I lie in my bed clutching one of the rocks that Lakshimi had excitedly brought home one day as a trophy from a digging expedition in the park. It is my only remaining connection to her. In desperation I reach for the book about second chance dogs that I picked up at the drug store on my way out of Vermont. The tales of dogs and the people who loved them comfort me in my distress. For the briefest of moments, I can lose myself in the pages and feel as if my constant companions from the past six months are still with me.
I drench my pillows with tears as I read. I am curled up around my hot bottle, a poor substitute for being sandwiched between two warm canine bodies. I have slept better with the two dogs snuggled up against me than I had in years. Now, there is no cold nose nuzzled up against my face, no one slowly shoving herself against me in such a way that I know the covers will be gone, and the center of the bed will no longer be mine by morning, no one chewing on a Himalayan buffalo milk stick to soothe himself to sleep, no warm bodies to reach out and caress in amazement, no one to remind me that every day is a new discovery. They both had grown up so fast, and now they are gone.
Yes, this card-carrying cat lover is mourning the absence of her two canine sidekicks. I tearfully fall into the well of my grief. The irony of a cat lover crying about dogs does not escape me. Was it only two days ago that my life was so intertwined with theirs?
I love your dog, shouted the young woman who had just come out of the front door of the Black Mountain Inn in Brattleboro from across the parking lot. Shiva, somehow knowing that she is talking about him, is already pulling us toward the friendly voice.
Actually, he’s not my dog. I have brought him to find a forever home.
Is that Shiva?!! she cries as she hurries towards us. Shiva has already changed direction and is hurrying to meet her.
Yes, I reply hesitantly, wondering how this woman I have never seen before knows the name of the dog dragging me across the parking lot. How do you know his name?
I saw the ad about him at my veterinary. I really wanted to adopt him. Will he get along with my dog, do you think?
The penny drops, is your veterinarian the Vermont-New Hamshire Veterinary Clinic?
Yes. She kneels on the ground to embrace Shiva. He, in turn, is showering her with kisses as his entire body shakes with delight. His madly wagging tail suggests that he has just reunited with a long lost friend in a foreign land. I stand and watch, thrilled to pieces to see see how he responds to people whom he does not know in a country that is not his own.
I really love this dog, she continued. I had hoped that I, or my mother-in-law, can adopt him. But now that I have met the woman who brought him, I will make sure that he gets adopted, she assures me when I finally pull the two lovers apart.
I don’t know whether she will actually be able to make good on her promise, but it doesn’t really matter. Her enthusiasm has quelled my fear that Shiva might be difficult to place. It is obvious that others will find him lovable and, had I been a more experienced dog owner, I probably would have already known that I would not be the only one who found him charming, his boundless energy, endless naughtiness and distress with other dogs notwithstanding. But I wasn’t, and I didn’t. I later learned from people at the Humane Society in Vermont that aggression towards other dogs is not uncommon. Had I known what I know now, I would not have spent so many sleepless nights worrying that Shiva might not find a home in the U.S. It seems that every new skill, including that of dog owning, involves a “learning curve” and I was still at a beginner when it comes to canine behavior.
Our journey to the United States had begun more than 40 hours earlier when, in the wee hours of the morning, the dogs’ trainer, Laksman (the male equivalent to the name Lakshmi, although Lakshmi is also a name given to men), the vet, Arjun, as well as my regular taxi drivers, Chitra and his brother Narayan, all descended upon my apartment building to escort us to the airport, along with the mountains of luggage containing my burgeoning collection of fabric, scarves, and saris for my anticipated old age quilt-making project. I had decided to take advantage of the extra weight allowed in business class and was traveling with everything that I would not need for the last two months of my stay in Nepal.
I sure hope I live long enough to use all this fabric. I survey the mass of purple suitcases before us. I must have enough now to make over a hundred quilts, using pieces of color from around the world — Kenya, Rwanda, Comoros, Tanzania, Fiji, Tonga, Indonesia, Costa Rica, Nepal, India. I should probably think of some catchy name and make personalized labels for my creations when I finally settle down long enough to sew one.
Of course, our journey had begun long before the actual day of travel. From the moment I found each pup, I was preparing them to find forever homes in the United States. I personally cooked their food daily, rice with ground chicken “pet food” and liver with high quality puppy food, to make sure they grew big and strong. I was pretty sure that Lakshmi was bigger than she would have been had she remained on the streets. Delicious fake “bones” and Himalayan dried buffalo milk sticks, a beloved favorite to occupy their teeth instead of the TV remote, which I had had to replace, all had found their way into the apartment. Delicious (apparently) homemade dog biscuits which sold at a local supermarket helped with training, in addition to bits of sausage and cheese. After the dogs had disemboweled with great delight more than a dozen stuffed animals, I ordered rope toys and plastic rings that purported to be totally resistant to the teeth of even the most avid “chewer” from the United States. My vet in Vermont recommended Halti leaders to help train them not to pull on their leashes, although, admittedly this project didn’t turn out too well once I had two dogs; you really need two hands to use the double leads effectively. Thundershirts for stress, that we ultimately never needed, and canine pheromone spray and collar to soothe the pups on their flight were soon to follow. The wife of my neighbor who sent me all the supplies said that she wished she were one of my dogs. I smiled when I read the email; people used to say that about my cats.
Training with a professional trainer occurred daily at the apartment. The dogs were great with the trainer, less so with me. Being an experienced cat owner, I was not used to needing to discipline my pets and, of course, they took advantage of my naiveté. But both did the cute namaste position sitting up on their haunches with their paws hanging out in front for me and that was all that I really cared about. I was sure that this command would capture the heart of any prospective dog owner and seal the deal.
The dogs had been given chips for identification in case they got lost.
We don’t use these in Nepal, there is no centralized data base for finding a lost dog in Nepal, my vet had informed me, but because they are used in other countries, we do have them for people who want them.
I tried to imagine what it would be like if all 26,000 of Kathmandu’s dogs were chipped. Of course, that would mean that they belonged to someone…. The dogs had had all their shots, been de-fleaed, de-wormed, and I had even had them treated for heart worm, because I knew this was a concern in Vermont where they were headed. And, of course, they had been spayed and neutered on the little coffee table in my apartment.
The only possible glitch of which I was aware as we gathered in front of the apartment building to distribute ourselves and the luggage in three vehicles had reared its ugly head only a week before our flight, when Turkish Airlines staff had informed me that if the animals weighed more than 32 kilos, they had to be shipped as separate cargo. A process that apparently involved different paperwork and, presumably, a different timeline. According to my calculations, Lakshmi and her carrier weighed just under 32 kilos, Shiva clocked in at 23 kilos, so he would cost less. But were our calculations correct? I had been silently praying ever since I got the news that the weight the vet and I got when he struggled onto the scale he holding a dog that probably weighed half as much as he did (he is a little man) was accurate. I did have back up plans in case we were off by a kilo or two — I could take off the food containers and reduce the water bottles to one instead of two. Still…what if that wasn’t enough? What then? It was another reason to be at the airport as early as possible, more time to troubleshoot if a problem arose at the last minute.
I had also given the dogs their weekly bath the day before their journey so they would be beautiful. Shiva’s coat was a silky glossy black, although over the past weeks, more and more brown and white had been sneaking in under the black, “brindle” I later learned this was called. He has also acquired a long fringe of hair on his rear end. I wondered what he was finally going to look like. Lakshmi’s caramel tweed coat shined, her fur was soft and slightly curly at the base of her tail. They were really both quite attractive. Many people had stopped me in the park to admire them when we were out walking. Only a few realized that they were once among the many street dogs that populated the city.
It’s amazing what good food, clean living, and human love can do for a dog. Inwardly, I wept for all the scruffy street dogs who would never look their best, never have a second chance that these two would have, to love and be loved by people who will not hit them, to be safe and warm each and every night, always drifting into sleep with full bellies and their very own human by their side, to live out their lives knowing that they would never be hungry or alone again.
Ah, if only the world were a different place. If only believing that dogs are gods meant that they would be treated like royalty from the day they were born… If only…
Our first hurdle, after cramming ourselves into our taxis and making our way to Kathmandu International airport was to get everyone, and everything, into the terminal. The porter we found shook his head at the luggage piled on two carts. He took everything off and rearranged it onto one cart, which nearly reached the top of his shoulders. 140 kilos of luggage on one cart. He didn’t seem to think my situation was strange at all. The trainer had the dogs, and their cages were stacked on another cart. Luckily, the porter appeared to know how to best manage the situation. Unlike in the U.S., no one can enter the airport except passengers, which meant that I would be alone to check in.
I had brought my entourage under the assumption that everyone could accompany me to check-in. My vet flashed his medical license at the guard at the door in the hopes of persuading him to let him in, to no avail. The porter told them to stay outside with the dogs while he managed all the luggage and checked in and so we left them at the door and made our way through security — three 32-kilo bags, one 23-kilo bag, two 10-kilo pet travel crates, two 8-kilo hand luggage pieces and one 5-kilo personal item, a knapsack. I had learned on my flight out that everything is weighed, checked and unchecked baggage alike. The porter calmly maneuvered the carts into the terminal
The amount of luggage I had triggered an inquiry at security:
What is in these suitcases?
Clothes, I reply, crossing my fingers behind my back and trying to appear as innocent as possible. It was one of those times when I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that telling the truth was going to be a lot more complicated, and possibly expensive than stretching it. It is times like this when it helps to be a frumpy 60-year old woman. No, she is not likely to be smuggling contraband, just let her go…
Clothes? Old clothes or new clothes?
Old clothes, I assure them. They wave me on. Is it possible that they tax you when you leave Nepal if you have new items? I wondered. Perhaps there is an export tax…
As per the instructions I was given by the airlines when traveling with pets, we were 3 hours early. However, the flight was delayed for two hours, so there was no one at the ticket counter to check us in. Thank god I brought the trainer and vet to look after the dogs outside…
The porter was a saint. He me up near the business class ticket counter and then went off to find other prey. But he came back periodically to find out what was going on at the counter and to reassure me with gestures and the few words of English he possessed that everything was going according to plan. Thank god I bought a business class ticket for the first time in my life, as I watched the economy class lines lengthen. It had already been five people deep when I arrived, now they were at least 10 people deep.
I called the vet and trainer waiting outside to let him know what was happening. No worries, we will wait here with Lakshmi and Shiva until you are ready. I added more Nepalese rupees to the envelopes of money I had already prepared for them in anticipation of their services. I had long ago stopped tipping according to local standards; I tip based on what a service is worth to me. I mean, between boarding and training, veterinary care and food, the cost of their carriers and my ticket, I will have spent more than $5000 on these dogs by the time I surrender them. Why in the world would I short-change the people who have helped make this rescue project a reality?
I waited. And I waited. Finally, the porter magically appeared and placed my luggage on the scales one by one. I held my breath…. My hand scale had been accurate; everything weighted what it was supposed to weigh. Now if only the dogs weighted what I thought they would…
The flight was still more than 3 hours away.
Do you want to check the dogs in now or wait until an hour before the flight? The man at the ticket counter inquired?
I can do that?
Yes, you can leave the carriers here behind the counter and bring the dogs in at the last minute. I tipped the porter generously, so generously apparently that he told me to put all my hand luggage on a cart and leave it while I went to wait with the dogs. He would keep an eye on it for me…
Much to the distress of the guards at the security entrance, I went out of the airport, I have to get the dogs, dogs, kukura…
Lakshmi, Shiva and I gave a fond farewell to Lakshman and Arjun. I hoped the envelopes that I pressed into their hands as they left contained enough to show them how much I appreciated their support on this day. Already the leg of the trip that was to be the shortest would be equal too, if not longer, than the leg that I expected to be the longest. The only up side was that, at least, the dogs could spend the extra two hours outside of their crates. We took up residence in a corner just outside the entrance to the airport and a trail of young men and women came to pet and admire us. We were in seventh heaven with all the attention. Nobody soiled the airport entrance. We played tug-o-war with our leases, attacked and conquered plastic water bottles. Occasionally, Lashmi settled down to rest but Shiva was tireless at seeking affection or finding ways to play if he had exhausted the supply of passer bys who liked dogs and so, never to be outdone, Lakshmi would get up whenever someone new came by with a loving hand.
Finally, our time to go into the airport terminal arrived. The woman at security insisted on having me take off my coat and shoes, despite the fact that I obviously had my hands full trying to control two jumping dogs.
Wow! Look at this new place! Look at all the people who might pet me! My companions were not shy, they wore their utter confidence that anyone they approached would love them like a badge of honor. Even meeting people who didn’t want to have anything to do with them did not quell their boundless enthusiasm and eager hopefulness that the next person whom they met would be happy to see them.
You didn’t ask me to take my coat off the first time I came in, why are you doing it now? I handed the dogs to a guard off while I shed my coat. As we left security, he came running after me crying Papers! Papers!
I already gave them to the man at the desk. I replied. I already turned them in.
I already gave them to the person in charge. Ask him. The guard finally disappeared, never to return. I had, indeed, given all the health clearances to the same man who had wanted to know what I had in my luggage when I first came in. Apparently, no one at the security gate knows what the others are doing.
Following the advice of “how to travel with a pet” websites, I placed the dogs in their carriers, and then put on the extra wire on the door to double lock it. I said my farewells, and began to pray… I had read the horror stories of animals being mishandled on planes; I knew that I was taking a risk in trusting them to total strangers. But this was our destiny together; we would have to see it out together no matter what happened.
The international airport was as much a zoo as the domestic one had been on my previous flights in Nepal. Our gate was at the end of a long walkway with windows overlooking the tarmac. There weren’t enough chairs for everyone to sit, the walkway was completely blocked with people standing. I struck up a conversation with a young American woman, Savannah. She had bought a round-the-world ticket for $2500 and was well into what would be a two-year excursion to places I had never been, as well as places I had lived, such as Kenya. She would stay in some places for weeks or months at a time. She was traveling alone and I basked in the pleasure of loved seeing a young woman fearlessly doing what she wanted to do just as I had done more than forty years earlier when I set off for Kenya at 20. She was a bit older, 31, and she had taken on a much more complicated adventure but nevertheless I saw my past in her and it made me smile.
As we stood, I told her about Lakshmi and Shiva. I raised my eyes to gaze out at the plane and the luggage sitting next to it waiting to be loaded and saw the dogs’ black and beige carriers, each sporting a traditional bright orange kadha, a scarf given to show respect to a new guest. I had observed these inexpensive scarves (about 65 cents) on peoples’ luggage for domestic flights. I didn’t know whether it was so people could identify their luggage more easily or for good luck. It seemed like a good idea to hedge all my bets and put them on both my luggage and the pet crates. They now made it possible for me to see that the animal crates sitting out on the tarmac were mine. They were sitting out in the sun, just as one of the online horror story writers had reported when describing what had happened to her dog and cat.
They shouldn’t be in the sun, I cried, and began to push my way through the crowd to get to the counter at the gate.
My dogs are sitting in the sun! I pointed. They shouldn’t be in the sun!
They are waiting to be loaded, the woman at the gate assured me.
Yes, but they shouldn’t be in the sun. They should be in the shade!! Finally, she picked up her walkie-talkie and said something to someone; I hoped that whoever it was would move my babies into the shade. Beyond my cries of alarm, there was little else I could do. On the bright side, I was now at the front of the line and would be able to board early. There was no separate line for business class so my race to save my dog from heatstroke had resulted in my being able to be among the first to board, as would have been the case in any airport in the West.
After boarding, I followed yet another online piece of advice and asked the flight attendant to check to make sure the dogs had been loaded. He went and checked and, upon assuring me that they were on the plane, I sat back to wait for take off. There was nothing else I could do. We were delayed another hour in the aircraft but finally we rose out of Kathmandu valley in a cloud of fogs and mist to begin our first leg of the trip. We would be arriving 3 hours late into Istanbul. Luckily we had a 20 hour layover, which would now be 17 hours. I sat back and checked out the available movies. I had done all I could. Now I could relax and prepare for the next phase of the trip — a visit to a pet-friendly hotel in Istanbul.
My arrival in Istanbul was complicated by the fact that the online visa I had bought and paid for was not good until midnight.
You can wait in the airport.
With my dogs, for three hours? It was pretty clear that he didn’t understand the word “dog”.
I have an email from your e-visa department saying that the visa would still be good.
It does not start until midnight tonight…. I couldn’t tell if he didn’t understand what I was saying or was just following procedure.
Can I get another visa?
If you want…
Now here is where things got interesting. I had read online that you should have a visa before you enter Turkey. They made it easy with their e-visa service which cost $79. I assumed I’d have to pay this amount again to get a second visa, and that I’d have to wait around while it was processed. Instead, it cost only $30 and took less than a minute to get. Of course, if I had not had $30 in cash on me, I would never have made it past the window. I had already discovered that the almighty US dollar was the currency of choice for visas everywhere I had traveled in Africa, from Rwanda to Tanzania to Kenya to the Comoros, regardless of the nationality of the visitor, and so I always carried plenty of US bills of various denominations with me. I was not surprised that that same was true in Asia. Of course, he moral of this anecdote is that, if you are traveling to Turkey, get your visa at the airport!
Of course, I was so frazzled by this time that I left the folder with all the paperwork for the dogs at the counter and later had to be escorted by an airport official back to retrieve it. Once you pass through each checkpoint, there is no turning back…
Welcome to Istanbul! Are you coming for business or pleasure?
I am taking my dogs to the United States and we are in transit.
Please wait over here….someone from agriculture will come for you.
I trailed behind the man who finally came to find me through the airport to another security point. Animal credentials were examined and I was sent on my way to claim my animals who were, as yet, no where in sight. I rounded up a porter with a big cart and explained that I needed to pick up two dogs. He didn’t speak English and repetition of the word “dog” didn’t seem to help. He didn’t seem to understand either. I said woof! woof! in the hopes that he would get my drift but, of course, dogs make a different sound in Turkish and I had no idea what it was. I had learned what a rooster says in graduate school, but not what a dog says. We made our way to the baggage claim area where someone who did know what a dog was told me to wait by the door for oversized baggage. I was beside myself with worry, did they make it? Where were they? All the baggage was already off the plane and had been picked up. They were marked “PRIORITY”. They should have been brought out first.
Finally, the carriers appeared. Not a peep coming from either but, when I peered in, two eager faces peered out at me. Grateful that I was not to be join the list of online horror stories concerned with a beloved pet dying in the cargo hold of a plane, I claimed my charges and we set out to find the hotel shuttle, our porter still leading the way.
I had previously decided to keep the dogs in their carriers until we got to the hotel so that no one would not make a mess on the floor. I asked to be taken to the stand where my hotel had assured me that there would be shuttle. The porter had no idea where it was. Various inquiries were made. In response, several men in the airport descended upon me offering me a ride for a fee. I keep repeating “shuttle” and “Radisson Blu” hotel until finally someone told the porter where to go. When we got to the designated spot, but there was no signage for the hotel. I got out the email I had from the hotel and asked him to call for me.
This is the right place, they will come.
The porter then vanished, leaving me standing alone on a center divider of the road, with cars whistling by both in front and behind, assuring me that this was where the shuttle would come. It was chilly, and I was alone in the dark of night with a huge cart carrying two dogs and my hand luggage. We waited. No shuttle. I could not leave the animals to go and ask for help. I could not call anyone as my phone wouldn’t work in Turkey. I certainly could not drag them with me to get help. I was in an unfamiliar airport. I did not speak the language. I felt as Tom Hanks must have felt, stranded on his island in the middle of the Pacific without even a box of matches. I realized that, had I accepted the earlier offers of paid transport, we would probably be at the hotel already. I was at a loss about what to do. And so I continued to wait, peering at each mini-bus that passed in the hopes that it would have the logo of my hotel on its side.
Taxi? I hesitated, I am waiting for the shuttle… I was certain there was no way that the two carriers, my hand luggage and I could fit into a taxi. I gestured to my cart, these won’t fit.
The shuttle is small, it will not hold the carriers. I didn’t believe this for a minute but… what if it were true?
These are too big for your taxi.
Oh no, we can fit them. There was one driver and someone else soliciting the business for him. They had come in the taxi together, but it was obvious that, if they did manage to get us into the taxi that one of them would not also fit. I wondered where he would go if I accepted their invitation.
How can you get us in?
The carriers will go in the back seat and you will go in the front.
I eyed the back seat suspiciously. I knew that we could get one carrier into the back but certainly not the other. I excel at packing, and am able to get many more things into a space than other people can. My contractor at home observed once when seeing me in action that I should work on a submarine.
Yes, yes, please we can do it
$20.00. I decided it was too late and too cold to quibble. If they couldn’t get everything in, then the subject would be moot and they’d have to move on. If they could, then we’d get to the hotel sooner rather than later.
One of the casualties of foreign travel is that you often end up overpaying for a service until you learn what the going rate actually is. $20 seemed a relatively small price to get off the street and into a warm bed. Certainly we did not need to be standing out in the dark in between two streams of traffic. Because of the flight delay, it was already almost 9 PM and I had no idea how safe Istanbul was at night. I imagined that it was not a place where an older woman should be standing out in the middle of the street alone.
Of course, my two self-proclaimed saviors discovered immediately that two carriers would not fit in the back seat. But then they ingeniously pushed the passenger seat all the way to the back so that the second carrier would fit into the passenger seat. My hand luggage went into the trunk of the car, and I squeezed in next to the dog crate in the back seat, behind the passenger seat. Wonder of wonders! They did it!
Our safe arrival at the hotel did not, however, solve all our problems. The dog carriers had to be placed on not one but two luggage carts, along with my hand luggage, and then we were unceremoniously deposited at the front desk by the doorman who made it clear that he was not a porter. Clearly, I needed someone else to help me get to the room.
I need a porter to help me.
Do not worry, he will come, he assured and melted back into his position standing next to the huge glass doors that welcomed new visitors to the hotel.
How much longer before they mess their cages? I wondered. With the delayed departure, it had been 8 hours from their morning pee before the plane even took off. Add to that the nine hour flight, the hour getting out of the plane and through immigration, the hour negotiating how to get to the hotel, and we were talking 19 hours! Shiva got through the night just fine, but beyond that, he never went more than 2 or 3 hours without a piddle somewhere, indoors or outdoors, depending upon the circumstances in which he found himself at the moment that nature called.
Shiva has his own unique way of peeing, although perhaps this is true for puppies. He never raises a leg. He simply stops dead in his tracks where he is, legs slightly further apart than when walking, and flattens his ears, while a thin stream of urine to falls to the floor, circling around his toes. I wondered where, and how, male dogs learn to lift their leg to pee. Clearly, somewhere in his life before we met, he had missed that lesson or maybe they do it when they are older?
There were only a couple of people at the front desk before us, yet a steady flow of pilots wearing their official coats and hats kept side-stepping up to the counter to check in or check out. Us lowly creatures with no emblems of our place in the food chain simply had to stand and watch the show. A few people passed and peered into the cages. A muslim woman swathed in blace looked horrified and turned to look at me with accusing eyes as if to say how dare you sully this area with these filthy beast! The fact that they had just been freshly washed and dried only the day before seemed to escape her. Muslims do not like dogs, they tolerate cats but dogs are off limits. Silently I apologized for disrespecting her religion but it was, after all, a pet-friendly hotel. Perhaps she should stay somewhere that does not allow dogs in the future?
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a man walk by with a dog dancing on its leash. I smiled, hoping that the woman would redirect her disgust to the animal that was on the loose, instead of my poor caged babies. Suddenly, from the depths of what had been until then one of my silent travel crates emitted a deep throaty and resounding bark. Lakshmi never barked. I had only heard her bark once in six months, and it certainly didn’t sound like this. She had developed a baritone voice. My hope to keep a low profile died as the second carrier began to desperately yip and yap. My dogs are upset by the other dog, I said apologetically to the muslim woman. She did not looked appeased. The cacophony continued sporadically as we stood and waited. The dog-on-the-loose had, of course, shown my pups that they could be, themselves, out of their tiny prisons and they were letting me know that they now knew this.
In desperation, I squeezed up against the front counter as close as I could while the clerk was, once again, helping another pilot who had magically appeared out of nowhere just when I thought it was my turn.
Can I please check in?
Oh yes, of course.
You know you really shouldn’t help new people when you have others waiting, intoned a voice from behind me. The man with the Muslim woman had apparently given up on the line in which they had been waiting to be served and moved over to mine. I didn’t know whether he was talking about me or the pilot. It was true that they had been there before me, but they had clearly been waiting for a different clerk when I arrived. I know because I had selected the shortest line.
By this time, I was not to be deterred. The clerk apologized to the man who spoke, muttering something about not realizing that they had been waiting. How could he have known? They have not previously been standing in his range of sight since they had been at the other counter and even now they were standing a distance from the counter. But this was not the case for me; I had been right in front of the counter. Really, how could he not realize that he had waited on at least three pilots who had arrived after I and my canine entourage had shown up on his doorstep? Perhaps the glitz and glitter of the pilots’ uniforms blinded him from seeing anyone else.
Finally, with my key card in my hand, I was ready to go to our room. But still there was no porter to help.
Where is the porter?
One is coming.
Five minutes later, by which time the dogs were both barking, one baritone and one soprano. I really need a porter.
Mentally, I began writing a scathing review of the hotel check-in process to post on booking.com where I had found the hotel. I had corresponded several times with hotel staff about the dogs via email before we arrived. They all seemed thoughtful and efficient.
Our room, as it turned out, was quite a trek from the front desk, almost as far away from the main entrance as anyone could get, at the end of a long hall. Two porters had finally arrived to take us there and helped me unload. They were very kind and assured me that more would come on the morrow if I simply rang extension 9. I was skeptical, given my difficulty in getting a porter in person but, by this time, I had nothing on my mind but dogs relieving themselves.
Now that we were finally in our home away from home, my anxiety had lessened, and I was feeling more kindly towards the hotel. Especially since the floor of the room was hardwood, rather than wall-to-wall carpeting. I had no doubt that Shiva would not hesitate to bless it once he was released from his travel prison. I asked them to help me move the area rug and the coffee table to the side, leaving a wide clear area for what I knew was to come. There was no bed in sight, or bathroom, but a flight of stairs leading up to a loft overhead suggested that these amenities might be found there. We were, in fact, in a kind of suite. Very nice. My previous annoyance continued to dissipate as the two men turned to leave.
Where is the secret garden for the dogs?
Ah, I will take you.
I left the dogs in their carriers, what’s five minutes more after 20 hours, followed my guide out the door. Once I had the lay of the land, so to speak, I thought I could return to escort the dogs to the garden.
We retraced our steps to the front desk, past it, then past the main doors, around a corner, and up a flight of stairs next to a bank of elevators. I desperately was trying to remember the route so I could return later with my charges. But I too was tired, it was no easy task to keep my mind in focus. I just wanted to lie down. At the top of the stairs, we turned and passed down another long hall, this time carpeted, which was, of course, a concern. Another turn and then out an exit into a beautiful completely walled in garden. It was late, and cold, so the chairs and tables stood empty. The dogs would be able to, for the first time in their lives, be able to run around off leash.
My mental review of the hotel for booking.com changed from criticism to absolute delight. A wooden floor to pee on. A walled garden to play in. I had struck the mother lode with my online search. Of course, there was one slight glitch, the garden appeared to be on the opposite end of the hotel from my room. We couldn’t have been placed further away from it if we had tried and the route to it was circuitous at best. Was I going to be able to find it again?
Back at the room, the dogs were finally freed and, of course, Shiva promptly took his familiar stance and a pool of liquid began to appear beneath his feet. It was quite a large one by the time he finished but somehow he managed to keep his feet out of it. Lakshmi was more interested in the room. I followed the staircase to the loft hoping to find a bathroom with towels, which I did. Not only did I find towels, but there was a lovely king sized-bed and a full-sized bathtub which actually had a plug so I could fill it with water. Now if there is only hot water…. By now, the hotel had a five-star rating in my mind, although I was a bit worried about the wall-to-wall carpeting in the loft and did not believe for a minute that a call to extension 9 tomorrow was going to result in two porters showing up in a timely fashion. I’ll think about it tomorrow, as Scarlett would have said. I found the leashes and we set out to find to take the secret garden.
The night was cool, but not so cold that I could not stay outside while the dogs explored their new fiefdom and got up the nerve to do their “business”. Shiva, true to form, pooped immediately, and I scooped up the offending evidence of his relief into one of the plastic bags that I had had stored in my coat pocket, along with tissues, and stashed it in a trash can. Lakshmi, as usual, took her time, both to pee and to poop. She had recently developed a habit of spending considerable time to find just the right place to do whatever she had to do.
The garden was landscaped beautifully, with bushed around all four sides and groups of trees and bushes, complete with tulip borders, situated in several different areas of the lawn. Dog heaven. We stayed for quite some time, sniffing out the different corners, disappearing under one set of bushes only to emerge somewhere else. However, when we finally set forth for our return journey, it turned out that we had not stayed quite long enough…
In addition to Shiva’s special stand-in-place-whenever-the-urge-appears technique for peeing, he has another peculiar habit. His routine in the morning is simple: poo as soon as you get out of the apartment, then sniff around and explore things at your leisure for awhile, being sure to pull your owner in the opposite direction from the other dog she is escorting, then poo again. No warning for this second poo. No circling to find the perfect spot. Simply stop and squat. If you are out walking, then stop in the middle of the road and if you are behind your escort (me) and she doesn’t realize what you are doing then do a series of squats and poos, which are usually custard-like at this point, in a long procession so you can keep going. I knew to keep him out long enough in the morning for both events to occur although I was not always successful at recognizing when the second coming was imminent. But this was evening, and he never did this at any other time of day. In the evening or late afternoon, he would poo once and then be done. Thus I didn’t think to wait longer for him to complete his ritual. I forgot to take into account that his routine had been disrupted by nearly a 20-hour hiatus. So just as we hit the main lobby on our trek across the entire length of the hotel, I felt a familiar pull on the leash and turned to find that we were leaving a trail of mounds of chocolate pudding in our wake. I stopped and began searching for my tissues, but the doorman waved us on and pulled out his cell phone, to call housekeeping, I presume. I was only grateful that Shiva had waited until we had crossed the carpeted hall and stairs to gift us on what would be an oh-so-easy-to-clean tile floor.
Our evening in the hotel consisted of mostly playing on the bed, chewing Himalayan buffalo milk sticks, and a couple of brief cat naps. We went back to the garden in the middle of the night and had a wonderful time, although Shiva did leave a few dribbles on the carpeted landing. To his credit, when I quickly dragged him off the carpet, he stopped and finished in the garden. From that point onward, whenever we crossed that landing, Lakshmi would stop dead in her tracks to smell the carpet. Luckily no one was around to see us whenever we were up there.
The only other crisis we encountered in our evening in the room was when I tried to show Lakshmi where the bed was. She refused to go up the stairs, presumably because they were exposed on both sides, the treads dangling in space. I discovered it was impossible to drag 45 pound dog up a flight of stairs. I gave up. I went up alone and Shiva bounded happily after me. Eventually, Lakshmi faced her fear and joined us on the bed.
Our last trip to the garden was the best although we did manage to leave another trail of canine chocolate mousse across the entrance hall. This time I mopped it up with tissue myself. A couple, braving the cold with their morning coffee, had interrupted our early morning visit but now we were on our own. The dogs ran in great looping circles between the different trees and plants, Shiva first and Lashmi following, but never quite catching up. Ahh….yes. This is why I am doing this, so that these two precious beings can run freely in their own yards for the rest of their lives…. I laughed at their antics and was grateful that they had had time to rest and run before the next leg of our journey. Hopefully, they would be so tuckered out that they would sleep. Everybody peed and pooed in preparation for what was to come. All in all, it was proving to be a well-planned adventure. To this day, I have no idea how the hotel I chose just happened to have a secret garden….
Not trusting the “just dial 9 and someone will come” instructions, I requested two porters and two luggage carts as we made our way through the lobby for our last return to the room. The day staff was clearly more organized that the night staff. Two porters magically appeared, helped me bundle the dogs into their carriers, and off we went. We were 35″ early; despite the schedule that I had been sent, there was no 10:30 AM shuttle. Only 11:00 AM. The porters we had were enchanted with the dogs, as were several guests who came through while we were waiting. Clearly, they were not Muslim. Unbeknownst to me, one of them had gone off to get a pair of pliers and was now creating cute little wire hooks out of the wire that I was using to lash the door to the carrier for extra security. He then proceeded to go around and wire each corner of the carriers, despite the fact that the two halves of the carriers were already held together with metal hardware, as per another online recommendation. I didn’t want to interrupt his obvious pleasure in securing the cages. We then loaded everything onto the shuttle which, of course, was huge, and had enough luggage space to hold a small horse. Well, I knew I was being “taken” the night before but who knows when, if ever, the shuttle would have come last night? Especially since the schedule they gave me was obviously inaccurate.
Boarding the flight in Istanbul was relatively easy. The doorman at the hotel told the shuttle driver to find me a porter with a big cart, which he did. The porter then took us to security, where the dogs had to be unloaded and walked through so that their cages could be scanned. I suppose I could have had a sizeable incendiary device, or a gun or two, or three, hidden in the bottom of the travel crates. It was also clear that the porter at the hotel had done me a very great favor, as his little homemade wire hooks were much easier to manage than winding the wire around the door as I had done previously. You just never know when someone is going to help you before you even know that you need assistance.
Then we went to the business class check-in counter which turned out to be an entire bank of stands, and still there was a sizeable line. Either more people are flying business class these days or there are an awful lot of flights leaving from this airport. Probably a little of both. The porter waited to the side with the dogs while I joined queue. At the counter, the dogs’ crates were labelled and we were directly to head to the far end of the row of counters where we were met by an airline official who was to escort us through the airport to wherever it was that animals go to be put in cargo.
I will be back in a minute… With that, the official melted into the crowd, leaving the porter and I waiting once again. The porter, in the meantime, gratefully grasping what I hoped a was a generous tip to make up for all the time spent waiting in line, left. He assumed that his responsibility for us ended when the airline official Apparently, this was not the case.
Where is the porter? The man obviously did not consider himself to be someone who usually pushed luggage carts.
He left, he said you were going to take us. Can’t you and I push the cart?
After some wringing of his hands, we took off through the throngs of people to the agriculture security check point. Again the dogs had to come out of their carriers, again I silently thanked the porter at the hotel. Then they were gone and, again, I had to trust their safety to strangers, this time at the 17th largest airport in the world. I consoled myself that it was not the 1st or 2nd largest. Again, once I had boarded, I asked a flight attendant to confirm that the dogs were both on the plane.
I sat back and began to ruminate on our last hurdle — arriving at Boston, getting the dogs to a pet relief station, picking up a rental car, all with two large animal crates and a mountain of luggage, and driving to Boston. I had gone over several possible scenarios in the weeks before the trip and had finally concluded that my best option was to find a porter who would wait with the dogs and the luggage while I went to retrieve the car. A generous tip would be the order of the day, if this were to occur. It was a lot to expect of a porter, but I had failed to come up with any other alternative that would meet our needs. For some reason, I wasn’t worried. So far, the supply of porters had been sufficient and despite, having left a trail of what I considered to be generous tips across the continent of Asia, I still had plenty of cash left for our arrival in the U.S.
I had booked a business class ticket for myself for the first time in my life because I thought that it might make a week long trip to and from the U.S. easier for me and that perhaps the dogs would be treated better. In April, the fare for Turkish Airlines was half what a U.S. carrier would have been and the extra cost was more-or-less what I would have had to pay in excess baggage fees if I had bought an economy ticket. The flights between Kathmandu to Istanbul turned out to be very nice but not what I had been led to expect from the online presentation of what Turkish airlines business class was supposed to look like. The chairs did not go down flat and the food, while good, was not anything dramatically special. Apparently, they used their older planes for that route.
All this changed for the flights between Boston and Istanbul. The seats did, indeed, convert into a flat bed and the food was divine. Dinner began with a traditional mezze cart from which we could choose from a variety of Turkish appetizers. I, of course, went for extra smoked salmon, and then tried one of almost everything else. I felt like a child on a field trip, and couldn’t understand how the man sitting next to me had opted not to eat at all. (Later, on the return trip, I figured out why — the business lounge at the airport had probably a dozen different food stations, where food was cooked right in front of you. He had probably eaten there.)
For dessert, the cart appeared again, this time carrying an assortment of Turkish sweets, including baklava my favorite. I was in seventh heaven although I did not figure out how to make the seat go completely flat until my return trip. I watched movies and dozed a little. Even if I didn’t sleep much, it was remarkable what a difference being able to lie down made. I speculated on what life would be like if I could afford to fly business or first class wherever I went. I realized, of course, that if I hadn’t spent a small fortune over the year rescuing cats (and now dogs) and caring for them, I probably would, by now, be able afford the more expensive travel option. But, in the end, I could not justify not helping animals in need just because I wanted to upgrade my seats when I flew. The idea was ludicrous. I hoped that what I was doing would make a difference for these two furry beings as well as the people who finally adopted them. I know my priorities are straight, even if it means that I have to fly economy for the rest of my life.
Arrival in Boston was uneventful. Again I had to go through agricultural security to retrieve my beasts. Conveniently, it was right across from the carousel where my luggage was already appearing. A supervisor rounded me up a porter who promised to return to help me once he finished with another client. The porter was an older graying man, an American through and through. I was grateful for this because I knew that had I had a porter who did not speak English, and there are many these days in large American airports. In fact, the line of wheelchairs waiting when we got of the plane was a veritable mini United Nations of men and women. I needed to be able to explain my request for him to wait while I went to get the rental car to someone who would be able to understand a relatively complex transaction.
Our porter’s name was Peter, the name I was to be given if I had been a boy. He retrieved my baggage and placed it on a large carts and then said he had to finish the job he was already doing when the supervisor had snagged him to help me. That was fine with me as I was still waiting for the dogs. He disappeared into the bowels of the airport to finish whatever he had been doing. I waited. This time, it was not two silent travel crates that arrived. I could hear them coming down the hall long before I could see them, the baritone and the soprano. Obviously, they were both fine and now apparently so much in the swing of air travel that they weren’t afraid to speak their minds about the quality of service to anyone whom they thought might listen. They cleared security and we waited for our porter to return. I hadn’t had to lift anything, or even run around and find my own porter. The service was impeccable.
It was early evening in the airport but relatively quiet. Apparently, not too many flights arrived that late. Peter originally wasn’t sure if his boss would let him take the time to help me get to a pet station and then to a rental car, but, when the time finally came, his boss gave him the go ahead. He rolled us out to the pet relief station outside the terminal; in Istanbul, there are none. In Boston, there is one at every terminal and the dogs were freed long enough to sniff around a large square of bark mulch and pee. Peter had yet one more thing to do so he left us there so we could take our time.
Rental cars at Logan are no longer in the terminal. They were housed in a separate building; large regular buses came by to take passengers and the luggage to the rental center. Peter and I discussed our options. The buses would hold all the luggage and the dogs, and he could help me load everything. Would there be anyone to help me at the rental center? Or even any luggage carts large enough to handle everything? He didn’t know the answer and neither did I.
You know, I get off at 8 PM and it is now 7:30. We will lose more time discussing all this or, if you take the bus that is just arriving, you might be able to get there and back by 8:00, he explained. Come back to terminal E.
I hopped the shuttle and then began to panic as it wound around a variety of different intersections and ramps. Could find my way back? I had booked an SUV but the clerk gave me a minivan for free. However, when I picked up the vehicle in the parking garage after getting my contract, I happened to mention how great it was because of the dogs and the gal said that dogs weren’t allowed in rental cars!
Just keep them in their kennels so you don’t get charged, and she put all the seats down for me and handed me the key. Had I not asked Peter to wait while I got the car, and had taken everything, and everyone, with me to get it, I would have, in all likelihood been refused the rental. I had a fleeting image of myself standing in the airport with all my worldly possessions and two dogs and no rental car and gave thanks. Again, fate was on our side: I had not mentioned the dogs when I picked up the rental contract.
Thank you so much for helping me.
I wanted to make sure that you got the help you needed. I wondered then if it was my obvious older age that had spurred the concern. Thank god, chivalry is not dead…
We pulled out of Boston International Airport around 8:30 PM. The dogs were curiously silent by this time. Being able to pee was a great relief, I assume. Nobody had pooed. I took the longer, but easier route, using interstates the whole way. According to the internet, the time was the same if you took 90 West to 91, as if you took Route 2 which wound around various roundabouts and was single lane for much of the way. I was in a larger vehicle than I was used to, and I had been traveling for 40 hours. We cruised through the night and I realized that, because it was dark and I was not used to the vehicle, it was probably going to take us longer than the 2.5 hours it was supposed to take to get to our final destination in Vermont. And then, about an hour away from Brattleboro, I was overcome by sleep and had to pull over in the rest area that conveniently appeared on the horizon when I needed it. I slept for an hour. The dogs were still quiet. Miraculous.
Just before midnight we hit southern Vermont and, bless their hearts, both dogs started yapping. Are we there yet? I am ready to get out now. When can I get out? I’m tired of being cooped up. They went on and on like this for the last 20″ of our drive. Somehow they knew that we were almost home and they were making sure that I didn’t forget that they were in the back, as if I ever could.
As we pulled up to the front door of Black Mountain Inn, I heaved a sigh of relief. It was 12:15 AM. I climbed out of the van and went up to the entrance. The door was locked. There were lights on throughout the lobby but no people. I knocked, I banged. Clearly, no one was there. Here I am, it’s 12:30 AM and we cannot get into our hotel room. Do we sleep in the car until daylight? That didn’t seem like such a great solution. Luckily, the Colonial Motel, just next door, had a front desk which was manned 24/7 and they had a room, a nice big room with a huge king bed which, once again, the dogs quickly appropriated for their own use. During the night we dozed (forget getting a good night’s sleep after a 40 hour trip and a 10 hour time difference) and we made several trips outside in the hopes of staving off disaster since the room was carpeted. At one point, when I was getting dressed to take them out again, I saw Shiva go into his stance and watched in horror as a tiny trickle of urine headed for the carpet. Instead of putting on the shirt that I had in my hand, I bent down and held it under the miniature waterfall until it ended. Whew!
The next day, after discussing with the manager, Tina, how we came to be locked out the night before, we moved into the Black Mountain Inn. She waived the pet fee for our inconvenience the night before. In the afternoon, Karin, the woman who was to adopt Lakshmi, and our mutual friend, Janie, who was responsible for making the match, came to meet the dogs. Karin had driven all the way from Cleveland to pick up Lakshmi. Both dogs were, as usual, thrilled to meet new people and we spent the afternoon talking and walking while Lakshmi and Karin got a bit used to each other.
We did not sleep much our last night together. I didn’t want to miss my last moments with the companions whose needs had occupied my attention for the last six months. They, in turn, were excited to be in a new place. We walked in the dark together, pooing and peeing to our hearts’ content. We even met a cat, sitting on a stoop, who did not budge when we turned the corner in front of her. Lakshmi backed away in terror; Shiva was so busy playing in the fallen leaves, he didn’t even notice. When I looked back, the cat had disappeared and Lakshmi had recovered her confidence. In the end, we simply stood together and watched streaks of pink across the sky behind Hannaford’s supermarket herald in the morning .
I would never in a million years have expected to ever find myself walking two dogs at 5:30 in the morning on Putney Road in Brattleboro Vermont. I wondered in that moment where I would be, and doing what, at the same time in a year. I now knew for a certainty that my life was truly full of possibilities beyond my wildest imaginings.
In the morning, Karin came to pick up Lakshmi and I tearfully watched them drive away. Despite numerous ads being posted for two months prior to our arrival, and Janie’s tireless efforts to find him a home, Shiva had to go to the Brattleboro Human Society, a no-kill shelter staffed by friends, to await his forever home placement. My trip to the U.S. had hinged on their taking the dogs and finding them homes if my ads failed to uncover anyone before we arrived. I took Shiva to the shelter and sat for awhile with him and the canine specialist, Eric, to help them bond. A new transport of dogs had arrived the day before and the din of dogs barking, the one thing that I knew bothered Shiva, was deafening. I was worried. How could I leave him here? How could I not? Everyone at the front desk oohed and aahed about how cute he was and Shiva glowed with their attention. Eric told me that he thought he’d be adopted quickly, given his age and the fact that he was a unique breed. Still, I decided to return in the evening to see how he was doing.
He is having a hard time, was the report when I returned. He nipped Eric. He seems to prefer women to men. Well, that could explain the two occasions when, for no reason, he barked at men whose paths we crossed during our numerous daily excursions although one of them said he thought it was because Shiva could smell his dog. In truth, if he had a preference, it had not hitherto been obvious. In Kathmandu, he was always eager to greet anyone, male or female; I repeatedly had to drag him away from running up to both men (except for the two occasions mentioned above) who obviously were not interested in him. His vet, his trainer, the vet technician, the kennel owner, all were men. I hoped that it was just the stressful circumstances in which he now found himself which were revealing a possible preference, and that it would not be one that affected his adoptability.
Usually, it is men who abuse animals, I was told. Perhaps he had a bad experience with men before you found him. We will just let prospective owners know that he may prefer women to men.
Shiva loved all the women at the shelter, who cooed over him in baby talk and said that they wished they could take him home themselves. To be sure, he was less effusive with Eric, but nipping someone was not something he had ever done before except in play. Still, I was thrilled to see how well people responded to him both in the shelter and when we went out walking, and how, his less than enthusiastic response to Eric notwithstanding, excited he was to meet new people and have their attentions showered upon him.
He will be fine, I was assured, but Eric appeared grateful for my suggestion that I continue to visit him twice a day, to walk him and play with him. I promised to continue cooking ground turkey in my microwave and mixing it with rice from the nearby Chinese restaurant for him until I left. In truth, I actually cooked more than a week’s supply before I left, and put it into the freezer. I hoped that they were right, that he wouldn’t need it because he’d find a forever home quickly but, just in case…
Apparently, all Shiva needed was a night in the kennels with all his compatriots. Perhaps they had a conference, compared notes, and figured out that life was not so bad and that they wouldn’t be there long. It is difficult to say what goes on in the canine mind. All I know is that when I arrived the next day, Shiva was reported to be a “new man”. He had apparently bounced up in delight in the AM when one of the girls at the front desk had gone to greet him and was now in love with Eric. I still visited him twice a day for my three remaining days in Vermont. We took long walks and he discovered the pleasure of rolling in deer droppings, playing with running water in a stream, and crunching through fallen maple leaves. Going back to his kennel was not his favorite activity, but he did so without complaint after an initial digging in of heels which only resulted in him sliding across the floor as his leash was pulled. He was no longer hiding in his travel carrier inside his kennel. Instead he was out and about, using the bright pink cushion that someone had placed for him next to crate.. Perhaps, in his free time, he was “hanging” with the giant shaggy dog in the corner kennel; the only dog whom he could actually see.
Shiva could not be put up for adoption until the Humane Society’s vet had examined him and, since the shelter was closed for adoptions on Mondays and Tuesday, Wednesday was the first day he would be available to prospective owners. I was leaving on Monday…
I knew that I would not be able to sleep easily until he was safely in his forever home, but I was confident that he would find one and, if the staff were to be believed, it wouldn’t take long for this to happen. I prayed that good news would be awaiting me upon my return to Kathmandu. They promised to email me once he was adopted. Happily, on Monday, at the end of my last visit, I learned that someone had seen his ad posted at St. Michael’s church and was already on the phone inquiring. He was a member of the Humane Society board, well-known to all staff, and had a reputation for doting on his pets. He and his partner had recently lost their dog. They still had a Himalayan cat.
I don’t know who posted his ad at the church; I had only sent it to my vet and the humane society, as well as a few friends, none of whom went to St. Michael’s. So somewhere out there there is a good Samaritan who not only saw the ad but took the time to print it out and post it. I will forever be grateful to this anonymous stranger.
Do you think he’ll get along with a cat? , the woman handling the inquiry asked. It seemed poetic to me that a Nepalese dog be placed with a Himalayan cat. I had no idea how he would respond. Well, I am sure after a few swats across his nose from the cat, if necessary, he’ll get the idea, she concluded.
That inquiry was a parting gift for me, a reminder that my boy would be eventually loved by someone. If that person was someone who donated their time for animal rescue, all the better. They would know how to handle his abundant energy and mischievousness. Despite others’ perception he might prefer women to men, I had always thought that he would do well with his own “guy”. The possibility that he might end up with, not one, but two guys to call his own was better than anything I could have imagined for him. I returned him to his cage and managed to make it back to the van before I burst into tears.
Why do I do this to myself? It hurts so much to leave him. He doesn’t know why I am leaving him there, why he is no longer snuggled up with me and his adopted sister on our bed in Kathmandu.
I wished that there was a way that I could explain to him that I was leaving him so he could eventually have a better life in his own forever home, where he could live a long and happy life, playing in his own yard with people who would be there for him for his lifetime.
Remember, this is not about your comfort or your pain, it is about helping an animal in need. I reminded myself. You have made a difference in the lives of these two sweet beings and that is a good thing… Still my heart ached as I drove away.
It was not until three days later that I learned that the adoption had gone through and Shiva now had a forever home with two dog-loving (and dog-experienced) men and a Himalayan cat. It was a dream come true… He will love them to pieces, of that I am sure. And they will no how to handle his quirks. Still… after having watched him with all women whom he met in Brattleboro, I suspect that he may forever also be a “ladies man”. I wonder if the cat is male or female?…