Ours is a slow burning love. The type when two old people are sitting there comfortably in their chairs side by side watching the world go by. It was never an instant type of love. We had to warm to each other. Both with trust issues – mind through a broken heart and his through finding his place as a street dog in the world. He kept venturing into my house, stay a while then leave. Not sure if he was welcome. I wasn’t sure either.
I had a couple of experiences with desi (desi means local in Hindi) dogs. I had wanted to adopt one, there were so many too choose. In cases like this, you let them choose you. I had found one, a lovely little black male puppy, who was living with his mother outside my unit block. I would go down to feed him every day and night and bath him. It was a love I was looking for and he loved me back. But it was short lived. Being ignorant in the desi dog world, he needed to be vaccinated and I was completely unaware of the fact until too late. The puppy had contracted Parvo which is a very serious virus which attacks the dogs insides rapidly dividing cells, most severely affecting the intestinal tract. Parvo virus also attacks the white blood cells, and when young animals are infected, they can die within a short time. This is what happened. It was something I will never forget, having a few local loving dog owners whispering Buddhist mantras in his ear in the hope that it will find a better next life. Another came next, only to be bitten by a snake and dying just about instantly.
I wasn’t ready for any more dogs. I was bruised and battered by my inability to keep desi dogs alive beyond being puppies. I wasn’t ready for him, I didn’t want him. I only wanted one dog, not him. I had already committed to taking his half sister, BoBo from my neighbour. I tried to shoo him away so often. I took him to the local animal rescue (DAR) when he got sick and they dropped him back near my house. I was irritated that he had come back but something said in my heart said to keep him, he was meant to be with me.
After his sister BoBo, disappeared a few years ago, he came with me looking for her. I could sense he wasn’t really looking for her (they were close) . I realized that she wasn’t around, he had sensed it. A local villager has told me he is wise, a bit like a village elder who watches and waits then gives out very good advice. If Billy could talk I think be giving out very sound, solid advice.
Billy is different, he is and looks strong, fairly self contained (not for food though) silent and most of all resilient. He often gets mistaken for a Husky with his multi colours of beige, black and white and strong course hair. His eyes of course give him away, big, brown, round clear eyes. All seeing and all knowing. The eyes of a survivor.
My loves have become his loves or vice versa. We both love walking and have covered walking around the Himalaya foothills. During our walks he meets up with his friends, he loves other dogs and they love him. In the past, he has gone off with them high into the mountains only to come home just as I reached home. When I have gone mad at him he skulks away and knows he is in trouble. Now he is older and wiser there is no need to shout and go mad. His love for chasing local goats has bought me grief though. Having had to pay a local villager 3,000 rupees because he attacked a stray goat (or so I thought) whilst on one of my walks and another incident not long after that another tried to blackmail me into paying out more when he arrived at my place only to tell me that Billy had bitten his goat. As it happened the goat had been sheared the day before and had nicks all over it from shearing but couldn’t distinguish between nicks from shearing and bite marks from a dog. Our walks are less exciting these days, he is not allowed off the lead and has accepted his fate…another goat and dog story is one too many.
As I think more about my home in Australia and the idea of leaving Billy behind many months of the year, I make arrangements that I think will best suit him. Of continuing to have instincts of a street dog – who loves to cruise around the neighbourhood that he has grown up in and now being the dominant male. I think he would suffocate in my other world, of being caged in and bound by rules and regulations. Not being able to jump the back and side fence to go out exploring around the local neighbourhood. He would suffer, I would also suffer knowing that he is a desi dog by birth and by heart.
With Billy I have found comfort, a surety of unconditional love. We have been given a passport to enter each other’s inner world and love and treat each other well. He plays by my rules and I will care for him until the day he or I dies. He has embodied my need for companionship and I in turn embodied his. Taking him out to meet the other street dogs he knows and plays with. Giving him a comfortable bed and food twice a day, peppered by his favourite snacks, taking in another dog who coincidentally is his mother. I understand he needs a dog companion, I’m not enough. It is this understanding that sits between us. It is a comforting arrangement. One that may never repeat itself in my lifetime.