Fortunately, the wife didn’t see him urinate on the boxes containing our household belongings else he may never have become part of our lives.
‘How do you allow a dog that urinated on your belongings to be part of your home’ is one of those questions that human beings are likely to ask, and dogs will not understand. I being of a species somewhere in between a dog and a human being, somewhat knew it could be asked.
We had just moved into our new cottage in Lohagaon, near Pune airport, when he walked into the house, sniffed the boxes around, and did his job. I watched him, hoping wife would not turn around. She didn’t. And I firmed up my plan to adopt him.
Unlike most stray dogs, he didn’t wag his tail a lot. He did the opposite – he snarled at you if you went near him, exposing those two long, pointed teeth in front like Christopher Lee had. Even his growl sounded fierce or, perhaps, a black dog is more frightening than a dog of any other colour. Still, I decided to be very careful with him.
Good height, well built - though lean from irregular food that strays are like - with a long snout, he looked like a wolf, and just as stately. Being black, the locals called him Kalia. He had brown markings on his body and two above the eyebrows, the latter, someone told me, was a Rottweiler sign so he might be a cross between a Rottweiler and a stray. And that breed is dangerous.
I believed the Rottweiler tie-up or liked to believe it. If I was going to look after him, I didn’t want a dog always wagging its tail when it sees me, fawning like an obsequious sycophant, sycophant being someone who fawns, and is obsequious, so two of those three words were redundant but not redundant enough for me to under-stress their use as I found all three disgusting. I had just quit advertising or was on my way out, where, off and on, I had seen for twenty-odd years people fawning over each other, so I wasn’t going to be pleased with a dog also from advertising.
We settled into our new home while he would come around the gate, now and then, and peep in when we would feed him chicken pieces. In between now and then, he was running after females. Five years later, we were running with him to the vet and back in an auto, treating him for venereal granuloma, a skin disease that strays sometimes pick up from indiscriminate mating. Listening to the vet, I thought, ‘That’s an enviable disease to get.’
In one of those fights over females with other male strays, he got his left ear torn away and dangling from his head. In a few days, the wound was festering, flies hovering around it, and maggots having a jolly good time inside. He was running aimlessly, writhing in pain, and squirming achingly from the scratchiness that maggots cause crawling on naked flesh. When he shook his head, as he frequently did, wife could see maggots tossed in the air.
I was in Mumbai when she called me. I pleaded, ‘Get him to hospital.’ In my anxiety, I did not distinguish a hospital from a veterinary, though I knew quite a few human beings who should’ve been going to a veterinary instead of a hospital.
Wife got on the phone to Blue Cross that day. An official arrived with a tempo and dog chain, but without the nerve to approach Kalia. He figured the dog was ferocious. He spent an hour outside the house wondering how to get the chain on the dog, then left.
Next morning, wife had the number of another animal caretaker, a girl, who was attached to Blue Cross.
Meanwhile, Kalia, chased by the locals, because he didn’t have the usual reputation a dog should have - wag its tail when addressed by a human - ran up the staircase of a single-storey building. He stood in the centre of the terrace, with the locals at the head of the staircase carrying lathis, and tin and plywood sheets to barricade him from running away. Their plan was to put his lights out.
Kalia’s lights were not about to go out with two determined women stepping in between. The crowds parted, more from curiosity at how two unarmed women had the courage to walk up to a ferocious dog and calmly put a chain around its neck. The girl was carrying biscuits. Besides, the dog was slightly acquainted with wife.
The girl had a powder insecticide for the maggots, which she applied, dusting off the maggots. Then she covered and bound the wound with a cloth. Kalia was calm. Wife described to me how funny he looked with a bandage around his head.
By now, Kalia had become Blackie.
He spent six months at Blue Cross. Nearly died there because the wound wouldn’t heal. The girl liked him, though we never knew why; she cared for him personally. We heard her mother advised her against marriage: ‘How will you look after stray dogs as well as a husband and a home?’
And by the time he returned home in a tempo, we were ready to adopt him. Blue Cross did a fine job – they released him well fed, stout, and in a shining black coat. He bounced around, happy to meet us, or happy to be out of the vet. And he had one ear.
I began to feed him chicken ‘curry pieces,’ which I bought from Kirkee Cantonment bazaar once a week, where I also met an old friend for cigarettes, chai, and conversation. He had a dog himself, so he knew where to get good pieces.
Blackie loved playing with us, though he used to snip us playfully, and the pinch was painful. Dogs, stray dogs or domestic dogs have a territory of a maximum 250 meters. He could go up to 2 kms without any dog interfering with him. Perhaps dogs knew breeds.
At the vet recently, the doctor couldn’t administer the injection for venereal granuloma. His platelet count was very low. The vet put him on herbal extracts – papaya – to raise the count. Something else showed up in the blood tests – tick fever, which can be worrisome.
And this is where I need to change the tense of this story to present, as obituaries are usually written in past tense.
The papaya extract worked. The count rose. The vet was able to give him two injections stretched over ten days. He told me, the injections were actually the chemotherapy. Venereal Granuloma is a benign tumor, but it has to be treated. And the tick fever was contained.
Blackie is old now, and mellow. Off and on we try to figure his age from locals who remember him. He is somewhere between 13 and 15 years.
But he must’ve thought, ‘It’s especially nice when you don’t know people, but they know you.’
‘Well, if you keep the company of wolves you learn how to howl, so if you keep the company of humans, you learn how to show off,’ I thought on his behalf again, because, now, he was of a species somewhere in between a human being and a dog.
Children on their way to school in the morning say, ‘Blackie, come here.’ He doesn’t move. Once again, louder, firmly, ‘Blackie, pay attention, come here.’ He gets up and walks away. An idiosyncrasy, perhaps - he doesn’t like children.
We have some friends in Thane who come down for a break on long weekends. While getting ready to drive down, their 4-year old asks, ‘Mama, we going to Blackie’s house?’ ‘Yes.’ The little fella grins.
Nice name, so I’ve thought of naming our cottage, ‘Blackie’s House,’ done on a little board, prominently displayed.
For a dog that didn’t have a home, there will be one named after him.