Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Dogs of Arambol

May, 2014

Over the past 3 years in Arambol I have made many four legged furry friends.  Beach dogs.  I am a dog lover but haven’t had a dog since I was growing up since I lived alone most of my adult life in small apartments working a 9-5 Monday to Friday job so it didn’t seem fair to have a canine buddy.  But living here I’ve had the opportunity to be a part time dog owner, well, it’s not like I chose to be, the dogs picked me (it helps that I feed some of them).

The coolest cat among all the dogs had to be Smiley.  A challenge for beach dogs is that every foreigner gives a dog that befriends them a name which might be in English or Russian or some other language.  So the dogs rarely respond to being called however Smiley was an exception.  The reason, well when he would first see you he’d wag his tail as most dogs do but then he would pull his lips back showing his teeth.  Many people got scared at first but he was only...smiling!  And he’d only grin when he first showed up, not for food or getting excited about going somewhere.  My former Swedish neighbour Martin and I were walking up on the hill behind the Magic Villa (our name for our house) with Smiley and came around a corner when an older women exclaimed in a heavy French accent: “Oh, hey, Smileee!”  There’s also a Scottish woman who has been returning to Arambol for many years and feeds the dogs and also makes sure that they receive medical attention should they need it and also tries to control the population by getting them neutered (it’s easy to tell dogs who can’t reproduce as they have the tip of one ear clipped during the operation).  She calls him Smiler...close enough.

One evening last year Smiley came to my place.  Being a smart dog, he would usually come up on my deck and climb into one of the ubiquitous plastic chairs for more comfort while all the other dogs just slept on the floor.  Well this night he was acting strange.  He stayed down in the little yard in front of my guesthouse and climbed up on a small pile of dead palm fronds and lied down.  It had been a while since I had last seen him so I ventured down to check him out and he was super skinny.  I could just tell that something was wrong so I tried to entice him upstairs but in the end I had to carry him up.  He wouldn’t eat any food I offered.  I was concerned for him so decided to bring him inside my room, have him sleep there for the night and then planned to take him to the International Animal Rescue clinic about 25 minutes away by car the next day.  In the morning I fashioned a makeshift leash and we headed off.  Within minutes we ran into the Scottish lady and I was happy to see her and she was even more happy to see Smiley.  It turns out that Smiley had recently received treatment for penile cancer.  Oh, you poor dude!  He had finished his last treatment but it had obviously taken a toll on him but thankfully over the next few months he was back to his old self...the cool cat on the beach.

Comfy Smiley:

The beach dogs live a pretty good life here, especially during the tourist season when the weather is nice, they are given lots of table scraps in the restaurants and receive love from foreigners.  There are beaches to roam, a lake to cool off in and even monkeys to chase, not that they ever even come close to catching one.

This is Chocolate, also known as Mr. Fox.  He used to hang out with me and Martin (my Swedish neighbour) a few seasons ago but he'd always get in fights with other dogs when we'd go out for dinner.  So we kind of "broke up" with Chocks and now when I see him he looks at me, I look at him and we go our own way...but don't worry, he has other human friends.

And this is "The General", a good buddy of Chocks:

Sexy Smiley showing his stuff:

This is Gizmo who lives at Cock's Town Restaurant.  He gives great hugs around the waist.  Unfortunately he and Pester, my current dog shadow, have had a couple of fights but I think there's truce now.

And the big girl Pinky who is Gizmo's best friend and also lives at Cock's Town.

Monsoon is a different story though.  Lots of rain and very few foreigners so few table scraps.  There are only 3-4 restaurants open so many dogs tend to congregate there and with scant food available making for empty tummies so tempers get a little high and as a result the number of dog fights increases.

The first monsoon season I was here I was eating a late breakfast at 21 Coconuts restaurant and all of the dogs were lying on the sand, sleeping and seemingly satiated.  I noticed many crows diving down and cawing at each other on the beach but the sand dipped down from the previous high tide so I couldn’t see what they were all excited about.  One of the waiters then told me that at 6:30 in the morning a pig (the locals raise pigs but they are free to roam around) had ventured out a little too far onto the beach and was pounced on by the dogs.  I figured it was probably a baby pig or a juvenile at the most.  After eating, I walked out to check it out and was surprised at what I saw.  Only the head, spine and legs were left, but it was a pretty big pig, the size of the average dog here.  Wow, that must have been some take down.  No wonder all the dogs were snoozing soundly...full bellies for once.  A waiter from another restaurant was instructed by his boss to get rid of the carcass before it began to rot and stink.  He tied a rope around the legs of the pig and in true Indian fashion and logic walked out into the surf wearing his jeans and t-shirt and let it go.  Of course the pig just washed back in.  So he tried again, this time going up to his armpits but sure enough, back it came.  Okay, plan B.  A few guys dug a deep hole in the sand, tossed in the remnants of the swine, covered it up and then place some spiky dead branches over it to deter the dogs from digging it up.

Last monsoon season I was staying at a new place which had a nice big covered balcony area which was fairly dry even in heavy rains.  My first new four legged friend was a young black and brown female who I called “Sukhee” which means “happy” in Hindi.  I already had called another dog Happy so had to find something new.  Then some regulars joined, Smiley, Happy and Ugly.  Yes Ugly’s not a nice name but he was an older dog with lots of cysts and a cataract in one eye.  He does have a good temperament so I do like the guy though.  Happy is an older female who tends to prefers her solitude but in monsoon one has to relax one’s preferences.  Then I met a new brown and white, bigger than average male who I call Pester.  Why Pester?  Well that is what he does, pests you.  If you pet him for a while and then stop, he’ll put his nose under your forearm and move his head up and down a few times like a seal...give me more, give me more.  I promise you, he will never get tired of getting some good lovin’.  And to round out the pack wa, another young female, all sandy brown who I think is Sukhee’s sister.  I called her “Paagal” which means crazy in Hindi.  So at times I had 5 or 6 dogs sleeping outside my door.  I fed them proper dog food but feeding time was interesting.  I would try and feed 2 at a time and keep the other 3 at bay as I only had a couple of bowls.  They were pretty good about it and soon learned to be patient as their turn would come.


Lily!  The little dog at Cock's Town with a big bark...kind of:

And this is Bea who lives at 21 Coconuts restaurant:

Happy and Smiley cuddling up during monsoon:

She's quiet now...but this one is called Surprise!  As she can pounce on you when you're not looking to try and give you some love:

The old boy Ugly:

Gizmo during Holi with some orange and green colour:

Some of the monsoon crew:  Pester in the background, Smiley on the right and Paagal on the left:

Smiley in the back and Sukhee sleeping:

Conjoined twins?

At the end of monsoon I went away for a few weeks to Hampi and Palolem with Naomi and after returning, Smiley was nowhere to be found.  A few months passed but still no Smiley.  I spoke with one of the managers at 21 Coconuts and they said that they had had some problems with dogs and that some of the kitchen staff had been told to take a few dogs away and drop them off randomly in the nearby small city of Mapsa, or perhaps in the jungle...and Smiley must have been one of them.  How sad...he rarely got into fights, was smart and well behaved.  I’ve met many other regularly returning foreigners and we all talk fondly yet sadly about Smiley.  I hope you’re still out there smiling somewhere Smiley.

This removal of some dogs was probably precipitated by an ugly episode that I witnessed the month before.  The Scottish woman who takes care of many dogs stayed for the entire monsoon season and one day she was walking down the main road en route to the beach to feed the dogs.  A couple of dogs came up to her on the street and she generally likes to feed them on the beach so that she doesn’t upset the locals but this time she figured she’d just quickly feed these two and move on.  Well another dog showed up and some growling and barking broke out.  A local man came out onto the street and started yelling at the woman and then proceeded to punch her in the jaw and kick her.  I was sitting in 21 Coconuts talking with an Aussie guy I’d just met.  All of the wait staff were suddenly peering out of the entrance.  I couldn’t see anything but figured it was probably a couple of drunk guys arguing or fighting.  The Aussie then went to check it out and the Scottish woman walked past quickly followed by the man who was now wielding a bamboo stick.  The Aussie asked him what was going on and WHACK, he was hit across the top of his thigh...what they call a “Bamboo Massage” here.  It was totally unprovoked.  Then the assailant’s brother, who is a well known and supposedly respected man in the village, picked up a steel rod of a sun umbrella and joined his brother in attempting to hit any dog visible.  It was mayhem on the little street and most of us were afraid to step outside.  Eventually things calmed down but this was a real ugly side of Arambol and one I hope I don’t see again.  The Scottish woman was alright but obviously shaken up.  If you want to see the tail end of the episode, go to YouTube and search for “Arambol Dogs”.  It’s not a great vid as I think the tourist filming it was a bit scared herself, as was I, but you will see the ugliness of the affair .  A dark side of Arambol.

I don’t like to stereotype and of course there are always exceptions to the rule but sadly, in general, Indians do not treat dogs well.  It starts at a young age as I have witnessed 8-10 young kids walking along the beach with their mothers trailing behind them and the kids are throwing sand at dogs and some of them are waving sticks at them trying to hit them with their parents saying nothing.  Another time a 3 year old with a stick was relentlessly pursuing a dog with a hurt leg around a table on the beach.  The kid hit the dog on the tail and the dog had finally had enough and turned around and snarled at the kid who immediately began to cry.  So the dad then picked up a rock and hurled it at the poor dog who did his best to escape quickly.  I yelled at the dad saying “What did you expect?” but it fell on deaf ears.  And just the other day I was walking with Pester to the beach and a teenage labourer who was sitting on a big pile of rocks for making cement picked up a rock and threw it at Pester for no reason.  I stopped and asked “Why?  If you do that he might bite you.  If you are friendly to him, he’ll be friendly back.” 

The first year here I saw a dog with a long black strip skin where the fur is missing along its back that I called Back Bacon (yes, a bit of dark humour).  I later found out that someone had poured boiling water on the poor dog.  Who could do such a thing?  Well sadly there have been at least 3 dogs that have had the same evil treatment delivered to them this year and one happens to be Happy and another Ugly.  I imagine it’s someone who works in a kitchen in a restaurant but it’s next to impossible to find out as our poor four legged friends can’t tell us.  Poor Happy spent 3 months in the animal rescue shelter but she’s back to her old self now.  Ugly is still at the shelter but he has many other issues with cysts etc. so the Scottish woman said that he may be put down.  He is an old dog and perhaps that’s the best choice.

Dogs have pretty good memories and will remember those who do bad to them.  I have seen a number of the dogs that I know run up and bark at a single Indian guy walking down the beach, especially if they have a stick.  Sometimes it’s not warranted and it must freak the guy out but other times I think the dogs know why they are doing it.  It’s a sad cycle that will be difficult to break...but I hope it does change.

Okay, let’s talk about more happy stuff.  Since last June my most faithful companion has been Pester.  In fact for a while the only way he’d stop following me was if I got on a scooter or in a taxi, even then he used to chase the vehicle but he has smartened up since.  He has a funny trait of either sneezing a lot or howling like Chewbacca from Star Wars when he gets excited that we’re leaving the Magic Villa and going to the beach.  He’s got many battle scars as he’s a bit of a loner so when he enters other dogs’ territories he often gets challenged by a pack of dogs.  I’ve seen him fend off 8-10 other dogs singlehandedly.  His strategy is to go a little into the ocean, having it as his back, and barking and snarling back at his attackers.  I’ve tried to break some of the altercations before (and have been bitten twice in past years) but generally it’s better for me to walk quickly out of that territory on the beach so that Pester will follow.  However when it’s a fight that breaks out while I’m sitting at a table at a restaurant on the beach, I sometimes employ a slightly unorthodox method that I call the “Reverse Wheelbarrow”.  I grab Pester’s back legs, pick them up and start walking backwards.  It’s probably embarrassing for my canine buddy but it sure is effective and removes him from the melee.  It usually receives a few laughs from other people dining nearby.  Funnily, although he can stand his own against 8-10 dogs, Pester does have a weak spot...puppies.  Naomi and I went to Double Dutch restaurant a month ago and there were 2 small puppies that were playing with each other.  The smaller puppy tried to play with Pester but within a few minutes he bolted.  Perhaps he didn’t like receive the little nips from the puppy’s sharp teeth or maybe he just doesn’t know how to act with them...but I have to admit I couldn’t help but laugh a little.

Pester has a girlfriend who has also been a visitor at the Magic Villa from time to time.  When she first came up to our balcony last year Martin and I decided to call her Scarf which was short for Scarface as she had a nice scratch across her nose from a fight.  A Maltese guy who was staying on Sweet Lake Beach for many months called her Pamina and I’ve now adopted that name.  Last year Pamina was hanging out with us but we went to bed.  Half an hour later her crying woke Martin up who subsequently knocked on my door.  Pamina must have had an encounter with a porcupine (I didn’t know there were any here) as she somehow got a quill stuck into the back of her knee of one of her forelegs.  At least she had the common sense to come and get help from us.  We pulled it out and only a couple drops of blood came out and she was running around the next day.  She’s got to be the fastest dog on the beach with huge muscular hindquarters.


Pamina getting a little touchy feely with Pester...look at his expression!

This is Kissme...her name tells it all.  She loves to try and give Pester kisses but he inevitably growls at her:

One day this year I was walking on the beach with some clients to go tandem paragliding.  Pester and Pamina often come up the hill, searching for monkeys and just generally having a good time investigating the jungle and the plateau for all the wonderful smells.  At the end of the beach we ran into Happy.  Pamina and Happy don’t like each other and after a bit of barking a fight broke out between the two females.  I tried to split it up by squirting water on them but I was otherwise pretty useless as I had my paraglider on my back.  Pester didn’t know what to do.  He had slept beside Happy a number of times last season and now his new sleeping buddy is Pamina.  So what does the sensible boy do?  He mounted Pamina!  Make love not war...even though he has no balls to actually be able to do anything...  Happy sustained a small cut on her snout but nothing serious but then I didn’t see her for the next 3 months so it must have been shortly after that that some asshole poured boiling water on her.

After I take off flying the dogs will walk back down the hill and usually Pester will wait for me on the beach.  A few times he even seemed to recognize that it was me coming in to land and he would come running up to me as I landed...super cool.

Watching sunset with Pester:

A little Eskimo kiss action:

Sometimes I think I should have called Pester Chewie:

Playing with Pester:

Nice sunset....and dog:

It’s going to be sad when I leave Arambol as these dogs, especially Pester (aka Red Brown Dragon) have found their way into my heart.  Some friends have asked why I don’t try to take him with me but I know it would be a long process with him being put in quarantine for perhaps 6 months, plus I’m a bit of a vagabond at the moment.  His about 7 years old now and he’s a beach dog through and through.  He’s got a pretty good life here and he can fend for himself until he finds new human friends. 

 Take care my four legged furry buddies!  Woof! Woof!