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The strays

By Rana Preet Gill

In the times of the pandemic when social distancing has become the new norm, emotional distancing has come out as a byproduct. Somewhere this conflict has delineated the boundaries, traversed species. It is evident in the way changed perceptions have led to the dwindling number of stray dogs on the homely streets. And though this is a welcome development it is not the result of a conscious effort to rehabilitate such wandering souls, it is the result of a changed attitude that fed on the guile that dogs are a carrier and spreader of the dreaded Corona virus.  

Driving along the familiar roads we had been so habituated to see some of these strays that we always remember them as we passed by their favourite haunts.

 A certain white female with a pink nose would always sit outside a particular house as if awaiting her morning nashta or breakfast. We nicknamed her the pink nosed dog. Her eyes, the shade of pale yellow, jaundiced with the desire to have more, yet unable to ask for it. But how could a modest household splurge on a stray dog. A dog that would not be a guard and yet sit outside their house. A seeker of alms. In times of pandemic this generosity of sparing the scraps seemed to have died down.

We know that a pair of brown female dogs were together day after day often making us wonder if they were related to each other by kinship. They would be found at their usual spot, a blind turn that masked a road but was the private entry to a house, early mornings, late afternoons, slouching in the sun, keeping company, sharing a territory and the benevolence of the people in the form of food and knick-knacks. They are missing. The blind turn now desecrated by the foremost fear of saving human lives have let go off the strays.

 And there was the territorial shrine dog, with a peculiar elongated face, who would stand stiff, serving as the sentry to this religious place. He became my muse for an article that ended up getting published putting him at a cherished spot on my list of favorites. I would look up to greet him with a gentle nod which often went unacknowledged. Too stiff in his demeanor, too rigid to have beneficence encroaching his life he did not like affectations bothering him.

During times of lockdown I spotted lesser stray dogs on the road and none in their regular haunts. The pink-nosed dog is missing, the sisters gone, the shrine dog sank into oblivion. Either they have been driven away or they lost out on the generosity of the hands who fed them making them move out of those places, their self-proclaimed homes.

It’s not only the strays who burnt the ire of misconceived notions but the pets in loving families too were at a risk of being labelled unwanted. A friend who owns an affectionate Labrador was faced with a dilemma when the family objected to the howling of the animal at a particular time in the night. The times of Corona, rising cases, imposition of lockdown not only necessitated the perpetuation of unusual reasoning, it lead to a strange kind of fear. The elderly matriarch drew visions of Yamraaj (the god of death) visiting their home to claim its share of life in the wails of the animal.

The relatives when consulted advised the family to consult a certain Babaji who was kind to offer advice on phone empathizing with the family and reiterating the same facts.  The dog was indeed peculiar and the howling was definitely a bad omen. It had to go. When I got call from this harassed friend   to save her dog from home displacement by prescribing a medicine to put an end to its howling I was confused. Our adopted mongrels often howl in the dread of the night when the pups in the neighboring kennel create a ruckus. They respond to a stimulus.

 There was no letup in the animosity against this dog, the family stood firm in the castigation of this canine for an innocuous crime. But after a few sleepless nights my friend had uncovered the stimulus in this case. A patrolling police van crossed their home precisely at the same time. The siren was the stimulus.

The family not satisfied with this logic has decided to call the faithful Babaji once again, this time for a personal visit. The animal in question, bereft of the impending doom, unaware, romps merrily all over the house, a place where it has thrived since its arrival as a little pup. I hope the maw of these uncertain and testing times do not swallow home of a loving animal. I hope they let it be and let it stay.

Our adopted mongrels refuse to touch the pedigree, the dog feed, some days. A crease of disappointment crosses my face when they act pricy. The feed is expensive, I take out the money out of my precious salary to buy them this treat. My resources are limited but they do not seem to care.  The crows which live on the silver oak boughs have an eye for this tasty treat. When the dogs refuse to touch their bowls, they circle around the food to have their peck. I am disappointed by this behavior of my canines. They disrespect food bought and brought with love and care.

 I let the crows have their fill not before displaying my remorse in front of the mongrels but I am not too strict to castigate them.

We do not tie them, they are living by their free will on our property, they can howl, bawl, be whimsical. We have accepted them as they are. Their soft moans at our approach and that subtle wagging of the tail tells me they are happy with us. This fear of Corona did not pervade our home, we did not drive them away. For now, their territories are safe. They future seems secure as long as they do not feel tethered in the confines of our home. Outside, the world is brutal. I wish I could explain this fact to them but they close their eyes and place their snouts on my feet, beseeching, pleading for a rub on their backs. They are not aware of the outside world around. For now, they are happy to be choosers in this house which they have adopted as their home. They have chosen us to be their benefactors and we are glad to have them.  

Rana Preet Gill is a Veterinary Officer with the government of Punjab, India. Her articles and short stories have been published in The Tribune, Hindustan Times, The Hindu, The Statesman, The New Indian Express, Deccan Herald, The Hitavada, Daily Post, Women’s era, Commonwealth writers. org, Himal, Spillwords press, Setu Bilingual, Active Muse and Indian Ruminations. She has compiled some of her published pieces into a book titled Finding Julia. She has also written two novels – Those College Years and The Misadventures of a Vet.

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One reply on “The strays”

This small piece is limited not only to the plight of strays but also holds the description of some dogs especially the pink nosed. The writing becomes more interesting with the superstition behind howling of dogs.
The reference of silver oak, crows, mongrel their eating habits make it more real. Last but not the least, the emotional distancing during pandemic conveys the message to empathize with the strays.

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