Sophie’s Choice

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“Capture their spirit with your camera, Inder.” My Grandfather had a standard answer for why my pictures didn’t look as good as his, as he peered through his top drawer lens on his Rollie flex camera.

Thirty years later, here I am; prostrate in the grass of a Clear Lake, Texas home- waiting for the dog to show me her spirit. How do I capture her spirit , Grandpapa? The ten month old tan and white pit-bull lies on her back, limbs akimbo; silly as a tart, goofy as a ball of yarn. Her mud brown iris that encompasses her black pupil enlarges as she locks her gaze through the camera lens into my eyes.

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Wait a minute; that is her spirit; a goofball.

A few months ago Sophie lived by the railroad tracks and a church in the Wayside area of Houston, Texas. A shattered front leg caused her to limp up and down the tracks but when Joel: a local factory worker showed her some love –she warmed up to him right away.

Joel and his colleague Danny brought her food and water and one day they took Sophie to a local Vet’s office. Such is the level of Sophie’s trust for humans that she willingly jumped into their car. Struggling to make ends meet themselves, Joel and Danny did what they could to get Sophie the help she needed.

The Vet was certain that Sophie would’ve been raised to breed bait dogs or a puppy mill mama when she was old enough, so he spayed her right away. He thought, when she had broke her leg (abuse or accident), she was promptly abandoned; discarded like garbage. Now she needed surgery to be a 100% healthy again.

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But she already is a 100% dog and 200% a puppy. She’s playful, careless, energetic and often forgets that her leg hurts. After being rescued by S.A.V.E  rescue coalition, Angela placed her with a charming family of fosters. Here she thrives amongst two other dogs, two energetic young ladies and a loving couple. They frolic and play in the lawn all day- and when they are tired; they frolic some more. In a few short weeks she will get her surgery and fully recover from it.

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That is Sophie’s spirit. Despite having to endure pain and cruelty, abandonment and starvation- she hasn’t forgotten how to remain a silly-goofy-puppy.

She’s a hand-me-down dog. A Sophie who wasn’t given a choice but her choice is very clear. She chooses love over hatred, a string of a sweatshirt over a dog-fight.

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Anyone who allow themselves to be touched by Sophie’s soul will be a part of her loving choice. The question is – Do you choose Sophie to give you a chance at her life?

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Fearless Nadia- Who’s scared of Whom- Animal or Human?

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“My god, this dog has either never seen stairs or is so afraid of climbing them that I’ll have to carry her.” I pointed at the golden-brown pit-bull mix.

“She’s got to be pushing a hundred pounds.” Tina urged the dog upstairs.

“This is the first overweight abused dog I’ve seen.”

Tina pointed at the bruises on her back, “We see well fed, but perennially shackled dogs all the time. She’s been hit repeatedly.” She rubbed the dog’s ear. “Don’t worry little girl, we’ll smother you with love.”

After we cajoled her upstairs and into my apartment she dashed under my bed. All the coaxing couldn’t get her out from under there. Well into the night, the dog’s water bowl and food remained untouched.

Then in the middle of the night I heard her creep out and go to the food bowl. Poor girl, she couldn’t take the hunger anymore. No sooner had she finished eating, she was back under my bed.

Tina called me next morning. “How did it go last night? Do you think you can socialize her enough to help her get adopted?”

I knelt by my bed. The dog’s empty scared eyes darted away from mine. “It’s not possible for me. She’s scared of everything. She cowers and doesn’t respond to anything. Somebody sure has done a number on her.”

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“Maybe I should take her.” Tina started. “She’d do better around my handicapped dog.”

“You’re the expert. I’ve never seen a dog this scared in my two years in dog rescue.” I laid out my palm flat.

“What should we name her on her adoption papers?” Tina was in her adoption and fostering supervisor mode.

“I have the perfect name for her. There were a bunch of C grade stunt movies made in India in the 1950’s they all had a female lead stunt woman by the name of Fearless Nadia.”

Tina guffawed. “Nadia then?”

“No. Fearless Nadia.”

Tina choked on her laughter. “You might be new at our shelter but you are the most optimistic guy.”

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Thus began the tale of Fearless Nadia. The endless hours Tina spent showering love and affection on her; the back breaking sit-ins with under Tina’s bed to help her come out from under there. Several times during the process I lost faith, but Tina’s dogged determination made her go on and on…and on.

            ..And on.

            Then one day I walked into Tina’s house and Fearless Nadia greeted me in all her glory; a wild wagging tail, an eager-to- kiss- tongue and an eagerness to be pet. In five months we’d just evened the playing field between her and the other rescue dogs and it still seemed like a long way away from finding a home. Both of us were concerned with how she would react to people she didn’t know.

I was at work one day when Tina showed up un-announced at my office door. “Somebody’s interested in adopting Nadia.”

My heart nearly leaped out of my chest.

“Only problem is they’re in Utah and can’t get her.” Tina cupped her mouth.

“We’ll drive her there.”

“Inder, I knew you’d say this.” Her eyes smiled.

“You’ve done so much. We can’t let a few hundred miles snatch the only chance she might ever get at having a family.”

The landscape changed a few times from Phoenix to Salt Lake City. She lounged on the back seat; waiting, anticipating, hoping- enacting all the rituals of expectation that a migrant like me felt when I had moved to the US.

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Her new family loved her instantly. A little boy to play with, an adolescent girl that would care for her, a mother, waiting to dole unconditional love to the new family member. She couldn’t have asked for more.

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Tina stared out the window with her palm covering her face. Six months of loving Fearless Nadia had drained her. Her tears had not stopped for an hour. Every adoption tests a rescue workers heart. The joy and the sorrow, the elation and the loneliness push their heart to fluctuations my heart was not equipped to endure.

My trance was broken by the sound of a police siren. I hit the brakes and pulled over.

“Do you know how fast you were going?” The burly officer pulled up his pants

by the belt buckle. “Where are you driving from?”

When we explained the situation to him his scowl softened. “Thank you for caring

for dogs the way you do. What do you think makes Fearless Nadia so fearful?”

Tina wiped her cheek. “I think she was abused so badly that she forgot what it feels like to be a dog.”

The officer squinted. “And you suppose she remembers now?”

Tina sniffed. “Yes she does officer. Love changes everything, she’s joyful now and her new family will cherish her.”

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“I’m going to let you get away with a warning this time just because my partner Sgt. Scott asked me to.” The officer touched the brim of his hat. “Now you two be careful and drive slow.”

 

I started the engine and eased past his parked cruiser parked by the freeway. The red decal on the white door read ‘Utah State Trooper- K-9 Unit.’ And staring out the window with his tongue hanging out his mouth was Sgt. Scott.

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Children of a Lesser Dog- II

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Two months ago, on a vacation to India, I’d stepped into the kennel at the SPCA shelter in my hometown of Chandigarh. The acrid open sewer-like smell blasted my nostrils. Dogs sat on straw beds with week old excrement scattered around them.
I dug my nose into the inside of my elbow “When were these kennels cleaned last?”
“We clean every morning.” The Supervisor did the Indian nod.
“Really? You could use that poop as chalk on the black-board.” I pointed at the crusted over lump.
He nodded. “Well the sweeper has been on vacation for–”
“–What if children from a school show up to volunteer–”
“No sir, no children come here.”
“You mean like never?”
He scrolled through his smart-phone. “The kids from Vivek high school came in August. Some kids started vomiting and–”
“What did you expect? You must make volunteering a pleasant and fun-filled experience for kids.”
“No sir, kids in India don’t have compassion–”
I walked out in disgust. Typical. Blame someone else for our faults. Kids are the same everywhere. These kids aren’t sissies. We adults are.

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***************
I read the email one final time and take a few deep breaths before hitting the reply button. I type a few words and then delete them. After repeating the process a few times I wonder what an appropriate reply would be.
Here in the US we have the infrastructure, the volunteers and school programs in place to foster compassion in children but we are hampered by the ‘Cover Your base’ mentality of lawyers and insurance companies. In India we have no infrastructure that allows the natural bond between child and animal to come to the forefront but the laws are conducive to kids interacting with children.
Although one is slightly better than the other, neither situation is ideal. Problem is, there is just one factor common to both countries- the losers are the animals.

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WHAT IS THE COLOUR OF YOUR LOVE- CINNAMON?

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           “Look at me Cinnamon.” I held the ball in my hand.

            The rust colored puppy turned her head. Her left eye was fixed directly at the ball. The right eye stared into nothingness. I tossed the ball to my left hand. Her right eye focused on the ball. She didn’t even move her head. “Cinnamon, what’s the matter your eyes?” I made a small circle with the ball. Her right eyeball followed the ball. The other eyeball stayed put.

            I laughed out loud. “Cinnabonita, how damn lazy is your eye?”

            She lifted her paw and took a swipe at my face. 

            “Okay, Okay. Peace.” I hoisted her in the air. She squirmed. Her body contorted in one direction and then the other till she wiggled out of my hands. Every miniscule muscle in her thirty-pound body will soon be sinewy and firm. “I won’t be able to do wrestle with you once you’re an eighty pound powerhouse, Cinnabonita.” 

            Auunhhhh. She cocked her head.

            I held my arms up to form a triangle “And your head will be this shape, your jaw will be square.” I mock punched her tiny jowl. “You, my sweet girl, will be feared. You’ll be discriminated against. People will judge you without knowing you like I do.”

            Aooor. She lifted her paw and I high fived her. She did it again and kept it up till she lost balance and tipped over, falling into a clumsy pile of dopey puppy.

            She pranced around me. I took pictures but she wanted to play with the camera strap. I pushed her away repeatedly and she kept licking the camera. Finally she figured another game. She tugged on one end of the lace of my yellow shoes.

            “No Cinnamon. Bad girl.”

            She looked away but kept the lace in her mouth. Then she backed up, slowly.

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            “Cinnamon, leggo’ my lace.”

            She jerked her head and backed up, got on her haunches and stared into my eyes; well at least one of her eyes did.

            “Okay, you naughty girl. Playtime is over. Back into the kennel”

            I picked her up and cradled her. She laid her head on my shoulder and enjoyed the ride back. Her soft, velvety skin tickled my ear.

            As soon as she got in the cage, she started whining like a baby.

            “It kills me to leave you in that cage too, Cinnamon. A cage is no place for a puppy, but all you get is twenty minutes of playtime a day at the shelter. Soon all the hard working volunteers here will find a good home for you where you’ll play all day.” I caressed the skin between her eyes across the cage.

            Aoooooor. Her whining followed me into the car, clear across the city and well into the night. Bring her home, Inder. I lay awake at night. Yeah, but how can you justify bringing Cinnamon home when Perry has been at the shelter for more than six months. It’s the classic struggle of every single one of us in rescue. How to turn down one dog and adopt another?

            Then the next week she undid my laces and the next and the next. It broke my heart each and every week to put her back into the cage and hear her whine.

            Then this past Sunday a new puppy was in her cage. My panicked mind searched the shelter for her. I finished my shift and came back home ready to shower off the mud the playful dogs had lathered on me.

            I placed my heel on the edge of the chair and started undoing my shoelace. It was too heavy. It wouldn’t budge.  I stumbled over to my laptop and typed an email to the volunteer co-ordinator.

          ‘I didn’t see Cinnabon in her cage today.’ I typed and retyped a few other sentences. Then I hit the send button and froze.

          Dinnggg

          One new mail. I clicked on it. “Yay…” It began. I didn’t need to read the rest. My heart and my mind were in a race. Everyone who has volunteered knows that feeling. The joy and the sorrow; missing a dog you love so dearly and feeling very happy for missing it, sending it all your love. The joy and the longing- we lead a blessed, sweet life.

         Fear not my fluttering heart- soon there will be another Cinnamon and then there will be another. Each of them will fill my life with more joy and more love for the next one.

        I love you, my lazy eyed Cinnabonita. That’s the color of love today; Cinnamon

        But just for today. Tomorrow it might be white or black… or brindle.

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© Inderpal Sandhu and inderpalsandhu.wordpress.com, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Inderpal Sandhu and inderpalsandhu.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.