By Linda Leaming
Our house is in an apple orchard above Thimphu, and like so many people we have dogs who have adopted us. Last winter a brown short haired dog with long legs came around. She was wild, afraid of people, and lingered near the house. By February she was thin with protruding ribs and new puppies, according to some Indian workers nearby. Slowly I got her to come near the house and eat and she came every afternoon. I was already feeding her husband, a short, old, black-haired dog. She hid her puppies in a burrow near the Indians’ encampment.
I never saw them until one afternoon in mid-April, when she led a parade of six fat puppies on the road below our house. I fed them and they stayed and I tamed them, named them, petted them, called them, fed them treats, and disciplined.
Mother came in the afternoon for her dinner. She would sit at the top of our driveway and wait for her puppies to have their fill. I walked the orchard road in the afternoons with her and the puppies. They played on the sand piles at the construction site above out house. I realized she wasn’t much more than a puppy herself.
One afternoon in July she didn’t show up for her meal. Then the next afternoon. And the next. I asked the contractor at the building site above us if he could go and look for her. He took some Indian workers and hunted for her in the dense pine forest, government-owned land that surrounds the orchard on three sides.
They found her, caught in a wild pig trap. The contractor cut one heavy motorcycle brake wire used in the trap to free her. Sadly, he couldn’t cut the wire that had tightened around her haunches as she struggled for those long days and nights to free herself. She tried to bite him when he got close enough to cut the wire.
That’s the horrible thing about traps set by poachers in the forests to catch wild pigs. They often catch dogs instead. Any animal would be violently tortured if caught in one. The wire cuts deeper and deeper into the animals flesh the more she struggles to get free. The contractor said Mother had almost cut herself in two. Her pain must have been excruciating. And her hunger. And thirst. And fear. He said she probably wouldn’t live.
There are no pigs anywhere near the forest or the orchard. We haven’t had wild pigs in the area for over two years. But the poachers stay on. They are terrible nuisances.
The contractor said there were hundreds of traps in the government forest. It’s legal to put a trap on your own property. But traps on government land are illegal and carry fines and even jail time.
I knew if she lived, Mother would try to come for food. I dreaded seeing her, but I had to try to help her.
Two days later she did come. Her deep wound was bright pink like fresh meat and the wire that tortured her trailed behind her. How was she still alive? The puppies ran to her and then quickly moved away. I panicked a bit, pulled myself together, and called Dr. Meena at the National Veterinary Hospital. I said a wild dog had been cut by a pig trap.”We’ll come right away,” Dr. Meena said.
Dr. Meena and Dr. Kinlay did come within a few minutes. The ambulance made its way up the zig zagging orchard road. Mother was lying next to the house, under the eaves, snapping at flies that swarmed around her wound.
I ran down the hill and Dr. Kinlay told me to get in the car. “If we walk up she’ll run away. If we drive up, she’ll stay put,” he said. He was right.
Dr. Kinlay maneuvered the car down our driveway, steering with his knees as he lowered the window, and loaded a tube with an anesthetizing dart. Tube to lips he blew and the dart hit Mother in her left hind leg. The three of us all cried out.
Of course she ran into the orchard, but the dart did its work and the doctors were able to track and catch her with some construction workers. They muzzled her, tied her legs, and loaded her into the ambulance.
“It’s bad,” said Dr. Kinlay as the workers shut the ambulance door.
That night Dr. Meena sent photos of Mother, her wound expertly stitched in an hours-long operation. She was also sterilized.
With two weeks of antibiotics and compassionate care from the Bodhisattvas at Jangsa Animal Saving Trust, Mother healed, and lived to wander the forest again.
But this isn’t the end of the story.
My favorite of Mother’s puppies is a beautiful girl named Shameika, with her mother’s long legs and her father’s black and tan markings. She’ sweet but she is also a thief. The neighbors have to keep their shoes on a ledge outside their kitchen door, or the shoes will end up in Shameika’s shoe collection. She likes to go hunting for shoes.
One Sunday morning in November, Shameika had her breakfast but that afternoon she didn’t come for dinner. I felt that sense of dread in the pit of my stomach. Shameika wasn’t even a year old. She’d never not come for dinner.
She didn’t come the next day, either. I asked my husband, Namgay, if he’d go with me to the forest to look for her. I didn’t want to think of her caught in a pig trap. She would be scared, cold, thirsty, maybe in pain. And the trap would tighten and cut her as she struggled. Why do the poachers do it? To eat the pig meat? To make a little money?
On Wednesday afternoon, four days after she disappeared, my phone rang. It was one of His Majesty’s Royal Bodyguards. Just to be clear, I do not usually receive calls from the palace. In fact, I have never received a call from the palace.
“Are you missing a dog?” asked the man on the phone.
“Yes!” I cried. I dropped the phone and accidentally disconnected the call.
He called back! “A black dog with a green collar? About a year old?”
“Yes! That’s Shameika! Is she okay?”
“Yes. She’s fine,” he said. “She’s here at the palace.”
That Sunday, the day she’d disappeared, His Majesty, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck was running on a trail above our house. He heard Shameika crying! His bodyguards found her nearby, caught in a trap. They untangled her and carried her back to the palace. She wasn’t cut. Clever girl. She didn’t struggle.
The bodyguard on the phone said they knew she must be a pet. The guard who carried her said she “smelled nice.”
So she’d spent the last four nights at the palace, and got a full check up by vets at the Veterinary Hospital. She was healthy and fit. And she wasn’t long in the trap. I think she didn’t even miss a meal. She’d had her breakfast on Sunday morning at home and dinner at the palace that evening.
Attendants brought her home the next day, freshly bathed. We were all so happy to see her. She seemed happy to be home.
So along with keeping us safe from COVID, vaccinating us, making sure we’re fed and happy, supporting us if we are out of work, keeping us emotionally and mentally strong during this tough time everywhere in the world, and along with touring the country and traveling to dangerous zones and being away from his family for long periods of time, His Majesty also rescues our dogs from illegal pig traps. He shouldn’t have to. But here we are.
I think every day about His Majesty, his selflessness, and his devotion to his people. How blessed are we to live during His Majesty’s reign. I am grateful to be here in this beautiful, peaceful place, under his protection and largesse. He carries our problems on his shoulders. I pray every day for His Majesty’s safety, and I pray to be more like him. I wish for His Majesty’s sake and for our own sake we could all be more like him.