As an engineer I’m trained to look for the worst-case scenario of things and then fix them. As a Jatt I encompass the “Dekhi jayegi” attitude in life. It’s hard when your education conflicts with your culture.
So I see the positive in what most people would consider ‘a dismal circumstance’. On a recent vacation back to my hometown of Chandigarh, I noticed something about the stray dogs and their demeanor that I couldn’t quite put a finger on.
Back in US and doing my Sunday morning volunteer shift at the local animal shelter, I am tasked with taking a black lab for a walk.
“He’s too shy,” says the volunteer supervisor. “He came in last week while you were in India.” He pats the lab’s head. “Aren’t you a shy boy, Clooney?”
Clooney? I chuckle to myself. A shy dog named after the over-confident sex symbol George Clooney. We volunteers name dogs based on what we hope they will one day become after the love and care we show them.
I click the leash to the second-hand green collar and take Clooney for a walk. Walking the dogs and playing with them is the fun part of volunteering, but it is the most crucial part of socializing them. They will be adopted to potential families based on their social skills. Clooney is jumpy. He smells every nook and cranny. He nervously darts left, then right and soon I realize he is running in circles around me. I’m switching the leash from hand to hand trying to avoid having the leash wind up around me.
“What’s the matter with you, Clooney? Did someone abuse you? You’re safe now.” I sit down on my knee and offer my open palm to him. He ducks his head, approaches me gingerly and sniffs my hand. Then he sticks his tongue out. I try petting him. He flinches and tries desperately to back out of the collar but is yanked back by the leash. He freezes. He’s given up. His tail is tucked way between his legs.
“I’m so sorry someone did this to you, Clooney. We all will love you at the shelter and will heal your heart.” I sit down in front of him. In the silence, he tentatively circles me a few times before he finally gathers the courage to sniff my hand again. This time when he sticks his tongue out, I don’t move. He licks me.
Three weeks ago I was in Chandigarh, driving to the SPCA office. Per usual stray dogs dodged traffic and I noticed a very particular trait about them. They all seemed to be headed somewhere. There was an urgency and purpose in their gait. I wondered what it was that made them so cocksure of where they were headed.
It dawned on me that the one thing that comes standard on each and every stray Indian dog is- confidence. I’d never seen a shy Indian stray dog. They have the street smarts. The Indian society which is largely vegetarian and pro-life is surprisingly indifferent in its treatment towards the stray dogs. As I child I must’ve chucked a few stones at a hapless stray dog, but we as a society haven’t been able to alter the spirit of the Indian stray.
Don’t get me wrong. Everything about the Indian stray dogs including our indifference towards them is wrong. But then I am a Jatt too. I have to look at the livelier part of everything. So I admire the confidence of the Indian dog. The street-smarts, their lack of stranger anxiety or situational anxiety is remarkable.
Clooney’s wet nose nudges my mind back to the task at hand. In the silence he found enough courage to nudge my hand. I realize I’ve been sitting on the cold asphalt for fifteen minutes. He is ready to be taken back inside the shelter where a warm doggie-bed and dog-food awaits him. The volunteers would’ve cleaned his kennel and replenished his water bowl.
I walk him back inside.
“How did he do today?” The supervisor holds the kennel door for me. “He’s so scared of everything. We’ll have to work hard on his confidence level to increase his chances of getting adopted.”
I nod. “Yes confidence equals adoptability. He…” I lean on the kennel door. Well, does it? I know that’s our mantra here in a shelter in the United States. The Indie stray dog of no particular breed is brimming with confidence. Why must they be strays? Why can’t we as a society adopt those dogs? They will make perfect pets, won’t they? All dogs show love and loyalty, additionally the Indian strays have no fear, no anxiety. Why don’t we open our minds and our hearts and adopt them.
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