On Friday evening, Anjali and I were in Panjim, having spent most of the day there doing this and that. Heading home along the waterfront, we noticed a black Lab with a red collar on the promenade close to the Bhagwan Mahavir Children’s Park. We thought he was walking with a man but, as we passed them in our car, we noticed that the man was looking slightly apprehensively at the large dog, and hastening away from him.
I slowed down, and we cruised alongside the pair for a while. It was soon evident that the dog and the man were not related. The man hurried away, while the dog meandered here and there. We pulled over and kept an eye on him.
It was soon evident from the Lab’s demeanour that he was confused about where he was. He would come near the road and look this way and that, then dart over to the park railings and stand peering in there for a while. From time to time, he would walk up to people sitting on benches or walking on the pavement and try and make friends, wagging his tail.
After watching for a while, and quite sure that there was no human companion with him, Anjali got off and went and accosted him. He greeted her with a few wags of his tail and a little licking, but was soon off again on his quest. Anjali asked people at gados close by and some who looked like regular walkers but no one had seen him there before. Calls to PAWS, the NGO handling animal issues in Panjim went unanswered — it was past their closing time, we guessed.
His coat was sleek and shiny, and his collar in good shape, so we reasoned that he could not have been out on the road for days. His behaviour too suggested he had only recently lost his way. He was also dripping wet, and we thought perhaps he had been in the river, maybe swam across from some place and got disoriented.
All enquiries having proved futile, we debated what to do. Leaving the dog wandering about seemed out of the question. Eventually, we put him into the car — he got on quite willingly and expertly, suggesting he was used to travelling in cars — and then turned around and drove back the way we had come. Near Kala Academy, we stopped and asked some old people who were sitting in a gazebo but they too had no clue about the dog. Checking out at some nearby shops also brought no recognition.
It was at Kala Academy itself that we got our first positive results. The guard sitting at the gate informed us that the Lab had been wandering around the KA grounds since early that afternoon. Leaving the dog in the car, we went and spoke to the security desk. They corroborated the guard’s story, but could add nothing of value. With no option left to us, Anjali left her phone number at the desk, and we headed home.
On the way home, we tried to figure out a strategy for finding the guy his home. The next day, we decided, we’d prepare and print out some posters, and go around Panjim vets with them. The dog was in good shape, and the likelihood was high that some vet would have dealt with him. If that didn’t work, we could put the posters up in various places, and put ads in papers as well.
While we were discussing these options, I was secretly thinking about how it wouldn’t be bad if we had to keep him. I’ve always felt that a glaring deficit in our menagerie is that of a black dog, and this Lab would nicely fill that slot. He seemed friendly enough that he would get along with the other dogs, and solid enough that the others would have to get along with him. Names like Badal, Koyla and Monsoon flitted through my mind.
The Lab meanwhile sat and panted in the middle seat. He was still quite palpably anxious, moving about on the seat, looking out the window, quite clearly wanting to get back to some place he recognised.
When we got home, there was a lot of careful manouevring to be done. The dogs’ dinner had become overdue because of our delay in returning, so I took care of that while Anjali walked the Lab outside. We then brought him in from the back door, after I had sequestered the others in the drawing room. They could of course smell and hear him, and expressed their excitement and indignation vociferously. He didn’t look terribly perturbed at all the uproar, but was still agitated enough to largely ignore the food we gave him (though he did drink about half a litre of water at one shot).
Even as all this chaos was unfolding, Anjali’s phone rang. It was the security guy from KA, and he was calling to tell us that the dog’s owner had landed up at KA looking for him. [A disclaimer here: I hate using words like ‘owner’ and ‘master’ in the context of pets, but anything else — like the relatively common ‘human’ — either sounds too cutesy or unrealistic. If anyone has a good suggestion for a replacement word, please leave a comment.] He put the guy on, and Anjali spoke to him. We told him to wait at KA, and we would bring the dog — whose name, he told us, was Thoma.
Though it all seems so matter-of-fact in the retelling, the fact that the dog’s owner was located was quite astonishing. Given our connections in pet rescue and animal welfare circles, we get to hear so many stories of lost or abandoned pets whose owners are never found, we know that the chances are usually very slim.
I immediately drove back with Thoma (now sitting in the front seat and still as fidgety). At KA, I met Anik, a young guy with close-cropped hair and a couple of his friends who had come with him looking for Thoma. He mentioned that he lived in the neighbourhood, and that Thoma had maaged to yank himself loose earlier in the afternoon from where he was kept tied at their house. He hadn’t been at home, and had got word from his uncle, who had made a cursory attempt at tracing the dog.
As we walked to where I had parked the car, Anik mentioned that Thoma was rather scared of him, and this was in evidence when I let the Lab out of the car. He was quite pleased to see Anik’s friends, but he kept a wary distance from his owner. His tail, I noitced, dipped whenever Anik called his name.
Driving away afterwards, I felt a little saddened. Like all Labs, Thoma is obviously a friendly, loving dog and it seemed to me that he wasn’t in a happy situation at home. I thought it might not be a bad thing for Anjali and me to perhaps visit him a couple of days later, and perhaps talk gently to Anik about looking after him well. But when I reached home, we realised that since the security guard had called Anjali from the KA phone, we didn’t have any number for Anik, so we wouldn’t be able to get back to him. Thoma will have to fend for himself — or, if it’s all that bad, run away again.