The apartment is quiet tonight as the dogs have gone to their home-away-from home as I prepare to travel to deliver another training in eastern Nepal for another week. I haven’t had to wipe up any dog pee, or rescue the TV remote from the jaws of someone who has mistaken it for a chewing bone, or worry that the two dogs chasing one another around the apartment will accidently kill one another. Puppy “play” seems a lot rougher than kitten play to me but since I have no previous experience with puppies, I have no way of knowing if death is ever a result of puppy play. My veterinarian assures me that it is not. And sure enough, I have discovered online that the growling, barking, and moaning that accompanies the play, are how dogs express their feelings. Growling does not mean aggression if it is not accompanied by an aggressive stance. I feel alone tonight, and wonder what I will do without my forty-pound bed warmer tonight, the coldest night we have had so far. Today is a preview of what is to come because I have begun the three-four month process that it will take to get the two Kathmandu pups ready to go to the U.S. to find forever homes.
That is a great service you are doing, said my Nepalese contact at the U.S. Embassy when we discussed my plans to bring the two pups to the U.S. in April since it would be too hot for them to travel as cargo during the summer months, and too cold during the winter (at least according to some airlines and I am not one to take chances). It was nice to have someone at the embassy recognize dog rescue to be a social contribution. The Regional English Language Officer or my host institution, Tribhuvan University, didn’t hesitate to approve my request to take a week off to take the dogs to the States.
In truth, no one commented about the first dog, Lakshimi, when I brought her home, and the arrival of the second one, a much younger, smaller, and feistier version of the first, didn’t faze either the day or the night guard although, if I am to be truthful, the two women who clean didn’t appear to be overjoyed at the sight of them. They think that the mop is something with which to play or chew.
Still, everyone around me seems to take whatever I do in stride. It is a refreshing change from the many people in the U.S. who have, over the years, rolled their eyes at my feline rescue activities. However, in the same way that one cat always led to another, it would appear that the same applies to dogs although the tale of how my household went from one to two dogs is somewhat unsettling.
Two and a half weeks ago, while Lakshmi and I and her trainer were out practicing heeled walking in the streets, she was attacked by a Pitt bull that escaped from a compound as we were walking by. Actually, there were three dogs, the same three that had attacked us on an earlier walk. We had escaped unscathed that time. Not so this time, the Pitt bull had Lakshmi by the leg and was pulling, she was screaming, of course, I was screaming, and the trainer was pounding on Pitt bull to get him to let go. Lakshmi was so freaked out at being chewed that she bit the trainer, although through his pants, so he was not badly hurt, and he assured me that it is a common occurrence in his line of work. I could do nothing but get out of the way and wait for my poor dog to be untangled from fray and limp back to me with much whimpering.
Lakshman assured me that it was just (??!!) the pain that was causing her to cry, but Lakshmi could not put any weight on one foreleg. She was shaking. I was shaking. I wrapped by arms around her, trying to soothe her until she calmed down. We then hobbled back to the house and, in that moment, I swore to myself that I would try to get her back to the States as soon as possible. If she can’t even walk safely in her neighborhood, there is little point to stay in it any longer than necessary. Little did I know but this crisis had set in motion another dog saga.
Be careful what you wish for, I thought as the evening unfolded. Prior to our encounter with the Pitt bull, It had become very clear that Lakshmi was desperate for a friend, every time she saw a dog whom she had befriended on another occasion — luckily all the dogs in the neighborhood are not vicious — she would become hysterical trying to get to them to play with her. She was clearly a “dog’s dog” although her ready affection for me extends to any human being whom she sees in the park. Alas, Sumsum, a small, pudgy, black and white sausage-shaped dog wearing a necklace of bells, is too old to appreciate Lakshmi’s attentions. After their first tête-à-tête, Sumsum wanted nothing more to do with Lakshimi’s desperate attempts at play. I now have to keep her leashed at all times. Kancha, a Doberman pup, hadn’t been seen in the park for quite some time although we could hear him barking from his compound where he was apparently tied up. He could hear us, but could not come out to play without his owner, and we hadn’t heard from him in some time. He and I would let both dogs off leash to play. It made Lakshmi’s day whenever she got to play with Kancha.
A sassy white male Japanese Spitz has also caught Lakshmi’s eye, but he seems to be more of a tease than a real playmate. So, day-after-day, we hopefully — and woefully — sit in the park looking for a playmate, without never finding anyone who fit the bill — friendly, young enough to play, willing to play, and with an owner who would let him or her play. As I watched my sad-eyed pup, I would muse about whether I should go to the shelter and find another pup to keep her company. Dare I try two dogs?
It was clear after our Pitt bull encounter that Lakshmi needed medical attention. The vet came to the house but I wanted an x-ray done and he wanted to put a cast on her to keep her off the foot. We bundled her into his car and went to his animal clinic. When we arrived, she was then (much to my horror again ) loaded onto a motorcycle for a trip to the x-ray facility, which apparently didn’t have any parking. To “kill” time, I decided to walk around the neighborhood…
Shiva (named after the god of destruction and transformation) was just over two months old, sporting a smear of a white substance across half his black face, and on his hind end, darted across my path the minute I turned the corner onto a side street behind the animal clinic. My first reaction was dismay — another homeless puppy. My second was the realization that perhaps Lakshmi’s long-searched-for friend, had showed up at just the right time. I reflected on the last black animal, my last feline acquisition, Shyam, before leaving for Rwanda, whom I had rescued. He too had crossed my path by sheer coincidence (?) in a parking garage at Orlando International Airport. A feeling of déjà vu welled up inside me. My third response was relief that, if I caught the pup, I had someone to take it immediately — the animal clinic from where I had just come.
Shiva looked pretty dirty and he was hungry. As with Shyam, I didn’t hesitate. If I can get him, I though, I’ll figure out what to do with him later, I thought, although a plan was already forming in my mind. And luckily, I had somewhere to take him immediately — the animal clinic. He gobbled up the training biscuits I happened to have in my pocket, another coincidence?, I wondered. The odds were slim to none that I would have dog biscuits in my pocket.
As I took off my jacket to ready myself to try to capture him, I was struck by the similarity between our meeting and Shyam’s. In both cases, I just happened to be at the right place at the right time to catch a glimpse of them. Both were black, both were small. I crouched in the street in the entrance to a house to feed him, but he wasn’t quite ready to let me pick him up. I wondered if he lived there but I was assured that he did not by the woman who subsequently came to the house. She, from behind the pup, was able to pick him up and place him in the jacket that was ready and waiting in my arms. He didn’t struggle; he seemed to know that it was where he was meant to be. We went back to the clinic and I added him to the patient list for the evening. A couple of hours later, one cast, one bath, initial vaccinations, de-fleaing, de-worming, a new crate, a tiny rainbow colored collar, and another leash later, and we found ourselves being poured (Lakshmi had to be carried after anesthesia) into a cab for the trek home. The cab driver had even come out after his normal work hours just to retrieve us and escort us home.
Shiva is a Japanese Spitz mix and, true to his ancestry, he is much more “active” than Lakshmi. He seems to dance on his feet, rather than walk. The children in the park describe him as “bubbly”. Going for walks with a tiny bouncing dog and a larger one in a cast was initially a challenge. Later, after Shiva was neutered, I would head out to the park with one dog wearing a cone and another limping along in a huge cast. We were a spectacle, to be sure, although it garnered us much sympathy. Shiva was initially more suspicious of new people than Lakshmi, but he has learned from her how to run up to anyone he sees and beg to be petterd, which he is now more likely to get than Lakshmi due to his comparatively smaller size.
They saying “it takes a village to raise a child” applies to a single person caring for two dogs in a two-bedroom apartment in a city of one million people without a car who has to travel for extended periods of time for work. First there is Ram Prasad, the kennel owner who takes Lakshmi home to stay in him home whenever I travel. Then there is his brother Bhanubhakta, a vet tech, comes to the house to attend to all post-surgical care and vaccinations. Both also deliver any dog supplies I might need directly to my door, like a canine pizza delivery service.
The first phone call after finding Shiva was to Ram Prasad.
“Ask him if he would agree to take two dogs when I travel”, I instructed the vet. As with Lakshmi, I had to know whether Shiva would also be cared for if I was to keep him. Ram Prasad did not hesitate, although he may be having second thoughts now. When I last stopped by to check on the dogs between forays out of Kathmandu (all air travel starts and ends in Kathmandu), he commented that Shiva was very smart and very naughty, something which I had noticed myself. And he is still not house-trained. I don’t know when male dogs learn to raise their hind leg to pee. Shiva simply stands wherever he finds himself when the urge presents itself and a small puddle appears beneath his belly.
Next comes Arjun, the vet, comes when what is required is beyond what Bhanubhakta can do. He spayed Lakshmi on the coffee table in my living room, and subsequently castrated Shiva there. The first time he brought an assistant, the second time I did, and requested a lesson on male canine anatomy while he was working. Arjun also comes to the house to give 3-month heartworm injections and inserts identity chips. He has assured me that he will get all the necessary paperwork for travel done, and will find travel carriers that fit airline guidelines although this is proving to be more difficult than he originally anticipated.
Then there is my veterinarian in Vermont, who kindly answers all the questions that I cannot ask Ram Prasad because he does not speak English and I do not speak Nepali. His response to my announcement that I had rescued another dog was that he thought two dogs was the perfect number to have. And old friend of mine, a card-carrying dog lover herself, also kindly offers counsel from afar via email.
Then we have Lakshman, the trainer, who has had to interrupt his training program for over a month while Lakshmi’s leg recovered. When I last saw Ram Prasad, he asked “Shiva, training?” Is he old enough? I replied. Three months, okay, he assured me. I am very much looking forward to seeing how Lakshman with coordinate the training of two dogs who live together and who, at the moment, seem much more interested in playing and chewing everything in sight than in being trained.
Beyond the dog specialists, there is Anjana, the young woman whom I pay to clean my house twice a week, in addition to the weekly cleaning that is included in the rent, and Suresh, the day guard The day guard, Suresh, has happily agrees to walk the dogs whenever I am out for more than 4-5 hours. Of course, remembering my own personal dislike of people with dogs that they cannot manage, I tip anyone who helps me generously. My guess is that Suresh would probably walk them for no tip at all, but I like to support people whose salaries I know are lower than I can imagine with a price that is equal to the value of the service for me personally, as an American, instead of the “going rate” that a Nepalese person would pay.
Of course, my landlords have allowed me to keep the dogs in my apartment. They made no comment about the second dog when it turned up. Like everyone else in my Nepaless life, they appear to be unperturbed by the presence of two canine residents and, unlike apartment owners in the U.S., they have not charged me a “pet fee”. Given that the apartment is over-priced, this is probably a wise move on their part.
My description of the members of my canine-rearing village members would not be complete without mentioning the three brothers, Narayan, Dinesh, Chitra, who shuttle us all from place to place, and who take me shopping for dog supplies, as needed. Dinesh even carried Lakshimi from the car to our apartment on the second floor after she had her cast put on. They do not blink when I inform them that we will be taking the two dogs to Ram Prasad’s for a “vacation” when I go away. Furthermore, when I come back to Kathmandu from one place to go to another place, Chitra take me to visit the dogs and and chats with Ram Prasad, and his wife and son, while the dogs go through their hysterically happy I-am-so-glad-to-see-you routine when I arrive. He even allows them to jump on him in doggy excitement..
Then there is the Brattleboro Humane Society, which has agreed to let me advertise Lashmi’s and Shiva’s search for a forever home on their website, and who will welcome them into their facility when I bring them to the U.S. if homes have not been found before we arrive.
My canine-support village also includes very nice hotel managers in Istanbul and Brattleboro who, via email, have assured me that the dogs and I will be welcome in their hotels during the journey from Kathmandu to Vermont.
Then there is my neighbor in Winter Haven, Florida, who has kindly agreed to package up various dog supplies for training and travel and send them to me, and a salesperson for Enterprise in Lake Wales, whom I approached for advice about which vehicle would be best to rent in Boston to carry two dogs, their travel carriers, and two large suitcases.
Finally, there is the man at Turkish Airlines who helped me reserve places in cargo for both dogs and, eventually, airline and airport staff in Kathmandu, Istanbul, and Boston, who will be responsible for getting the pups onto and off of the right planes.
Everywhere I turn, there are people ready to help me become a loving and responsible dog owner. I know that I could not do it alone. Now that I am in the “swing” of doggy living, I am sorry that I cannot keep them, but they belong in homes with yards where they can run freely, something that would not be possible even if I were to remain in Florida after my service in Nepal. Maybe someday, when I am older and feeling foolish, I’ll get myself and the cats a small dog to help us while away the hours…how about a Dachshund or a Basset hound?