by Ramesh Anand
I was the last of six siblings born in a tiny village, far away from the hubbub of a city. For some reason my Mom & Dad gave me a weird name that sounded to me like Chengi. As the youngest, it never stopped “Chengi – do this. Chengi – don’t do that. Chengi – stay away from that.”
My Mom was a Sharpei & my Dad a Chow Chow. Even today, though I am almost two years old, I really can never stop talking about my Mom and Dad.
My Mom was graciousness personified. She had this cute wrinkled face with a tough lean build. When she walked into a room, all other dogs looked at her with love and admiration. I have never really understood how she managed 6 devils like us. In this village without any doors, my brothers & I had a wonderful time breezing all over the place chasing our sisters. I must confess, at times, we were rough with them. Little did we know that Mom always kept an eye on us all the time. We would suddenly hear her soft but very firm voice, “Leave your sisters alone.” The tone said it all.
My Dad was a handsome Chow Chow. He was as regal as they come. He walked tall and his gait was absolutely majestic. His mane was straight out of Lion King. When he walked into a room, every other dog made way for him. They say, our masters trusted him the most for his loyalty and his will to stand his ground against any danger. As a child, I had heard many stories of my Dad’s bravery.
Did I mention, we lived on a farmland with the most wonderful & scenic surroundings? In a distance were a range of formidable mountains from which rivulets raced down into a wide stream gushing with foaming fresh water that fed into a river close by. Wildlife was in abundance. Birds with every species covered the horizon while I have spotted the occasional bears and wolves far off. The six of us and other puppies living close by, enjoyed prancing around the meadows and at times, mischievously venturing into the dreaded woods, chasing rainbow colored butterflies, birds with vibrant colors, and squirrels and rabbits that ran all over the place. Life was so very perfect.
I remember, it was one such sunny afternoon. Our Mom was probably busy and we were scampering around and chasing some rabbits into the nearby woods. As we went further into the woods, I could hear my sisters crying out – “Chengi – Get back –Mom is calling us home.” Soon their voices became softer and softer as I almost caught up with the rabbit. As I closed inon the rabbit, the wily guy found a hole that he charged into and I missed him. I looked around and realized that I was by myself. The sun rays glistened through the leaves of the tall trees all around as I pranced back in the direction of our home humming a tune I had learnt from my Mom. I heard a rustle in the bushes and froze momentarily. As my heart started beating rapidly, I grew breathless wondering what lurked behind the bushes. Fear turned to panic as I remembered mom telling me about big dangerous animals in the woods. Why did I not listen to my Mom? Least of all, why didI not go back with my sisters? As the thoughts raced through my mind, the only thing that raced faster was my little feet. I kept running aimlessly, looking back every so often, just wanting to get away from the dangerous bush. Bang!!!! I had crashed into something, probably one of those big trees. As I looked up though my dazed vision, I saw a big wolf looking down at me. The wolf seemed to be confused for a moment wondering what had crashed into him. With a yelp, I turned around and ran in the opposite direction with the wolf in hot pursuit. Within moments, I could feel his heavy breath as he closed in on me and about to grab me in his huge mouth with those massive teeth and each time I lunged further away.
It was moments before; I ran out of breath and felt the wolf grab me by my neck. Whoosh – I felt the air blow into my ear as the wolf picked me up and rattled me like a stuffed toy, spun me around in the air and hurled me on the floor. As he pounced to dig his fangs into my strong but tired body, I heard a roar and through the corner of my eyes saw something fly onto the wolf. It was my Dad. “Dad” I murmured feebly. Dad did not look at me. He was focused on the wolf. They both looked at each other menacingly, gnarling with menacing teeth, ready for a fight and neither of them willing to give an inch. A few minutes of the standoff and the wolf realized that my Dad will not give in without a fight to the finish, took couple of steps back and slouched away into the woods. My Dad looked at me with love, licked at the wounds I had and asked “Son, do you have the strength to walk back home?” My Dad, my hero, my savior! “Yes Dad.” I could say no more but my eyes said it all. He was really my champion, my hero. As I limped back home, I could not stop myself from stealing glances of awe, at my Dad. He is what I hoped to be one day.
It was about a year ago that our Mother gathered all of us together. She seemed to have a serious tone as she told us that she and our Father were going to the Great Fair. She assumed they would be bought by another family at the Great Fair. We burst into tears and our collective whining could be heard far away. “Relax children,” our mother said. “You are all over a year old. You are all strong and capable of taking care of yourselves. Remember to look after each other and you will always be safe.” Those were the last words, I remember my Mom saying before my Dad walked in, looked at all of us, through eyes laden with sorrow, but the manly pride not allowing them to swell with tears, and they walked away into the sunset.
Over the next year, I grew into what my sisters say the most handsome of their siblings. They said I had the looks and the build of my Dad with the grace of my mother. My brown body glistened and seemed red in the sun. My face had the look of a sharpie with the flowing hair of my Father’s Chow Chow lineage. At about over 50 kilos or 110 lbs., I had grown the strongest amongst my siblings & could outrun and out wrestle all the big guys in our village. When I walked down the street, I could see hidden glances of awe. I had many escapades with the tough guys from the neighboring villages and I developed a reputation as the strong but kind guy.
One day, there was a major commotion as my sisters came in squealing. We were all scheduled to go on an outing to a neighboring town, to the Great Fair. They had heard through their usual gossip network that this was one of the largest gatherings of dogs in the country where thousands of dogs were to attend. A truly wonderful opportunity to meet others of our breed and exchange ideas and information. As the day came close, our master decided who could go for the meeting. Two of my sisters and a brother were to be left behind as they were not strong and big enough to undertake the journey. While I was disappointed, I could not hide my excitement as I looked forward to the new experience in my life.
As I heard my master call – all those of us selected – jumped excitedly into the back of his truck as it drove off on the dusty road spitting out dark smoke from its ancient engine. All of us kept being tossed up and around as the truck made its way through the hilly terrain singing tunes we had learnt over the last couple of years. Our adrenaline ran high with expectations of going for a gathering of this magnitude for the first time. This was nothing like the village gatherings we had each New Year.
As the truck made its way through a water logged street and turned around a corner, there was a hushed silence among us. Ahead of us was an even larger truck with many more dogs. This was our transition point. This is where we met with those from our neighboring villages and went on to the main event area. This truck was straining with the number of guests traveling to the Great Fair. Our master carried each of us and had to push us among the others to make sure we did not miss the ride. We were literally overflowing from the side. For our protection, they had set up a net all around us to hold us in and together. I must confess that many of the guys we were riding with were rough. I doubt if many of them had any rabies shots or had lived the kind of life I had, full of love and affection. Within minutes, we were off on the second and probably last lap of our ride to the Great Fair. This ride was very unpleasant. I had the others pushing and poking me all over the place. Some were biting into others from frustration. I prayed this ride ended soon and I could stretch my legs.
As the road descended from the mountains, there was a collective gasp from the truck. In a distance, way below, we could see the town where the Great Fair was taking place. I forgot the discomfort as I gazed in amazement. I had never seen anything like this. The entire world seemed to be living there, judging by the number of homes that spread across the horizon. The driver of the truck was probably as excited as we were, as the jalopy suddenly leaped forward at twice the speed, as it hurled itself down the mountainous slippery road with curves attacking us every few minutes. I realized that part of my body had slipped through the net and I clung on to my dear brother and a strand of the net to stop myself from falling off the truck.
It was at one of the vicious turns that I felt my head spinning. I hit the wet and muddy ground with a realization that I had fallen off the truck. As I rubbed the dust off my eyes and limped back on my feet, I could see through the black smoke, the truck carrying my brother and sister and others to the Great Fair. I frantically gave chase with all the strength that my powerful legs had, failing to notice that the side of the hills surrounding me were devoid of trees and full of rocks and mud with intertwining roads running across them like a spider’s web. Water rushed down the tiny rivulets providing water to the hamlet below. Thousands of people were below in a festive mood as they participated in the Great Fair. Alas, my legs were no match to the powerful engine of the truck that gradually faded downwards between the hilly roads making its way to the Great Fair.
My chase downhill seemed like a 100 dog years. I leapt over bushes and tiny streams, slicing across the street that cut through my downhill path like a knife as I edged towards the Great Fair. As I advanced to the base of the hill, I could feel my head throbbing with excitement as I pictured catching up with my siblings and imagining the look of joy on their face when they would see me safe. In a distance I could hear shrieks of joy and laughter from the thousands of dogs that had come together for the Great Fair. Every sound made my feet leap in the air even faster and longer. Suddenly, the town loomed in front of me.
I came to a grinding halt. My heart sank and my ears hurt. Hiding behind the bushes, my tear laden eyes saw rows and rows of shops with bodies of dogs hung for sale and human consumption. The shrieks were not from joy and laughter but shrieks of anxiety from the thousands of dogs that were being killed mercilessly in the most inhuman ways.
My feet wobbled as my mind went reeling. The truth hit me finally. I was staring down at The Yulin Dog Meat Festival. I had heard about it from my friends before, but never believed anyone could be so cruel. In fact, I remember a friend wondering how a barbaric practice could have started as recently as 2009. I realized that my name was not Chengi but “Shengyin” meaning “Voice.” My parents hoped that I will be “The Voice” for the dogs of Yulin. Tears flowed down my big face as I realized what had happened to my parents a year ago. My brother and sister were among the tens of thousands of dogs that will be killed this month for a meaningless festival. My brother and sisters were left behind because they were not fat enough for consumption. Myriad thoughts engulfed my mind. Does the world not realize that thousands of dogs are transported across the country without any food or water, cramped in wire cages and many die on the way?. Does the world not realize that thousands of dogs are transported across the country without any food or water cramped in wire cages and many die on the way? Does the world realize that most are affected by rabies and transmit it to humans? Is the world aware that China has the second highest number of cases of rabies reported in the world? Are we not the best companions a human ask for? As these and many more thoughts came to my mind, I shrunk backwards into the bushes.
Suddenly, I felt a pair of rough, strong hands grab me by neck. I stopped breathing, my body curled in, to half its size in absolute fear and my ears were ringing as I stared up through fear-laden eyes into the kind eyes of Chen Wai-Lam – “You are safe, my dear. We will not let you be killed. We are here to rescue you. You will live your full life”
Ramesh Anand is President of Tysons Pals Rescue, Missouri City, TX and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org