Robin — the biggest-hearted and the most faithful friend man ever had — has gone to the Happy Hunting Grounds, where I know I shall find him waiting for me. – Jim Corbett, about his dear departed spaniel, a loyal companion on many of his hunting expeditions for man-eating leopards and tigers
For a better part of my childhood, companions of the four-legged variety were a constant, thanks to my maternal grandfather’s love for dogs. That didn’t necessarily imbue canine love in me, so how I unwittingly and rather abruptly ended up as mom to two adorable little pawkins in succession still befuddles me.
Two possible explanations……that I am married to a man who finds life incomplete and insufferable when not being trailed at all times of the day and night by a droopy-eared, curly-tailed, shaggy mutt that doles-out generous helpings of slobbery wet licks and an adoring gaze; a more compelling reason is the transfer of the dog-loving gene in rather copious quantities from the dog-loving father to the two sons whose affections appear to go beyond just dogs to trees, birds, animals, and all sorts of creepy crawlies.
While the aforementioned factors effectively morphed me into a happy pet parent for life, the transition wasn’t without its trials and tribulations.
Even as I sit at our dining table typing this blog post, a tiny furball lies curled at my feet, her soft fuzzy hair tickling my toes.
Zoey I or Zoey the First arrived into our lives, or rather tumbled in unplanned.
A delightful Cocker Spaniel puppy with a soft ginger coat, the most beautiful pair of ears adorning a perfect head, and the gentlest eyes that ever gazed up, he came as a surprise birthday gift from one relative to another…but was relegated to our care when the present was returned due to its high-maintenance nature.
Despite our lack of time and inclination, we had little choice but to take Zoey in as nobody else wanted him.
Lesson….never in your exuberance, present a pet to anybody unless you are sure the recipient is mentally prepared for it, and can provide a loving, forever home for the pet. Such a present can put the hapless recipient in a moral dilemma…..a situation unfair to her or him, and a fate far worse for the pet.
Three months shy of delivering my second child, and maternal instincts in overdrive, my nights were spent carrying the restless puppy around our bedroom and cooing him to sleep, or dangling my hand from my bed into his little cardboard crib beneath so he could drift off to sleep while chewing on one of my fingers.
Zoey’s training was a botched affair even before it could commence. Both of us held full-time jobs, which left us with precious little time to house-train him. Zoey would hoist a hind leg and go about pedantically marking every piece of furniture, relieving himself at his favourite spots within the house of what appeared to be a never-ending reserve of dog pee and poo for a pint-sized pooch!
Zoey treated the outdoors as his private quarters not to be defiled, and the indoors as one large toilet complex with several rooms in which, to relieve himself at will.
We just bumbled along helplessly with none who could stand-in for us during the day to supervise the little fellow and show him the ways of being a good house dog.
One fine day, having decided it was time we sought help from an expert, we enlisted the services of Mr. Bheemappa who was a trainer with the police dog squad.
A couple of weeks into the training, Zoey seemed to be making progress. Stand, heel, walk, hand shake, fetch…even a body roll were all executed to perfection on Bheemappa’s command.
The canine expert cop expressed disbelief when we mentioned Zoey’s rather ‘ungainly’ manners around us, as he only saw a very obedient and eager to please dog each day. Zoey was the epitome of canine manners around Bheemappa.
Sandeep often returned from work and stood in awe watching the teacher-student duo work magic together. Pleased as punch, he decided it was time he tried them out with Zoey one evening.
Horror of horrors, we had our untrained mutt back…..Zoey refused to acknowledge a single command, raced like a bullet indoors the moment he heard the front door open, and went about his usual business of marking his favourite spots in the house!
Zoey’s brain appeared to register commands from Bheemappa alone…. none of us mere mortals mattered.
When Bheemappa arrived next evening, we were like school children snitching to the class teacher about an ill-mannered child. We begged him for a housebreaking trick, without which, we couldn’t manage the fella, what with a toddler around, and another baby on the way!
Zoey appeared oblivious to the pleasurable canine pursuit of sniffing around grass and glade, fussing about for a fitting spot and leaving his mark in the vast open-air bathroom that the world is to dogs.
Bheemappa then revealed to Sandeep the secret of performing an enema-like action with a tender leaf stalk while on walks, so Zoey could learn to relieve himself outside the house. Cursing his fate, yet the love for the dog offsetting any self-doubts he may have had, Sandeep set-off with Zoey on the all-important mission the same evening armed with a carefully chosen betel leaf!
At a seemingly suitable spot, the action was performed on a puzzled doggy, who for the first time viewed his human with suspicion. Betel leaf in one hand and the rump of a petrified little dog in the other, Sandeep sat hunched by the side of the road struggling to find his aim! The leaf stalk eventually found its mark, Zoey let out a yelp and jumped nearly a feet off the ground from shock.
Luckily, there were no other walkers on the road to witness the bizzare goings-on and report a psychopath sighting to the cops!
Bheemappa’s prescription only made Zoey friskier, but failed to impress upon him the purpose of daily outdoor walks.
Two more chaotic months rolled on, our second one arrived into the world, and managing unwieldy and untrained Zoey become a nightmare, notwithstanding our love for the beautiful dog.
Help came from a dear cousin, also an ardent canine lover, who runs a farm with a pack of handsome German Shepherds and energetic Labradors. It didn’t take Zoey long to find a permanent place in the new pack and in my cousin’s large heart.
Zoey’s tiny form masked a plucky spirit. The great outdoors in the company of dogs several times his size, and a generous and loving human parent transformed Zoey into an alert and brave watch dog. He would lead from the front in the face of danger, while the bigger, wisened old dogs exercised caution.
Zoey came to love the long morning walks with my cousin and the other dogs, which typically culminated in a refreshing splash in a canal. The outdoors was home now, just the way Zoey liked it.
Having had to give up a dog for the first time in his life, Sandeep took his time getting used to the idea. He eagerly looked forward to visiting my cousin’s farm whenever the opportunity presented itself, just to spend a couple of happy, carefree hours in Zoey’s company reliving their erstwhile days together.
Zoey was always ecstatic to see us on such visits and welcomed us with boundless joy expressed by way of a feverish wiggling of his tiny sausage-shaped body, and foot-high leaps.
Zoey taught us unconditional love and forgiveness. We had failed to give him a place in our home, yet we had a permanent place in his heart.
One fateful night a leopard on the prowl entered the farm. While the big dogs barked from the safety of the front porch, Zoey, unmindful of what lay waiting in the shadows, charged forth to take on the animal. Alas, he was no match and was carried away to meet his maker.
Zoey’s fearless spirit proved to be his undoing and there is never a day that we don’t mourn the loss of this special little being.
Sandeep feels Zoey the First, took a piece of his heart with him forever.
We seek solace in the fact that Zoey lived out his short life happily, roaming the countryside with an attentive and loving master, and a band of outsized canine siblings.
After Zoey, Sandeep steeled himself to a petless existence and refused to entertain as much as a goldfish, for fear that the poor thing would lose out to our inability to care for it.
Life moved on, the challenges and delights of raising a toddler and a baby alongside fulltime jobs occupied every spare moment.
A demanding routine of ‘office – daycare – home’ followed over the next few years. The routine took its toll and our younger one’s health failed frequently thanks to an early exposure to daycare centres even before his immune system could mature.
It would take a career break to restore life back to a manageable pace and state, nurture and nourish the minds and bodies of two little boys, settle them into a school schedule, help them explore the world around them, and give them the reassuring comfort of a warm and welcoming home rather than a cold and uncaring daycare.
Conversations of a pet resurfaced as Arnav, our older one discovered the art of articulation and the power of persuasion. Every other day, Arnav would broach the topic of a puppy or a kitten, and little Abhimanyu, who had just learnt to use words, joined his brother in the pleas, making the case for atleast a couple of guppies. As always, Sandeep and I found one excuse or the other to put off the possibility.
One day, Arnav, around 10 years of age at that time, brought-up an irrefutable logic about the need for a pet in the family that quashed our reasoning to smithereens.
To be continued……