Ani, Abhi’s voice spoke reassuringly after having answered almost immediately when I called. Apparently my name must flash across his phone when I call.
Yes, Abhi, the dog is here again today.
And the words I had been praying to hear from someone ever since I first fed her filled my heart with hope. Of course, at that point, I did not know that she was a “she”.
Don’t worry, I will send someone. It might be 10-15 minutes but I will send someone. Where are you?
In front of Saraswati Mundir (Saraswati’s temple) in Dhobigat. I am the only foreigner sitting in the street with a dog….
And so we waited. She finished the food I had placed in the green bowl, but for a few bits. And then the water. She laid on the ground for her entire meal but, once sated, she stood up. Of course, I started to panic that she would leave before the people from Sneha’s Care got there. I moved to where she now stood, a few feet away from the supermarket steps where she had been when I first found her, and again today, right next to the curb. And I began to rub her forehead. She sat mesmerized, I guess. She didn’t move. But each time I took my hand away she pushed her nose right up against it, asking for more. I may not know much about dogs, but a loving touch seems to be universally recognized between species. And so we sat together as cars raced by, a hair’s breath away, and pedestrians walked around us. One older woman took the time to catch my eye and smiled, her pleasure at what she perceived to be my kindness was obvious. Our exchange was complete, without either of us every having to utter a single word.
You could lie down, you know, I finally said to her, and a few minutes later not only did she lie down but she rolled right over onto her back to show me her belly. Covered with mange, the fur that she did have on her head was sticky with urban grim, we sat, and I continued to pet her, her head, her neck and finally her hairless, grimy belly. I thought to myself, perfect, she will be just fine now until they came. Suddenly a woman passed us carrying a large white plastic bag over her shoulder, I thought it might be trash. Whatever it was, it was exciting and up the dog went barking and started down the street after her, with me following as fast as I could, clutching the green bowl in one hand and my pack, which was now leaking water because I hadn’t closed the water bottle tightly in my haste to follow the dog as she took off down the street.
Where are they? If we get too far from the corner, how will they find us?
Finally, she stopped walking and barking, and looked to me and turned and started back in the direction from which we had come. She was keeping her eye on me; she knew we were together.
Are you Ani? I heard a voice from behind me and turned to see a young Nepali man wearing a red T-shirt with Sneha’s Care emblazoned across the front. He could see that the dog was moving away and wisely he stepped back.
Do you have a leash? He was on his phone and I was, once again, petting the dog’s head.
Yes, yes, it is coming. And so I sat, petting and hoping. Soon a well-worn white van pulled up across the street, Sneha’s Care Animal Ambulance was written across its side. At this point, the dog was finding something across the street to be very interesting so, given that this was all I knew how to do based on my experience with cats, I grabbed the fur at the back of her neck and held on, all the while wondering whether this was going to get me into trouble. But it didn’t cause her to become aggressive. She squirmed but she did not forcibly pull out of my grip, which she most certainly could have done, and soon a leash whispered its way around her neck and she was safe at last. Moments later she was, obediently following the man on the other end of it to the van; she only started having second thoughts when they got to the van door. But in she went without much of a struggle. That, in itself was interesting. The dogs of Kathmandu appear, for the most part, to be tame. She certainly is.
Thank you, they said, preparing to drive away.
Can I come with you to the shelter? Abhi invited me, can I come?
This was, apparently, an unexpected request and neither of us could get Abhi on the phone to explain the situation to one another and get approval. Calls were made to someone else, I suspect now that it was the vet at Sneha’s Care whom I subsequently met, and finally with a nod of a head. We were on our way, the dog was in the back of the van. I couldn’t see her but she was quiet. Carsick, I learned later, as even nearly an hour after we had arrived at Sneha‘s she was still drooling. I didn’t know that dogs got carsick, or that, if they did, they drooled. One more tidbit of information to add to my growing dog-related care vocabulary.
The path to Sneha’s Care took us through the urban streets with which I was familiar to a very narrow, very bumpy dirt road that when down the side of a valley through which the Bhagmati river, the river I had been criss-crossing back in forth across going to and from my two work sites. I clung to the dashboard as we dipped into the valley and a vista fell out in front of me the likes of which I had not seen since my arrival, a mere 15″ from my apartment. The valley is at the foot of the hills that I can see from my apartment. The hills are speckled with houses, and atop one sits a Buddhist monastery, which I can see from the roof of my apartment building. The valley itself was a patchwork of fields and buildings scattered here and there. There was the site of an old cement factory, where a new one was being build. More particulates for the air of the city I presume would eventually follow. But the view was breath-taking and, for the first time since I arrived, I understood what lay beyond the urban sprawl in which I now find myself living.
Sneha’s Care is a larger version of the animal hospital I visited in Zanzibar except that, instead of a blind donkey, and many cats, there are around 150 dogs, living in various large different areas divided from one another by metal bars. In one, are the paralyzed dogs. Another for post-surgical. I could not keep track of them all. The dog that I had brought went into a cage in a small building reserved for those who are getting medication.
In a week, she will be feeling better, a young man, who later revealed himself to be the vet for Sneha’s — Dr. Parbat Thapa. Again, as in Zanzibar, a single vet provides all the medical care. The majority of the dogs are not behind bars, they are milling about in the center area of the compound; the segregated ones are around the edges. Big, small, fat, thin, some clearly recent arrivals from the state of their wounds and fur but most looked very good and all looked happy, even the one limping around with what were obviously two front feet that had been broken and were beyond repair. I wished I could do something more for him but he actually didn’t look unhappy; he just had difficulty going where he wanted to go. And, at least, he wasn’t dragging himself around in the streets of the city. He had places to go and friends to go there with, food and a safe bed at night. Apparently all 150 have their own cages in which to sleep, if they want. The doors are left open, always.
A huge beautiful German shepherd came up to me for a cuddle.
He looked like the dog you brought in today before, all his hair was gone. He certainly didn’t look like that now; he was magnificent. At least a head above all of his comrades.
How does a dog like that end up here?
People like having dogs until they become a problem, or sick. This one was was taken to the jungle and abandoned. Someone found him and brought him to us.
Ah, another source for the street dogs, I thought. Previous pets. This would explain why so many are so tame, such as the one whom I had rescued. Not only did she seem quite amenable to coming with us, I had noticed that, beneath all the dirty fur on her head that one of her ears was notched, an indication that she had been spayed. So, at some point, she had been collected by one of the groups trying to keep the stray dog population under control in the city, spayed, and then released back into the urban habitat from whence she had come. Apparently, they use the same strategy for marking spayed and neutered dogs that live on the streets that we use for cats in the same situation in the U.S.
Do they all have names?
Yes, but I can’t remember them all. I know their stories but not all their names.
Each has a story, Dr. Thapa said. This was was put in a sack and beaten for three days. While the scars were evident, the dog was otherwise fully recovered. This one had maggots in the wound that is now healing, and so on and so on, stories unfolded like the ones I have been reading on Extreme Rescue, a rescue organization in Spain that I started to support when I was in Rwanda that save animals, cats and dogs alike, who most consider are beyond hope.
The paralyzed dogs go for walks in dog wheelchairs, said –, pulling out his phone to show me a picture of several of them on one of their wheeled runs. Again, I had seen this on the Extreme Rescue website. Apparently, above the compound, they have a wide path where the dogs can take their “wheels” for a spin. I would imagine that they have to take turns; I suspect that there may not be enough wheels for everyone.
It was lovely to see so many happy dogs in one place. Of course, finding them homes is not easy and some are permanent residents. Certainly, as I watched and saw so many that would make wonderful pets, my previous plan of perhaps bringing some back to the states when I leave once more flickered back across my mind. The first step would be to see if the airlines would allow it. Then, the cost. But I was back in the game, as now I had a place where the dogs would be kept until ready for transport, if I could bring a few into the U.S. as my pets.
There were two white women volunteering there. One, an American who was traveling but likes to volunteer in shelters as she goes, was there for a week. Another was a veterinary student from Melborne, there for an internship. What a good place to learn, I said, as we stood gazing out across a sea of napping dogs. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like it before.
I met Lobo, and Jasmine. Lucy and Luchin. Many found it very interesting under my dress. Others simply leapt up on me for attention, still others would come and lean against me waiting to be stroked. It is truly most unfortunate that I am allergic to dogs, I thought, as they all spun and danced happily around me and each other. There were a few growls but, for the most part, they were calm in one another’s company. And, because we were outdoors, I was more-or-less symptom free. In the end, it was going into the office while — prepared a receipt for the rupees that I offered to support the dog that they had so kindly rescued for me that finally did me in.
We should name the dog I brought in.
Yes, what do you want to call her?
I had been wondering that myself.
I want a Nepali name, thinking that Jasmine was a pretty silly name for the dog whom I had just met who bore that moniker. Lakshmi.
You want to call her Lakshmi? Parbat said smiling.
Then she is Lakshmi…goddess of wealth, fortune, and prosperity.
I went to check on her before I left, still drooling from car sickness, she was sitting quietly in her cage.
In a week, she will already be better, Dr. Thapa gently reminded me.
I start work tomorrow, I said as my taxi arrived, but I will call you. I will come back to volunteer. I certainly should be able to walk dogs without having my allergies kick up. And besides, I’d like to see the dog that Lakshmi will eventually become.
Should anyone feel called to donate to Sneha’s, here is the link to do so. http://www.snehacare.com/donate-now/