In many a person’s passage through life, certain circumstances, certain happenstances, certain individuals, or even certain of god’s better creations, stand apart. These come and they go, much like meteors.
Being a family of animal lovers, we had recently suffered the heartbreak of losing two similar members. A Daschund, ‘Frankfurter,’ he of Teutonic-Dravidian origin, and ‘Jigme,’ who was a gentle Lhasa Apso. Not directly in the line of succession to the benevolent tribal chieftans reigning over the Himalayan ranges of our country, but Jigme was regal enough, nevertheless. Franky looked proudly Aryan, and understood Tamil, as he was tutored by his loving Tamilian caregiver. He routinely responded to party tricks such as, “Prangee, pilate kondavva!” A loose translation from the Teuto-Dravidic tongue being, “Franky, bring your plate!” Or, “Prangee, po-lamma?” “Franky, shall we go?” etc. And Jigme? Well, he spoke the lingua franca of my neck of the south Indian woods, the Queen’s English. So conversing with him needed no interpreters. I resolutely informed the children that I was emotionally drained by our losses. Hence, no more canine additions to our family.
Destiny had other plans. My teenaged kids and I had noticed this bag of bones, from time to time, sidling out from the building under construction next door. With her udders not quite sweeping the ground, her hip bones jutting out above her tail, the two sides of her belly very nearly concave, each miserable rib on her could be counted. The poor creature couldn’t have been more emaciated if she’d tried. She was more white than black, with black patches smudged at random over her dull lifeless coat. A black nose, a white muzzle, two apprehensive toffee brown eyes under beetling white eyebrows, peeped at the world through the black patches on her face. She had recently littered, and my interested teenagers correctly assumed that her pups were housed somewhere inside this building. She was the understudy to the building’s Watchman, on twenty four hour duty. Not a strange vehicle, nor any stranger, could use our road without this black and white fury shooting out of her shelter, chasing them off her territory. She took her duties very seriously, and all in exchange for inadequate handouts of food thrown erratically her way, with the accompanying kicks that were a given, from her usually inebriated owner. Her motherly instincts were strongly atavistic. She scavenged for morsels all the time, everywhere, any time, in struggling to ensure full bellies for her brood. In her search for nourishment and scraps she was ably assisted by my kids. I hardened my heart to cringingly appealing toffee eyes, choosing to ignore the many plates of food that I knew my two children secreted out of the house. “Feed her if you must, near her building, but not near our gate,” was my war cry. “I don’t want her stepping inside. Not another dog.”
And then one day folks it was, Show Time! That fine morning, Patch, for the kids had named her so, trotted to our gate, with her eight, yes, eight, plump pups hotly in pursuit. A prouder mother was never seen. No wonder she always looked starving and emaciated, she had given her all to her babies. By this time of course, my children had fed and nourished Patch back to some semblance of caninehood, and her pups too were not forgotten. It was amazing what a difference just regular meals, over a couple of weeks, could make to a dog. Patch had flesh filling out all those concave hollows, and smoothing over her rib cage. Having weaned her voracious puppies, her figure had nearly returned to that of a curvaciously fit canine. She was a transformed personality. There was a sheen to her previously lusterless coat, not only because the kids had introduced her to her first bath. These ablutions were initially fraught with apprehensions about its success. Patch was convinced that she was being led to the slaughter, and growled, howled and barked blue murder. After squealing her way through every mug full of water, a rigorous scrub down with a medicinal soap and anti louse shampoo, Patch and the kids emerged in wet triumph, a gleaming, squeaky clean whiter than white dog, and decidedly bedraggled humans. What was also revealed was her doubtful lineage. Some Dalmation?
Associated to the many black spots under those layers of grime and dirt! That rangy stride, was there a hint of a hunting hound? She was an interesting potpourri. Patch was now refreshingly huggable, and got a lot of those from our family. A newly acquired swing to her gait, her eyes unhesitatingly looked every human in the face. Her tail, which appendage had emerged from between her legs with her new found poise, was held high, like a standard. Patch’s ‘make-over’ was complete. Or was it? It was then that we noticed that all things being equal, there were a few inherent flaws in her genes. Patch didn’t quite have 6/6 vision, in fact she had a decided cast in one of her eyes, which gave her an eternally enquiring gaze from a tilted head. Also, no amount of calcium syrup with which we thoughtfully augmented her diet, had succeeded in making both her ears reach to the skies. One ear flopped down, while the other remained disreputably aloft. But that smile, oh that grin, that split her long muzzle in two, nothing could beat that.
She had by then, decided that our family needed being taken under her wing. She had to only see one of us, and a smile lit her up like a lighthouse. If any of the family chose to visit in the neighbourhood, Patch was our self appointed outrider. She would jauntily lope ahead, tongue lolling out, chasing a lowly stray out of our path here, flushing the odd bird, that dared to stray into our path, there. Once my mother had gone visiting a neighbourhood store, to reach which, she had a busy road to cross. No amount of firm admonitions made Patch return home. She resolutely ignored my mother ordering her back, pretended instead to investigate an interesting scent, and then did an Usain Bolt across the thoroughfare, adeptly avoiding all vehicles, and disappeared around a building. Shopping over, my mother emerged from the shop, to discover a long suffering dog, waiting patiently outside the store, to escort her home. Fellow mongrels she chose to totally ignore, choosing to believe that she was born to the Purple, and so for her they did not exist. But if a dog with an obvious pedigree was being walked, that always reduced Patch to a fawning, grovelling cur. She was a shameless social climber, who loved rubbing haunches with rich and famous canines. She performed for their edification. She pirouetted, she cavorted, did a belly up, a coquettish flick of her fore paws, a few steps to the front, a quickstep back. Her repertoire was endless. Everybody knew Patch was ours. “Uh huh? Since when?” “Oh! Never mind.” But the dog walkers, they all loved her obviously sycophantic antics with their charges.
Resignedly, I faced facts. It was high time to put an end to Patch adding her periodic gifts of puppies to our locality, apart from them eating us out of house and home, inspite of officially belonging to the alcoholic watchman next door. I called up the local Animal Shelter, with a request to them to send their ambulance for the pick up of a mother dog and her pups. No, I didn’t have any dark and dubious intentions. I merely wanted Patch neutered, reunited with her watchman, and the pups put up for adoption. The pick up day dawned, with the kids darkly muttering, sotto voce, whether they would ever see Patch again. And I secretly hoping that some kind soul visiting the Animal Shelter would fall hopelessly enough in love with Patch, to adopt her. Mother & pups were shoved willy-nilly into the ambulance, and I was assured by the driver that after another pick-up of an injured cat elsewhere in the city, they would drive straight onto the veterinary hospital and animal shelter, which was about ten kilometers away.
The friendly staff at the animal shelter had been informed that Patch should be returned to our neighbourhood only after she was fully recovered from her surgery, which meant that she should be away at least about two weeks. Imagine my surprise when, after barely a few days, my mother called me up at work, informing me that a dog, looking suspiciously like Patch, was seated expectantly outside our front gate? Quite irate at the Shelter having flouted my express request, I called them up immediately, set to do battle. On my enquiring of them the reason for releasing Patch so soon after her admission, I was emphatically informed that they had not done anything of the sort. In fact a few of her pups had been adopted, and they were in the process of scheduling her surgery. Patiently I requested them to get to the bottom of the confusing business. Within a few minutes, I got a very worried Shelter staff calling me, to say that Patchs’ wire-meshed enclosure and cage door were securely shut and locked. It housed a vanished dog! Her remaining pups were in their cage, but no mother dog nuzzling them there. While back home, my mother was petting and feeding choice scraps to a smiling black and white ‘Dalmation,’ with a face-splitting grin and a furiously wagging tail. “Elementary, my dear Watson!” Patch had obviously clawed and climbed her way out of a 6 ft high, wire meshed,secure enclosure, without a backward glance at the gene pool she had abandoned to their fate. Houdini had escaped from the confines of the Animal Shelter. A place, where she had been taken to in a vehicle, as opposed to being walked there. She had then traversed miles of a large city’s bustling roads, circumvented strange scents, stranger sounds. Dodging traffic, hostile canine street packs, cruel humans, she had headed to her sanctuary, her family, our house, much like a homing pigeon with an inbuilt GPRS, but safely home she had unerringly reached.
I was as putty in Patchs’ paws after her incredible journey. Quickly we completed Patchs’ official paper work. A generous wad of crisp currency notes changing hands with her watchman owner, was all it took. Easy peasy. Patch was now legally our’s. We were a complete family again.