Rescuing a Dog In Madurai: Pushing Myself to the Limit

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Asia » India » Tamil Nadu » Madurai
January 19th 2020
Published: January 19th 2020
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On Thursday January 9 I took on a project. That’s an awful way to put it. But I took on a project—a heart-wrenching one. And so far I don’t have a happy ending. I have a hopeful ending. But not a happy one.

In the Lady Doak College neighborhood, Zelda’s little buddy was sick. Zelda is a street dog I’ve known for four years, ever since I rescued her pup from a bad injury. The sick dog was with her last year in January—he caught my attention because he was so friendly and so beautiful. His coat was clean, as if he’d just walked away from a good life in someone’s home.

But then this past October he had declined. He had lost weight and was lethargic, not like the bouncy dog I knew earlier. And the cough, the terrible, body-clenching cough. He was a sick dog. Very sick.

I knew I was going to do something for him. I had asked a friend weeks before about a good veterinarian. I’d been planning to do something for too long. Planning to get him to a doctor, planning to look after him. Why did I stop from doing anything. Why. Why. I waited way too long. He wasn’t going to get better on his own.

So January 9 was the day. The day before I had called a friend and asked if he would help me. He wasn’t at all interested in helping to save a street dog. Even though he’s always said call him if I need help. Even though I have helped him countless times in the last year, in substantial ways.

Helping a street dog seems to be low on most everyone’s priorities in India. Don’t get me wrong—there are plenty of dog lovers in India, but most are attracted to the pedigree dogs. The retrievers, the Dobermans, the pugs, the Dalmatians, the Pomeranians. Plenty of sweet street dogs to adopt, but they’re meant for the streets, not for the home.

That seems to be the attitude widely held. Sometimes I hate India. Sometimes I hate these attitudes that look the other way when a creature is suffering. My rescue mission was not like hanging out with friends or riding motorcycles, so my friend acted like he was busy with something important already. Of course he didn’t want to help. Rescuing a dog wasn’t fun. You had to feel to rescue a dog. You had to feel.

Am I bitter about his declining to help and never contacting me afterward to see how it went? Yes, but I won’t hang on to that feeling forever. It just helped me see the character of that friend. But I won’t be bitter forever.

Besides, I could still do the rescue myself. What was I afraid of? I thought the dog would struggle, or resist, or maybe even bite me. But he had always been the sweetest dog. I would feed him scraps of food along with Zelda. That was back in November, when I stayed at a nearby hotel and saw him daily. He was still so sick. And I didn’t help him then.

On Thursday, the rescue mission day, I showed up with a bag of cooked chicken. I thought I’d need it to lure him. I gave much of it to Zelda, then kept pieces for him. He was nowhere. I asked everyone at the tea stall. Where was he? I looked down the street, I looked on the cross street. Then he emerged from his resting place, under a vehicle up the street. Not hanging out with the other dogs. He always seemed to be a loner. Didn’t fight. Hung around with Zelda.

He came to me, slowly, and eagerly accepted bits of chicken. I put the harness around his head, then his body, and he stood there for it, and knew something was happening.

The men in the tea stall thought I had purchased a fancy leash for him, but it was just my stretch strap for exercising my legs. Worked perfectly. I had him between my legs, and he seemed too weak to do anything. I said to the onlookers that I was taking him to the doctor.

“Auto,” I said. And the man I frequently see smoking cigarettes at the tea stall, and who would greet me everyday and offer to get me tea, ran around the corner and called for an auto. He rounded up the right person. Everyone was helping me tell the driver the pet clinic’s address. I got in the auto, and the cigarette-smoking man lifted the dog into the auto using the halter strap around his chest.

The dog just sat there, between my legs on the floor of the auto. He protested for a few seconds, then gave up. I petted his filthy head and pressed my leg against his filthy coat of fur and told him it would be alright, I was taking him to the doctor and he would get better.

I didn’t know what to expect. I hadn’t even been to the clinic. The auto driver asked everyone along the way for directions, until I pulled out Google Maps and told him where to go. No problem. He even charged me a fair price and asked if he should wait.

The Vet Technician weighed him and filled out some paperwork. Owner’s name? Guess that was me, Terry. Dog’s name? “Don’t know. Hmm, Buddy, how about Buddy. That’s his name.” I discovered later that his name was written as “Putty.” Not a bad name, either.

He lay on the floor. I stroked his head and his chin to reassure him. He seemed to accept that this was the best place to be.

One of the first questions the veterinarian doctor asked me was if my pet was obedient.

“He’s very friendly,” I said.

“What’s the major complaint?”

“A terrible, body-racking cough. I’ve known this dog since January, and he’s lost weight and is lethargic.”

Buddy’s eyes were glazed over and tired. The doctor drew blood and left, telling me to sit down. I couldn’t of course. Buddy was on the examining table and all alone and scared. I had to comfort him.

Then the results. “Tick borne fever. Classic symptoms. See?” He pointed to the printout showing multiple abnormalities in platelets, white blood cells, hemoglobin.

I had not heard of the disease. But it is common in India and the rest of the world in dogs. Ticks spread several diseases, but this one was probably Echinosis, where a bacteria called a rickettsia is introduced into the bloodstream and wreaks havoc on the dog.

“This looks grim,” he said.

Oh no. Oh no. I’m too late, I thought, I’m too late.

He gave me drugs, lots of them—two antibiotics, liver support, ulcer suppressant, steroid, iron support for the anemia. I was to return with Buddy in two days for more injections. I couldn’t send him back to the streets. I couldn’t depend on anyone there to give him the medication. So I took him back to the place where I was living, resolved to help him recover from this deadly disease.

I watched him and I sat with him. And when he lay down on the steps, his head propped by one of them, I stroked his face and he closed his eyes. He stood up, panting, not moving, having little energy to do anything. He didn’t bark, he didn’t cry, he just followed me with those eyes.

I tied him to a post outside and went next door for dinner. Soon the restaurant people were saying, “Naai, naai” My naai? Yes! Buddy was standing on the edge of the street, leash on his neck, outside the gate. I ran over and stepped on the leash so he couldn’t go anywhere and guided him back in the yard.

He had untied his leash from the post and opened the gate. Actually I think a human had something to do with it.

That scared me. What would I do if sick Buddy had taken off down the road? But he was too weak to move much.

I cried and I cried. I knew he was sick, weeks back, and I didn’t do anything. I had waited too long. He was going to die. That’s what I convinced myself.

But he was a fighter. I could see that. He lived those months on the street with that deadly disease and he was still surviving.

And why did I feel compelled to go on that particular day and pick him up? Was there a fated path involved here for me and him?

I started the medications with much hope. But sweet Buddy could not hold down food that carried nourishment and his medication. He loved the chicken, and the chicken broth, and rice. But he vomited. And vomited. He was drinking water, that was a good thing.

The next morning I gave him ginger capsules with his chicken to settle his stomach. He held the food down for seven hours, I think long enough for the antibiotic pills to get into his system. But after that it just didn’t work. Eventually he puked up his food.

On Saturday, two days after I picked him up off the street and when I was to return to the vet for more injections, Buddy woke up and was perky and interested in his environment. He was hungry, and I thought we’d turned the corner. He ate the chicken and lay down and 15 minutes later puked. A great massive mound of chewed chicken and some of the rice from the previous evening.

I dreaded returning to the doctor. This dog was losing fluids. I dreaded to hear whatever the doctor would say.

When I set out for the clinic, several auto drivers went right past me and my sick Buddy. They weren’t willing to transport a dog. Until young Dinesh appeared in his brand new auto, all smiley and bright. Are you ok with the dog? Yes, he smiled. We got in and off we went. Dinesh carried Buddy into the clinic, and Dinesh held Buddy’s head when the Technicians started the IV and the doctor drew blood.

The doctor had said kidney failure. My heart sank, so low, so low. This dog deserved to live, and I waited too long to get him help, and now his kidneys were failing. I gazed at Buddy when he was receiving his fluids, telling him he was so brave and I was so sorry I didn’t help him sooner.

Dinesh saw my tears and tried to cheer me up by showing photos of his family.

My Indian son spoke with me on my cell phone and I told him I was sad.

“Don’t feel,” he said. Don’t feel.

“The kidneys are normal,” the doctor reported. “His platelets are up, but the hemoglobin has gone down. That’s not so good. I can take him here as a patient and we’ll care for him, but if something happens I don’t want you to blame us.” He said that several times. Don’t blame them if he dies.

“I know animals die,” I said. Of course they die. But care at the clinic seemed the best option for Buddy the street dog.

My little Buddy and I locked eyes before I left him in the clinic. “You can do this, Buddy, please come back to me. I’ll find you a good home. You can do this.”

I looked into shipping him home. I’ll take him, I thought. I can ship him from India. I looked into the process. It could be done, but would require that he’s in good health, vaccinated, and we would have to fly when the temperatures at each airport were not above or below certain levels. That would be tricky, really tricky. But it could be done.

And I gave up the idea eventually. I would find him a home in India. If he survived.

I visited the neighborhood where I had found him. The people at the tea stall who saw me take him asked about him. I showed them photos. Several of the people grew quiet and frowned. I kept telling them that he was such a good dog, but very, very sick. And might not survive.

I had planned a trip so would be away for five days, but I spoke with the doctors daily. They continued to give him intravenous fluids and medication—powerful medication to fight the infection. The first reports were that he would not take food. Then he ate food and vomited. But finally he was eating, and biting the cage, and barking. Buddy was coming back.

The doctor said he hadn’t vomited for 36 hours and so he was recovered. But he needed more medication to support his recovery. The clinic people wanted him out of there. The doctor showed me how he had chewed the flashing at the base of the door, and resisted mightily whenever they took him outside but wanted him to come back. He wanted to be back in the streets.

Now what do I do? Now what? Buddy, you need a home. I will keep you for one night, I thought, and hire a dog watcher to care for you after that until I find a home. I can’t manage by myself, so sorry Buddy. But I’ll work on finding you a home.

The dog rescuer in the hill station told me to send her cute pictures so she could send to a wider network of people. Yes, yes, a home is coming for you Buddy.

His first night away from the clinic he appeared so relieved to be with me. He looked at me with those loving sweet eyes and I felt his gratitude. I tried walking him a short distance along the street to the restaurant where the man said he’d boil some chicken for Buddy. But part way there Buddy froze and wouldn’t budge. A hefty street dog, his kingdom all staked out, growled and rose from his throne and snarled at Buddy and my legs. We retreated with my legs intact and Buddy in one piece.

He was famished. Since I couldn’t find someone to cook chicken for me, I bought chappatis (the doctor said bread was gentle on his stomach) and I had a small packet of chicken chunks. He ate everything, so hungry. Four hours later we had the predictable results. Chapattis in a bunch of stomach fluid is not pretty. Thirteen times he vomited over the next sixteen hours, losing at least a pound of vital fluids and nourishment. He drank water, but I think not enough. I phoned the vet clinic in the morning and the technician told me to speak with the doctor that evening. Why wait, I thought. We don’t want him dehydrated requiring IV fluids again.

Although he was hungry in the morning he took just a little food and quit, so I couldn’t give his medications. Not good. Not good.

And it was in the afternoon that I lost it. I lost faith in myself—questioned my actions, and felt the full sadness of the situation. Buddy was fighting, that was clear, but he was still sick. And I did not have the resources to care for him.

But I had to keep going. This soul was in my care, and I had to keep going.

When I bought chicken at the local shop, the butcher burst out laughing along with other customers when I told them the boneless breast fillet and chicken liver were for a sick dog.

I asked the people in the restaurant next door to boil it for me and I would pay them. But they were busy all day, and the chicken stayed in the fridge. The broth would have been nourishing and maybe tolerable. Maybe they just thought it was ridiculous to waste that good cut of animal on a dog.

And I recalled the auto ride with young Dinesh the evening I went to collect Buddy from the clinic—I called him because I recognized him as a dog lover and he knew the situation. He came 30 minutes late and so the clinic was super busy, and when we finally made it to my living place he charged an outrageous amount of money for the short rides and the wait. My body was burning with anger and my tears wanted to spit at him.

I had some support with this, thank goodness—the young woman upstairs has been interested and brought me a few supplies and even petted Buddy. She even started bringing white rice to me, solving one of my problems of not having a kitchen. I called home where one person in particular has been very sympathetic and wants me to bring the dog to the United States. I heard words of support from another close friend and dog lover in Madurai, too.

But what I really needed was physical assistance. I needed someone to sit with the dog so I could go get some coffee for myself, or food, or supplies, or drop off my clothes to the ironing man, without worrying about Buddy escaping or puking on himself or damaging something in his anxiety. I was feeling utterly alone with this sick creature I was growing to love.

I took him to the vet after all the puking. I had fed him too much food all at once, and his gastric distress prevented him from holding it down. Small amounts of bland food eaten slowly, meals six times a day, a spray on his gums which triggers an anti-nausea response could work better.

After 40 minutes of IV fluids and me holding his paws the whole time and singing to him, we left the clinic with him feeling a lot better. We had to walk about a half mile to find an auto rickshaw. But he did great and seemed to love the auto ride.

The careful diet plan was blown to bits when some well-meaning passerby left some greasy and spicy food leftovers for Buddy as he rested outside. I came outside with my small ration of white rice in chicken broth and he wasn’t interested. Yep. More dog puke that night. But not as bad as the night before, so I didn’t take him back for fluids.

In the meantime I located someone who would take Buddy to his house to care for him. I was worried about whether he would give all the medications and follow the diet plan and notice if he was getting dehydrated. I watched as the young man scooped Buddy into his arms and held him on the back of the motorcycle driven by the 15-year-old kid who would be doing “nice driving.” For a 45-minute ride.

Then I cried and cried. I still needed to find Buddy a home. I was just getting a break for a few days. My hope was wavering. A dog owner in the clinic with his dog had asked me if Buddy was my dog, and laughed at his torn ears and street dog origins. His dog—a German Shepherd—was extremely nasty. My car driver from my recent trip stopped with me at the clinic on my return and looked at Buddy, all dirty from his bout with death. I was hopeful he could find him a home—he even called a friend. “He’s been on the street,” he said, “so he’s had some damage.”

A damaged street dog. That’s what many in this country see. They don’t see his incredible loving nature.

So now I’m Buddy-less. In more ways than one.

This journey to India has pushed me to limits I’ve not known for quite a while. I wanted to explore, and deepen relationships, and take photos and interact with people and have experiences and feel the atmosphere and learn about people and their attitudes and….well, I guess I’m getting what I asked for. But I had no idea a rescue dog would be a part of the journey.

I’ve learned a lot. And mostly the learning has left me in tears and despondent. At least that’s the feeling at the moment.

But there is hope. There is still hope. It’s thin, and soft, but there is still hope. And I’m feeling—deeply and fully. I’m alive, and I’m feeling, and I’m in India.

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19th January 2020

So Sad!
Such a heart-wrenching story but so beautifully written. I wish there were more people in the world who loved animals so much -- there's so much neglect and cruelty! I hope that someone in India is loving and caring for Buddy as much as you did.
20th January 2020

Thanks for your kind words. Yes abundant neglect here for animals, yet there are many who care also but are not sure what they can do for the thousands of homeless animals. One animal at a time I think.

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