By Sonya Rehman
A day before we picked her up, her brother was killed by a speeding vehicle. He was too adventurous and had strayed from the pack.
With her remaining three puppies, the emaciated mother dog had lucked out – she had sought refuge on a green belt near an army check point in Cantonment, in Lahore.
I saw her every morning, camping under an army jeep with her pups. At the time I’d thought it was strange that the young soldiers in the vehicle and near the heavily guarded check post weren’t disturbed by a stray’s presence. In a city where stories of animal cruelty and abuse – on the streets and in posh neighborhoods – are so common, such a sight is rare indeed.
One day, a family member and I pulled over to the jeep to inquire about the dogs. One of the young men, who’d walked up to our car, told us he had no intention of removing the animals from the vicinity. His name was Shafqat and you could tell he had a soft, empathetic heart. A few days later, we decided to adopt one of the puppies – she was the tiniest one from the litter and was suffering from severe malnutrition. It was a rash decision on our part: we had two geriatric pooches (both roughly 11-years-old, one a mixed breed, the other a rescued stray) back home, but we just couldn’t drive off without helping in some way – and given my family’s unending love for dogs, little Lucy had to be given a better life.
I don’t know if you’ve ever met a true animal lover – they’re the type who pull over on a busy road to scream at a donkey-wallah for hitting his poor donkey too hard, or, the type who turns from ogre to a cooing mess of feels when he/she comes face to face with a furry baby. See every true animal lover – atleast the ones I’ve met – are generally lone wolves, quirky, have a unique outlook on life, and cannot stand any kind of animal cruelty whatsoever. While I loved animals throughout my life, I never knew I was ‘one of those types.’ But 2016 brought with it immense introspection and thus for months on end, I withdrew and became a bit of a hermit much to the annoyance of friends. I felt quiet and indifferent. For an emotional and hypersensitive personality like mine, it was a relief to switch off and marinate in passivity. Until I met little Luce Patoose (Lucy).
In the car ride back home, tiny Lucy sat quietly in my lap, her whiskers poking into my arms from time to time with each turn and road bump. That day, I sat on a stool after my mother bathed her and de-ticked Lucy for 40 minutes.
Those blood suckers had clumped together on every inch of her ears and had begun moving slowly through her bony body and sparse, feather-like fur. In the zone, with my mother’s tweezer (later disposed off), I carefully plucked a healthy, maroon-coloured army of aggressive ticks from Lucy’s ears.
In the days that followed – Lucy blossomed from a shy, skinny little pup with no bark to a fat, soft-furred poochie bear with a larger than life personality. It was incredible what some love, care and solid nutrition can do to a living, pulsating little creature: her fur changed from coarse grey to butter soft beige and cream – no joke.
Lucy was such a pretty, happy puppy who had this endearing habit of rolling on the ground and whining for me to pick her up when I’d come home from work. Scooping her up in my arms, she would stay still, with the utmost serious expression on her face as I’d kiss her ears and pet her head, all the while talking to her as one would to a little child.
A little over a month into her adoption and Lucy began acting rather oddly one morning. At one point, she failed to recognize me, even though we were inches away, and barked at me in alarm. It was disconcerting. That day, we took her to a well-respected vet in the city who prescribed some medicines and told us to keep a close eye on her. A mere few hours later and Lucy’s health had further deteriorated. By then it was a past 2:00am, and my mother and I bundled Lucy into the car and sped off to the University of Veterinary and Animal Sciences (UVAS) whose animal clinic was open round the clock.
Driving through the old, pre-partition campus, my heart began to sink as I looked over to the backseat at my beautiful puppy. The vet on night duty after observing Lucy for half an hour gave us the grim news: it was distemper – a fatal illness with no known cure. By then, Lucy’s symptoms had augmented two-fold. Standing in the run-down clinic as a beetle bounced off the walls, the vet gave Lucy a mild relaxant. My mother and I kept stroking her, tears rolling down our cheeks, as my mother kept telling her what a good puppy she was. The little fortress that I’d carefully built around myself all these months, crumbled. I walked swiftly out of the clinic and into the car park, my heart hurting, past a boy in a sky blue T-shirt and his little cloud of a white dog (there for a check-up). I couldn’t watch Lucy being put down. It was too painful. I felt like an idiot. A spineless coward. A few minutes later when I saw my mother walking to the car towards me, I knew it was over. Lucy had passed. Dawn was swiftly breaking.
While some may laugh and wave off one’s pain for a stray, an animal, stating that there are children who suffer worse deaths; that does not give us as human beings a free pass of cruelty to treat God’s creatures with brutality and apathy.
And although there are a number of animal lovers in the country who have done and continue to do wonderful work independently or through their animal charities, it isn’t enough – we need to educate our people to treat these baizaban innocents with kindness, just as Shafqat treated Lucy’s mother and siblings with such rare and beautiful humanity.
It has to start with our children first: I will never forget how I recently saw a young father (with his son in the passenger seat) attempt to run down two stray adult dogs near my place of work. Very twisted.
If I could rescue, keep and love Lucy all over again, I would without a second thought. Her puppy sweetness validated something within me.
In the words of the famed writer, Milan Kundera; “Humanity’s true moral test, its fundamental test, consists of its attitude towards those who are at its mercy: animals.”
The Friday Times