It had been an impulsive thing on our part. A stray bitch in the neighbourhood had given birth to a litter of six pups. We learnt from our neighbours that their boxer had fathered them. The pups were very adorable – two dark brown ones and four jet black ones.
Come winter and you would find dozens of pups being born, half of them dying within a few days and some more a little later. It is only a very few that survive to roam the streets.
So this litter shivered in the cold and kept up a yelping racket through the nights. The L&M took some cartons and old sheets and covered them up. The next morning they had vanished – the sheets and cartons, that is. This went on for sometime, with one or the other of the residents in the street doing the good work. The bitch then carried them to a drainpipe and put them all there. Some kids built them a small shelter with bricks to stop the cold draught and lined it with sack cloth.
For my part, I fed enough rotis and milk to the bitch so that she could feed her litter. They survived and slowly the pups began venturing out and exploring the neighbourhood. One of them was very frisky and adventurous and when his (I don’t know why I had assumed it was a male, but I was right!) mother ventured to forage for food he ran after her the furthest.
We were told that the pups would be adopted by those who wanted to keep a dog and true enough people began coming to look them over. But none was adopted and they continued roaming the street and trying to get into houses. They were all shooed away, but one was persistent.
It was then that the idea struck me. We were going to be living in a house and the city was a den of thieves, so keeping a dog made sense. I had heard enough of the hassles of having a pedigree dog for a pet – its diet, its vet bills and pampering that it needed had put me off them. And I had also heard the opposite about ‘desi’ dogs or mongrels : that they were easy to care for, were very loyal and affectionate. And here I had the best of both – a half-breed pup that no one wanted to adopt!
Coincidentally the younger one was home on a holiday from his college and agreed most heartily with the idea. So on an impulse I asked the watchman to bring me the adventurous pup of the litter.
And that’s how the little one came home one evening. He was jet black, with a white patch on his little tummy and a spot of white on his lower lip! His eyes were bright and very intelligent.
The mother came and stood outside the gate to make sure that it was being treated well. Her eyes looked sad and relieved at the same time. She quietly ate her rotis and left. I was petrified of touching the little thing. Fortunately for me, my son took charge and gave directions on how to care for it, including hunting for the right sized dish for his milk, which allowed the tiny mouth to lap it easily.
The weather was so cold that he put the pup inside his jacket and the little thing peeped out with its bright button-like eyes. “Look at him peeping like a joey!” , he cried in delight. And that’s how the pup got his name.
Joey was incredibly dirty with lice on his dusty coat that must have been shiny underneath . We were afraid that he might have some worms or have caught something, living on the streets and rushed with him to a vet.
The vet examined his teeth and declared that he was just about 4 weeks old. He said that he was a cross breed with a lot of ‘desi’ blood. Usually pups are given shots for rabies and parvo, (which is a virus that causes severe vomiting and dysentery) when they are three months old. But since Joey was a stray, the vet thought it prudent to give the shots earlier especially since he was not getting his mother’s milk and her antibodies. He embarrassed us by praising our efforts to give a home to a stray. One thing he said disturbed me though: pups are generally adopted only by the 10th week or so, by which time their mothers would have taught them social skills including their behaviour around humans and other dogs.
“Should I put him back with his mother then?” I asked uncertainly.
“Don’t do that! Strays die by the dozens in this weather and he would get a chance to live if he stayed with you,” he advised.
The bath the pup had the next day with the medicated shampoo the vet had given, brought out the sheen of his coat and he looked nothing like a scruffy stray! The tiny thing that he was, he could easily hide in the L&M’s sneakers!
The vet had told me that I had replaced the little mite’s mother and so he considered me his ‘mom.’ It was a funny feeling but one that was quite exciting and scary at the same time. Would I be able to take care of him, toilet train, teach him social skills and generally care for him? It was a daunting proposition. The neighbours laughed at my trepidation at caring for a mere street pup. But to me he was almost a child – and someone else’ at that and so came with more responsibility.
Now began the real test. I took care of him by instinct but was clueless about the right and wrong of pet care. How I wished I could do what I had done with my brats! But they were human kids and I could rely on common sense and instinct to bring them up, though I went through a phase of doubt and uncertainty. There had been no pets in our family and so I had no idea about anything to do with them. Neighbours who had pets offered conflicting advice about everything.
Joey needed company and his street blood clamored to play with other street dogs. Two of his siblings had died just as the vet had predicted. Three more roamed the place, but I was afraid to let him play with them. They were not clean enough and I was afraid he would catch something. Also his mother growled menacingly if she saw him or when he whined at her sight.
I began having all kinds of guilt pangs about having taken him away from his family. I looked at the other pups from the litter and would see them playing, fighting and cuddling with each other. Was I doing a service or was I sinning horribly? Was it like birds that do not accept their chicks if they are handled by humans? Had I cut off a baby from its mother thus committing an unpardonable sin? Would all the human love, care and pampering be replacement enough for his mother’s milk and love? I would lie awake entire nights wondering and fretting about it.
But the belief that there must be some divine reason for sending Joey to us was strong and got stronger.
And true enough we found out what it was a few days later – in the most ghastly manner …
To be continued.
Read the second and third parts: