Bhuto had settled down and was well established when I got married. Rakhi, my wife had only seen him for a few days, before she came to stay with me. Bhuto was my pedigree bullterrier, white and muscular, with a brindle patch on his egg shaped head. He was a terror for all unwanted visitors, but having grown up with my cow and chickens usually left them alone. And he wasn’t sure whether Rakhi was not just another visitor!
(Bhuto looked a lot like this. Modified from: https://thecompletedog.fandom.com/wiki/Bull_Terrier)
He wasn’t keen to share me with her. As long as we sat on separate chairs like friends, he had no grouse. But if the two of us sat close together on a divan, Bhuto would immediately get up and put his schnozzle between us. Then he would push himself in and having pushed Rakhi away would occupy the seat next to me. He wasn’t going to let her share his master.
It took him quite a while to accept my wife. My job required me to go out of Patratu quite often for two to three days at a time. He would sit on the edge of the front verandah, just looking at the gate, for the days I was out. Once in while he would visit the kitchen or wherever else Rakhi was, nuzzle her feet or sari as though asking when I would come back. Then he would go back to his post, watching the gate. Slowly over several such outings he learnt to accept her as a member of our family.
I had brought Bhuto from his breeder in Khidderpur, an Anglo-Indian gentleman who called himself Dogman James and specialized in bull-terriers. Bhuto’s pedigree went back four generations of interbred show champions, with double barreled names. He was then in ’75 a three month old pup, who came up to Dhanbad in the dog-box and afterwards spent the night sleeping on my lap on the 1 GG (Gomoh-Garwah-road) Passenger till we reached Patratu next morning.
I didn’t like the peculiar long winded names that breeders give to their show dogs. No ‘Avon Whitehead of Kidderville’ would do for me. I named him ‘Bhut Nath Ray’ instead-Bhuto for short. It wasn’t long before he became a family member.
The full name raised a few eye-brows. Like when I took him for an anti-rabies shot to a retired Army Vet in South Extension, NewDelhi. Everything went smoothly until he started filling up the vaccination certificate. Owner’s name-Debashis Ray, Dog’s name- Bhut Nath Ray and then the old getleman did a double-take!
My parents were with me then, and as I was in the Shed at work, he spent most of the day with them. He had not been house-trained at the kennel, and would tend to mess the house. So early in the chilly mornings, my father would pick up the pup and take him to a corner of the garden, where Bhuto after some sniffing around, would relieve himself. He got used to this and after a few days, to see his smug expression, it was clear that being carried out to do his business was a birth-right!
Patratu railway colony was an open place with single storey houses and lots of trees. The Damodar river was about a kilometre away running through undulating scrub jungle, with the Hazaribagh reserve forest starting on its other bank. The weather never became really hot as showers were frequent even in summer. But as I learnt from experience, even short haired pedigree dogs could not stand a walk in the mid-day sun. So in summer I would give him a shower, before an outing.
All I had to say was ‘ganga-ganga’ (a Bengali term of endearment to babies when bathing), and he would run to the bathroom and look up expectantly at the shower. With the shower turned on, he would prance under the cool spray, biting the jets of water and dancing like a boy in the rain. Then soaked to the skin, he would shake himself and we would proceed on our walk. The evaporation kept him cool for the next half-hour.
His tastes in food were catholic. Though his normal food was rice boiled with meat, supplemented with an occasional vitamin pill, he would eat just about anything that we ate. If he got hold of a brinjal then off he would go to eat most of it and shred the rest. The garden had a guava tree which had grown from some seed thrown away. It bore a few guavas and if a ripe one fell on the ground, we would learn about it as Bhuto would be happily eating guava on the verandah!
Bhuto grew up in a bungalow which already had a cow with a calf, ten desi hens and four Australorp poultry. Discouraged from chasing them with a sharp ‘Naa!’ he left them alone. That protection did not apply to the philandering neighborhood rooster, who always got chased out. Once when I stood close to Folly the cow, Bhuto’s protective instincts got him to nip her hindquarters. Folly lashed out with her hoof and got me squarely on the knee. Fortunately there was no major damage.
His meeting a toad for the first time was a learning experience for both of us. He was snapping at a toad on the lawn, when I stepped out to take it away from him. He wasn’t going to part with legitimate prey and promptly chewed and swallowed the animal. Within ten minutes he was retching and bringing up all that he had eaten. He continued retching for a few hours, before the effect of toad poison passed. Bhuto did not touch a toad again.
He never forgot those early months with my father and his bond with my parents was special. He used to sleep on an old curtain under my bed at my next post in Jamalpur. My parents came visiting and were put up in the second bedroom across the living room. At bedtime on the first evening, Bhuto picked up his ‘bedding’ and dragged it to my parents’ room. Calling him back did not help. He pulled the cloth under my father’s cot and that is where he slept until they went back to their home in Delhi.
Once a year we would go to Delhi on a fortnight’s vacation and would take Bhuto with us. He didn’t like being cooped up in the dog-box and usually travelled with us in the coupe -when we got it. His presence kept off all unwelcome passengers who would have liked to occupy every available space even in a reserved compartment. His look was enough to unnerve any would be gate-crasher.
Getting down from the taxi-cab, his first few steps through the gate at home would be tentative. Then he would recognise the place, and in an ecstasy of joy he would do several rounds of the lawn, sprinting up and down. On the final round he would run through any open door and throw himself on my father, licking him all over in an exuberant show of affection.
When my elder son Amit was born at Jamalpur, I was worried about Bhuto’s reaction to this new stranger taking our attention. I took care to give Bhuto his due and introduced him to the new baby. He seemed to understand and became protective about the boy. As Amit started toddling he would play and pursue the dog. Even when Amit was hitting him with a stick, Bhuto would not growl but take refuge under the bed. My son would follow him there too and the dog would emerge from the other side and go under some other bed or furniture.
That immunity did not extend to anybody else with a stick or broom. Many a time I had to pull him away from visitors or sweepers who had waved some baton or broom at him. Even if I waved a stick threateningly he would start growling. He had this allergy about humans with sticks, ever since he had cornered a uniformed Home Guard who had come to the out-house. That worthy tried to fend off Bhuto with his baton, and my dog had received a few blows.
The antipathy did not usually extend to the human at the other end of the stick. Once Bhuto got hold of the stick or broom in his huge jaws, he would run off triumphantly with it and proceed to chew it to bits in a corner of the garden. But how was a visitor to know that it was their stick the dog was after?
He was a bit of a snob. Anybody coming in through the gate would face a head-down growling charge. Visitors in dirty clothes or carrying a head load were likely to be attacked and cornered. Visitors in uniform (shades of the Home Guard!) were unwelcome. However if they were well dressed, his demeanor would change and they would be greeted with a huge toothy smile and a wagging tail.
Stray cattle and marauding langur monkeys got chased out pronto. The langurs with their superior numbers and intelligence soon got the better of him though. They would team up and alternately come down from different trees in the compound. Bhuto would chase each one up again, but the langurs would just repeat the exercise until he was overheated and exhausted and could chase no more. Then they had their fill of the roses or any vegetables in the garden with impunity.
One day an inquisitive half-grown langur came into the bungalow through a ventilator. Bhuto got him before I could do anything. I was able to drag the poor animal out of his vice like bite, but the animal died within an hour of shock and internal bleeding. It was a job disposing of the body, but the langurs stayed off my garden for the next couple of months.
Characteristic of his breed, Bhuto was intelligent and a quick learner. Even at Patratu he had learnt to distinguish from Rakhi’s sari, whether we were going out. The moment he saw Rakhi in ‘going out’ sari, he would start prancing. He wanted to go out too! It was difficult to explain to a dog why he could not go with us. When he realised that we were not taking him along his posture showed his disappointment.
One afternoon Amit, then about two feet tall, was walking around eating a piece of cake. Bhuto snatched it from his hand and gobbled it, before I could react. So I gave Amit a second piece and let Bhuto repeat his misdemeanor. The moment he put his nose to the cake, I caught him by the scruff and delivered a cuff to his side. He associated the action and the punishment and never again grabbed food from the child.
He learnt to search in the garden for things that I had hidden in the garden after dragging them around. On being told ‘Khoj’ (Bengali for ‘search’) he would follow the trail till he found the object. The bull breeds have a good sense of smell and Bhuto showed it by his nose to ground posture, frantically wagging his tail as he followed the meandering trail that I had created, locating his ball at the end. In all he learnt about eleven different orders.
One thing I never succeeded in teaching was to stop bringing things so that somebody could throw it for him to fetch. When guests he knew well turned up, Bhuto would proffer a stone for him to throw, so that he could run after it and retrieve it. People like Rajiv Upadhyaya who didn’t like handling a slobbery stone would ignore his offer. Not perturbed by being ignored, Bhuto would then shove that wet stone on his lap or between his leg and his seat to make a more insistent demand. It was difficult to hold conversation when a dog felt that visitors had come with the express purpose of throwing stones for him to fetch.
Normally social visitors were welcome, but one day he gave Anil Handa, then a student, a nip on his ankle. I could see no provocation except perhaps that Anil was nervous with Bhuto around. We washed the bite liberally with soap and water and then applied dettol. My reassurance that Bhuto never missed his anti-rabies shots did not appear to put Anil’s mind at ease, and he worried about it for days afterwards.
His ability to bite and hold on was phenomenal. If he bit into a towel, one could swing the whole dog with all feet off the ground, round and round. He just would not let go. Stray dogs soon learnt to stay away, but an occasional larger dog would challenge Bhuto on his home turf. In almost no time Bhuto would grab the challenger’s lower jaw in his massive mouth, and in spite of all the bites on his snout, just would not let go. His opponent would soon be whimpering in pain, and I would usually have to throw a bucket of water on Bhuto’s nose to get him to release his hold. Bhuto’s snout would be a pin-cushion of bites, but that did not seem to bother him. Nor did he get infections as a result.
This reputation for biting and holding on had its plus points. At different times burglars tried to break into almost every bungalow in our neighborhood. But my house next to the golf course at the end of the Gymkhana road was never touched in six years. He was loose inside the house at night and ensured nothing, man or beast entered or got away.
Late one summer evening as I was preparing to go to bed at Jamalpur, Bhuto left his customary place and went to the rear verandah barking loudly. At first I thought that some stray dog or cow had entered the compound and he had heard or smelled it. But then the bark was deep and guttural, much more threatening than the usual call. Walking into the verandah in the dim light I could see that the dog was growling at a cobra, which had mistakenly entered the house. The snake had fanned its hood in fear and was swaying threateningly at Bhuto who was growling around the reptile, keeping just out of range. This had gone on for a few seconds, when in a sudden flash he bit the snake on the body and gave a vigorous shake that dislocated its vertebrae and sent it into shock. Having got his kill, Bhuto took it, still squirming, under my bed. True to the instinct of his predator ancestors he was not willing to part with the snake, which was still moving languidly and snapping in its death throes between his fore-feet. I had to tempt him with a biscuit and shut the door on him in another room, to bring out the dying snake from under my bed.
Unlike my earlier (and later) desi dogs, Bhuto was susceptible to internal and external parasites. Vets in small town Bihar, were ignorant of dogs and their problems. So I had to learn to identify worm infestation symptoms (roundworm, tapeworm, hookworm) and cures, tick infestation seasons and locations, comb out fleas from his coat, and tackle blow-fly strike and fungal infections. Clearing blocked anal glands, and ticks were routine. Had to read up on dog nutrition requirements, and identify night vision problems. All this knowledge came useful to dog-loving neighbors, but Bhuto was the guinea pig who suffered while I learnt!
The blow-flies nearly took Bhuto to his grave at Jamalpur one winter in ’83. Investigating why he kept gnawing at his the pad on his foot, I found to my horror maggots in a cut on the pad. The standard treatment with turpentine did not help and for three weeks I tried every folk-medicine that I heard. Pulled out the maggots with tweezers but new ones developed. Then one day a colleague RK Singh, told of a similar maggot infestation on his relative, which the village Vaid had treated with a paste of fresh bamboo shoots and sugar. I fuzzily remembered having read that young tender bamboo shoots had prussic acid to discourage animals from eating them. But then bamboos do not throw up shoots in winter and none were available. So I tried this bait and poison treatment by using a mixture of a much diluted insecticide mixed with castor sugar. Low and behold, three hours later all maggots, tempted by the sweet bait had come out of the wound and died. This time there was no recurrence.
After six years at Jamalpur, I was transferred to Waltair-now called Vishakapatnam. Bhuto now nine years old off course moved with us. An older dog now, his health had taken a beating from the prolonged maggot infestation. Still he was active, willing to fetch sticks or search out his ball on being told Khoj .
He loved to swim and would fetch when objects were thrown in the water. He learnt to dive on his own if the ball sank and would disappear from sight for a few seconds. Usually he surfaced with the ball in his mouth, fetching it from the bottom near two metres down.
Small sea fish less than finger size, were dirt cheap at Waltair and occasionally I would substitute the meat in his food with it. It was one such time when I had given him fish daily for about a week, that I noticed a change in his coat. It was a sheen on his white fur that looked unusual. So I changed the diet to meat and rice again and checked after a fortnight. Sure enough the coat had become duller. I repeated the experiment with fish and in ten days the sheen had returned. There was something in the whole small sea fish that was doing him good, though whether it was trace minerals or omega 3 fats or vitamin A in the fish I could never ascertain. Any way he taught me a lesson and Bhuto and all my dogs after him have benefitted from fish once or twice a week.
Into his eleventh year age started telling on Bhuto. He became less active, spending much of the day sleeping in his box. Ticks were numerous at Waltair and they latched on to the sleeping dog in hordes every day. Pulling them off was painful for him and left his coat in a bloody mess. So I put his box on four nails as thick as pencils and covered them with Vaseline. Now in the mornings one could see the ticks gathered in numbers near the box, waving their antenna, unable to get to him.
A few months later Bhuto’s vision, hearing and sense of smell all started failing him. He would bump into family members and growl, unable to recognise them. His motions became so hard that he could not pass them. I took him to my friend and Veterinarian Dr Rehman, and he said it was time I took a hard decision. I knew what he meant and was in tears. Then after I regained composure, I gave my nod. He pushed me out of his surgery by the arm, while he put the old dog out of misery.
Bhuto lies buried in a corner of the compound of my home in Dondaparthy. He has left a void in my heart that neither time nor other dogs has filled.