CHINNAKALAPET, India: A family dog saved a young boy from the waves of the dreaded Asia Tsunami when it struck following an earthquake out at sea on December 26th.
Young mother Sangeeta was with her young children on the seashore near the family home when the waves struck. "Run away!" her husband screamed from a rooftop after he spotted the colossal waves.
The command was simple but it presented Sangeeta with a dilemma: She had three sons, and only two arms. She grabbed the youngest two and ran, figuring the oldest, seven-year-old Dinakaran, had the best chance of outrunning the tsunami churning towards her home.
But Dinakaran didn't follow. He headed for the safest place he knew, the small family hut just 40 meters from the seashore.
While water lapped at Sangeeta's heels as she rushed up the hill, the family’s dog, a scruffy yellow crossbreed named Selvakumar ran into the hut after Dinakaran. Nipping and nudging, he did everything in his canine power to get the boy up the hill.
Sangeeta, who like many south Indians only uses one name, had no idea of the drama unfolding below. Once she had crossed the main road to safety she collapsed into tears, screaming over the loss of her eldest son.
‘I had heard from others that the wall of my house had collapsed, I felt sure that my child had died,’ said the 24-year-old mother.
Selvakumar looks pretty much like every other dog in the village. He hardly ever barks and lets the three boys climb all over him and pull his tail without protest.
At night, he joins the rest of the family and sleeps among them, no matter how may times they throw him out.
Most days, the dog escorts Dinakaran to and from school, spending the rest of the day playing with the other two boys, or begging for food.
Sangeeta's brother-in-law gave her the puppy, following the birth of her second son. When the brother-in-law died in an accident two years ago, they changed the dog's name to his.
The morning of December 26 began like most others, with sunny skies and a cool breeze. Sangeeta's husband, R. Ramakrishnan, had just returned from his early morning fishing with a boat full of fish.
From their home, the view of the ocean was obstructed by a two-story community centre. So when they heard a strange noise coming from the sea, Sangeeta's husband went to investigate.
When Ramakrishnan saw the waves, he ran to the roof of the centre and shouted down to Sangeeta to flee. That's when she made her agonising choice.
"He is somewhat older than the other two. I knew he would be able to run, so I grabbed the other two," Sangeeta explained.
Dinakaran credits the dog with saving his life. "That dog grabbed me by the collar of my shirt," the boy said from under some trees at Pondicherry University, where the family is waiting for relief. "He dragged me out."
Sangeeta said she wept with joy when she saw her son walking up to her, with Selvakumar by his side.
The Tamils of south India believe that talking about the death of a living person can make it so, so Sangeeta didn't want to mull over her decision or speculate how she would have felt had her son not survived.
She did say that she believes some special spirit, perhaps her brother-in-law's, resides in the young yellow dog.
"That dog is my God," said Sangeeta -- with Dinakaran sitting on the ground at her feet and Selvakumar sleeping on the warm asphalt next to him.
FERAL DOGS ATTACK TSUNAMI SURVIVORS
STRAY DOGS are being rounded up and killed in India's southern Tamil Nadu state after the starving animals began attacking survivors of the tsunami, especially children, who are the most vulnerable.
Municipal officials in the devastated Nagapattinam district, 160 miles south of the state capital, Madras, said at least 30 dogs had been destroyed after reports that they were attacking and terrorising refugees packed into relief shelters, particularly at mealtimes.
‘The starving dogs' behaviour changed after they began eating animal and human corpses washed ashore soon after the tsunami,’ said Shantha Sheela Nair, who is in charge of relief work in the district.
The bodies had since been cleared, but the dogs had started snarling at people and attacking women and children, who were less able to defend themselves.
Moving in wolf-like packs they further traumatised tsunami victims, already in shock, by howling loudly at night. Officials said animal welfare groups helping with relief work had agreed to the stray dogs being killed after confirming reports that they were becoming a nuisance.
Stray dogs are common in India and responsible for around 20,000 rabies deaths a year. Thousands of carrion-eating dogs have emerged over the past few years across parts of the western desert state of Rajasthan. They live in places where dead animals are dumped and have posed a serious threat to local people, many of whom are regularly attacked.
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On a more positive note, dogs are being used to good effect in the hunt for survivors of the tsunami on two Indian islands.
With people in thousands still reported missing following the devastating tidal waves in Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Indian armed forces have pressed into service Unmanned Aerial Vehicles in the affected mainland and in outlying island territories to locate bodies.
"We are utilising UAVs in Kerala also to find bodies deeply buried in jungles and urban areas", an Indian Defence Ministry official said.
Sniffer dog squads had also been flown to the Andaman and Nicobar Islands to help in locating the bodies. Authorities estimate that more than 5,000 people were still missing in the islands many of which are yet to be reached even five days after the catastrophe. The use of UAVs and sniffer dogs to hunt for missing people was announced as authorities said that evacuation of people from the threatened southern Nicobar Islands and in some coastal belts on the mainland was continuing with so far over 15,000 people having been shifted to safer places.
Officials said that air reconnaissance of the remote islands was continuing as Naval and Air Force aircraft continued airdropping of foods and other relief supplies on the Kamorata group of islands in the Andamam Sea.