Trip Start Apr 01, 2008
153Trip End Jul 15, 2012
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When I came across her she had thankfully been adopted by a caring Indian family, but it was clear they were struggling to deal with the problem through a combination of bad veterinary advice, extremely limited funds and higher priorities. She would lie out on the side of the road throughout the day - away from the house due to the stench of her infected leg - with a scarf providing little more than a suggestion of cover against the infinite number of flies that teemed over her body, all searching for the source of the intoxicating aroma of rotting flesh and blood in which they could lay their eggs. Though it was only after a couple of visits that I was made aware of this, as I watched the mother of the family dig into the now truly repulsive looking leg with a stick and start to pull out maggots from deep within. I have often wondered how queasy I would be when confronted by such things, having avoided any real contact with flesh or blood through my lifetime of vegetarianism and here, with no warning I was finding out, thrown in at the deep end. She then pointed out a large number of minuscule white things on the scarf and calmly informed me that they were 'babies'. I was utterly horrified by both the foulness of these fly infants and the extent of the damage, which had worsened tenfold since my last visit a few days earlier. Julie barely had the strength to notice what was going on.
I knew they had been taking the dog to a vet in the local town, who had been prescribing medicines, but clearly they were having no effect and she was dying before our eyes. The mother pleaded with me to help, explaining that her husband was away, so there was no-one to carry the dog on the back of her brothers' motorbike. Immediately we wrapped her up in some potato sacks, jumped on the back of the bike and dodged our way through the crowds, across the pedestrian bridge and through town to the vets office. Now I say office, but we are talking basic here. I was instructed to put her on the ground outside, while the brother, Kapil, spoke to the vet in his room and re-appeared with a list of medicines that he seemed to be suggesting I would now go and purchase. Now firstly, this was presumptuous, but more importantly the vet hadn't even inspected the dog! Ignoring Kapil, I went into the vet's room and asked him what he had prescribed. Without looking up from writing what appeared to be his accounts, he mumbled something about some anti-biotics and pain killers. "Are these the same drugs you have been prescribing?" I asked. Again, without looking up, continuing to add figures to his book, he confirmed that they were. "Don't you think you ought to at least look at the dog first, it is in a horrendous condition, far worse than it was a week ago. I think that whatever you are giving it is making it worse, not better" I stated, my frustrations rising, particularly in light of his lack of simple manners. "Once you have the medicines we will examine the dog" he said, again not moving his gaze from the ledger. As this point, with my patience at an end, aware that the family had already spent over a thousand rupees on these medicines, which is a lot of money for them, any semblance of courtesy went sailing out of the window and he found himself being peppered with a verbal tirade that covered a range of subjects but that basically consisted of my suggesting he lift his head out his book, do what a vet is supposed to do by getting off his arse and helping an animal, rather than counting his money and writing out expensive and seemingly useless prescription. Which worked - to a certain extent. He gingerly stepped outside with his hands stuffed deep inside his pockets, got one of his assistants to display the leg and then mumbled something about the swelling being too bad to do much. At which point I thanked him for being a complete prick, picked Julie up and instructed Kapil to take us to another vet. Poor Kapil, who doesn't speak great English, looked very confused.
So we drove across town to another veterinary practice, where thankfully we were welcomed and immediately attended to by three of four smiling members of staff, who listened to Kapil explain the situation - though god only knows what he said.
Within no time, they had pulled 10 maggots out of Julie's leg and suggested, as I had suspected, that the leg was beyond help and would almost certainly need to be amputated. To be sure though, Dr Bisht recommended we seek the opinion of a veterinary surgeon, 15km away.
So we jumped onto the bike again and sped over to get a second opinion. The surgeon took one look and said it was far too late for the leg to be pinned and confirmed that the leg would need to be removed due to the high level of infection. The cost would be in the region of 3000 rupees, which is about £40. Kapil gulped and looked at me, I gulped and looked at the vet, the vet gulped down some chai and went back to inspect the dog who's malfunctioning penis he had just stitched back together. Kapil, Julie and I put our respective tails between our legs and drove home.
Forty quid I hear some of you say, just pay it and be done with it, a happy ending. But I must remind you all that I am subsisting on less than a tenner a day and this is India, with more animals and people requiring help than you can shake a stick at. I was also a little annoyed that Kapil was expecting me to cough up the money. She wasn't my dog after all, I was just helping.
So in a slight mood, I made a sign.
'PLEASE HELP. JULIE WAS HIT BY A JEEP AND NOW REQUIRES AN AMPUTATION WHICH WILL COST 3000 RPS. THE FAMILY CANNOT AFFORD THIS. THIS IS NOT A SCAM!
I wasn't convinced it would work to be honest, given the vast number of beggars, cripples and sadus that already line the streets, but it was worth a go. I gave it to Kapil, wished him luck and went to eat lunch.
What I forgot of course is where better to collect money for a poor, injured dog than in a vegetarian spiritual retreat such as Rishikesh. Within four hours we had managed to raise the full 3000 rps courtesy of a large number of animal loving westerners. We called the doctor and booked her in for the next day.
We travelled to the vets surgery by motorbike arriving at midday and waited for both vets to turn up - it would apparently take two of them to perform what we were told was likely to be a tricky amputation given the extent to which the infection had spread.
While we waited, we were given the task of shaving the fur from Julie's leg. Clearly it was going to be a group effort!
The vets soon arrived and administered a double dose of anesthetic, as Julie, despite her small skeletally thin stature resisted all temptation to be put to sleep. I suspected she didn't quite trust us.
With her eyes glazed but open, her tongue blowing a silent raspberry to the world, we lifted Julie onto the basic metal operating table and the vets began to prepare themselves. She was tied down - although she showed no sign of wanting to go anywhere - the wound was soaked in iodine, and knives were sharpened. Kapil and I were ushered out, but allowed to watch from the window.
The proceedure took a couple of hours and was fascinating to watch - no queasiness whatsoever. I watched as arteries and veins were tied up, tendons and muscles were sliced, the bone was sawed off and then filed into a smooth stub and ligaments were snipped with wire cutters (neither a scalpel nor scissors could cut through them). Then the various bits were tied up around the bone so as to provide some cushioning and prevent it from poking out and potentially puncturing the skin, which was also stitched up roughly before being dawbed with a yellow cream that was used to keep flies and maggots off. And that was it. We carried Julie outside and lay her back down on the concrete while we thanked the vets and received our instructions for the next few critical days.
And so, with a limp three legged dog in my arms, we drove back and lay Julie down on the porch, where she would stay for the next few hours, slowly and groggily coming around and attempting to stand, before being subdued by various members of the family. We bought her a babies t shirt to cover the wound and fashioned a piece of cardboard around her head to stop her licking and nibbling the stitches, and perhaps equally importantly, to prevent her from seeing the painful truth; that she was no longer all there.
It's fair to say she wasn't her usual self for the next few days. Perhaps because of the drugs, or maybe she could sense her loss. But she ate, used the loo and attempted to walk, with her little stump wiggling frantically, but of course making no contact with the ground. It was only by day four that her spirits seemed to lift a little, growling at passing cows and even on one occasion, attempting to run, awkwardly towards a cat that was sat on her porch.
It was here that I left her and made my way to Delhi - already a week later than Anna-Rose, Bob and Kuhn - confident that whatever could be done, had been done and that her destiny was now in the hands of Shiva or Brahma or whichever god was given the specific duty of looking over the dogs of India. And for encouragement, I remembered the surgeon's astonishment, as his scalpel revealed the true extent of the infection, that she was alive at all. "This dog should have died long ago" he said, "she must really want to live!"