I have a confession to make: I once kidnapped a puppy…
Winter comes early in the Spiti Valley, and it leaves late. Summer in this cold-desert mountain vale, nestled between India and Tibet, is a short affair, and temperatures in the warm season rarely exceed fifteen degrees Celsius. In light of this, the following story of how and why I kidnapped a street puppy, carried him around the mountains for four days, and then smuggled him home with me might make some sort of sense.
It was early afternoon when I spotted him on the main street of Spiti’s capital village, Kaza. He was the size of a child’s toy, a little black fluff-ball sitting by the parked motorbikes, shivering with cold. The bottom half of him was drenched, and he looked like he was melting into the concrete. He stank like he’d fallen into an open sewer. There were no other dogs around, so my friends and I took him in, fed him, washed him, and then looked at each other and said, ‘Now what are we supposed to do with him?’
A little bit of investigation revealed that he had parents and an owner, but this owner proved to not really have too much investment in his well-being. The parents were some sort of pet-street dog hybrids, and they, along with their street gang, were responsible for beating the little guy up and chasing him off. He hadn’t been home in a week or so, and the owner made it very clear he didn’t care.
It was obvious that this hungry little puppy was not going to survive long on the streets. We had taken him in as a temporary solution, but my friends and I were about to leave on an overnight hike to Kibber, and then a three-day circuit around the mountains. We couldn’t kidnap a puppy and take him with us… could we?
Turns out, we could. There was a bit of room at the top of my pack, and it was just the right size for a puppy, so I set out on the road to Kibber with a small black dog resting his paws on my shoulders. It took a bit of getting used to. His initial reaction was to wriggle out, which resulted in one very sad little dog crying pitifully on the road, but that only happened once. After that, it was just a matter of me straightening up every twenty minutes and pushing him back from where he was hanging over my shoulder into the pack.
For three days we walked like this, three girls with a violin and a small black dog, roaming the dusty mountain paths, turning up at hamlets to entertain the village kids with Lee’s fiddle and the puppy’s antics. We visited Hikkim, Langza, Komic Gompa, Demul, and Lhalung, and on the fourth day, someone was feeling strong and brave enough to walk. From Lhalung to Dhankar, our little friend walked on his own, and that was no mean feat―six hours of sun and stones and dust, but he made it with only a little help.
Arriving back in Kaza we were faced with the dilemma of what to do with our little friend. We didn’t trust that his so-called owner was going to take care of him, his parents―whom we had nick-named the ‘bin dogs’ due to their proficiency in dumpster-diving―were no better, and he was too small to survive on the street alone. There was only one real option open to us; in the morning we climbed on the local bus to leave Spiti, our puppy came with us―and was charged half a fare, if you can believe it.
From Spiti to Rekong Piu is a six-hour bus ride. We stopped there and had a much needed hot shower (there was no power in Kaza when we arrived back from our mountain hike) and a good night’s sleep, and then the next day we undertook the nineteen-hour journey to Dharamsala where we were based, and this time we were smart enough to hide our puppy from the conductor. The little stowaway was unbelievably well behaved―he peed (off the bus) when we had chai breaks, and he only chewed the guy sitting next to me a little bit.
But getting him back to Dharamsala was one thing; working out what to do with him once we got there was another. None of us were permanent residents in Dharamsala at the time, and we couldn’t rightly relocate him just to dump him on the streets of an alien city. Luckily, Benny from Seven Hills Guesthouse in McLeod Ganj was looking for a new dog. One of his pets had been snatched by a leopard when they were out for a walk the week before, and he was more than happy to take our puppy in. Benny started feeding him up on chicken broth and meat, took him to Dharamsala Animal Rescue to have his vaccinations, and named him Rocky. He is now one of the resident dogs at Seven Hills, and if you are ever passing by that way and you want to say hi, he is the big black fluff-ball, sleeping by the gate.
It might have been a reckless thing to do; kidnap a puppy and take him away from his home, carry him around the mountains of Spiti, and smuggle him home on a bus, but sometimes it is worth following your heart. The story of Rocky is one of the cases where everything worked out in the end. Starving, ostracised by his family, and on the street at such a young age, it’s very likely Rocky would not have survived even the summer in Kaza, let alone the winter, but in Dharamsala he is a well-fed, happy hotel dog. I’m glad my friends and I let our romantic notions get the best of us this time.