On November 10th, 2021, I found a dog with a wound on his foreleg living in a mountain village in the HImalayas. He approached me limping on three legs, put the paw of his wounded leg in my hand, and lowered his head. In this way he asked for my help, and I named him Benji.
I convinced my Nepali boyfriend Prakash and his family to allow me to bring Benji up to their farm so I could care for his wound. Several days later, Prakash walked down to the village, tied a rope around Benji's neck and led him up the steep mountain trails to the homestead. Benji was not allowed to enter their home, so he was tied under a shelter to keep him safe from the family guard dog, a Tibetan Mastiff named Rocky, with strong territorial tendencies.
While I was inside on the afternoon of Nov 12th preparing to photograph Grey Langurs, Rocky broke his chain and attacked Benji who was still tied up. I pulled Rocky off of Benji, and took Rocky for a walk, because I thought he was feeling frustrated due to being tied up since Benji's arrival. We walked the same way we walked every evening, up and above the farm, past other farmlands and homesteads. Usually I am very vigilant and watch our surroundings in case of dog attack, which is common among the animals. I typically carry a stone in my hand to pretend to throw at dogs that come too close, they are accustomed to having stones thrown at them, and they will recognize this gesture and run off.
On this evening my guard was down, we were enjoying the evening and at peace. I was not paying attention. Suddenly out of nowhere with great speed another large mastiff attacked Rocky's hind quarters with full force, sending the two dogs tumbling over one another. The attacking dog got wound up in the leash that became tangled around his midsection, and trapped him in it. The leash was a homemade one with a slipknot handle, and the force pulled the leash around my wrist so tightly that I could not get it off. I could not get it off Rocky as the pressure on the leash was too great.
Each time one of the dogs tried to run the leash kept them captive and they attacked again. I was screaming at the top of my lungs for someone to please help me, and I screamed every time I was bitten. The people of the homesteads were further down the mountain at a wedding and I was alone. The dogs fought ferociously biting at fur and skin, tearing at each others necks and limbs. The attacking dog was about to attack again when I realized that I was on the ground. I put my arm up to fend off the attack and I screamed. He looked into my eyes and his expression changed from one of crazed aggression to scared confusion, and he stopped. The leash went slack and he escaped and ran away.
I stumbled down the rock-strewn mountain trail to our house with Rocky in tow. I collapsed on the floor in front of Prakash's father who began to shake with emotion, and strike Prakash on his head with a poker used to stoke the wood fire.. Both of my hands and arms were bleeding and swollen from the 15 or so bite and scratch wounds I received. I tied Rocky up, then Prakash and I hurriedly packed our bags to leave for Kathmandu. We were scared I could contract rabies.
I insisted we take Benji against the wishes of everyone else, and I led him down the mountain hobbling on 3 legs at dusk. We walked along a local trail through the woods, over tree roots and cow dung to the village of Thulo Syabru, where I saw a doctor who cleansed my wounds with saline and iodine.
Outside, two relatives of Prakash were waiting with off-road motorbikes to take us down the steep hand-carved mountain road to the highway, as the sun dipped behind the mountains. Again, I insisted that Benji come with us, because they did not want a dog on their bikes, next to their bodies. But it was his only chance to be rescued. Prakash and I took turns carrying him and he lay across us while we ventured down steep inclines in the dark, over rocky terrain where rock slides, monsoon, and avalanches have left their mark. Where the cliff-sides are thousands of feet and where my close friend, Prakash's brother, died when he fell.
We had to stop more than once because the terrain was too rough for the bikes, and I carried Benji in my arms over fallen rocks. One of our drivers, Prakash’s other brother, got scared, because the road was too steep, and the cliffs too precarious, and he switched places with Prakash who took over driving the bike.
It took over an hour to reach the main highway where Prakash had a jeep waiting for us to take us the rest of the way down to the valley of Kathmandu, overnight. Benji slept soundly on the floor of the jeep while Prakash and I suffered nausea from the movement over damaged roads.
As we approached the valley eight hours later we found the only place that would allow us to enter with a dog, the Birds Nest Hostel, a charming, sprawling private residence with guest rooms. The next morning my friend Monica Larrieu, a diplomats wife, insisted I get treated with immunoglobulin for rabies at her local hospital. She picked us all up, and accompanied me to the hospital, then took us back to her beautiful gated compound in Kathmandu where we rested. Benji stayed with Monica when Prakash and I left the next afternoon and he has been in her foster care since then.
I received human immunoglobulin treatment which is a series of needles injected into ones wounds, followed by 4 rabies vaccines over a month. Two and a half months later I am healed with the occasional pain in my arm where a canine buried itself into my flesh, and in my finger where the tip was deeply cut. Benji's wound was far worse than mine. We considered amputating his leg early on, because it wouldn't heal, but Monica was able to cleanse and bandage his open sore 3 times daily and use saline to clean the slough away. Two and a half months later his wound is healed too, it is pink and bald and we don't know if his fur will grow there, but his progress is nothing short of miraculous.
At first, Benji would not enter indoors without being pulled or carried, because he was never allowed indoors in his lifetime. Today, he lays in Monica's bed curled up in her arms, sleeping the restful sleep of the safe. He moans when he sees someone he loves and when he is touched in a kind way. He loves car rides.
After I finished my course of vaccines I returned to the mountains to get Rocky. We brought him down to Kathmandu to get him vaccinated against rabies to protect him in the event of a future attack. The situation with the dogs in the mountains is largely human induced due to neglect, more to come on that later. For now this story is about Benji, and his daring escape from the mountains, where he would have been trapped if it had not been for an oddly fortunate twist of fate that led us to flee like exiles in the night.
Benji is now safely in Canada and in a loving home on a large property where he loves to chase squirrels.