There can be no worse karma laid upon an impoverished soul than to be a dog. And not just any dog, but a street dog. And not just any street dog, but a dog born on the streets of the Middle East.
There these woebegone canines take on a life best described as desultory, trotting along from who knows where to who knows when at who knows what time of the day or night. Their bodies are emaciated, their bones poking through such that all it takes is a sudden move and their ribs will puncture the hide. But that bodily disaster might be ultimately to their advantage, because then at least they will have some marrow to chew on. They are the unwanted, the caste-offs, the dalits of the dog world. Their sorrow is our indifference.
Their tongues loll almost to the deck on account of the temperatures they have to endure for the few summers they manage to cling to life. Their coats are dull and threadbare due to the deficiency of vitamins and the mange that routinely strips them half-naked. This sorry plight again may be to their advantage, as wearing an overcoat is not quite what the Arabian climate had in mind for much of the year. The only thing they can take for granted is that they will never go cold.
Their only friend is the Indian wallah who carts the supermarket’s butchery off-cuts out to the skip. The only other friendly face these dogs are ever likely encounter is the zealous migrant – that itinerant who arrives in the Middle East seeking only riches and leaves having found a purpose: namely, to alleviate the suffering of all the world’s waifs and strays. Of course, this mission is a hopeless one, because when these ex-patriots suddenly up sticks and repatriate to their developed worlds where strays are either sterilized or euthanized, the street dogs of the hot and heartless Middle East are the ones left to fend for themselves.
It is good to do one’s bit for the nameless ones. The effects of kindness are instantaneous. What seems at first an intimidating straggle of street punks led by a bristling alpha sporting a scar over his proud nose soon gives to a bunch of wagging tails, delighted not be be forgotten by the cruel world yet still wary that the kindness of strangers is but a trap for fools. Street dogs are many things, but fools they cannot afford to be. In spite of their hunger, the capos snap and nip the lowly henchmen, for in a world where they mean less than nothing, within their pack universe they have first dibs. Some kind of structure is needed if they are to make it on Arab street. To watch them is to realise that it is not through brutality and strict hierarchy that they overcome the odds, but through good old cooperation. They look out for one another while we stand back, looking out for only ourselves. In this way they may share in their misery, shrugging off the crappy karma that the cosmos has cooked up for them.
(n.b. During a year-long stint of volunteering at an unnamed shelter on an unnamed island in an unnameable gulf, the Indian dog handlers – with what little English they had at their command – told this writer that when the locals pulled up outside the kennels, even before they got out of their cars, the dogs would bristle with anger and hostility. The expletives were damn-near discernible in their bark. Conversely, when non-locals likewise paid a visit the dogs would go wild with excitement. At this the two men laughed as if this was the worst-kept secret in the world.)