While I made several wonderful new friends in Tiru, it’s the street dogs that I’m most driven to write about. (This is also because they don’t mind me airing their personal business on a public-facing blog.) Here’s where things stood with them at the point that I left town.
The day I posted that last story about the dogs also happened to be the night of the full full moon. This is when hundreds of thousands of pilgrims from all over India come for girivalam and walk barefoot around the holy mountain Arunachala, a 14km trip, which is said to be extremely auspicious. Matthew and I decided to go this time (not barefoot, thank you).
Rorschach, who’d had such a great time with us in the park earlier in the week, spotted us heading down the street and heartily kept pace with us as we joined the river of humanity along the main road. I was amused, and figured he’d come hang out for a little way and then give up once the other local street dogs started snarling him out of their territories.
Well, damned if he didn’t keep going. And going. And going. He kept one eye on us at all times, and zigged and zagged through the people, even taking the occasional smack from an Indian who didn’t like having a dog too near. Other dogs would rush him, sometimes in small packs, and he would stand his ground, barking and snarling back, and then once they’d hesitate, he’d zip back into the crowds of people for protection. He would usually trot along the outside edge of the road, looking for us, and come up and gently poke my hand with his nose to check in. He seemed pretty pleased to be in our company.
I eventually realized we were sort of responsible for him making it back, because he was pretty far from home, and the darker it got and the further we were from home, the more I could see him getting anxious and uncertain. We stopped for pizza (yes, pizza) on the other side of the mountain; the staff there actually let us bring him inside for a little bit, but he didn’t want to be there, and paced around nervously outside. I was worried he’d take off on his own and get completely lost. It had been an intense journey just watching him confront the other dogs and weave through the crowds, and though he’s quite an independent and confident dog, I’d felt the need to keep an eye on him.
By this point we were pretty tired, my foot was hurting, Matthew’s back was hurting, and we wanted to take a rickshaw the last third of the way. We tried to bring Rorschach, but he was convinced it was a roaring death machine and would have none of it. I couldn’t abandon him over there, so we took a deep breath and got back to walking the rest of the way through the narrowest, busiest part of town. All three of us made it back, unscathed and exhausted. Indians and Westerners alike were impressed by his tenacity, and a few folks declared him to be a reincarnated rishi or sage, or at the very least guaranteed an excellent rebirth.
Surprisingly, even after that craziness, Rorschach still followed us a few times here and there. The last time he tried to come along with me, though, I was going to a restaurant and he got chased off by about eight other street dogs while hanging around uncertainly wondering whether he should stay or go. Sorry, buddy. Not everywhere we go is going to be a fun adventure…
I learned later that Rorschach has two families in Tiru: an Indian family that seems to technically “own” him, insofar as anyone owns a dog like that, and a Western woman who raised him as a puppy. He has another name, but I didn’t quite catch it, and will always think of him as Rorschach regardless. So he is well looked after and well fed; he knows how to socialize and I’ve seen him win over other people as he won me over. He seems to me to be an uncannily intelligent dog, just judging by the way I’ve seen him deal with other dogs and other humans. I’ll miss him, but I’m quite sure he’ll do alright.
Yeah… Missy is not doing as well.
It isn’t about her broken leg – that seemed to heal up more or less alright as the weeks went on, and I only saw her limping one other time.
She’d already developed a bad habit of jumping on people she liked, which by this point was up to four or five of us, including the woman feeding her daily. Usually, if you have a dog that you want to stop jumping, you do something to discourage the jumping – turn aside and ignore them, distract them with treats before they can jump, teach them an alternative, incompatible behaviour. Doing a proper training session with Missy wasn’t really an option; this is a feral dog who’s never known collar or leash. Giving or even throwing treats gets complicated when you’ve got one or two extra dogs nearby competing for food, and when you don’t really want a dog’s mouth touching your hand because they’ve never been vaccinated or dewormed. I tried rewarding her with attention and pats only when she had all four legs on the ground, but that only seemed to go so far. Ignoring her and turning away seemed to work at first but eventually she didn’t seem to mind any more, and we all ended up kneeing her in the chest repeatedly just so our clothes wouldn’t constantly be covered with pawprints. Yet she would still come flailing at us full force.
If Rorschach was around at the time, sometimes you could do a sideways dodge so that she would actually land on him, and then she’d start playing and roughhousing with him, sort of taking out her energy on him. He would generally humour her, and I’d enjoy watching them play and wouldn’t have to deal with her jumping any more. They seemed like a cliché of a human couple, the solid, macho male with the dumb blonde who doesn’t quite get it.
Here they are having a fine time with an old sock, with Yellow Dog getting in on the action for once.
Then two new dogs showed up in the area, one unspayed female I ended up calling Basenji Girl, and a male I never did name. This seemed to spark a shift in the social dynamics. For the first time, I saw Rorschach spontaneously roll over for another male. And he began to gang up on Missy occasionally with the other two; one time, they chased her off, she rolled over in submission, and Basenji Girl lifted her leg and pissed on her.
I told Rorschach I didn’t think his new friends were a good influence. But that dog will do what he wants.
Missy’s jumping got worse and worse, perhaps from the insecurity of her social status in the dog world. From what had once been a sort of happy singing yowl, she started greeting her human friends with a pathetic, annoying whimper, alternating between hurling herself at us and then cringing and rolling over in submission when we made any move to stop her jumping. It became more and more unpleasant, and gradually none of us really wanted that much to do with her any more. I would give her a brief pat hello and then keep moving.
I started to notice Missy’s behaviour around the other dogs changing. When the two new dogs approached the area one night, she backed away and stiffened, then rushed them with a passive-aggressive snarling. She sounded ferocious, but her body language was cringing and fearful. Rorschach, who had been amiable with her a moment ago, seemed unsure whose side he should be on, first joining her in barking at the two newcomers, then turning around and barking back at her. They drove her back through the gate of the building where she occasionally received food, and she stayed there for a long time, miserable.
One night, Missy had rolled over for Basenji Girl, who then very casually opened her jaws and placed them, gently, over Missy’s throat. Unlike Missy and Rorschach’s tumbling play, this was not a game. Missy reacted, and whatever happened next happened so fast that I couldn’t even recount it for you, except to say it was one of the most vicious-looking, alarming-sounding incidents I’ve witnessed between dogs. I don’t even think anyone drew blood, but it was made very, very clear to Missy that she was not an equal.
After that, I would see her occasionally with Rorschach in the daytime and things would seem to be alright, but at night she was rarely to be seen. I think the Montreal lady was sheltering her at times – but like us, she was leaving in March, and with her went Missy’s main food source. In those last few days after the woman left and before I left, what I saw of Missy was a nearly intolerable, quivering, whining, jumping wreck of insecurity and desperation. She also seemed to have developed some kind of weird little grey growth on her neck – a parasite? An infection from a bite? I have no idea, but it made me nauseous to look at it, and feel even less like interacting with her. I snuck her some food when the other dogs weren’t around, but now I’m gone from there as well.
I don’t think her future looks very good. Either the other dogs will drive her into another area, or she’ll jump on some unsuspecting human who’s much less kind to her than we were. She may survive, but she is not going to thrive. After my experience with Buddy Dog, I’ve had to let go of the idea that I could truly help or save a dog that I would only see for a few months and then disappear again.
But I am sad for her. It was the strangest downward spiral to witness.