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A Dog’s Life, permanent shelter in the drain, Lynn de Souza

Till now…?Moti, a stray dog was picked by Golu from his littermates and lands up in building ’Brindavan’. Here, he meets Tiger (another dog), Harichander (the watchman) and kind-hearted Pinto girl. During one of his puppy adventures, his hind leg gets injured. Moti is abandoned as nobody wants him in Brindavan. He becomes a stray dog.… One morning, I discovered the storm water drain which was to be my home for the next year of my life. It was a wide round pipe that ran all the way on one side of the street, about a foot below ground level. There were “entrances” to the pipe at the opposite ends of each building gate on that road. These openings were for the extra rain water to escape into during flooding, but worked as magical doorways for all kinds of life forms wanting to find a hideaway from the world above whenever it got too cruel.

Tiger was born in the drain, and lived there till he and his family almost got washed away on one particularly stormy occasion. The Pinto mother had come to the rescue, sending Harichander to fish out the drowning puppies. They were given shelter in the building for a while, till all of his littermates found homes, and Tiger and his mother were adopted by Harichander.

“My mom was a pretty cool mom, very playful and gentle, and also very pretty”, Tiger told me.”“She was white with brown spots. All the dogs in this neighbourhood loved her, and Harichander used to cook special chicken legs for her because she loved those. Sometimes she would even share them with me”.

When Tiger was five months old, the dreaded municipal dog van came around and caught her and Tiger while rounding up all the dogs in the street, because they weren’t wearing collars or license tags.

The Pinto mother came to Tiger’s rescue again. When she heard the din of screaming dogs and shouting men, she called out to the watchman to go get Tiger and his mother off the van. In the commotion, he managed to pull Tiger out, but the van sped away with Tiger’s mother in it.

“I howled after her, Moti, and couldn’t eat for days, waiting for her to come back”, Tiger recalled, unhappily.”“I missed her so much, I think that’s why Golu brought you here. When you came into my life, it made me feel much better”.

Though he didn’t dwell on this fact, I know that he felt even worse knowing what a horrible death she must have had later in the gas chamber. But at least Tiger got his third chance with life.

“Come, Moti, “Let me show you where I was born and where we lived when I was a pup”. I followed him inside.

The drain was a tight squeeze for him, but I found moving up and down among all the muck and garbage easy and exciting. There were old bottles and paper bags, rotten fruit peels, all kinds of worms and insects, oh it was delightful! Did you know that dogs simply love to play around in what humans consider filth? Your kind can never understand this side to our nature, but then we don’t understand why you use all those awful smelling scents and sprays either! You smell so good when you sweat.

I also realized that the drain was a pretty good place to hide out in, if the humans got into a “shoo Moti” mood again. Which of course they did, as soon as the next downpour came, only a few weeks later.

I now took permanent shelter in the drain.

One day, I heard the Pinto girl ask the watchman where I was, since she hadn’t seen me for many weeks. He said he didn’t know, but I think he was lying. She then started walking up and down the street, calling my name repeatedly. I heard her, but was afraid to answer in case my hidey-hole got discovered. After a while, I felt sorry for her and stealthily came out of the drain. When she spied me slinking about around her legs, she let out a cry of joy, and not caring how dirty I was, she gathered me in to her arms and hugged me tight. That felt good! It was several months since I had been cuddled that way, and I had given up hopes of ever being pampered again.

“Let me get you something to eat”, she said. She went away and came back with some bread mixed with dal and meat, laid out on a waxed bread wrapper.

This was to be my daily meal from that day on, mine and Tiger’s. The bread and dal and meat on the bread wrappers in lieu of bowls. I once asked her why she didn’t give us bowls.

“Because I can simply throw these bread papers away into the dustbin, your Highness”, she replied, “Don’t tell me you expect me to start washing up after you now”.

She had still not found out where I lived, apparently content with just knowing that at least I would definitely show up for the food whenever she called out to me. She knew I was growing up, and learning to be independent like the other street dogs. I think she had reconciled herself to the fact that I may never become a “society” dog like Tiger, and was probably just relieved to be aware of my existence in the neighbourhood, and to know that I was well.

But I wasn’t well, not really.

Living amid the grime and humidity in the drain had caused my skin to redden and itch. I picked up fleas. And they gave me something you call flea allergy dermatitis – a nasty kind of infection which made me scratch constantly and pull chunks of fur off my skin. It was painful and uncomfortable, and my body felt very sore all the time, there was just no respite from the itching. After some weeks, there were raw bleeding patches all over me, and I looked a horrible scary sight. I could not move about without shaking my head-somehow that movement seemed to lessen the itchy feeling, though I haven’t a clue about the connection between head shaking and itching, we dogs just do it sometimes, and it does work.

The effect of all this was that I presented a grotesque picture of a scratchy shaky wobbly red thing, and quite naturally I smelled rather off too! You would have avoided me.

One morning, I woke up to find the tips of my ears red and chewed off! I was shocked, because I just couldn’t imagine how this could have happened without my even knowing. Miserable, and in pain, I asked Tiger what could have happened.

“Rats”, he explained. “They must have eaten off your ears in the drain. When they chew on anything alive, there is something in their spit that numbs any kind of feeling, so you don’t even realize they are gnawing away at bits of you”.

I was really really scared now. Where would I go? If the rats were going to start eating up bits of me, what would I end up becoming?

I started running around in circles, afraid to go back into the drain, afraid to stay out on the road. Life was a nasty piece of business. I had heard of dogs being run over by cars, and I began to wish that would happen to me. I was tired of being hounded all the time.

I didn’t go hungry, I know, but there were many moments when I would have traded in a full stomach for a decent place to lie down in.

I stayed out in the field that night but eventually by the next morning, I did go back into the drain. What else could I do?

At first, I was too scared to sleep, or even shut my eyes. Tiger had warned me that rats were nocturnal creatures so they didn’t mind the darkness within the drain, in fact they loved it. I kept a constant look out for them, but did you know that rats are very intelligent, even more than dogs, if you compare the size of their brains to ours? They seemed to know that I was awake, and stayed well away from me. For some reason, they didn’t chew on me again, maybe my flesh was not so tasty!

The tips of my ears took long to heal, and would ooze a little blood every now and then for several months. Eventually, my ear flaps healed, and they took on an uneven shape that turned my once cute terrier face into something rather ugly. As if the deck in the looks area hadn’t already been stacked against me high enough!

To be continued in the next issue.

Written by Ms. Lynn de Souza, Director, Media Services, Lowe Lintas and founder and chairperson of Goa SPCA, ‘A dog’s life’ is narrated by Moti from his home in heaven.