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

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