners, rescued by animal shelters, or put to sleep. Nowadays, unwanted and very ill animals are put to sleep in a humane way, using a painless injection.

But at the time that I am writing about, hundreds of dogs would be rounded up each day. The practice was to keep them in the pound for three days and electrocute them after that if no one came to claim them.

At the end of a long bumpy ride in the van, jostled among strange dogs, we were thrown out and dragged into very large cages. Some of the dogs resisted going in, and bit at the clamps till their mouths and tongues were dripping with blood. Some others peed and shat in fright and slipped on their dirt.

The cages itself were meant to hold about ten dogs each, but we were thrown inside and crammed with at least forty other dogs. Most of them were vomiting, peeing and crapping with nausea and fright. Those that had been there for more than a day knew exactly what was in store for them.

The attendants went to two of the other cages and threw chains around some of the dogs, tied them by the feet, and then dunked them into large buckets of water. The dogs, by now, were too terrorised to protest physically, but some of them did scream out so pitifully, I still hear the sounds.

They were then led dripping wet into the electric chamber next door, where a current was passed under the floor to electrocute them to death. The problem was that this current was usually not strong enough to kill instantaneously.

We heard yelps of terror and protest turn into tortured shrieks of pain, as the dogs felt the first shocks of unimaginable agony, when the electric current started shooting up their wet feet. Then the shrieks quietened down into dull moans as they gradually got burned to death. The smell of charring fur and flesh hung heavily over us for the rest of the day.

We were meant to be fed, and watered every day. Instead, the attendants pocketed our rations, figuring that there was no point in feeding dogs that were going to die anyway. Besides, none of us wanted to eat, the state of filth and fright too overpowering for any hunger or thirst to be felt. There was no place to sit, so we stood all day and night. Even normally ferocious dogs cowered against each other, and I did not see a single dog fight while I was there.

With my fearful timid nature, I would probably have died in that cage itself, if it hadn’t been for Tiger, who stood close by me, and comforted me all the while. He was sure she would come for us, and would stick his nose into my rat-eaten ears from time to time to tell me so.

What I will tell you now is based on what she told me a few days after taking us home.

She had a sleepless night too. She had never seen the death chamber and had only a rough idea of how bad it was, but just the thought that we could be dead, or worse, alive but just barely, made her toss and turn and cry.

So very early in the morning, she called up the vet who treated her dogs and gave us our regular shots. He gave her the phone number and address of the pound we were most likely to be at, and told her to be there as early as possible, before they started up the electrocution because sometimes they carelessly took in dogs that had just arrived.

I don’t think I have ever been so relieved and overjoyed to see anyone as I was when I saw her that morning, accompanied by her father. When they came into the large room to identify us, all the dogs started howling loudly to attract their attention, hoping to be rescued too.

Tiger and I stood up on our hind legs reaching out paws way above our heads and the heads of the other dogs around us, to make sure she didn’t miss us in the crowd in that darkened room. She did spot us thankfully, and must have been glad to see us, but her face didn’t show it – the sight of the filth and the stench of death must have been too hard to bear.

She didn’t even open her mouth to speak to us, but just pointed us out to the attendant, then quickly slipped our collars over our necks. She led us out to her car to take us home, while her father went away to complete some formalities and from there on to his office.

Tiger and I felt very lucky, but this time I too felt sad to leave all the others behind. I knew now what was going to happen to them, and for the first time in my life I actually wanted to reach out and bite the leg of one of the attendants who was leading us out.

Normally, Tiger and I sat quietly on the floorboards, whenever she took us in her car for a trip to the vet. But this time, we were both inexplicably boisterous.

She tried to hold us down, but it was a losing battle. At the end of the forty five minute drive, she was as exhausted and filthy and tense as we were, covered with the urine and vomit of all the other dogs that had rubbed off on to our bodies, and the car was a total mess.

Nothing that couldn’t be wiped clean of course, unlike the memories of those harrowing moments in the death chamber.

But we had survived that near death experience, and it became one that would tie the bonds between her and us forever, long after death really took us away.

To be continued in the next issue…

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