by Chinthana Gopinath
I remember the small cage that I’d spent my life in. I was provided food & water in that space, I even had to poop & pee right there. I have a vague vision of having a mother; brothers and sisters with whom I’d spent a little time running & playing, not knowing fear. But is it really a memory? Or just my imagination, conjured up from many years spent in my little cage? I can’t be sure. I could barely stand in that cage. I had a heavy metal chain around my neck with a round pendant that had a number inscribed on it. That was my identity, just a number. I remember the men in the white coats, wearing white gloves. I was afraid of them, very afraid. I was poked & prodded by these men. I still bear some scars on my body from that time. I would cower & try to hide every time they came near my cage but there was no place to go.
I know there were many more like me in the room. I could hear their whimpering in the dark. Some would die and they would be removed. Some new little ones would come in, their innocent childish voices would ring clear across the room until after sometime, they learnt to be silent like the rest of us. How long was I there for? I don’t know. Time had stood still. Each day flowing into the next in an endless stream of despair. Each season bled into the next in this temperature controlled room that we were in. Nobody knew that we were here, nobody cared.
One day however, things seemed a little different. The hushed tones of the men in white coats were peppered with new words, “rescue”, “release”. I didn’t know what that meant; but the poking & prodding stopped. We were left untouched for a while in our little cages. Until suddenly, one evening, I could feel my cage being lifted. I peeped out through the grill to see that all the other cages were being lifted as well. What was happening? Where were we going? We were brought out of the room and put into the back of a big blue box that had big black wheels. And that big blue box slowly started to move. We were taken to a place that they called a “shelter”. We were moved out of our little cages to a small enclosure. At least we could walk around a little bit here.
A couple of men approached my enclosure. I stuck to the wall at the end of my enclosure, were these men going to do to us what all men have always done to us? But this time, it was slightly different. These men spoke in soft soothing tones with the words “good boy” being used quite often. They gently examined my entire body. I heard them mention that there was a growth in my testicles and that I needed surgery, they thought it could be cancer. I didn’t know what any of this meant. I just sat in my enclosure staring blankly ahead of me.
Many things happened over the next few days. I was made unconscious, which I think has happened to me before in the laboratory, I’m not sure. The growth in my testicles was removed, my rotting teeth and gums cleaned out. I heard a new word around me now; people were saying “adoption”. I put my head down and went to sleep. Nothing was making sense to me, it was all so confusing. Soon I was packed into a little cage again. Were they taking me back to the laboratory? I hoped not but dare I hope? Dare I hope for a better life? Dare I believe that I was somewhat important in this world? Dare I hope that somebody cared for me? My cage was put into the moving blue box again. I didn’t know what was ahead.
A short ride later, I was handed over to two brothers, Ravi & Anup. I didn’t know it at the time but my life had changed completely. I would learn things that I never knew existed in this world.
They carried me up a flight of stairs to what they said was my new home. I slowly walked around the one bedroom apartment, looking around. All the time, I had an eye on the two humans in the room while they had their eyes on me. I stepped out on to their terrace. As I walked around, I felt something warm on my skin. It felt so good. It soothed the aching muscles. I sat down in that patch of warmth that I later learnt was called sunlight. Sunlight remains one of my favourite things; I tried to soak up as much of it as possible. Why was I denied this pleasure all these years?
peace at last
It felt good to be able to walk around but I stayed away from the humans. I overheard Anup telling Ravi, “Just forget that he’s here. Give him his food and make sure he has water. He will come to us when he is ready.” So over the next few days, they just ignored me and let me be. I sat in the sun as much as I could. The thought occurred to me that maybe, just maybe these humans would do me no harm. I thought I’d go & check them out. What did I have to lose? What could they do to me that I hadn’t already endured? I went to them. They stretched out their hand towards me and said “Duke”. I flinched. Every time a human has reached out to me, it has been to hurt me. I braced myself for what was to come. But what came next was a surprise. They just gently ran their hands on my neck and my back. They stroked me and said “good boy Duke.” It felt so good.
One morning, Anup said to Ravi that I needed a bath. It didn’t scare me; I was beginning to trust these two humans. They took me into the bathroom and poured some warm water all over me. Then Anup took some liquid into his hands and started massaging my body. I let out a sigh. I wished this bath thing would never stop. More warm water was poured all over me and I was sent to the terrace to indulge in my favourite pastime – sunbathing.
my first bath and massage !
I distinctly remember the first time I was being taken for a walk. I have a soft black collar now instead of that heavy painful metal chain. Anup clipped on a leash to my collar. Some painful memory returned to haunt me. I started writhing and screaming. No!! No!! Not again!! I felt the same soothing touch on my back and the same soothing voice saying, “shhh, its ok, its ok Duke.” I opened my eyes to see Anup looking down at me and I came back from my memory. I let him lead me, I trusted him. The first walk was scary, everything was new, the sights, the smells, the noises, everything. I just trustingly followed Anup. Over time, I’ve learnt to love going for walks. It helps me work out my old legs. Every time a stray dog comes within a few feet of me, Anup picks me up in his arms. He says he doesn’t want me to get ticks & fleas as I still have a couple of wounds from my years spent in the laboratory.
They are good humans, these two. They spend so much time with me. I’ve learnt to look at them when they say “Duke”. I’ve learnt to place my bum on the ground when they say “sit”, I’ve learnt to wave my paw in the air when they say “hi”, I’ve learnt to jump up in the air when they say “up”. The one trick I’m struggling with a little bit has the command “speak”. I try to but most of the time, only a puff of air escapes my throat. This one time though, a voice escaped my throat. The humans quickly took a video of that event. I’ve heard them say that I’m extremely smart to learn so fast, given that I am so old. I’m just having fun; after all I do get a yummy biscuit every time I do a trick!!
Anup & Ravi’s landlord came one day and said that they can no longer keep me here. If they wanted to stay here, they would have to give me up. I shuddered with fear. This is the only family that I have ever known, would they forsake me too? What they said next, I will never forget, “Duke is our priority, he is a part of the family and we will not give him up. You give us one month’s time and we will find another place to move to.” I watched them, stunned. Somebody was taking up for me. I was a priority in somebody’s life. I was important.
They have given me so much in the past few months. With my growing self confidence and self esteem, I can now say that I have given them quite a bit too. They say that they are more disciplined and responsible now. They have to wake up early every morning to take me for a walk. They have to come home from work on time to take care of me. I greet them with such exuberance and enthusiasm that it makes them smile. I run around playfully, unable to contain my excitement to see them come home to me. I believe that I make them feel good to realize that they are capable of such compassion and courage.
I often wonder how come they picked me. An old fellow, with not much time to live. Why me? Ravi says that no matter how old our bodies are, we remain playful little babies within, so age really doesn’t matter. Anup says that I was denied a childhood, so all he wanted was for me to be normal and happy for the rest of my days. He even says that I am an ideal dog. Yes, I’m going to repeat that, I am an ideal dog. I don’t make noise, I don’t destroy things around the house, and I am calm and peaceful. Who would’ve thought, little old me would be an ideal dog to somebody?
I know that there is another one like me called Phoenix. He had a small problem with his liver that has been treated. He is healthy, and was in foster care until now when two wonderful humans decided to open their home and their hearts to him ! With hearts as big as their sprawling coffee estates, Kushi and Bharath Bhimaya have decided to welcome Phoenix into their lives. Given his love for open spaces and sunlight, this is definitely a match made in doggy heaven. I’m so happy that Phoenix has found his happy ending !
my friend phoenix
like me, phoenix LOVES sniffing the fresh air and soaking up sunshine…
We are not what everyone’s idea of a dog is. We won’t cuddle into bed with you and snuggle into you right away. We just need some time, some patience, some understanding. We are learning everyday. We still flinch a little when somebody touches our paws or raises their hands suddenly in our direction. But we have come a long way. We are slowly learning to trust in humans, put our faith in them. We do enjoy being stroked and pet. I have learnt now to climb on the bed and sleep, it’s really comfortable.
my friend chinthana and i
I am now free. I am no longer bound by a small cage. I have space to walk around, I feel sunlight on my skin, I use my leg muscles to clumsily climb up & down the stairs. I have a food bowl, a water bowl, a mattress to sleep on, a roof over my head, I even have a fancy jacket to help me stay warm. I also have a cool name, I’m no longer an inanimate object identified by a number. Most importantly I have a family. Two men that will never forsake me, never give up on me. They will stand by me no matter what comes our way in the future. They are doing everything they can to make sure that I am a normal dog. I’m almost there; I just need to learn to run after that ball that they often throw. When I look into their eyes, feel their gentle touch on me, feel their kisses on my forehead, feel the warmth of their hugs, I feel that exhilarating feeling that I now know as love. It is when I feel this love that I am truly liberated, truly free. Why was I denied this my entire life? I will not dwell on that, I am not designed to hold grudges. I am designed to live fully in the now & that’s what I’m going to do. I’m off to bask in a patch of sunlight and in the love of my two incredible humans, Ravi & Anup.
Duke & Phoenix are two of the 28 beagles (all on average ten years old) rescued from a pharmaceutical laboratory in Bangalore. They are like playful little puppies, totally enjoying life outside a cage. Sunlight is an absolute favourite for both of them.
All the photographs of Duke © Anup Hela