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The Martyrdom of Dishka

August 1, 2015


My predecessor, who we’ll call Ann, rescued Dishka from a group of boys that were kicking the then barely-weaned puppy around like a soccer ball near some unnamed village.  She blasted the oblivious youth with moral outrage for which they had no cultural context, gathered up the terrified pup, and carried her shaking bundle back to the Base.  The young pooch, now named “Dishka” after the DShK-1938 Soviet heavy machine gun favored by the Taliban, was soon nursed back to physical health and became Ann’s companion, lodging in her room and often accompanying her in the cement bunker that passed for an office.

While Dishka got a lot of love from Ann, her relationship with the other members of the unit was complicated at best.  Stories I was told, and which may or may not reflect the complete truth, suggested that folks’ view of Dishka often got tangled up with their views of Ann’s leadership.  Tales were widespread of Dishka leaving unwanted gifts in the common work areas because Ann was too tied to her computer screen to take Dishka outside, as well as of resentful underlings grating at being tasked to feed or walk Dishka when Ann simply had “too much important work to do.”  While Ann herself thought of Dishka as the unit’s dog and tried to create that sense, her people saw Dishka as belonging only to Ann and, unfortunately for Dishka, somehow representing whatever issues they had with Ann.  By the time Ann departed some six months after rescuing Dishka, I suspect she was as oblivious to her subordinates’ misdirected disdain for Dishka as those puppy-kicking boys had been to her rebuke.

I never met Ann.  Arriving some three weeks after she had departed, I found in the very first line of the note she had left me an appeal that I “take care of Dishka.”  Three weeks was a long time in that environment however, and Dishka’s place in the community had undergone significant change.  With no one willing to take over care of “Ann’s dog,” Dishka had been put out within days of Ann’s exit and became one of a handful of invisible stray dogs wandering the Base, scavenging whatever they could find or beg.  Overwhelmed by all I had to learn at the time, I didn’t ask who or what was this “Dishka” I had been asked to care for until I’d been there about a week.  The answer I then received explained much about the stains on the floor and the dank smell in the room I had inherited from Ann.  Eventually I asked someone to point Dishka out to me, which the person did by indicating the “ugly runt” that came around once or twice a day to forage for discarded food scraps.

I subsequently grew to know Disha as an aloof loner, lacking in anything resembling “cute” and in no way frisky or playful.  I called her into the truck one day when driving around Base and learned of her hatred for local males as she became agitated and growled at any that came nearby; she could apparently distinguish their traditional dress.  I assumed her canine bigotry was borne out of memories of being the village soccer ball, but it proved a mutually reinforcing loathing as the locals chased her away with shovels and rocks anytime she came near when we interlopers were absent.  While fed and given the occasional ride in a truck or on the back of a four-wheeler, Dishka no longer experienced stroking or petting and she certainly wasn’t invited inside for companionship by anyone during my tenure.

We noticed Dishka was pregnant about the same time the military veterinarians assigned to an animal husbandry assistance program announced that stray dogs were a health hazard and began systematically euthanizing any they could catch.  A suspicion that Dishka had been put in her state by Snoopy – another rescued dog blessed with the warmth and looks Dishka lacked and which had become the well-attended mascot of the security contingent – together with some faded nostalgia for Dishka-as-puppy, led to a decision to rescue Dishka once more by penning her up where the military vets couldn’t get at her.

Dishka lived seemingly happily in a big enclosure on the leach field for a few weeks before giving birth to five beautiful puppies, which immediately became the focus of the kind of non-stop love, cuddling, and cooing that Dishka hadn’t known for months.  Unloved herself, Dishka wasn’t much for mothering and sought freedom from her new responsibility and protective cage straightaway upon recovering from the birthing.  More clever than any of us would have guessed, she found every possible path to escape and was constantly having to be searched out and forced back to suckle her ravenous offspring.  I’ll long remember being called out of an important meeting to answer an emergency radio call for an all-hands effort to find the yet-again disappeared Dishka so she could settle the wailing brood.

Dishka’s Pups

As the puppies were weaned and grew, we realized that we could not sustain six pets – seven if we counted coddled Snoopy – especially given the poke in the eye we were giving to the veterinarians who could observe but could not dispense with our contraband menagerie.  Local workers were slowly coerced to take pups to their remote homesteads as watchdogs one by one, with the gardener, the only local whose presence Dishka would tolerate, finally pressed to haul her and her last two offspring off to his mountain abode.  I felt good for Dishka, imagining the scorned mutt forever happily barking at the growing hordes of Taliban canoodling in the rugged surrounding valleys.

It was not to be however.  Within a month, Dishka showed back up on Base.  Whether she had simply run off and found her way back “home” or her new custodian had tired of her cold demeanor, there she was haunting the nooks and crannies again like nothing had ever changed.  With her puppies gone, no one seemed to take any continuing interest in Dishka.  By then anyone with suppressed fond memories of Dishka as a liberated infant had departed, and the distended belly she sported after having given birth only added to her lack of appeal for new arrivals.

One subsequent late night I found myself unable to sleep and wandered outside.  As I headed toward the roof to stare into the star-filled sky as was my wont on such restless nights, I happened upon Dishka lying alone in the dark alongside the building.  I called out to her and, uncharacteristically, she waddled over excitedly wagging her tail, seemingly happy for the company and attention.  I petted her and whispered “atta girls” for a few minutes, the first and only time I had ever done so.  After a few minutes, I continued alone up the stairs, iPod in hand, to lose myself in the vast heavens.

About a week later, realizing I hadn’t noticed mangy old Dishka around, I asked the security folk if they had seen her.  They advised that she had wandered over to other side of the Base a few days prior where she had been rounded up and assisted on to the next life by either bullet or injection, they weren’t sure which.  I doubt anyone else asked about or even noticed Dishka’s disappearance.

From → Beasts

  1. Powerful story. Stay safe over there. and Thank you.

  2. I’m guessing that this story is pretty much entirely as accurate as you can make it, yet it is redolent with so much allegory and metaphor that I need to go away and sit with it for a bit. Staring up at the endless stars with some Tangerine Dream on the iPod sounds appealing, but only in the safety of my oversized island fortress.

    I treasure the discomfort your stories bring.

    • Turns out I apparently tend to feel a need to go away and sit for a bit when I revisit this one also, to include now when reading through it quickly in preparation for responding to your comment. To be quite honest though, even I am unsure what all may be trapped within this particular story for me.

      I suspect you know what it means to me for you to say my stories engender a feeling, any feeling, to be treasured. Thanks (and please advise soonest the account to which I should wire the gratuity).

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