February 1, 2017

Blackie, the Dog with One Ear

Desmond Macedo

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. I being of a specie somewhere in between a human being and a dog, somewhat felt that such dog behaviour and human attitude is not unusual.

We had just moved into our new cottage in Lohagaon, near Pune airport, when he strolled into the house with what is nowadays called 'swag', sniffed some of the boxes, and did his job. I watched him, nervous, 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 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 careful with him.

Good height, well built, though lean from irregular food that strays are like, and with a long snout, he looked like a wolf and just as stately. Being black, the locals called him Kalia. He had two brown marks above the eyebrows that someone told me was a Rottweiler sign, so he could 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 autorickshaw, treating him for venereal granuloma, a skin disease that strays sometimes pick up from indiscriminate mating. Listening to the vet, I thought that would be enviable disease to get.

In one of those fights with other male strays over females 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 crawling around inside. He was running aimlessly, 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 dogs that should've been treated at hospitals and human beings who should’ve been treated at veterinaries.

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 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 nearby. 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.

But 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; dogs also know tone of human voice; and 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. Wife described to me how calm he was and 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 dog pound. 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, tea and conversation. He had a dog himself, so he knew where to get good pieces.

Blackie loved playing with us but 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 beyond 2 kms without any dog interfering with him. Perhaps dogs knew breeds.

At the vet, 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 if not treated.

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 a chemotherapy. Venereal Granuloma is a benign tumor, but again, it has to be treated. And the tick fever was contained.

And this is where I need to change the tense of this story to present, as obituaries are usually written in past tense.

Blackie is old and mellow. Off and on we'd try to figure his age from locals who remember him. He is somewhere between 13 and 15 years.

Before Blue Cross, with both ears 

Recently, a female came snuggling up to him. He jumped up from that whiff, forgetting he had just got over venereal granuloma. Normally, the males go around sniffing the females to find out if any is ready to mate. This one came up to him to announce it. Not one young male could interfere in their liaison. He spent the next three days a few inches away from her, but he couldn’t mate. Blackie, whom I now suspected being of a specie somewhere in between a dog and a human, frowned upon the word 'mate'.' 'If only they knew the rumbustious pleasure of getting one's tiddlywinks locked into a female, they wouldn't use 'mate,' a word grossly under-descriptive of how dogs shag,' he thought.

After Blue Cross, right ear gone. 

Our neighbor in Lohagaon recently sold his house and left. The new owners arrived a few days later and entered their gate. Blackie, lying on the road leading to their gate, got up and barked at them. He knew the previous owners; he didn’t know these. They called out to his name, then he went back to dozing in the sun.

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 brag,’ I thought on his behalf again, because, by now, it was confirmed he was of a specie somewhere in between a dog and a human being.

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.