I cannot recall the last time I didn’t want a dog. I would often throw tantrums as a kid, plead and beg my parents to get me a pet, any pet at all. While I longed to have an animal to love and care for, I was also extremely scared of strays and rescues. As a child, this hypocrisy of mine seemed justified to me due to my unpleasant encounters with a couple Indies that may or may not have been the root of the fear. I thought that if I tried to pet anything but a pet animal, I would be responded to with loud barks and maybe even a bite. What my little self didn’t understand was that there was a way I was supposed to approach these precious but not loved enough angels and that every time I thought they were trying to scare me, they were just trying to defend themselves from any danger.

I was a 15-year-old that had moved to a new town, and of course, like any other teenager, it was taking me time to build friendships from scratch, but sitting idle at home didn’t do any good. So, every now and then I would go on an evening stroll by myself to the neighbourhood park. I remember a lady that lived in my neighborhood. People used to say she wasn’t doing great mentally. I never really interacted with her. The only memories I have of her are either of feeding all the neighbourhood dogs or of arguing with people that treated the strays poorly. I never really saw her with a person. I kind of both admired and envied her for so fearlessly touching, caressing, and feeding the animals that I was scared of even being in close proximity to. That’s why I would always put bread, biscuits, or my leftover tiffin sneakily at the side of the park entrance and go stand as far as possible. I was told by a friend to always stay away from an injured dog, for they are the most vulnerable and dangerous, but that didn’t quite scare that lady, and I wish it didn’t scare me, but it did. Well, this fear of mine didn’t leave until one day, a day I wish I didn’t remember.

One day, I was in the market with my mother when a pair of boys on a bike started throwing absurd gestures my way. I was disgusted and angry. I retaliated with anger, and so did my mother. I followed them, but they disappeared. I noted down their bike number and called the police station. The incident was disturbing, but I decided to put it in the past and move on, but I could not. I saw both of those in the park a few days later. Even though it made me uncomfortable, I decided to ignore it. Since catcalling is something that happens so casually. I told myself that I couldn't keep locking myself inside every time something like this happened, until one day I felt their bike pass very close by me, and even though it was only for a split second, I felt someone's touch on my arm, and a chill ran down my spine.

I didn’t know this feeling, I just knew I would do anything not to feel it again. So, I stopped going to the park. It had barely been a week since that incident when my mother asked me to fetch bread from the vita booth adjacent to the park. I did not want to go, but I couldn’t bring myself to tell her the reason why. So I had to go. It was somewhere near 9 in the evening. The roads and the park were almost empty. It looked different without the hustle and bustle or children playing around or the elderly walking and chatting. I bought the bread and was on my way back when I noticed them, on that same red and black bike, but this time it was worse; they weren’t alone.

There were 3 bikes. I instantly panicked but tried my best to keep my composure and started walking as fast as I could. I felt them following me. I was scared and ran into a random society. The watchman asked me who I wanted to visit, and I told him everything. He was kind enough to let me borrow his phone. I tried calling my father, who was on a call with someone else, and my mother, who didn’t answer. I don’t blame any of them. How would they know it was me from an unknown number? I asked the watchman to walk me home, but he obviously couldn’t leave his place. My place wasn’t too far from there. I mustered up the courage and left. I don’t remember how long it was before they stopped in front of me. I was terrified. I was terrified of what I was thinking was going to happen. As one of them got closer, as I felt his hand grabbing my T-shirt, as I felt him hold me by the neck, all I wanted to do was scream. I wanted to scream at the top of my lungs, I wanted to yell for help, I wanted to run away, but I could not. I froze. It’s like I was fighting my body to not give up. At that moment, when even my own body denied helping me, I noticed a dog’s jaw clenched onto the guy’s leg. I don’t know what led to that. Maybe he stepped on his tail. Maybe the dog was one of those they called crazy and aggressive and that people were scared of. I don’t know why he did what he did, but I know that I owe that dog my life.

That one bite led to them leaving. I don’t know if it was the fear of people coming out due to the loud barking or if that guy was in agonising pain. I just knew that I had dodged a bullet. Actually, I had been pulled aside before hitting one. Even after they left, it took me a while to get myself to move. My body remained frozen for a while. To this day, I don’t know why that animal jumped in to save my life. Was he protecting himself? Did he feel threatened? Or if it was because of all those left-over rotis. I just know that when no human, including myself, could save me, an animal did. One that I was naive enough to be scared of.

It took me months to open up about this incident. Even then, I could only speak about it to a friend I thought would understand how I felt. It was followed by her mocking me for lying about being molested for attention in front of my classmates. As I write this, the thought of people thinking that I am a liar crosses my mind every other minute, but I still want to tell this story because the ones that I once hesitated to rescue are the ones that rescued me when no one else did.

I know, in the fast-paced life we’re living today, it is hard to provide for others when we ourselves struggle to make ends meet, but these animals that are filled with pure innocence and love don’t know that and often give us back more than we can expect.

Ever since that incident, I have felt safest in the company of these pure souls. I don’t flinch when a stray jumps on me with excitement. I don’t walk away after putting food down for them. I stopped being afraid of hurt or injured animals and started reaching my hand out to help. I thought that even if I had to endure a bit to help them out, I would still not be repaying half of what they gave me, my life.

I have had the opportunity to meet and receive love and affection from a lot of these absolute cuties. It is astonishing how a simple meal and a few head pats and belly rubs are all it takes to make them shower you with immense love. I am still learning how to unlearn the stereotypical and harmful mindset of strays and rescues being aggressive threats and trying to learn to make the world a better place for them.

Image by Kev from Pixabay 

I am still a student and have limited resources. Thus, I cannot do as much as I would like to, but I can make small efforts that I believe can bring maybe not a huge but significant change.

I try to help feed stray animals as much as I can and try to educate people on foods that can harm them and those that are good for them. Try to politely point out how biscuits and the sugar in them are lethal to these innocent animals to people who are unaware and only trying to do a good deed [an honest mistake that I also used to make]. Not ignoring an injured animal and trying to get as much help as possible for them. Speaking up and standing up for these voiceless beings when they are ill-treated.

All of this is the bare minimum, but it is a start and I hope to do a lot more than I am doing right now. These are very small gestures that people can do without disrupting the flow of their hectic daily lives.

I have come to understand why that lady from my neighbourhood was the way she was. I don't know her story, but I know she was investing her love and effort in those pariahs because they would never be half as lethal as other humans or demons masked as people.

I live in a different city now and most probably will not get a chance to repay the debt I’m under, but one day, I hope I will be able to make the world a better place and give a new life to someone like that angel did for me. I am someone who was once rescued too.

.    .    .