Many of us would have come across a common fixture in our locality – that of the Indian Mongrel. Sometimes referred to as “Strays” because they don’t belong to any one home, they are taken care of by a few animal-loving members of the neighborhood. We too had a community dog called Kariya, who we buried a year ago.
When I moved into the apartment complex in 2013, Kariya and his sister were prominent members of the community. It was clear that they were born within the compound; probably their mother was brought in by the construction crew as is a common practice. They were approximately 2 years old at that time. While his sister was friendly and trusting, Kariya was always wary of humans. His sister passed away suddenly in 2014 after eating something poisonous. He lived on for another 6 years and passed away a year ago, today.
Kariya was very different from the other community dogs that I have come across. His mistrust of humans was deep-rooted, maybe because of some trauma during his childhood. He had this knack for identifying people even at a distance and adapting accordingly. He would go into the “stealth” mode whenever he spotted the guards or someone who did not like him, merging himself so well into the surroundings that you could pass within one feet of him and not realize that there was a full-grown dog there. It was because of this that he was sometimes fondly referred to as “Shadow”.
While he was never the tail-wagging kind, he did not run away from people who liked him and sometimes even allowed a few the privilege of sharing his space – always at a few feet’s distance. After years of meeting him daily and letting him choose his space, he had started allowing us to sit next to him – but never touch him. My pet dog Scotty too seemed to accept him and freely shared his treats during our morning meets.
Kariya was the exemplary example of community living, practicing the “Live & Let Live” philosophy. So much so that many people did not even realize that we had a resident community dog for over 10 years. He quietly went about his business every day, snoozing for the most part of the day in different chosen spots like the cool mud of the lawn, the shade of the pergola or a friendly parking space. He never chased or attacked the spirited kids, residents or their pet dogs. He was also self-toilet-trained in the sense that he would do his business only inside the bushes and never on the lawns or pathways.
His romps outside the compound resulted in many injuries. But he was a thorough fighter. Once, his front leg was severely injured. I was out of town when it must have happened and upon return, I became worried when I didn’t see him for 2 days in his usual spots. After searching the 24-acre property, we found him in a corner of the basement. His leg was in a bad way and it looked like a vehicle had run over him. It took a lot of coaxing and the help of professional dog catchers to secure him and temporarily house him at an NGO so that a vet could treat him on a daily basis. Initial diagnosis hinted at an amputation. However, we did not want to give up hope and make a hasty decision as it meant that the quality of his life would be compromised. The community came together and pitched in for his treatment. Kariya too proved he was a fighter and showed great cooperation with the surgery and recovery. After multiple surgeries and a month-long recuperation at the NGO, a very plump and healthy Kariya returned to his home, albeit with a slight limp initially. He went on to live a peaceful life for another 3 years and passed away due to cancer. I am sure he is now running freely in a better world across the rainbow bridge.
Here are a few life lessons that Kariya taught me
- Life is beautiful when you learn to co-exist because it takes all kinds of people to make the world go around.
- Establish your boundaries and respect those of the others.
- Take it easy. Chill in the warmth of the sun – it can do wonders to your well being.
- Be resilient – there is nothing that can’t be achieved if you put your mind to it.
- Be wise when you choose your friends.
- Learn to trust your instincts.
If you are a caregiver to a community animal, here are a few tips you can follow
- Understand that the animal belongs to the community and enlist the help of like-minded fellow residents. You cannot bring it up alone.
- Make the effort to win people over. Remember, not everyone likes or understands animals. It does not make them bad people – just ones with different viewpoints from yours. Some battles can be won without arguments and animosity.
- Take the initiative to ensure that the animal is vaccinated. This not only keeps it healthy but also prevents the spread of diseases to other pets within the community.
- Similarly, get the animal neutered to avoid breeding and adding to the stray population.
- Keep the surroundings clean so that it does not become a nuisance to other residents, some of whom may not be animal-friendly.
- Keep yourself updated about the laws – both of the community as well as the government.