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The fall that changed it all

When was the last time you had a fall? A really bad one. Where you broke something and couldn't help yourself. Kale (pronounced "kah-lay")was a 6-month old pup when we met him and his family last year. He had fallen from his rooftop home and suffered a fracture to his shoulder. We caught up with the Himalayan mutt that fell from a roof. Or, at least, we tried to.

I've taken numerous hard falls in my life, but I've been fortunate to always have someone around to help me. Family, friends, and even strangers have come to my help. I recall the day I broke my elbow while cycling in the forest. I was fortunate that my mobile phone still had reception. I was able to phone a friend, who came around within an hour, to pick me up from the forest trail I was stuck in, and drive me to the hospital. Only when we reflect, are we able to see the many small luxuries that function together to make life safer. On their own, each of those things (a friend with a car, a mobile phone, a hospital, knowledgeable strangers) seem too little to save a situation, but being in and amongst these opportunities allowed me to stand up after a fall, get the help I need, and restore my body to continue to do what I was doing.

Kale, the dog in these photos, was very far from each of these small luxuries. Kale lived in a small village in the Himalaya, where a pup his size would make him a welcome snack for jackal, martens and perhaps even snow leopards. His family had big dreams for him - he was to grow up into a big strong dog that would join the yak herds in the mountains. His family kept him on the roof, with the plan to protect him from predators. But the little pup was playful, innocent and curious, as most young animals are. The day he fell from the roof of his 4-meter high house, Kale must have seen something down below that really excited him. His family could not have done anything to help him. They were busy looking after their many animals and crops which they depend on to survive the winter. Thankfully, Kale didn't get hurt too bad. But he had a limp. His family saw his limp and thought that he had hurt his paw. They attempted to help him by tying a splint.

This is how we found him. When out vets inspected Kale, we found out that he wasn't limping because he had hurt his paw, but because he had hurt his shoulder. Realising this, we went about removing the splint from his paw. This was very difficult. The splint was tied extremely tightly, restricting blood flow to his otherwise healthy paw. The bandage was knotted multiple times to prevent the splint from slipping, but the thin cloth had begun to cut into Kale's leg ever so slightly. He winced and wined as we cut the bandage away. "We came just in time," Our vet Dr. Tharm (below left) assured us, "any later and his paw would have been lost. He may not be able to be a herding dog, but he will be able to recover from his injury and be a great pet."

We returned to look for Kale after 15 months. We were eager to meet him and his family and find out how he had recovered. "They haven't had a dog here since August," a neighbour tells us when he sees us knocking on their door. We asked what happened. "The dog was released in the forest." Three months after we met Kale last year, his family released him into the forest. They weren't around for us to speak to as they were busy tending to their yak high up in the mountains. We didn't get to ask them why they released Kale in the forest, but it is easy to imagine. Kale was supposed to be a herding dog. He was to join and keep up with the moving herds of yak up in the harsh and cold alpine terrain where they graze for 10 months of the year. But now he was limping, and his contribution to the yak herd was questionable. He might even be a liability. Predators are attracted to easy prey, and injured animals always make for a good picking. There was no place for him as a pet up in the mountains where his family roam with the yak herds.

Perhaps we arrived a little too late to help. Or perhaps there was very little we could have done. One thing I know for sure, was that Kale's family cared for him. They had always wanted to keep him safe. They kept him on the roof to keep him away from predators. They found him injured and wanted to mend his leg, but were unable to distinguish an injured foot for an injured shoulder. They gave him a splint and bandage but tied it too tightly. Without vets, medicine or knowledge, there was little else they could have done for Kale. Perhaps releasing him into the forest was a way of leaving things up to chance. But there is very little room for chance up in the Himalayan mountains. That's why we continue to do the work we do, to the best of our ability. We are not able to be every where all the time, but we hope that our commitment to the communities can help grow their knowledge and experience of how to manage and respond to their dogs. The next time you fall, count the number of small fortunes that help turn what could have been a disaster, into "just another weekend of sport". It's a privilege to be able to fall safely, and it is this privilege that we are trying to bring to communities in the Himalaya.

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