When life’s gone to the dogs…

When life’s gone to the dogs…

Living with dogs has many perks but it is not without its hairy moments. In this post, I’ve put together a bunch of observations about life with mutts that are only too familiar to pet parents. Non-pet parents, don’t be scared away – for all of these, dogs are the only creatures that will love you more than everybody else in your life put together; the only creatures who will be overjoyed to see you get back home after 10 minutes outside.

So, here goes.

#1 It’s called FURniture for a reason.

As new pet parents, all the literature we’d read online said dogs shed ‘seasonally’ and we naively interpreted that to mean once, perhaps twice, a year. But when you have multiple dogs whose shedding cycles are not in sync, it’s a different story. Every visible surface at home is permanently covered in a light dusting of fur. There’s always fur in the food -you just pick it out without batting an eyelid and continue to chomp down. You buy a gorgeous sofa, but keep it covered under an old bed sheet. Vacuuming becomes a hobby. You get the drift.

#2 Hair today. Still here tomorrow.

Anything you wear will be covered in dog hair. You can buy sticky rolls or rubber gloves or brushes or wet towels to try and get them off, but few things can be as stubborn as a strand of hair that means to stay.

A resourceful friend once suggested that we wear only clothes that match the colour of our dog’s fur so that the hair doesn’t show. Great suggestion – only, we have two dogs: one is black & white; the other is golden brown. Between the two of them, they cover the entire spectrum of fur colours and the fur always shows. Personally, I have given up the battle for a long time now. I wear fur as an accessory now.

#3 Squeamishness will be a thing of the past.

For starters, you will have to scoop poop twice a day. Though this is still a chore that SR and I keep bouncing off to each other, we’ve come a long way from the people who used to make disgusted faces. Now, we check the poop for consistency, colour, and to find out just what S has chomped down the previous day.  Normal dogs sniff things to explore them – S chews them. And if you try to take anything out of his mouth, he will swallow it at double speed. So far, we’ve found bits of a Nataraj pencil, pieces of a rubber toy, string, and cardboard in his poop, and S looks none the worse for the wear.

S also has motion sickness but we don’t want that to stop us from taking him out because once he’s back on level ground, he’s ridiculously happy to run around and explore. So the backseat of our car is covered with a plastic sheet on which we lay an old blanket to mop up the sick. We did try giving him vet-recommended sedatives to calm him down – during that drive, he vomited six times, four more than usual.

And this is not to mention when the poop gets stuck to their bottom and refuses to fall off and you have to run to find a tissue and get it out. Also times when they fall sick after eating too much of anything, excitement drooling, when they splash through pee and bring it in the house…let’s just say hand sanitizer, vinegar spritz, and disinfectant will become your best friends.

#4 Doggy grub will be better than yours.

There have been many, many days when SR and I were too zoned out to move but we still dragged ourselves to the kitchen to fix a meal for the mutts. On truly lazy days, it’s just kibble, but on the best days, it is a biryani of rice cooked with eggs, chicken, carrots and peas and flavoured with pepper, turmeric, and coconut oil. My mom often asks us why we don’t just eat a portion of this because it sure as hell sounds more nutritious than the junk or takeout we eat. But as we are vegetarian, this involves cooking the chicken separately and that’s just too much work. 😛

#5 Losing the battle of responsible parenting.

Every month or so, we are overcome by fits of conscientiousness and remark on what poor pet parents we make. We are not regular with walks (also because the boys are pretty lazy too and prefer to run around inside the house), nor are we regular with their training (most of what the boys have learned were taught to them when they were puppies.) Wracked by guilt, we make resolutions to shake things up and stick to a proper routine, starting tomorrow, no today, no, right away.

And then S will trot over and snuggle up between us and B will drape himself over our feet and the whole setup will feel so cosy and aww-some that we’ll just switch to Comedy Central and vegetate for hours.

#6 The vicious cycle of shopping for dog toys.

No new beginning in life, be it a starting a journal or joining a gym or having a baby, is complete without going out to shop for some ‘essentials’ and coming back with bags full of quirky stationery or light and breathable (read, far too expensive) gym clothes or a pram that resembles a high-powered self-sustaining life mobile.

In the case of pet parents, I think we just never outgrow this phase. We keep buying dog toys and chews and treats in the hope that they will bring lasting and meaningful joy to our dogs. The fact remains that treats are crunched up in a matter of seconds and toys are abandoned in days. But that is not to say that B and S don’t have lasting and meaningful joy – they do. They get it from old socks, twigs, plastic bottles, and the ring of doorbells when we get back home.

I could go on and on about living with dogs but I will save the rest of it for another post. Right now, I have to switch back to office mail and pretend to be hard at work, even if it’s Friday afternoon.

Sigh.

 

Bringing up Buttons

Bringing up Buttons

I am a crazy dog lady, but have rarely felt able to talk about life as a pet parent. But a chat with a friend made me realize that what I have to say might actually be useful to other pet parents and perhaps even encourage someone to take that step and adopt a dog. So, here goes.

We have two dogs – Buttons (25 months old) and Scooby (17 months old); Both male; Both Indies; Both adorable, yet crazy in their own ways. Today’s post is about Buttons. I have written about him before – how he had been tied up in a garbage bag and dumped by the roadside, how he came to us when he was just 2 weeks old, how we foolishly gave him away a few months later, and the battles we had to fight to get him back again.

Life isn’t easy for first-time pet parents – I keep reading complaints about the poop and the pee and the chewing. But all of these are issues that can be solved with discipline and commitment. We have gone through all of these with Buttons and have come out more or less undamaged (not counting the number of cables, doormats, wall paint and  sofa armrests that have borne the brunt of his assault). However, there are bigger, longer lasting issues, the solution to which could just be a compromise or a change in lifestyle or our own attitude to the problem.

Buttons is different from any dog we’ve known (I’m saying this after accounting for any bias I would have as his mom). He is extremely crafty, not just clever, like dogs usually are – you can see the wheels turning in his head when he is considering his next move. He stalks like a wild animal – absolutely silent tread, fluid movements, alert to the tiniest of noises within a one-kilometre radius… As a handsome dog, he attracts attention wherever he goes and stories about him always elicit laughter and cries of “Aww”. But life with him is not all sunshine and roses.  SR and I have jokingly told each other that Buttons is a special needs child – but in my mind, I know this  is actually true.

The same things that make him such an interesting little fellow also make him very difficult to handle. Take for instance, his alert-dog nature. He is very good as a guard dog, but he is also a major barker. Anything from the sound of the BBMP garbage truck to footsteps in the corridor to a calling bell ringing in the next block will set him off on a volley of barks. Biggest and worst fear – the metallic clang of gas cylinders.

Most dogs are peaceful, if not friendly, by nature. Mine isn’t. He doesn’t like anyone approaching the house, be it a guest or a delivery boy. He is a ladies’ man – he loves my mom, SR’s mom, and a couple of my friends who have stayed over. But he doesn’t take too kindly to strange men. Our erstwhile cook of eight months kept trying to make friends with him, offering tidbits of paneer and roti and veggies. Sir Barkalot would coolly accept the offering and then start snarling at the poor man!

Another  thing about him is that he cannot be motivated or trained using food, treats, praise, or toys: these simply do not interest him. When he does something, he does it for the fun of it, because he wants to solve the puzzle or do the activity. His favourite game is Tug, but unfortunately, he takes it very, very seriously – if he loses, he will keep bringing his rope toy or Kong to us for another round; if you let him win just to end the game, he gets pissed off; so you have to keep playing till you tire out and lose the game for real.

Did I mention he hates walks? Yep, that’s right. Every time we bring the harness out, he runs and hides under a sofa. It’s only when we totally ignore him and put the harness on Scooby instead that he decides he would like a walk himself. Funnily enough, once he is out, he really enjoys exploring and sniffing around at the exciting smells in the parking lot. Hates the lift, especially the whoosh sound it makes as the doors close- so god forbid it pings on the floor he is on when he is in the corridor!

He gets bored if you give him the same food for more than 3-4 days, even if it’s chicken and rice, and would rather go hungry than eat boring stuff. Yet, he is extremely protective of his food and has to be left in a room by himself while he eats. You can touch his bowl only after he has walked away from it.

He loves us to bits. but doesn’t know how to show it by cuddling or licking or kissing like Scooby does. However, he will always lie down in the room that we are in, so that he can keep an eye on us. He is fiercely loyal and protective of me – if I am ill and don’t stir out of bed for a whole day, he stays by my side the whole time, not eating, not drinking. Yet, this is the same guy who’s bitten me thrice, because I couldn’t anticipate and handle his reaction the right way. (In case anyone’s wondering, we have taken help for his behaviour issues from the eminent Sindhoor Pangal and what I have described is the new and improved version of Buttons. Go figure!)

I just scrolled up and read everything I have written so far, and I realize I’ve made him sound like an absolute nightmare. That is as far from the truth as is possible.

To earn the love of a dog is very easy – but to earn the trust of a suspicious and fearful one is not. Despite the times of anger and frustration, we cannot imagine life without our boy. He means everything in the world. When he trots over and puts his head in our lap or licks our hand, when he hears something that worries him and presses close to us, when he runs into SR’s arms and asks to be picked up, when he climbs into bed and shares a pillow with me even for a few minutes…those are the precious moments that make it all worth it.

I dedicate this post to all the parents of special needs fur kids out there, who face rejection and struggles every day but love them just the same. Our world would be colourless without them.

A Random Act of Kindness

I was walking home from work. The evening traffic was heavy, vehicles rushing past raising dust, behind the wheels, people in a mad rush to get back home.

That is when I saw her, across the road, a tiny figure, slightly bewildered, trying to weave her way through the traffic, taking a few steps forward, then stepping back hurriedly as the cars rushed forward without slowing.

My heart in my throat, I watched her. I wanted to rush forward and pick her up in my arms, but that was just crazy. I’d have only scared her away. The very last thing I wanted to do.

Life as a street dog in India is not easy. Far from it actually. The dogs on our streets live on leftovers they dig up from garbage dumps. They are shooed away by everyone-street hawkers, pedestrians, policemen… Many are injured in hit-and-run accidents, which, if they survive, leave them disabled and even worse off than before…

She managed to cross the road and instinctively, came over to me, as though she had sensed my eyes on her. I bent down and patted her head. She was small, with droopy ears, the softest fur and warm, chocolate eyes. She must have been just over a year old, but her hanging teats betrayed the fact that she had already had puppies. Luckily, she had been spayed afterwards, something I could make out from the tell-tale notch on her ear.

She stood there quietly, letting me stroke her head and tickle her ears. When I took my hand away for an instant, she looked up at once, and I could tell she was hungry. I searched my bag for biscuits or anything else to eat, but found nothing. There were only a few hardware stores nearby and I would have to walk a little ahead to buy her biscuits.

“Come baby…” I told her, and tried to get her to walk with me. But she didn’t want to. Sensing that I had nothing on hand, she started to walk away.

I didn’t want to send her away without getting her something, anything, to eat. But I could think of nothing. In desperation, just to keep her by my side a little longer, I started petting her again, and she stopped. But I could sense her getting impatient.

“Hey, what are you doing here?”
I turned around. It was one of my colleagues, whom I knew, lived in the area. I heaved a sigh of relief.

“Ankur, I want to feed this girl, but if I leave her here to go get something, she will run away. Can you go and get me some biscuits while I hold her here? I think there’s a store down the street.”

“Sure,” he said and walked off.
To my surprise, he came back just a minute later, a stranger with him. The man walked to me and said “You wanted biscuits, right? Here you go” and handed me a packet of biscuits.

“Thanks!” I tore the packet open and started feeding an excited Boo Boo (as I had mentally named her) She ate the entire packet while I spoke to Ankur about how he could help street dogs just by putting out water, feeding them a few times a week, and by just stopping and helping if he ever saw a dog in distress.

When Boo Boo was done, she licked my hand gratefully and walked away. We watched her go, hoping fervently that she would be alright. Please be okay, I whispered in my head.

Happy. Healthy. Safe.
That’s my mantra. That’s what I wish for, for every street dog I meet.

“Please thank your friend,” I told Ankur as we said goodbye.

“My friend?”

“Yes, the guy who got us those biscuits… wait, isn’t he your friend?”

“No! I thought he was someone you knew!” Ankur said, surprised.

We were speechless.
Who was that Good Samaritan who had appeared in the nick of time with a packet of glucose biscuits? Had he bought it to feed her himself? Or had he just sized up the situation and acted? I don’t know.

This happened a few weeks ago. Since then, I see Boo Boo regularly and we have even fed her a couple of times. But to this day, I don’t know that man was. In fact, I don’t even remember his face.

But that day, when I went home, I felt that the world wasn’t so bad after all. Perhaps there were more people like him, people who would lay out an old gunny bag for a street dog to sleep on or put out a bowl of water for the birds or rescue a puppy from a gutter.

May their tribe increase.

Gratitude

Gratitude

I was not born a dog lover. In fact, until 2 years ago, I was ambivalent towards dogs, perhaps even a little scared of them. On one fateful trip to Sakleshpur, I met Shunti, the dog belonging to the home stay where we stayed. She made me fall in love with dogs. Six months later, we brought home Buttons, a 2 weeks old Indie pup someone had tied up in a garbage bag and left to die. He turned my life upside down.

Before we brought him home, we were plagued with doubt. Our financial situation was not particularly bright. Butto needed a lot of time and attention, being so young, which we weren’t sure we could give. We would no longer be able to travel as often… Despite the nagging doubts, we brought him home anyway.

And gave him up for adoption 2 months later. Believing that it was for his best. The 3 weeks that he was away from us was the darkest, bleakest period of our lives. We looked at each other, speechless, our life empty. The patter of his little feet echoed around us. It took us a 3 week battle to get him back, and each day of it only made us surer that we needed him to survive.

SR and I are both staunch believers, and we know that it was God who gave Buttons back to us. We will forever be grateful for that second chance.

In the past year that I’ve had Butto, I’ve swung between frustration and delight, felt my heart swell with love, felt crazily happy in the bleakest of times… I have cried into his furry little body, and laughed as he licked my tears away with his worried expression… I have scolded him and cuddled him. Kissed him and held him. I have died many times in between when he fell sick.

As I write this, Buttons is sprawled on my lap. Running my fingers through his soft fur and listening to his quiet, even breathing is more calming and relaxing than any yoga maneuver I could attempt.

Butto has changed the two of us forever. SR and I are now far more patient, more relaxed, more appreciative of the truly priceless things in life. He has taught us to love unconditionally and believe without questioning. We’re still learning though.

Someone once told me that my dog is very lucky. That’s bullshit.

It is we who are lucky, blessed, to have him in our lives. Because a world without our little fellow is not one worth living in.

This post is not just a tribute to Buttons. It is also a call for action. If any of you is considering adopting a dog, but holding yourself back because you are not sure how he will fit into your life, do remember that all it takes is commitment.

A promise you make to a dog that you will love and protect him for the rest of your life or his, whichever is longer. Once you make that promise, everything else will fall in place. Work, travel, money… there will be workarounds to everything, if you commit.

What you will get in return is indescribable. But I promise, it will be heaven.