Life With Buddy the Miracle Street Dog

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Asia » India » Tamil Nadu » Madurai
February 22nd 2020
Published: February 22nd 2020
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I picked up Buddy from the streets of Madurai on January 9. I didn’t have a fully thought-out plan. But the vague plan was this: help him get well, return him to the street where he seemed to be happy. Best case scenario: find him an adoptive home.

Plans never go as planned. Everyone knows that. Over a month later Buddy is with me. He conquered a deadly case of tick fever, only to be diagnosed with mega esophagus.

This diagnosis is a death sentence for a street dog. The condition is probably why he had lost so much weight since I saw him a year ago. The wide places in his esophagus trap the food, preventing it from reaching his stomach. It is a condition that rarely reverses itself. Medication can assist with the regurgitation of food, but this dog will always need help. Upright feeding. Upright sitting after feeding to encourage gravity to get the food to his stomach.

I could have put him down. I could have done that before I got the x-rays and the diagnosis. His situation looked hopeless because he was starving, despite what I did. But since diagnosis I’ve learned I can manage this condition by preparing soupy food, small meals and more meals, having him eat while upright, and holding him for 20 minutes afterward in an upright position. He’s not regurgitating as much, so he mostly holds down the food.

My plan was to get a special “Bailey chair” built for him. It’s used by thousands of dogs in the US with this condition. India is another story. Just finding a carpenter was almost impossible. I asked a few friends. I asked the butcher shop owner. I asked a man at a tea stall. I’ve learned who is a real friend here—while I was disappointed in one friend after he promised to help then did not respond, another whom I just met tried immediately to assist. Another friend brought a carpenter to me one day, and the both of them thought the whole scheme was hilarious. He didn’t want my sketch of the chair with all the measurements because he said he couldn’t understand it. The price he gave was very high, so he would pursue using other materials. No chair so far, no dependable carpenter.

That same friend who brought the carpenter told me everyone around was laughing at me for taking care of a street dog. ”No one cares about them,” he said.

Excuse me, but Buddy is a mixed breed—looks like a cross with a husky—but he’s got the ears of a street dog. He’s certainly lived the life of one. Doesn’t matter anyway. And I would never just leave him tied up for a couple of days as he suggested. “Just leave him some biscuits and water.” He was serious.

My other plan was to get a neck pillow made that Buddy could wear while lying down to help prevent regurgitations. I showed photos of the pillow, readily available in the US, to tailors. One said she’d call me the next day and I was so hopeful she’d do the project. No interest. I searched for another. She laughed at the whole idea. But she and I walked to another tailor down the street to look for cloth scraps to make one. He laughed at the idea of a pillow for a dog.

Then the epiphany as I was looking at my pillow. I would make one myself. I ripped out the stuffing and marked on the case. I took the pillowcase back to the last tailor I talked with and made her sit at her machine and I told her exactly where to stitch. She thought I was a bit strange. Her eleven-year-old daughter watched with much interest. They both spoke no English and I was so tired of trying to think of Tamil words. But I came back with a pillow for Buddy’s neck. Which he hates. I need to get the Velcro closures on it.

Despite the pillow and all the pokes to draw blood or give fluids, Buddy trusts me. Has he ever had a human hold him? And sing to him? Stroke him gently? Give him a neck massage? Pat his belly to burp him? Give him chicken and real dog food and eggs and pumpkin and vitamins? No. I’m the first.

I can’t imagine what his street life was like. He’s got a huge piece out of his ear, where the “Corporation” captured him and neutered him and marked him. The other ear is tattered from a dog fight probably. But he seemed at home where I found him, had his best friend Zelda, and knew where he sat in the pecking order of all the street dogs in the area.

Buddy has changed my final weeks in India. I had planned to travel—go to the wildlife preserve and look for tigers, go to the hills and cool off, go to the coast and see the ocean, go here, go there. But I feed him, at least every four hours. He needs to gain weight. He gets anxious when I walk down the street without him to the bakery for a snack. Or next door for a meal.

Buddy has a human now.

Sometimes we hop into an auto with a friendly driver and go to the village where there’s a big lake and we can walk a little. He loves the auto ride. He takes in everything. I snap photos of the people living their village life and Buddy watches the brown paddy fields spin by.

I walk him daily, as early in the morning as I am able, when the milk lady is riding her bicycle around and putting packets of milk on people’s gates. And the idli batter man rides his bicycle to houses and scoops ladles of white frothy batter into an outstretched vessel. Women in house dresses toss water on their driveways and entrances, then allow kolum designs to flow from their fingers to the ground to call in prosperity to their homes. Shopkeepers sweep the walkways of trash and leaves into little piles that blow back where they’ve swept. Crows and other noisy birds fly about, some finding fat cows to land on where they peck bugs. Buddy and I see all these happenings early in the morning.

The local street dog pack is around, too. At least a dozen members. One morning we got too close to a trash pile where three of them were well-camouflaged. They startled Buddy and me with their growls and barks.

There’s one hefty boy who has the body of a pit bull but the face of a hardened street dog. He stares at Buddy, tries to get closer. As long as I’m with Buddy he won’t come too close. But if Buddy ever got loose in the neighborhood, look out. More than once he’s shown interest in the pack and has strained at the leash and was close to pouncing. I jerk on the leash, trying to snap him out of his fascination with his old life.

The neighborhood seems to be middle class, with many pedigree dogs behind fences. They bark as Buddy and I walk by. Buddy isn’t interested, except when he stops, purposely I think, in front of a barking dog behind a gate just to annoy him even more. We’ve stood for five minutes just listening to the pent-up dog vent at Buddy, freely walking the street with me.

Buddy loves trash. He has to inspect everything. If I’m not careful, he’ll grab a plastic bag of discarded food and start eating. Once he saw a woman dumping a big bag of trash and he strained at the leash to go investigate. He’s triggered by garbage because that’s how he’s survived. Looking for edibles in people’s cast off scraps.

He’s also stimulated by people. There are the good ones—who smile at him, ask me if he bites, and when I say no sometimes they’ll talk to Buddy who wags his tail. One woman even petted him and he adored the attention.

Then there are the bad ones. The ones who throw rocks at street dogs. The man in the hotel next door, the one I bribe to cook Buddy’s pumpkin every week, is someone I thought would at least tolerate street dogs. But one day I saw him hurl a rock at a street dog far away from him. For no particular reason, it seemed.

One morning I saw a woman throw a rock at a dog who had been walking on someone’s concrete fence. Buddy saw her do it also, and he went into alert, straining at the leash, ears perked. He did not like that woman.

Then there are the people who know I have this dog but have not seen him. Like at the chicken shop. I go there every few days to get Buddy 200 rupees worth of boneless skinless chicken breast. They always welcome me warmly and know the expensive chicken is going to a street dog.

I started buying the butcher tea—he was so pleased and surprised. But now I’m sure I’m not getting cheated, and they’re even cooking the chicken for me. I saw the butcher at the tea stall one morning and he surprised me by buying me coffee!

I met the owners of the tea stall, including the wife. One afternoon after a trying day of multiple regurgitations from Buddy and discovering the chicken shop was closed, I stopped by the tea stall. She asked me how I was doing and I told her I had many troubles. She asked me what troubles, got me a chair, turned on the fan, and told me to pay for the tea I ordered the next day when I had proper change. I told her about the sick dog. She said she had seen it in the auto as we went by on our way to the veterinarian.

Many troubles. Like what to do with Buddy. At first I resented that I ever got involved with him—he was ruling my life, and my pocketbook. Someone asked me, “Did you do anything today?”

”Yes, I went out for chicken.” She looked at me, stifling a laugh. Of course my answer was ridiculous. When “going out” means getting chicken for the dog, then my life is indeed revolving around dog.

Sometimes I go to the vegetable market, though. I hop in an auto to the market and examine all the fresh produce brought from the villages. I buy pomegranates and cucumbers and oranges for myself. Pumpkin for Buddy.

I had a dream. I had become pregnant, and I was telling everyone it was a real bummer because now what was I to do about this pregnancy? It was a big problem and a burden and now I had to deal with it. Instead of seeing it as a miracle and a blessing, I was cursing it.

I woke up thinking, oh there’s my Buddy. He’s come to me as a miracle. He’s a pot of love and so grateful for my attention and care. I’ve got him now, and he depends on me, and now I’ll love him as long as I’m here. Afterwards, I don’t know. But for now I won’t think about that. I will make the right decision when it’s time. For now I’ll make him as comfortable and as loved as I can.

Many people in the neighborhood stare at us. At me in particular. They stare from the buses and autos, they stare from their scooters and cars and bicycles and carts. They stare when they walk by me, from their yards, from their doorsteps. They all know Buddy is a street dog. They all know I’m a crazy Westerner trying to do good in a hopeless situation.

But maybe one in 50, or maybe one in 10 has thought, “Hmm, she’s giving a lot of care and attention to that tattered street dog. She’s showing kindness to that creature I’ve always thought was a nuisance. Hmm.” Maybe in that person’s dreams, he finds a creature that is unwanted and unloved and abused, and for an instant his heart is softened and he reaches out.

I received a lecture from a man one evening. “Madam, if you’ll look around, you’ll see countless animals on the street. See those cows? See those horses? Those dogs? This is how it is. We can’t change it. This is India.”

Indeed, this is India. But I can change it. Yes I can. One dog at a time. One day at a time.

Additional photos below
Photos: 36, Displayed: 30


22nd February 2020

The heart of Buddy
Lovely story about your connection to the amazing Buddy. He is a very lucky dog, indeed. I hope you find a happy place for him.
23rd February 2020

Thanks Vicki. Two hearts. All about two hearts.
22nd February 2020

Showing love to the lowest of the low, a street dog will, I believe...
cause some people to stop and reflect. One of the elders in our church is a vet, and he is going to India to take care of animals there. How a society takes care of animals is a reflection of how they take care of people. Thanks for writing about you and Buddy!
23rd February 2020

This boy is still so trusting and friendly despite the life he’s had on the street. Thanks for your comment.
23rd February 2020

Buddy Love
Terry I read this post with such mixed emotions. Regardless of how the story ends, Buddy knows he is loved and that is everything! He had the most beautiful eyes. I'm not sure if you've seen an Australian Kelpie - there are many similarities to Buddy. We have two red and tan Kelpies, and Buddy could easily pass for a cream Australian Kelpie cross :)
23rd February 2020

Australian kelpie cross—from now on, that’s his breed—if anyone asks. Thanks for your comment. Mixed emotions indeed. I could hardly write the piece.
23rd February 2020
Terry and Buddy out for an evening ride

Awww that face!
This is the most adorable thing I've seen in a long time! x
23rd February 2020
Terry and Buddy out for an evening ride

Adorable Face
My face or his? We look kind of similar I think. Thanks for your comment!
24th February 2020
Terry and Buddy out for an evening ride

I'm going to edit that and say 'both your faces' :D

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