A Lifetime of Rescuing: Contrary to Popular Opinion, It Costs Everything to be Kind

Some people are born a little different. I am not trying to call myself special. Rather, I think I am extremely ordinary. But I really think some people are born different. Or at least, they are shaped a little differently.

I used to be deathly scared of dogs. As I grew up a bit, I started bullying them. I was always a very angry child and it would please me to wield my power over them, because I couldn’t control much else. I remember one day, I opened the gate to my home, and found all the dogs of my street standing in front, and they barked at me in unison. Their tone questioned my cruelty: “Why do you pelt stones at us?”. I was dumbfounded. Absolutely dumbfounded. 

I left them alone since that day. As I grew a little older, I started playing with them. I never had any friends growing up and playing with the rejects on my street sort of we were in the same lot. I would play with them in the sawdust, I was termed a wild child, a nuisance to the neighborhood. And I used to be covered in dirt. Never bathed more than once a week either. Parents disapproved of my camaraderie with the dirty street rejects. But oh how I began to see them as one of my own.

Still, growing up, I would feed them and play with them in secret. Disapproval at home was rather strong. So I tried keeping it a secret but I always got caught every couple of months. I would feed them religiously, pet them and watch them die on the street. And on and on it went. I didn’t know any better.

Cheeku came into my life when I was 16. She was just another puppy from one of the countless litters I’d seen female dogs birth, nurture and die premature deaths. Sometimes cars got them, sometimes parvo, sometimes plain old hunger.

Cheeku was always different. She was taller, had a zest for food, and loved me like no other. She was also the only one that lived in that litter. Every other puppy and her mother passed away: one was poisoned and thrown on my doorstep, the mother got her foot run over by a car and died due to lack of help for a number of days.

But she stuck on. And I stuck on with her. So when she had her first litter and looked at me helplessly in labor because she didn’t know what was going on, it shattered my walls. She birthed four puppies and I held every single one of them as soon as they were born. 

Then one day, one of the puppies got sick. It looked like he had been sick for a number of days. His eyes were shut with the mucus and he bleated pitifully like a lamb. I didn’t know what to do but I knew I had to do something. 

That was when I first started rescuing. That puppy was my first foray into the cruel, heartbreaking, soul-crushing world of animal rescuing.

Over the course of five days where I skipped college, and didn’t sleep more than two hours a night, he taught me what distemper is, what it does to young bodies and how much he wanted to live. He also taught me the difference between good and bad vets, something you only learn at the cost of lives. I kept him in the garden of the empty house next to mine because I didn’t know what else to do, and I would jump walls tens of times a day to sit with him and comfort him. He died. So did two of his other siblings. The last one died too, but that was this year. He was run over by a car and I didn’t even find out until two days later when he was probably swept off along with other rubbish off the road.

Lush grass and flowers cover the spot at which he held on for five days and nights. For me, it’s impossible to see anything except him there.

It has been five years since I have been rescuing dogs and cats. I have watched countless numbers of them die. Sometimes without help, sometimes even with help, and sometimes because it was simply too late. Each time, I have put up with overwhelming abuse, pain and mental harassment.

Spending sleepless nights and having your mind refuse to shut up with premonitions and doubts is a way of living. When your loved ones cannot speak, you learn to read eyes and trust your intuition. Rescuing and treatments don’t come cheap. I have fundraised and begged friends for money when I didn’t have my own. What’s even more priceless than treatment, is a place to keep them, especially when you can’t keep them at your own home. You learn to beg and plead with shelters, bribing your way and keeping connections. You learn to smile and ignore when people threaten you and insult you for trying to save ‘nuisance dogs’ instead of answering back because one wrong move and they will poison the dog. Or get him beaten and thrown away somewhere. We can’t afford that. So all of this becomes second nature.

No one prepares you for the heartache that comes. Every single time when you show up at the vet with that sick, sinking feeling in your stomach, your legs turning to jelly, trying to comfort your child who has no idea what’s going on. All they have is you. All you have is you. That is something I still haven’t gotten used to.

What’s remarkable is that every single time, no matter how bad the heartache, no matter how much it singes you, you go back the next time you find a dog in trouble. When I said some people are different, this is what I meant. I don’t know how to spot a dog in trouble and then not do everything I can. How to go about my day and forget that maybe I can save him if I try just this much, if I just manage to take him to the shelter, if I just don’t pay attention to their taunts, if I just ask for a little help. I don’t do this on purpose. I can’t help it. The camaraderie has stuck.

And mind you when I say that its only some of us that actually do come across dogs in trouble. They somehow appear only to us. They seek us out perhaps. I have had my heart shattered every time, but every time I have also come out with lessons: what signs to watch out for, how to help, which doctor to visit, which friend in the welfare circuit to call. Basic first aid and medicine. What food is good and what isn’t. When they can’t speak, you learn to listen nevertheless.

I wish I hadn’t gotten the sort of maltreatment, lack of appreciation and heartache I will always carry. I do not rescue anymore but I do take care of the ones I am left with. Every fever, every injury comes with its new share of problems. Managing work, a mode of transport, begging the vet to stay open for you, keeping up with the treatments. I am thankful I do not have to ask anyone for money now but it just seems to have been replaced by a new string of problems. Work gives you money but it robs you of time and the ability to be present.

So why do I continue to do it? The reason is simple: I have to. It’s a calling. No matter the sick, sinking feeling or the insults or blows to my self-worth, I will continue to love and care for my kids the best way I can. Some of us are lucky. We’ve got supportive families, and recognition in not just the welfare circuit but even beyond that. I don’t. I don’t know how to make someone understand what it feels like to be in a room full of merry people, feeling sick to your stomach because you are waiting for a blood report to come. 

The part of me that rescues is split: a detached entity from the rest of my personality. Who would recognize me covered in dog hair, wearing my worst (but most comfy) clothes in public, eyes crazed and face weathered as the same one who shows up to work polished, making small talk with you? And I’d like to keep it that way because not many understand anyway.

I will admit when I say that my kids have grown to become my solace: sometimes remaining the only stable thing I have had in life. And I am lucky to be different. No one else has dogs trailing behind protectively. I am pretty sure my kids understand Hindi, Punjabi, and even English based on our conversations. I never look forward to the sick days and the heartache. But if that can help fix things for them, then I will. 

Let me tell you something. It pays you nothing to be a good person in this world. On the other hand, you’re going to have more problems than most. But you will make a difference. And that will help you carry on. Recognition or no recognition, taking care of animals on the street requires nerves of steel and an iron grit. And I do not know how much of it is left in me.

What I do know though, is that being a general nuisance is worth it if you can make a difference.

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