"You just cannot toss him out of the house," Bibiji yelled at her husband, Sardar Sohan Singh. "After all, he has been with us for more than six months and is a part of the family," she added. Sardarji was adamant, "Moti has to go. We live in a small room. It's winter and Moti wants to huddle in this room with us at night. There is no place for him."
The subject of this heated discussion was Moti, a white dog who had "adopted" this family. Partition had driven Sardarji out of Lahore. He now stayed in a small room of about 200 sq ft in Daryaganj, Delhi, with his wife and two sons. When I arrived in Delhi after Partition as a homeless refugee in 1947, I, too, had no place to stay. Sardarji, being a close friend since college, was averse to me and my wife staying in a hotel.
Sardarji made it clear - Moti had to find another home. One Sunday, in the wee hours, he left home with Moti. He returned around noon, alone. Bibiji was vexed. "What have you done with him?" she thundered. Sardarji explained, "I tied him with a leash to my bicycle and rode seven miles out of this locality. There, when he was nosing around, I undid the leash. Then, I pedalled back quickly."
Bibiji was livid. "Is this the way to treat a dog?" she asked.
Around 5 the next morning, there was a tap on the door. Bibiji opened it and yelled with delight, "Oye Moti toh vapas aa gaye!" (Moti has returned!).
There was all-round relief at Moti's return. Even Sardarji relented, saying, "If he is so keen to be with us, then so be it." And thus Moti was accepted in the household.
A few months later, Sardarji was chatting with friends at a tea shop near his house.
Suddenly, Moti rushed to him, barking loudly. He caught hold of his trousers in his mouth and literally dragged him home. Sardarji was shocked to see Bibiji lying unconscious on the floor next to an electric iron. Apparently, she was ironing clothes and some faulty wiring or short circuit had knocked her out. A doctor was summoned and Bibiji was quickly revived.
After this incident, Moti became the hero of the neighbourhood and a part of the family.
Over the past 66 years, I have often remembered Moti's sense of loyalty and direction in returning home after he was abandoned and his smartness in judging that Bibiji needed urgent help. Since then, I have also read about dogs guiding blind people and assisting the police in detecting drugs and bombs. No wonder, many dog lovers pamper their pets with toys, gourmet foods, customised beds, sweaters, etc.
So, it is distressing to see stray dogs in large numbers loitering in cities and villages, unkempt and often aggressive. Large mounds of uncollected garbage attract them. It's almost impossible to walk in many of the streets at night for fear of being attacked by them.
Rabies is often caused by bites from unvaccinated street dogs, who can carry the painful and frequently fatal disease. India's stray dog population of 3.5 crore is increasing; the government and NGOs must work together to find humane solutions to this issue.
Man's best friend should continue to be his best friend, not a danger lurking in the dark shadows of the streets.