Wounded dog a symbol of hope

SUNDAY, DEC. 21, 2008

Mumbai inspired by stray shot in attack

MUMBAI, India – On a leafy hospital campus in this still-scarred city, one of the victims of last month’s terrorist attacks is making a recovery. He’s a chubby, cream-colored pooch whom workers have named Sheru – the Hindi word meaning Lion Heart.

Sheru was a stray dog hit by an errant bullet when two gunmen opened fire in a crowded railway station during the first night of the assault. The survival of the aging Sheru, despite a gunshot wound to his left shoulder, has become an uplifting and soothing symbol of Mumbai’s recovery to many of the city’s anxious and angry citizens. In a three-day siege beginning Nov. 26, 10 gunmen killed more than 170 people and wounded at least 230. They attacked two luxury hotels, a restaurant, a train station, a Jewish outreach center and other sites.

“Some may ask why a dog is being saved when so many human lives were lost,” said J.C. Khanna, a retired lieutenant colonel and head veterinarian in the Indian army. “But saving all creatures big and small shows the love and affection for all life that (Mumbai) has shown again and again. Sheru’s life stands for something, for all of us getting back on our feet.”

Plump, easygoing and almost 10 years old – a senior citizen in dog years – Sheru often slept near the pastry case of the Re-Fresh restaurant, a popular eatery in Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, one of the city’s busiest train stations. Commuters would feed him leftover fried veggie puffs or sips of milk, workers said.

But on the night of the attacks, the wounded Sheru, hearing gunfire and people screaming, was too terrified to move, said Shripat Naik, 28, a local newspaper photographer who was at the scene and brought Sheru to the city’s Bai Sakarbai Dinshaw animal hospital.

“I was clicking photographs when I saw the dog, bloody, dazed and looking so horribly afraid and traumatized,” Naik recalled. “My heart went out to this poor, quivering animal.”

On a recent afternoon, Sheru’s shoulder was bandaged and a patch of dried blood was visible through the white cloth. Still weak after surgery, he slept with his head resting on his paws.

With fresh water and antibiotics, he was slowly mending in this small, square-shaped kennel, which is housed in the hospital unit of the Bombay Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

India is home to one of the world’s largest populations of stray dogs. Relatively few dogs are house pets here, and most are bone-thin, weak strays that hobble around city streets, sniffing out discarded food.

Recently, India has found a use for dogs in its counterterrorism efforts, putting them to work sniffing for bombs. The number of canine units has doubled in recent years, Khanna said, and three trained rescue dogs were killed during the attack on the Taj hotel. The city’s fire departments gave them official funerals.

“Ultimately, it is an ecosystem,” said Khanna. “Everyone is connected to each other. If animals are not there, we are not there. Sheru has made it. That was good news for all of us.”


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