I promised a post on the stray puppy we took in. I’ve been putting it off until I could bring you good news or any news rather, of his progress. I started writing this last week with a conflicted mind, hoping to poll readers on what we should do with him but as “fate” would have it our internet was shot the day I intended to post this. So here’s the story of… the puppy with no name.
Two Sundays ago we came home from our inspiring trip to Bissamcuttack to find a stray puppy, emaciated, shivering, scared, with cloudy blue eyes, very hungry sitting on our welcome mat. He had three bite marks on his haunches. The position of the marks led us to conclude that he was caught in the jaws of another animal i.e a dog. This being mating season and dogs moving about in packs, quite out of control fighting over females, I wouldn’t be surprised if the puppy got entangled in one such squabble. The result of the bite was not just deep ugly wounds but the blow had come to the periphery nerves radiating from the spinal cord that control the hind legs. The puppy could not move his hind legs and in a sitting position would drag his legs behind him.
He was living in our verandah/balcony under a little side table covered with a curtain, some newspaper and towels and old lungis on the ground and since it’s been raining he had a Russian army issue poncho covering his make shift digs. We took him to the vet the day after we found him. The vet was confident that Indian strays are so resilient that he would walk again. He was given painkillers, an antiseptic spray for his wounds and some vitamins/anti-oxidants. The spray did wonders and his bite wounds healed incredibly quickly. For the past two weeks he’s been eating well, seemed much more lively and even though his eyes are still clouded over (possible anemia, or caused by some trauma to the eyes) he is much healthier. He started to come out of his makeshift kennel and move around the verandah, even complaining when he was hungry or when Abroozi and I would go out. But as you can see in the picture below, his hind legs are absolutely stiff.
After 2 weeks he still couldn’t move his hind legs. We saw some improvement when he bent his “ankle” and was able to lift his haunches off the ground. But because he cannot move his hind legs we think it’s just the strength of his upper body giving him the ability to lift his haunches to assume a normal dog like stance, with his torso horizontal to the ground but without his hind legs taking the weight of his body. He only bent his ankle once and never again. Even though he sometimes assumes a normal dog’s standing position, he tips over very quickly. He moves around by dragging his dead legs and most of the time he sits on his bum and uses the strength of his front two legs to drag himself around. In the pictures below, the wound visible was a huge gaping hole which after a week healed remarkably well.
We noticed a real change in him when we put him out in the garden and even though he couldn’t move his hind legs he got around incredibly fast. I think being out in the open suited him better than staring at the high white walls of the verandah. It would be the same for a human being lying in a hospital bed staring up at a white ceiling all day. When he’s happy and being petted, his ears go long and sideways and reminds me of Yoda.
When we took him in, we gave him two weeks. It’s a fair amount of time to observe any signs of rabies and would give us a fair assessment of whether he shows any signs of using both or just one of his hind legs. I’ve seen many dogs manage just fine wth 3 legs but never with 2.
So this was our conundrum that I had wanted you to weigh in on. We had two options, either we take him to an animal shelter called Vishaka Society for Protection and Care of Animals (VSPCA) where they look after hundreds of abused or abandoned cows, water buffalo, dogs, cats, cobras, monkeys and birds. They have a huge sprawling acreage but we had not actually seen the premises. They are funded by generous donors from the US, Canada, Australia and some Indians but receive no government aid. The second option was to take him to the vet and have him put down.
My main problem with putting him down was, what right do we have to take his life? Isn’t all life precious? Had we actually done enough for him medically? The rational scientific argument is that he is no longer functioning as a dog is supposed to. The job or natural purpose of a dog is to run around and hunt etc. With 2 legs he will not be able to walk again or be a normal dog. If we set him “free” out in to the urban wilderness he wouldn’t last a day. He’d either get mauled by another animal or run over. In the animal world there is no compassion for the sick, the injured or the slow. It’s very common in the natural world for animals to kill the injured or dying. I’ve seen a flock of crows peck to death one crow that had been electrocuted on a power line who was dying. In the natural world, unlike in the human world, if you can’t do what your body was made for, you die. But in the human world we show compassion for those whose bodies and minds no longer function as biologically intended. I write this as the paralympic games celebrates the astonishing abilities of those with physical disabilities.
The other reason for putting him down is the lack of facilities in India to rehabilitate dogs with physical disabilities. If we lived in the US, they would put wheels on his back legs and he’d have a nice hard surface in which to drag those wheels around but we just don’t have those facilities in India. Even if we did fashion wheels for him, where in India would he have anything but dirt tracks to walk on that would actually be more of a hazard if he tips over.
The other argument presented to me was that now that we have taken him in, he’s become ours and shouldn’t we do for him what we would do for our own? Even though we have no emotional connection to him (we hadn’t even named him) he was now under our care. So what would we do if our Abroozi’s hind legs were paralyzed. Would we leave him at some shelter/ farm, thinking about his welfare everyday. Honestly, I would put ABroozi down in this situation if he was in pain, rather than leave/abandon him somewhere out of sight but still very much on the mind. So shouldn’t we extend the same principle to this puppy as well? Others would say that any life is valuable and precious and even if it is dependent on others, one cannot just extinguish a life just because of a disability. They call it mercy killing. Would I want to be in this situation, with no one to love and take care of me, without being able to fend for myself? Definitely not.
But how can we put down a puppy that apart from not being able to use his hind legs at all or wag his tail, is otherwise healthy. Is it better to put him down because otherwise he will live a miserable life, unable to run and chase and be a dog? Or is it better to put him down knowing that at least he is not going to die alone, afraid, hungry and in pain but cared for as best as was possible.
I just couldn’t face taking his life without exploring all the options. After much debate we took him to the VSPCA, on NH5 outside of Vizag toward Vizianagaram. When I had called them they said they would have to see the condition of the animal before they could decide whether to take him in or not. What we later discovered is a wonderful voluntary animal shelter funded by some generous Indians. Americans and Canadians. A sprawling acreage, filled with trees, fantastic composting, biogas, rain harvesting and intelligent re-use of the waste produced to power the shelter. Dogs roam around the campus free during the day and sleep in their individual 2 storey cages (water bowls below and a sleeping platform above) at night. There are around 375 such individual kennels.
The head of the pack is Mrs.Sharda. A slight older woman who is kind, generous and definitely going to heaven. When I asked her why she set this place up she said she didn’t have a family of her own, she loves animals and so this is her family. The dogs clearly respect her and would not let us enter until we were accompanied by her. The residents are an odd ball motley crew of animals, each with their own problems but living in complete happy harmony with each other. We saw a beautiful Great Dane who had been abandoned by a Navy officer. When they got transferred to a new post/station, they left the dog tied to a tree in the garden. The dog, Tiger had beautiful black stripes along his shiny brown body (ergo the name) but both his hind legs had a bone deformity. He walked a little odd and had some swelling but he was beautiful, affectionate and happy. There is only one other dog there, Maria, who cannot use her hind legs and get this – they got her wheels and she loves it. She’s able to move around freely with them during the day and only at night are they taken off when she sleeps. I was amazed and instantly very hopeful for the puppy we had brought. We didnt’ get to meet Maria but this is what a dog in a wheelchair looks like
Mrs. Sharda told us the puppy would be kept in quarantine for the next 3 days as his condition was assessed by the vet, after which she would call us to decide what could be done for him. We left feeling that we had done the right thing and that he was in the right hands. Being dog lovers we had to leave a generous donation and some other items like bed sheets,the lungi he had become accustomed to sleep on, towels, bowl etc for the puppy. Mrs.Sharda called the very next day saying they would give him therapy, including daily B12 injections that would stimulate nerve growth for a month and observe his progress. Obviously, he was worth saving. I intend to call in a couple of weeks to check up on him and find out what they named the little chap.
I know that some readers will be angry with me for even thinking of putting him down because unless the animal is very sick or rabid there is very little support for euthanasia in the Western world. But consider the argument that given the lack of facilities in India to look after, let alone rehabilitate injured dogs this is an option we are forced to consider. It is easier when viewing things from a position of privilege. But the VSPCA has opened my eyes to what people and animals are capable of achieving. There aren’t many places like the VSPCA around but it gives me hope for humanity that people and places like this exist in India. If you are an animal lover it costs just US$20 to sponsor an animal at the VSPCA for one month. As for the puppy with no name, I hope that his broken legs will not break his spirit.