Pawprints!

I first saw her in the girls’ waiting room at Christ Nagar English High School in 1994. July, I think it was, and it was my cousin who told me about her. I was nine at the time, about to be ten, but from the moment I saw her, I was hooked.

Brownie entered my life.

Three years later, one fine afternoon, she ran away from home. We searched long and hard; Appa and I roamed the streets. She was nowhere to be seen. Yet, she found her way back home the next morning. I remember waking up to the sound of a scratching at the gate, a thirsty Brownie jumping up on my parents’ bed and licking my face – the only time in my life she ever did that – before lapping up two whole mugs of water. Three months later, she delivered five puppies.

We gave four up for adoption. We kept the guy who, even as a wee puppy, would sleepwalk into my lap and refuse to budge. Brownie was akin to a sis for me, but it’s hard to describe my relationship with Bush. Was he my first nephew, my first son, my best friend, my man Friday, my rock of undying love, of undisguised optimism?

Years passed. I started to take them for granted. Brownie had a terrace and a shed all to herself; I discovered video games and other distractions for a teenaged boy. Bush was content to lie by my feet or play with me when I wanted to. In those pre-harness days, I never took them for walks. I was petrified of losing them, and with good reason – Brownie never wasted an opportunity to run away. Even when she was 14, she ran away when their cage was being reconstructed and a careless mason botched up the latch-work.

In 2008, we remodeled our house. There were nights I had to leave our car at my grandparents’ place and walk back at around midnight. Two people always stayed up for me – Appa and Bush. Every night, Bush would jump up in glee as if he were seeing me for the first time in years. Some nights, I would scold him for getting my shirt dirty. Many nights, I would simply call out a good-night to Brownie because she would have already been fed by Appa or Amma.

I took them for granted.

In 2009, I met Gowri. From the very beginning, we hit it off. She hadn’t had pets before, was even slightly wary of dogs, and it never occurred to me that I would one day have to make a choice.

I didn’t have to, as it turned out.

I didn’t think about Brownie or Bush when I left for Nagpur to pursue my MBA. My parents could look after them, couldn’t they?

When I came home for the first time since leaving that July, there was no Bush jumping up at the gate to greet me. There was no Brownie I needed to feed at night. It was Diwali, but there was no reason not to burst loud crackers anymore.

Brownie and Bush had been moved to a PFA-run shelter where there would be someone to take better care of them. Amma’s eyes fill up every time she remembers that day when they were taken away, how she delayed coming home until she wouldn’t have to witness it, how the pickup was delayed until she had to. Appa never speaks of it, but I know it killed him a little too. He’s always been a very practical man, my father, but it took him another five years to finally decide to demolish their empty cages.

I could have gone to the shelter and brought them back, but what would the Bs and the Ps do once I went back? I wanted to see them again, hold them again, tell them I loved them, tell them they were the best things that ever happened to me, that I… but that would have been selfish, wouldn’t it? To see them once more, just to satisfy my conscience, and then walk away while they pawed at their cages, wondering why I was abandoning them after giving them one last hope.

Bush passed away first. He had prostate cancer; it was one of the reasons that compelled my parents to move him to a place where medical help was more readily available. The call came during Diwali; Appa took it, and he told me only a year later.

Brownie was already 16 by then, well past the average lifespan even for Indies. She’d survived ruptures in both capillaries when she was 10 and 12 (when the doctor had given her only a few months more), but she crossed the rainbow bridge soon after.

I just knew. It was only earlier this year that I finally had the courage to ring up PFA and confirm it.

No, the years do not make it easier.

It was in 2013 when we went to Sakleshpur that Gowri finally realized what the touch of a dog feels like. Shunti, (means ginger in Kannada) our hostess at Mugilu, sensed her hesitation and curiosity, and brought herself under Gow’s palm for a pat. By the time we left, we were already looking forward to the day when we would have a dog of our own.

A year later, someone threw a two-week old pup into a garbage bin in BTM. He clawed his way out, and then a passerby took him home. A week later, we decided to foster him until we could find a home for him. The day he was supposed to come home, my uncle passed away; we first thought of saying no, but then decided to just put it off for a couple of days until our parents had returned home after the funeral. We were in a small, cosy apartment at the time, and we knew elders in the family wouldn’t approve of a dog in such a small place.

Especially now that three years had passed, and it was ‘time to have children.’

Buttons came home, and it wasn’t easy at all to adjust our lifestyle to accommodate him. He was a puppy who’d probably never been with his mother; he knew the ways of neither man nor dog. We were frustrated to no end at times. We hoped the search for an adoption would yield a quick result.

We wanted him out of the house, and our life back.

We got our wish a few weeks later. A family came and took him home. He seemed to know it even before they came; he was unusually sober that day, subdued. Am I a bad doggy, he probably asked himself.

Our small, cosy flat seemed unnecessarily big and empty then. Without the patter of his feet, without him sneaking into the kitchen and making off with whatever veggies he could get his tiny teeth on, without having to watch our feet so that we didn’t step on a little, black furball, life just lost… colour. Gowri wrote a post about those days – you can read it here (Link: https://gowrink.wordpress.com/2015/08/23/gratitude/)

My birthday that year was the bleakest I can remember. Someone told us, “Ah, you are now ready to have kids.” Someone else told us, “Foster another pup. Let this one go.”

It’s a bit like being offered a free kidney when you need a liver transplant.

Buttons came back home, thanks to a friend of ours. This part of our life, which started then, is simply called, “After Buttons.”

For someone who can’t see a dog without wanting to make friends – and I don’t pretend to be an animal lover, even though I do abhor cruelty to animals and am consciously (not just religiously) a vegetarian – it’s impossible to understand why the recent hullabaloo over a woman turning down a suitor when he refused to accommodate her dog must be seen as feminazism. Feminazism exists, but this isn’t it. If I could turn back time, I wouldn’t have left for my MBA knowing the price I’d have to pay. And I would have introduced Gowri to Bush and Brownie, and that would have convinced her in 2009 itself that dogs are God’s agents here on Earth.

I’d have been with Brownie and Bush till the very end.

As I should have.

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