I think I love dogs more than I love humans. I honestly do.
When Bouncy went missing in Bhutan, I never thought I would love another dog enough to go through the heart ache of losing them . I was so wrong. When we went to Nepal , we got a pair of fawn and white Llasa Apsoos, a brother and sister. Pappoo, the girl grew up with us in Nepal and Tiny, the boy grew up with my Mum and Dad in Madras. They grew up in two neighbouring SAARC countries, till we moved to Chennai when they were reunited.
I sat them down and explained to them that they were a consanguinous pair . Brother and sister I said. Unfortunately it fell on deaf ears. They thought they were husband and wife and would indulge in romantic spells periodically, when they would be off food and drink and mope around the house like a pair of lovestruck teenagers . It was a good job that Pappoo was spayed, so we did not inherit a bunch of incestous Lhasa Apsoos. Pappoo lived till she was 18. Tiny died when he was 22.
Papoo was the sweetest little puppy I have ever known. She loved me unconditionally and knew every nuance of my mood. She knew if I was sad. She knew if I was Happy. She knew if I was angry. She just knew me inside out. When I came home, she would lift her little head and “puppy–talk” to me, asking where I had gone and why I was so late coming back. She was my shadow and followed me everywhere. She would wait outside the bathroom with her nose pressed to the door till I came out and tripped all over her. She never paid much attention to the visitors who came home. But, if she growled at someone, we stopped in our tracks and had a second look. She had a sixth sense and could “suss out” who was okay and who was not. And her judgement was never wrong. Her brother Tiny was no judge of character. He barked indiscriminately at anyone who came through the door. No one paid any attention to his character assessment.
Pappoo developed Mammary tumours when she was 18. When I took her to the Vetinarary Hospital, I knew the diagnosis before they told me. It was malignant, something I did not want to hear and was hoping against hope that my gut feeling was wrong. When they told me that she may not live more than a few weeks , I broke down and howled like a wounded animal, in front of the hospital staff . Pappoo lived for a few weeks after that fateful visit and I was with her when she finally went. I was sleeping with her on the floor in the bedroom and I must have dozed off, when she woke me with her feeble paw. I shot up straight and saw her looking at me with utter sadness in her eyes as she inched closer to me.
I watched helplessly as she slipped away from me after 18 glorious years together. Tiny who was also in the bedroom when she passed away, came and gave her a couple of perfunctionary sniffs and went off silently to curl up under the bed. Evelyn Yogesvaran, my Bestie had flown in from Sydney and was staying with us in Chennai when Pappoo died. She loves Dogs just as much as I do . Together we wrapped her in her favourite blanket and put flowers in her wrap as we buried her in the garden. Evelyn shared my grief and knew exactly what I was going through. Only a Bestie would.
Tiny was as lost as I was after Pappoo left . My friends suggested that I take in another puppy to fill the void that Pappoo had left. I could not bear the thought. The milkman , the fish man and every other vendor who came to the house knew that I was bereft. The kind fish man, who used to cycle around the colony selling fish in a basket, stopped at the gateone day with a fluff of white that wriggled in his arms. I said “ I am not looking ” and I looked. I said “ I am not touching ” and I touched . Before I knew it, a little white Pomeranian girl had nestled into my arms and my heart and answered to Pappoo. Tiny who till then was sleeping, like death warmed up, under the bed, suddenly came alive and sniffed her all over, giving her a few licks and barks of approval.
Pappoo was a comfort to me when I was grieving. Many years later when my secretary, Mr. Bala, was mourning the death of their only son, I gave Pappoo , the Pom to him to mop their tears. Mr. Bala and Louisa were delighted to have Pappoo and looked after her like a baby, but Pappoo missed us and her pack. One day , when Mr Bala was getting ready for his bath, Pappoo darted out of the top floor flat they were staying in Choolaimedu and ran all the way down and onto the busy road, weaving through the traffic. Mr Bala, who was dressed only in his towel, ran and caught up with her and brought her back to their flat. When he brought her back to us Pappoo was limp and exhausted after her aborted escape and slept for days without moving, under our bed.
Anish was watching Tiny and Pappoo settle in, with hope, as he wanted more dogs. When I was not looking, he ran and got a Dalmation puppy, a gorgeous boy we named Snoopy, who honestly thought that I was his mother. He was an unruly, lovable rogue who never obeyed commands or did as he was told. When he was scolded, he would run and hide in my saree petticoat with his rear end sticking out and his tail wagging to thump on the floor. The silly dope thought that if he stuck his head in my saree petticoat, he was safe and invisible. He was getting so naughty, we decided to get him a trainer when we moved to the Uthandi beach house on the East Coast Road. A police constable was found to train Snoopy. Whenever he heard the trainer open the gate, Snoopy would rush in and hide in my petticoat and had to be dragged out on all fours for his training sessions.
One day Sam took Snoopy on a walk round the Defence Colony. He was well behaved till a point several roads away from our house, when he suddenly stopped, siffed purposefully , perked up his ears and made a dash for it leaving an astounded Sam holding onto a puppyless leash. I do not know how Snoopy knew that I had come home and he ran all the way home to greet me. When Sam came home looking for Snoopy he found him peeping from under my saree petticoat. Snoopy developed a renal condition when he was 9 years and died in the Uthandi Beach House on the ECR . How many times can a heart break I wondered ?
When Anish brought Snoopy home , he slipped in another surprise, a beautiful black beauty of mixed pedigree with a docked tail that Gopinath Gopalan, Uncle Gopi to the kids, had given Anish from his last litter. Christened Tootsie, she had a Doberman Mum and a German Shepherd Dad. Her fierce demeanour belied her sweet and loving nature she showed only the family. To the rest of the world, she was the protector, the guard and the one who kept all the unwanteds away. One Tootsie was all it took to keep the robbers away.
Meanwhile , the gardener who came once a week to “do” the garden brought us a green eyed beauty, a chocolate Labrador we named Tiny, in memory of Tiny the Elder , the 22 year old Lhasa Pup who had crossed over and reached the Rainbow Bridge. Tiny the Lab had the sweetest temperament I have ever seen in a dog. She never made a fuss, never misbehaved , always did as she was told and was the gentlest of the lot, green eyes and all.
Snoopy the Dalmation fell for Tiny the Labs charms and she had a beautiful litter of 6 puppies that we could not classify or categorise. When she went into Labour, I separated her from her curious companions and took her up to the terrace and sat up with her as delivered the litter. My training in Obs/ Gyn did not make me any less nervous as this was the first whelping I was witness to and this was the first set of puppies that Tiny was having. She was absolutely marvellous for a first time Mum and did everything by herself, as her maternal instincts kicked in .
The puppies were all anterior presentations and came head first. During the passage, the sacs broke as they slipped out and she licked the puppies clean stimulating them to take their first breath. I watched her eat the after birth with every birth and I was enormously relieved that we homospiens did not share that trait, as the visuals that flashed through my head were quite gross.
I fed Tiny milk and eggs after each birth and moved her puppies with their eyes shut, to a cardboiard whelping box lined with newspaper where they wriggled and wiggled to huddle in a heap, close to the warmth of the other. When she was done, I was crying as I cleaned her up. It was an epiphany moment for me when Tiny and I bonded. I was overawed with the whole wonder of the whelping process I had just witnessed. I was overwhelmed with her absolute trust in me, as she looked up at me with her beautiful green eyes when I sat next to her and stroked her brown coat to encourage her. Exhausted, Tiny climbed into the whelping box and lay there passively, as the little wiggly sausages found their way , blind ,to nestle close to her and find her breasts to suckle.
They were a good looking brood who found loving homes easily. Not one of them had Snoopy’s spots. They were all chocolate with white socks and mittens and a splash of white on the chest like a waist coat, that made them look like liveried Butlers . Even the runt was good looking. Smaller, yes, but just as good looking. What on earth do you call a cross between a Dalmation and a Labrador ? Dalradors ? Labmations ? Tiny the Lab was the only girl who carried Snoopy’s Pups. None of the other girls, Tootsie or Pappoo had Snoopy’s pups. Tootsie was spayed . Pappoo always snapped at Snoopy, when he went sniffing. She took her virginity very seriously.
Dr. Sumeeta Antonysamy was the Vet who took care of our Puppies. A beautiful and compassionate human being, she had a way with our Puppies.The minute she entered the gate, the Puppies would surround her, clamouring for her attention and knocking her dimunitive frame to the ground. After an enthusiastic welcome, they would settle down around her, while she examined them one by one in great detail , whispering sweet nothings in their ears that they seemed to understand perfectly. She was quite intrigued with Tiny, our Lhasa Apsoo and admitted that she had never had a patient as old as our Tiny was at 22 years. She was patient and extremely kind to the Puppies by answering our calls promptly, sparing them pain and discomfort with her early and correct diagnosis and by treating the Puppies appropriately. An absolute gem, committed and caring, Dr. Sumeeta was someone we respected immensely
And that is how we came to have an odd assortment of Puppies who ran before us and around us, filling our days with unparalleled love and joy. A far cry from my Puppy-less life in the retirement community., Anandam. Sometimes I feel an empty ache , a dull physical void without a Puppy in my arms and I threaten the Psalm that I am going to get a Puppy one of these days.
A glazed look comes over his eyes and he looks as if he has switched to deaf and dumb mode. A well practised deaf and dumb trance. He is petrified that one these days, he will come back from the HIV/AIDS CARE Centre he runs in Nammakkal and the Kolli Hills, to find a puppy, or maybe two, sleeping on his side of the bed. He remembers too well the days we used to sleep like the alphabet H.
Sam and I lying longitudinally at either end of the mattress, with all the puppies stretched out horizontally between us !