Coffee Home

This Sunday morning was a little disorienting. For starters, I woke up in our bed in the bedroom. My slippers were right by the bed where I had left them – I had had no cause to put them up on some out-of-the-way spot the night before. On my way to the loo, I didn’t have to carefully negotiate the little puddles of pee and look out for the occasional coprological booby trap. I wasn’t ambushed on the way by something small with teeth like a shark. When I shut the door, it didn’t get pushed in after a short while by a curious trespasser. The main door to the bedroom stood open all along, and I didn’t even have to shut it when I fed the dogs later.

All this was at odds with how it was for the month before. Around that time, the sound of a puppy crying in the immediate vicinity of our house had roused our sympathetic instincts, and resulted in Anjali bringing in a terrified little black puppy from the road outside. I had vehemently opposed her move, arguing that we were not in a position to have another dog, especially not a small pup that would be around for another 12-15 years (Anjali and I had agreed on this a couple of years ago). She was adamant, saying that she would find a home for it.

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Soon after she arrived, wide-eyed and worried

The first couple of days she was here, we hardly saw her. We kept her in our bedroom with the door locked, to keep her safe from our pack. When we were in the room, she would scoot under the bed, and find herself a hiding place amongst the suitcases stored there. She was so completely black that it was impossible to spot her except with a torch, and even then it was difficult at times, so cannily would she conceal herself.

We would haul her out from time to time and take her out into the yard on a leash, running the gauntlet of enquiring dog noses on the way. On these jaunts, she would sometimes stand petrified and be more or less dragged around on the leash; or strain away from Anjali at the other end of the tether.

Over a few days, though, she started gaining confidence and courage. She would come out and greet Anjali when she brought her food. My presence too was accepted. One day, Anjali ecstatically reported that she had got a few licks. A few days later, it was my turn. It felt great!

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Out on her own in the backyard

Gradually, she came out of her shell. From supervised ‘visits’ with our dogs, we took to letting her wander about as long as we were around. There were a couple of minor skirmishes with Soulkadi, who is always the most aggressive towards other canines, but on the whole she ruled the lower levels while the older dogs escaped to higher ground — the sofas, the diwan, the bed — to get away from her.

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Soulkadi was aggressive, Hero dismissive; so she took to tailing Sungta whenever she could

I had felt from the beginning that it would be difficult to find an adoptive home for her. So, about a month into her stay, I was beginning to waver from my position that she remain She-Who-Has-Not-Been-Named. A few names had passed through my mind – I liked Kiwi (since she was all black). But Anjali finally decided on Coffee – she likes hers black.

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Just when it looked like our pack size had increased to four, though, Coffee found a home. Anjali had been trying everything she could all along, and from time to time we would try and identify new targets for our adoption efforts. Last week, we thought of our friends Elaine, Anushka and Sachin, who had lost two dogs over the last couple of years, and had adopted a young puppy. Why not try them, we thought.

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Getting her shots before going off to her new home

Anjali’s call to Elaine revealed that they had adopted not one, but two pups, but Elaine was large-heartedly open to the idea of having a third. She said that, if not them, her sister-in-law on Divar had five dogs of her own but might be open to having another. Quickly, the deal was sealed and on Saturday morning, Coffee went to her new home. Earlier that morning, Elaine’s sister-in-law had told her that a neighbour whom she vouched for was looking for a puppy, so that was also an option.

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Coffee with Elaine and Anushka

We handed Coffee over, and met Elaine and Anushka’s dogs Mojo and Zober at the same time, fat boisterous little pup both. By the evening, Elaine sent us video of Coffee romping around with her two new housemates (though she was still wary of the new humans), and we knew she had gone to the perfect home for her.

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Getting away from Ganesh

Rackety processions blaring music that go by late in the night, accompanied by firework explosions that sound like a mini-war, make the Ganesh Chaturthi period hellish for the non-human denizens around here. On the animal welfare groups on Facebook and WhatsApp, the days around Ganesh result in a deluge of posts about pets that have run away, strays that have gone missing from their usual spots, injured animals, and other tales of woe.

Visarjan nights are terrifying for our dogs, too, who spend them trying futilely to find some shelter from the storm of noise. Over the last couple of years, our tactic has been to try and take them to quieter spaces during the period. This year, we chose two places in southern Maharashtra, just across the border to our north.

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Let’s go already!

The first couple of nights we spent at Golven Resorts, a set of 10 beachside huts in Vengurla. The wigwam-like cottages are built in mildly landscaped grounds off the Sagareshwar beach, set back the CRZ-mandated 500 metres from the waterline. They are well-constructed using wood, bamboo, thatch, cloth and mud, and are very comfortable, if a trifle cramped. But our priority is simply that the place allow us to take dogs — they don’t care much about the amenities.

What they do get excited about are the surroundings, and Golven generally had the right elements. Wild, green patches to sniff around — and pee and crap — in. A comfortable walk, no doubt replete with scents for them to pick up, to the beach. The beach itself was quite uncrowded at this time of year, and the gently sloping sand allowed us to walk quite a way in without overwhelming the dogs.

About the only challenge was the presence of a pack of dogs in the grounds, but we didn’t mind that. In fact, we like places where they let the strays be — in our eyes, it speaks of their tolerance and compassion. How it affects us is that we have to put up with a bit of a struggle keeping our pack and theirs from going at each other, but that’s something we have learnt to handle.

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The Golven pack takes a stroll

From the point of view of us humans, the resort has the most comprehensive menu we have ever come across — it was a veritable book. The food — we stuck to the local Malvani fare — is good, and though there’s a dining hall, you can be served in the huts if you want. Given that it was raining, even if mildly, most of the time we were there, that helped. The young chaps manning the place were very nice, and really took pains to ensure we got what we needed.

 

Besides spending our time lazing around, walking on the beach with the dogs and eating, we also took a drive down the coastal highway, which is a picturesque road to drive on.

After two nights at Golven Resorts, we drove up the same highway to Bhogwe, where we had booked a stay at the Aditya Eco-Village. Run by the Samant family, this is a bunch of huts perched high up on a plateau overlooking the Deobagh and Tarkarli beaches and their backwaters. The view is spectacular, and it would be very pleasant to sit out on the deck of the hut gazing down at it, but because of the rains, we had to largely stay indoors — and keep the door closed because of the dogs.

Arun Samant, whose son Chetan runs the place (he was away at a relative’s on Ganesh duty when we arrived), pointed out to us when we arrived that one could even see, deep in the distance, the island fortress of Sindhudurg and the town of Malvan from this vantage point.

Chetan’s wife Ashwini and his mother organised a sumptuous thali lunch for us on arrival, made entirely from locally grown ingredients — Anjali got a fish thali, while I had a vegetarian spread. Ashwini’s daughter Dhanashree was quite mesmerised at having dogs as guests. We learnt later that she had called up all her aunts and uncles and told them that Hero, Sungta and Soulkadi had come visiting their place. She had also taken the opportunity to tell them that she had a dog named Melya.

In the evening, as we were having dinner, Chetan came home and it was a delight to spend some time talking to him. Like his father, he’s very knowledgeable about local matters — ecology, wildlife, agriculture of all varieties, food. Gradually, as it’s wont to, the conversation drifted towards politics, and we were quite pleased to find that, in the midst of what we assumed must be a BJP stronghold, Chetan and his father were quite outspoken in their views against the right-wing party. Though they would intersperse their sentences with “we are not for or against the BJP, but…”, it was clear their sympathies didn’t lie with the policies of the ruling party.

We were also later joined by a couple of other members of the extended family — a father-and-son duo — who had been enticed by Dhanashree’s account of the travelling dogs, and come to see them. They came and checked them out through the glass doors to the hut, which of course, sent Hero into a paroxysm of angry barking.

“Dangerous, hunh?” the older man asked, evidently quite pleased at the prospect. He was a little deflated when I said they weren’t, and that the barking was because it was dark and the dogs didn’t know them.

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The dangerous dogs in the hut

Though we had planned to stay a couple more days, we curtailed the Bhogwe stay to just a day. Because of the wet weather, we were being constrained to quarters, and that had begun to tell on the dogs, who were becoming rather whiny. We gambled on the possibility that the main Ganesh celebrations and visarjan ruckus would have happened on day two, and what remained wouldn’t hassle the dogs too much. (As it turned out, there was just about half an hour one night that was disruptive, so not too bad a decision, I would say.)

We drove back via Kudal. The landscape around the Vengurla-Bhogwe area is quite unusual. You’ll be travelling on twisting ghat roads through thick forests, and suddenly breast a ridge to find yourself on a vast, flat plateau with the road a long, straight ribbon slicing through. In both circumstances, there were many good spots to stop and give the dogs a walk, and use the opportunity to take some photos as well.

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Flags flourish next to a temple in Vengurla

Some more photos, if you’re interested, on my Flickr feed: https://www.flickr.com/photos/11052243@N02/albums/72157686143776483 

Lost and found dogs (part 1)

A while ago, I had written a post about how we managed to find homes for three puppies that dropped into our laps (not all together, at different points of time). I had meant to include stories about some lost dogs who have also passed through our life, but that post grew too long, so I decided to keep those tales for a separate update. It’s taken me almost a year to get around to it, but here is the first of those anecdotes.

This was when we were living in Porvorim, a year or two after we had moved to Goa. Late one night, one of our neighbours — not one we knew too well — landed up at home, so drunk that he was swaying as he stood there. With him was a dog on a rope, a young Labrador, panting and excitable. While our four dogs raised raucous objections to this sudden intrusion from inside the house, he tried to persuade us that the Lab was one of ours.

Too sozzled to take no for an answer, he left the dog with us and stumbled off into the night. At a loss about what to do, we gave the dog some food and water on the balcao while the others continued to rage away inside. After he had wolfed it all down, Anjali and I ventured out into the night with him on a leash, hoping he would recognise something and find his way home. No such luck. For close to an hour, we walked this way and that around the neighbourhood, but got nowhere.

On our way back home, we worked out a plan of action for the night. Back at home, our fearsome foursome were bundled into our bedroom (they generally slept there anyway), while we took the lab into the dining room. We set up a makeshift bed for me on the floor, and I spent the night there with the dog. While he had been generally cheerful as labs tend to be, the way he clung to me after we lay down betrayed how insecure he must have been feeling. It was almost as if he was afraid I might leave him at night and disappear, and therefore needed the assurance of physical contact.

Early the next day, Anjali and I walked out with the dog again, this time towards the shops and apartment complexes a couple of roads above where we stayed. At the shops, we were told that he had suddenly appeared there a couple of days earlier, and had been wandering around since. He had even tried to get into cars when people had opened the doors. Combined with his general good health, this reinforced our belief that he was from a home where he was well looked after, and used to going places in a car.

If such were the case, we felt our best bet would be to canvass the vets in the neighbourhood. There aren’t too many in all of Porvorim, so it wouldn’t have required a whole lot of effort, but we lucked out with the first one we visited — Dr Marilyn Estibeiro, quite close to where we lived. We were told by staffers at her clinic that they had had an enquiry the previous day from the GSPCA shelter nearby, about a lab that had gone missing. Excited by the information, we rushed him down to the shelter, and were told to our immense relief that our peripatetic pooch was indeed the missing pet.

His name, we learnt, was Miles, he lived in Alto Betim, and was brought regularly to GSPCA for his vaccinations and stuff, just as our dogs were. He and had been spooked by some crackers a few nights before and had run out unnoticed by his family, probably through a break in the compound wall. Alto Betim wasn’t exactly next door to where our house was, and Anjali remarked how the dog had lived up to his name in the distance he had travelled to get there.

The shelter staff contacted his guardian, who was delighted that Miles had been found. He was at work, and said he would come by in his lunch break to take the dog home. Happy at how things had turned out, we left Miles at the shelter and returned home, where we were given a rigorous investigation by our dogs.

That wasn’t the last we would see of Miles, though. A couple of weeks later, we had taken our dogs for shots or something to the GSPCA, and had just put them back in the car to head back home, when a car drove up with a dog in the back. Never ones to pass up a chance to meet a new dog, we waited for him to be taken out. To our delight, it was Miles! His guardian (whose name I can unfortunately not remember — yes, I know what it says of me that I can recall the dog’s name but not the human’s) told us that from the moment he drove up, Miles started to get all excited. He could evidently see us through the windshield and couldn’t wait to come out of the car. A short and ecstatic reunion happened, and then we said goodbye to Miles.

Six on the beach

While digging through my back-ups trying to locate a file, I came across this folder of photos from a friend of ours, Urvashi, who had come to Goa with a bunch of her colleagues from Femina magazine. We had gone to meet them on Morjim, which has of late been our favourite beach to take the dogs to. This was sometime late in October 2012, when we still had six dogs. Over the course of the next couple of years, the three older dogs –Ms Chipku, Jaya and Bhaloo – would all pass away, leaving us with the trio of Hero, Sungta and Soulkadi.

Morjim is perfect for the dogs in several ways. Off-season, it is relatively uncrowded; added to that, it’s a long beach, so it’s easy to find a stretch that has no people on it. It also does not generally have a large dog population, so low chances of confrontations between our pack and the local ones. The beach is flat out to a longish distance, so one can take the dogs into the water without having it get too deep for them soon. And, barring the jam-packed stretch of beaches from Vagator to Sinquerim, which is pretty much off-limits for us, it is the closest beach to where we live.

Here are some of the photos from that outing a few years ago. [You can click on the images to see larger versions.]

Mario’s dogs

If you’re familiar with Mario Miranda’s cartoons and illustrations, you’re likely to know that he had a thing for dogs, which make an appearance in many of his works. My personal favourite is this one, which hangs above our bedroom door as a sort of ‘abandon hope all ye who enter here’ warning.

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I recently came across this tribute of Mario’s to a beloved dog, a rescue named (what else?) Tommy. Thought I’d post it here. It’s a little long, but worth a read if you like dogs.

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When Hero came home

Rummaging through the dogs’ papers for something, we came across this letter, which I thought I’d post about. It’s something that accompanied Hero when he came to us more than 11 years ago.

Our introduction to Hero was through an email forward, about a litter of puppies that a girl was trying to find homes for. I tried locating the email, but my Yahoo mailbox has nothing from earlier than 10 years ago. I wish I had saved it – I can’t even recall the girl’s name any more. All that I remember is that she lived in Gurgaon, but came to NOIDA, where we lived, to deliver the little fellow.

When she handed Hero over to us, he had a little red ribbon around his neck, with a small bell on it. That stayed on him through the first few weeks, so we would always know where he was. Any time the bell fell silent, it usually meant we better check on what he was up to.

Along with the little puppy, she handed over this very sweet letter, written as though by him. Here’s a scan of the letter:

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Besides other things about him, it said, “I will be very happy to be a part of your family. I am the naughtiest of my lot. I am very vocal about my feelings and want a lot of attention from humans. I tend to get a bit whiny especially when hungry.” In some ways, Hero’s still the same, in others, completely different. But we are certainly very happy that he’s part of our family.

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Hero as a puppy…

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…and now, 11 years later.

Homes, sweet homes

As a member of several groups on Facebook devoted to animal welfare and adoption, I have a clear picture of how difficult it is to find homes for strays. In the very large majority of cases, the person who carries out a rescue either ends up keeping the animal for life – even when they already have a large menagerie already in their care – or the unfortunate animal soon lands back on the street or in a shelter.

Given this general awareness, our personal experience has been astonishingly different. Twice earlier, in the past three or four years, we have chanced upon puppies on the street, clearly separated from their mothers / packs, and helpless and defenceless as a result. On both occasions, we have taken them in with a lot of trepidation (and the feeling in the back of our minds that here’s yet another one for our ever-burgeoning household) but in each case have managed to find homes for them.

With Googly (pix of her here), who spent a month with us, it was through an indefatigable Dutchwoman named Fionna Prins who takes care of a multitude of animals herself, and has successfully homed many of them. Bijli’s story was quite something else (written about her twice on this blog, here and here).

Now, it’s happened a third time! One night, a little over a month ago, we kept intermittently hearing the sound of a puppy crying somewhere around our house. Every time it would whine, our threesome would respond with a barrage of barking, and it would shut up. So Anjali and I went out, and located it in an empty plot across from ours. The plot is densely overgrown, and at a lower height from the road that runs in front of our house. The puppy had either jumped in, or had been dropped there, and was unable to make it back out because of the height, which is why it was crying.

I reached down and it waited for me to pick it up, stock still. Thankfully, it didn’t run away in fright. We would never have been able to go after it in the overgrowth at night. Once I had it in my arms, Anjali recognised it as one she had seen a few days ago, negotiating a different road on the other side of our house, so it had been roaming the neighbourhood for a few days. A quick examination revealed that the puppy was female, probably about three months old, emaciated and petrified. A mark around her neck indicated that she had at some point of time had a rope tied rather tightly around it. The likely scenario was that some kids had probably taken her away from her litter and pulled her around on a rope for a while, then – perhaps at being told off by their parents, or having got bored of the plaything – dumped her. This is, sadly, quite a commonplace occurrence.

A bit nonplussed about what to do with her, we finally took her in with us and set her up in the bedroom where my mother stays when she’s with us. It was vacant at the time, Ma being with my brother Abhijit in Hyderabad. When she’s here, that’s the one part of the house that’s off-limit to the dogs, so they rarely venture that way. Also, it has what we have been calling an air-lock system – a door to the passage to the room, and a door to the room itself. With both doors closed, the puppy was effectively sealed off from the rest of the house, and our other dogs were clueless about her presence.

For the next few days, we would lock them into our bedroom before we took the foundling out for a romp in the grounds, which we did once every four hours or so. Then we would secure her behind her double-level protection, and let our guys out. They would rush madly around the house and the yard, aware that some foreign canine presence had been around, but couldn’t for the life of them figure out where it was ensconced. That she didn’t make a sound – at least for the first few days – also helped in the subterfuge.

Not only was she completely quiet, the first day or two she was petrified of us – literally so. When we would enter the room, she would stand in front of us frozen in place, her head down, her tail curled between her legs. But soon, she had started greeting our arrival with tail wags and then little licks. Soon she had a name – Chikoo. The hectic and hopeful / desperate business of finding her a home started from day one itself.

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Chikoo on Day 1 with Anjali

Given their reactions, we had to keep the policy of sequestration in place. With our house help on her annual month-long leave, the situation was very difficult. Our attempts at finding a home for her went through several start-stop stints, but didn’t result in any positive outcomes.

Despite being aware of the high mortality rate of puppies in shelters, eventually we felt we had no choice but to put her in one while we continued looking for a home. Our hopes were not very high. And then, astonishingly, within two days of having deposited her at the PAWS shelter in Panjim, we learnt that someone was keen to have her.

The breakthrough came because of the efforts of our friend Sanchita Banerjee Rodrigues. She and her husband Anil are an astonishing couple – dogs just walk up to the door of their first-floor flat, are let in and make themselves at home. As Sanchita says, it’s like they talk to each other and tell them – go up there, you’ll be in good hands. The Rodrigueses (there’s also a grown-up son named Jatan) currently have four dogs that have come into their lives this way, and they have successfully homed several others as well.

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Sanchita with Chikoo

Someone on Sanchita’s WhatsApp contacts had seen her message about Chikoo, and expressed interest in adopting her. So we picked up Chikoo from the shelter, and headed out to Vasco along with Sanchita.

In Vasco, we met Chikoo’s prospective adopter, Pio Colaco, and his sister Chionia, and were straightaway quite taken with them. Pio, it was immediately evident, is a very decent, kind young man, and we could tell he would make a very good guardian for Chikoo.

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Pio and Chionia greet a nervous Chikoo

Though this is the first dog that he and his family have had at home, he had gone to a huge amount of preparation to welcome Chikoo into the household. His schoolgoing sister too was excited and delighted to have Chikoo, as were their parents Mauricio and Elodia when they arrived home a little later. We left there happy in the knowledge that Chikoo had found a home that we could contentedly leave her in.

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Already quite at home, being babied by Pio and his family

About a month later, we went and met her again and after a moment of trepidation, she came to us whining with pleasure, her entire body wiggling with the force of her tail-wagging. We spent a pleasurable half-an-hour playing with her and listening to tales of all that she’s been getting up to. A very happy ending for this puppy adoption saga.

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During our second trip, Chikoo was too hyper to get a decent photo of her. The only time we could get a shot where she wasn’t a blur was when she stopped to have a go at a chewie treat