Ten o’clock on a crisp mid-November morning in Kuri Village, Dolakha, eastern Nepal, about 3,500m up in the mountains. Unexpectedly, Arjun, my Nepali partner, gets a mobile call from our landlady back in Kathmandu. The nine-month old sleek-coated black dog we had befriended, is seriously ill: what should she do?
Puppy — that was our name for her, we never knew her real name — was not our dog: she had been brought into our Budhanilkantha neighbourhood much earlier in the year by some itinerant construction workers who, as the months had passed, had seemed to take less and less care of her. Over the same timeframe Puppy had become an integral part of our morning routine. Timid at first and rather in awe of the ‘big dogs’ who joined us for badminton and biscuits each morning, she gradually became a part of the pack, playing boisterously with Sweetie and Rambo and always showing respect for Kalo’s seniority.
As puppies are wont to do, she habitually latched onto whatever part of me she could with her sharp little teeth: my shoelaces, the ties on my shorts, the fringe on my tunic. She was a quick learner: on the command ‘gentle’, she soon realised that grabbing my finger as well as her biscuit was not good behaviour and adjusted accordingly.
She was not our dog, and yet we loved her, so when she came on heat for the first time and was endlessly pestered by dogs from far and wide, we decided to sponsor her to be spayed at the Kathmandu Animal Treatment (KAT) Centre so she would not be condemned to a life of bearing endless litters of homeless puppies. That had been just a month ago. She recovered from the surgery speedily and was once more free to play as she desired. And it was Arjun and I who garlanded her with marigolds and marked her brow with red tika powder to honour her on her first Kukur Tihar during the Diwali festival.
Just before we had left for our Kalinchowk trip I had resolved to buy her a collar on my return: that, I felt, would give her the semblance of respectability, of belonging.
But now she was fighting for her life: would the frantic series of unanswered phone calls and as yet unread social media messages I had sent to all my contacts at KAT that Saturday morning be enough to save her? Miraculously, with minutes to spare before we had leave Kuri and lose internet connectivity, one of my messages was answered and a video clip soon showed the ambulance setting off to rescue her. A glimmer of hope began to shine.
We prayed for Puppy later that day down at Bhimeshwor Mandir: surely it was a good omen that a local dog came and licked a sacred stone right in front of me? But there was no more news; no calls, no responses to my messages… until the following day when, a mere 30km away from home at the end of our five-day trip, I received an SMS: “I am so sorry. We could not save her.”
Tears welled into my eyes: Puppy was gone. She would not be there to greet us back to the neighbourhood. She would never wear the collar I had intended to buy for her. Why? Why? Why?
Over the course of the following 24-hours we gradually put together the pieces of the jigsaw: It seemed that Puppy, always ravenous, had eaten raw meat laced with rat poison, irresponsibly put out by a neighbour to control the local vermin population. She had never really stood a chance as she had already been unresponsive when the KAT team had arrived. A day or so later we went to KAT, in search of closure: they could tell us little more than we already knew.
For me, there was only one appropriate way to close this sad chapter: at Bhimeshwor Mandir I had vowed that if Puppy lived, we would adopt her, her ‘owners’ having forfeited all rights to her by their negligence. But Puppy was gone and the best way, the only way, to honour her was to adopt another dog from KAT, a puppy that would not take her place but which would receive forever the legacy of love and care that Puppy had known so seldom and for such a short time from Arjun and me.
And so Maya — ‘love’ in Nepali’ — came into our lives and home. Motherless and just two and a half months’ old, in time she will also come with us to play badminton; meet Sweetie, Kalo and Rambo; become friends with our landlady’s dog, Kaire. And maybe, just maybe, Puppy will look down from the other side of the Rainbow Bridge and gently nuzzle Maya’s innocent furry body with tenderness and love.
Grateful thanks go to our landlady, Diku Sherpa, for alerting us to the situation & allowing us to adopt Maya; to the manager of Tripura Resort, Kuri, for providing a mobile hotspot in my time of need; and above all, to the dedicated, caring staff at the KAT Centre for responding to my plea for help and introducing us to Maya.