Stray animals anywhere lead precarious lives, even those that have someone looking out for them. Anyone who cares for them knows this, but every once in a while, the lesson is brought home, often in deadly and devastating ways. This is a tale of something that happened recently with one of our community dogs, one whom we call Beauty.
We have been seeing Beauty ever since we’ve been in Olaulim, part of a pack that hangs out on a grassy patch on the hill behind our house. Four years ago, when we moved here, she must have been the newly-anointed alpha female of the pack, that was dominated by a larger yellow-brown dog. Over time, she has grown into the confident core of the pack. The pack itself, as these tend to, has seen a lot of comings and goings. Over time, more or less all of its other adherents have disappeared, and only Beauty remains of the original dogs. The attrition rate of stray dog packs is often greater than that of IT firms.
Our interaction with Beauty’s pack used to be restricted to drive-bys with our dogs, where both gangs would hurl abuse at each other – ours from the safety of the car, the others as they ran alongside it as it traversed their territory.
This changed when, driven by a sudden fetish for fitness, I started going for morning walks. On the first day itself, I came across Beauty, sitting by herself outside the gate of a cemetery a short distance from our place. As is my wont when I see a dog, I did the whistling, tongue-clicking, kissy sounds and finger-snapping that is the universal tactic of a human trying to get friendly with an animal. To my delight, she came running up to me and did a little prancing around, then lay down submissively at my feet. When I got back home and told Anjali about her, I spoke of what a beauty she was, and that’s what we started calling her.
She was a scrawny little thing, so I started carrying rotis to give her, which she would nuzzle my pockets for after the initial welcome greetings.
From these beginnings, things came to a state where, for the past year, Anjali and I have been taking food for Beauty and her pack twice a week, on Tuesday and Friday nights. We know that they have other sources of food as well, and we don’t want them to become completely dependent on us, as there are periods when we won’t be around, and they will need to find food elsewhere. As of now, the pack consists of (though none of them are aware that they are referred to by these names) Beauty, a bratty but very affectionate male we call Beastie, three unrelated pups called Clouseau, Shady and Pumpy, plus an old guy called Hangal who appears on occasion.
A couple of months ago, on one of our regular feeding runs, we found that Beauty was holding her mouth open in a strange manner. The area where we feed the pack is not well-lit at all, so we couldn’t really figure out what was wrong with her. When we gave her food, we found she was trying to eat, but her mouth was not closing and a lot of the food kept flowing out. There was also a lot of salivary discharge, and when we got close to her, we could make out a bad smell from her mouth.
Our first surmise was that she had been hit by something or someone, and that her jaw was broken. Her eagerness to eat seemed to indicate that it was perhaps not some more debilitating ailment, such as distemper or something that causes lockjaw. But we couldn’t completely discount that it was one of those diseases at an early stage.
What was most worrying was that we were due to head out of town a few days later, and wouldn’t be around to give her whatever care she needed. Thankfully, there is an active community of animal welfare workers here in Goa, and once Anjali sent out an SOS on those groups, response was quick. Karen, a volunteer with the Worldwide Veterinary Services (WVS) hospital and shelter in Assagao who lives in the same village, offered her help.
We brought Beauty home for the night, and parked her in the back room, keeping our hyper dogs at bay. The next morning, just hours before we were due to leave for the airport, Karen came by and picked her up. Later that evening, we learnt from Karen that the problem was not medical, strictly speaking. Beauty had a large bone stuck like a cap over the back molars, and that was preventing her from being able to close her mouth. The edges of the bone had dug into her gums, causing wounds that had got maggot-infested, therefore the rotten smell.
The WVS doctors put her under anaesthesia, and did a minor operation to remove the bone and clean and suture her wounds. Within a day or two, Karen reported to our relief, she was eating. When we got back to Goa, Karen brought her back to our place, and we released her back to her accustomed spot, where she was greeted with curiosity by the rest of her pack.
This story ended well, but it made us think of how such a simple thing – chewing on a bone – could have ended up killing her. Most strays in such a condition – even those who are fed by people – wouldn’t end up getting the little care that she eventually needed, and would die of the maggot infestation or of starvation. We come across so many cases where strays get their heads stuck in plastic jars or wire loops or other such discards of humanity that can prove fatal to animals. It takes so very little to devastate a life like theirs.