"Devika"... Viji's voice told me everything and my heart sank. Since we started our little shelter at the orphanage (she prefers to call it the Ashram) near Madurai, (in South India)the only time she ever sounded like that was when there was some bad news about our animals.
"Jemmy has disappeared". Three words, and my nightmare had come true. From the day I had started feeding Jemmy - 'adopted' by construction workers who loved their liquor and who alternately fed her and beat her, only to abandon her once the building was done; then kept on by the watchmen of the building as she was a good watch dog, until the day a family moved in who hated animals - I always knew the day would come when I would have to remove her and I always had a bad feeling about it.
After trying to get the watchmen to beat her (they liked her too much to obey), after calling the corporation van and bribing the men to remove her (I won those battles but I knew her deadline was approaching)…the man who was out to get Jemmy finally sent me an ultimatum. Either I removed her, or he would leave her on the beach. My every effort to find her a home had failed. As soon as she heard, Viji said "Let us take her, Devika". Thanks to a kind donor, Parasparam Ashram was constructing a nice dog shelter as the dog family had grown from 3 to 9…and now it was time for Jem to go.
Parasparam is in the sleepy, pretty little village of Batlagundu, an overnight journey from Chennai. On the appointed day, sick to the stomach with anxiety, I visited Jem in the morning with milk and biscuits. She wouldn't touch them. I'm sure she knew. Then I slipped a collar on her and attached a leash and started to pull gently. I could feel her tremble and she would not budge. The driver in that carpark who used to play with her was in tears "Amma, she is so gentle she will die if you take her away" he pleaded. Unable to get her to move, I picked her up and put her in the car and she trembled all the way to the station, her paws on my lap, panting with fear.
At the station, knowing the noise and bustle would disorient her, Kalimuthu, the Ashram manager and caretaker of the shelter, picked her up as if she weighed nothing.Viji sweet-talked the entire counter staff into accepting her on the train, and we took her to the guard van. When she was put into the dark little compartment kept for animals I couldn't stop the tears, and as I put my face near the small opening, a pink tongue came through and kissed me goodbye, through all her fear.
During the next 10 days my anxiety slowly reduced. "Jemmy has stopped trembling". "Jemmy ate really well today"…and then, one day "Jemmy has been taken into the children's house and loves it so much she now lives with them". From that day, she decided that was where she belonged, and Viji would jubilantly give me reports of her jumping and playing and behaving boisterously…it was too good to be true. And for some strange reason I can never explain, my sense of foreboding didn't quite leave me.
And then, one Sunday, the dreaded phone call.
I knew she had been kidnapped. Other dogs had run away and been found…newcomers looking for their old homes…the Ashram is a rambling property and a wall would cost a fortune so dogs can get onto the road…but Jem never once attempted to go anywhere. People had been talking about this lovely white dog who was so obedient and I was sure someone has decided to take her.
We decided to pull out all stops, no matter what it cost. Already Kalimuthu and the children had travelled the entire neighbourhood in search of her, calling out in the hot sun. Haunted by images of her, scared, lost and hungry, I remembered hearing from Viji about the animal healer in Germany who could communicate with animals. In desperation I asked Viji to approach her. Since she works at the Goethe Institute, Viji is fluent in German, and with the help of another kind animal lover, we made contact with the healer/psychic.
The answer we got was that Jemmy was alive but a prisoner. She had been sniffing around among some plants when someone had picked her up, covered her in a cloth and taken her away in a fast-moving vehicle. She was in a small hut and given very little food as she was to be used for hunting and was being kept hungry. She was confused and wanted to go back to the place where they had been so kind to her. Her heart was beating very fast.
This was our clue!! There is a village near the ashram where a community of hunters use dogs to hunt rabbits. When Kalimuthu went there, he found the surroundings exactly as Frau Echtler had described, but no one admitted to Jemmy's presence. Now it was time to bring out the big guns… I offered a reward, knowing it was a risky thing to do, but if we did not get her back now we never would, and human greed was our last weapon, and our best! KM passed the word around and the villagers shook their heads in disapproval saying the orphanage was throwing money around on a mere dog. KM explained that the reward was offered by Jemmy's benefactor, a lady in Chennai who loved her too much and wanted her back! Meanwhile, Viji, the children and I worried, prayed and tried not to think of all the things that could have happened to her…
It worked. Two young men came to the ashram saying they knew where Jem was. KM immediately made them lead him to the place where Jemmy was. Overjoyed, she came to him, dirty, scared, and above all, starving. He says she could not eat enough, she just ate and ate and ate when she got back and drank half a litre of milk. She was so happy to be back, she did not mind being chained up in the ashram house in the daytime as she had no desire to go anywhere and we were all scared for her safety.
Our joy was indescribable.
A few days later, she was put in the shelter with the dogs but pushed her face into the mesh in fear and it got stuck, and she had to be rescued. Eventually everyone got the message: Jemmy wanted to be with the children and only the children!!
And there she remains. Home at last, after years of living at the very edge of acceptance. Beaten, discarded, threatened, picked up by dog catchers…taken on a long journey, stolen and starved….and now a very special, beloved member of the Parasparam family. Welcome home darling Jemmy. May you live out your days safe and happy with the children of Parasparam.
The person who so kindly helped us find Jemmy, soon after helped us to locate two of our three escaped cats….but that's another story.
The Parasparam Trust