The Story of Maggie

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When Maggie and Violet came into our lives, they were not having names. As a matter of fact, they were having nothing then, but each other. It was the intensity at which they had each other that attracted my attention towards them.

Maggie now has an enviable thick golden yellow coat on her, but she behaved like she always had that - even when she was hopelessly rash-ridden, hairless, and the exposing skin along the spinal code was speckled with sores.

Skin on the lower part of her body, abdomen and legs, were simply dead, and the dead skin was black in colour. She had ‘rosy’ cheeks - that was because the skin on her cheeks were peeling off, and her ears were hopelessly inflamed.

Her tail was like a dead stick with two or three strands of hair sticking to it, and the rest covered with oozing wounds. She gave out an intolerable stench whenever she entered our garden from its rear side.

The smell emanated from her body was so repulsive that we had to have all the windows opening to the rear side closed for months.

Despite her deteriorating body, she had a strong sense of purpose - a purpose of life.

She was never alone. Her puppy, a hairless puppy covered with dirt, always accompanied her.

I would see Maggie walking past our house by the lane leading to the street. And, I would pray quietly that the puppy did not follow her. I always wished that someone had adopted that puppy, or simply the puppy was dead. But, a few minutes later I would see the puppy trailing on her mother’s track.

They would both run about on the street, mother running and the puppy rolling behind. They would feed themselves on the garbage heaps on the roadside. And, they would lie down on the middle of the tarred road, getting up and moving to a side whenever a motor vehicle passed by, and then returning to the middle of the road to lie down, to lie down together.

Everyone noted the pair. Everyone noted them, particularly the tiny dot of a hairless, dirt-ridden puppy, lying contently in the middle of the road, with distress.

Everyone that visited us during that period would make some sort of reference to the pair with a lot of discomfort. We, neighbours, never talked about that couple among us, might be because the pair weighed so very heavily on our consciousness. 

The male dogs roamed about the street did not hurt Maggie and her puppy - rather they were very friendly with them, and were apparently giving them protection. The puppy was so very tiny at that time, and it would not have survived otherwise.        

It was during this time, our domestic help for the last ten years bid farewell to us since her family was well out of the economical difficulties that compelled her to work for us. As it was not that easy to replace a decade-old domestic help, we had been buying our lunches and dinners from a posh restaurant nearby.

The lunch and dinner packets contained so much food that I could never eat all the food. Nearly half the cooked rice and the curries like dhal were always left over.

Whenever I opened the composting bin to dispose of the leftovers, the images of Maggie and her puppy on the garbage heap would flash in my mind. A lump would form in my throat, and my eyes would become moist.

It became so unendurable to dispose of the leftovers into the composting bin that, one late evening I braved the cold wind that gives me non-stop sneezing and wheezing that follows it, to feed the pair.       

I wanted to do it without my husband’s knowledge, because I did not want to make him aware of the pain in my heart – for I feared it might well be contagious. 

As he started to do the dishes after a dinner, I sneaked out with the leftovers. I opened the gate noiselessly, and walked all the way to the top of the lane. I was lucky to find Maggie, then nameless, in the would-be garage of the new house that was being built across the street.  

I signalled her to come, silently, with my hand. She appeared to have picked up the message instantly. She got up, stood expectantly, but did not take a single step. I waited for a while, but she did not move. I then kept the food on the side of the road, turned, and walked towards the house.

After having walked for a while, I turned and looked. I was worried that she might not get to eat the food. I saw that she had moved towards the food, but hesitating now – might be because I turned to look.

I did not see her puppy anywhere close to her. There was, however, nothing much I could do about that. I continued to walk towards my home. When I got very close to the gate of my house, I looked back, and saw her eating the food that I had offered.

With a heavy heart, I locked the gate and walked towards the door in small steps. As I entered the house, my husband asked if I went to feed ‘the dog’. I said ‘yes,’ and it was the first time we made any reference to Maggie, the then nameless dog.

Once you start feeding two strays, a mother and a daughter, it is impossible to stop doing that. They now got bread pieces soaked in milk for breakfast, and our leftovers for lunch and dinner.

Time and again, they also got portions from the meals that we cooked separately for our pets – two dogs resulting from a perfect mixture of a Dalmatian, a Boarder Cooley, and a Japanese Spits, and four cats.   

The couple now had two plates for them – they were the lids of the plastic buckets used in the house, one small and one big. They also had a bowlful of fresh water. All these were placed outside the front gate.

It took weeks before Maggie started to pay her attention to me, not only to the meals that I provided her and her daughter.

She now seemed to realise that they were given food not just because I wanted to dispose of the leftovers in a charitable manner, but in the lookout for something else – something that has become very rare in the world of human.

 

*     *     *     *     *

 

The pair still roamed the street, and still lied down in the middle of the road. In addition, they also lied down just outside our gate.

Being dust covered, they had the same colour as the un-tarred lane passing by our home. It was a miracle that those motor vehicles using our lane did not run over the two. 

One night as I was lying down on my bed, I wished that they would use the open veranda on the rear side of our house to lie down. If they would do so, I fancied, they could be safe from the vehicles that might run over them.

And, in the morning when I opened the rear side door, what I saw on the veranda was nothing but the pair - Maggie and her puppy. Maggie wagged her tail at me, still lying down. Even though the stench her body gave out was simply intolerable, I smiled at her, and closed the door with a lighter heart.

That afternoon, I visited the veterinary clinic ran by the University nearby. They gave me a powder that they prepare at the clinic itself. When you dissolve the powder in 750 ml of water, what you get is what they call the ‘skin lotion.’ It was a miraculous fluid, and it did wonders on Maggie.

The dog should be bathed once in five days, and while the dog was still somewhat wet, the lotion should be applied using a sponge with gloved hands, all over the body of the dog. The difficult part of the ‘skin lotion’-treatment was to wait 30 to 45 minutes by the dog which was now covered with the lotion and thus violet in colour, preventing the dog from licking the toxic chemicals contained in the lotion.

This meant myself taking half-day leave from work once in five days as my husband had left for the US on a five-month assignment after having initiated the bathing procedure for Maggie and her puppy.

It was not at all easy to catch the puppy for a bath, particularly on the first time. My husband, my animal-loving nephew, the gardener and I, all four of us, were trying to catch the puppy. It being so tiny, and having made absolutely no connection with anyone but its mother and her guardian angels, the other strays, it was next to impossible to catch the puppy.

When eventually my animal-loving nephew’s gloved hands held the puppy firmly against the floor, it turned its head nearly 180 degrees, and bit with its piercing teeth all over the hard, extra-extra-large-sized gloves that my husband had thoughtfully brought for the dog-catching occasion.

It made such a screeching cry that we thought Maggie might attack us. But, she stayed by the scene a foot or two away from us, and wagged her whole body in excitement, and whimpered – as if she was asking us not to hurt her offspring too much whatever good we intend to do to her.

She either understood that we were doing some good to them, or she was simply too afraid to antagonise us, who provided board and meals. Maggie consistently behaved subservient to us and to our classy dogs.

Once when the mother and the puppy walking by the lane from the street to the rear side of our garden, which part our two classy dogs could not access owing to the newly erected temporary partitions to keep the pairs separated from each other, the younger one of our classy dogs jumped at the puppy which was trailing behind the mother.

The puppy was put on the floor and bitten all over. None of the wounds was too deep, as I found out later with the help of the veterinary doctor, but deep enough to make them bleed. Soon after the confrontation, all what Maggie and I saw was a bloody puppy – that shrieked in fear or pain, or because of both.

Maggie continued to walk with the whimpering, bloody puppy trailing her footsteps, entered the rear side of our garden, placed her bottoms on the ground, pointed her nose into the air skywards, and howled and howled and howled. Was she lodging a complaint? Or, what was she doing? I never figured that out.

But, it was the first and the last time, I witnessed an animal lamenting, lamenting helplessly, for the injustice done to another. I never forget that cry – because I never could forget that however much I wanted to.

The puppy needed only about a couple of baths with the skin-lotion. She started to look okay even though she continued to be hairless for months to come. Regular meals with sprats and fish and milk had already improved her condition. Her predominantly white-skin with large brown blotches turned violet every time she got the skin-lotion bath. We named her Violet, therefore.    

Maggie continued to give out the stench, though it was less in intensity now than it was before. The skin on her abdomen area and legs continued to be black in colour, though not as bad as it used to be. The tail was still a twig, but violet in colour – with the constant application of Gentian Violet. Well, in short, she continued to be the ‘ugliest dog in the world’ – in our eyes.

Maggie, of course, blessed was she, neither understood the word ‘ugly’, let alone the superlative ‘ugliest’, nor grasp the purpose of a hierarchical placement.

They two had, and still have, only one purpose in this world – that is to live, which they did in every second of their lives with such an intensity that the human is, alas, not blessed with.

Now, Maggie and Violet are proud additions to our animal empire. Maggie is so beautiful and so charming and so perfect a dog that everyone who sees her instantly fall in love with her.

Some of our neighbours have not really figured out what happened to that rash-ridden dog that I was feeding. One even asked me, and was dumbfounded, though delighted, to hear that the posh-looking Maggie was the same as that rash-ridden dog with the repulsive stench.    

 

*     *     *     *     *

 

Any details about Maggie’s past remained a mystery until one afternoon I saw her dedicatedly following a lady with two kids, who lived in the house at the far end of our lane, and they did not associate much with anyone of us living along the lane.

I now followed Maggie’s movements closely. I found a consistent pattern in her behaviour. She would follow each walking member of that family – which was a joint family – to the top of the lane in the mornings.

Two kids with their mother, in particular, she followed up to the bus stand nearby in the mornings, and down to their house at the end of the lane in late afternoons. Violet would simply trail her mother’s track, having made absolutely no relationship with any human yet.

Through discrete inquiries with several people living along the lane, and friendly chats with the servants of the house down the lane, I figured out that Maggie and the puppy did indeed belonged to the house at the far end of the lane.

After Maggie had given birth to two puppies and got rash-ridden, her owners had banished her and her puppies from their home. Whenever, they tried to enter their former home, they were chased out. At times they had also been beaten up, I was told.

A kind, god-fearing neighbour of ours, who lived between our house and the house of the former owners of Maggie, had let all three of them, the rash-ridden mother and the dirt-ridden puppies, stay in her unused garage, without the knowledge of her family, and fed them intermittently with leftovers.

She also had somehow managed to give away one of the puppies, who was a male puppy and was in a relatively better condition, to someone. When I started to notice the mother and the puppy, they were walking up and down between the street and the unused garage of my kind neighbour.

It was simply puzzling to me why Maggie still retained any relationship with such heartless people as her former owners who chased her out when she needed them most. At times, I would shout at her to come back when she went behind them. But, she would not listen.

Does she want to be friendly with everyone possible so that if I happen to chase her out, as her former owners did, she could find a home in the heart of one of those people? Or, is it simply that she does not hold in her heart bad memories, as we human do? Or, is she all forgiving as the Mighty Lord is?

 

*     *     *     *     *

 

At times I look at the mother and the daughter duo, and wonder why in the world I took all that trouble. It was a Herculean task to recover Maggie’s health, to make a connection with Violet breaking her apathy for human, to appease our classy dogs to accept the new comers, and so on and so on.

Why did I do it? I ask myself several times, and find no answer to that question, yet.

But, whenever I recall how close the pair was to death, and see how so lively they are now, there is a very unique and beautiful feeling fills my heart – that is worth all that trouble, I guess.

 

- May 2002

 

 

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Uploaded on January 01, 2007