As a child, I didn’t have problems with dogs. At least, it looks that way.
But I’ve been afraid of them ever since I have any memory of an actual dog
Jackie & Tiger (Late 90s – Early 2000s)
It all began with a Pomeranian named Jackie and a Doberman named Tiger. It is my understanding that in the 20th century, dog name options were few. I am sure most of us know of an uncle, grandparent or relative who had a Jackie, Tiger, Tommy or Tony.
Jackie was my grandparents’ dog. I was told that he was a mischievous fella’. I don’t know if that meant he bit, or that he did his business inside the house. I thought he looked cute and fluffy, but there was always something in me that went berserk when he came close. I believed that he was just one step away from attacking.
One year when I’d gone to my grandparents’ for the summer, they informed me that he ran away from home. My, my! I almost picture him sitting on his Harley (another name for a 90s dog, perhaps?) with his sunglasses and taking off real dog-rogue style. Ah! I missed (running away from) Jackie.
The absence of the cute-rogue-dog Jackie was what caused me to turn my gaze onto my grandparents’ other dog, Tiger. True to his namesake, Tiger looked powerful. He was a real guard dog that barked at anyone new who entered the house. I was almost certain that he bit. I stayed away from him.
My grandfolks kept their dogs in kennels. They let them loose for an hour in the morning and an hour in the evening. One vacation, I must have been about ten at the time, this particular incident occurred that I was never able to shake off for years to come.
My cousin got locked outside the house for some reason when Tiger was let loose. I stood for several long minutes in the balcony, watching in fear as the chase unfolded. Tiger chased him like a real tiger hunting down his prey and my cousin ran around in circles like a madman. There were others with me on the balcony but no one else sensed danger so they just laughed and let the dog run behind the boy for a while. After what felt like forever, someone, I think it was my aunt — his mother, opened the door and let him in.
I really didn’t like dogs.
Never did I think that I’d have to have one in my own home.
I was seventeen when my parents decided to adopt a puppy. I was not fond of the decision but my cousins were. Apparently, the little dog chase incident did nothing to instil fear in anyone besides me. That is how one evening, we brought home a half Dalmatian puppy in a cardboard box.
I was afraid of him, but I tried not to be.
“He’s just a puppy!” said like, everyone ever.
He was a tiny black thing, with a white tuft of hair on his forehead and his tummy. My folks asked me to name him. They thought that my christening him would somehow bond us.
Chess, I said. He was black and white like the board game. I glowed with the pride of a 21st-century dog-namer.
My mom gave him too many baths and he ripped apart more salwars of hers than she cared for. Nobody at my place really knew what to do with him. I was unsure why my folks even decided to adopt a puppy when they themselves were clearly not dog people.
The only time Chess had any fun was when my cousins came over. Thankfully we were a close knit family and that was often enough. They’d run around the front yard with him and carry him around in a wheelbarrow. On Onam, they even marked his forehead with a turmeric line. How cute!
I tried to like Chess, I really did. There is even a photograph somewhere where I am carrying him (my brothers carefully placed him on my lap and held my hand for reassurance while the picture was being taken). But you can’t just shake off a fear that had over time grown to become a full-fledged phobia.
He was adorable, but so fast on his feet. He didn’t walk, Chess only knew how to run. And whenever he dashed towards me, my heart would leap into my throat and I’d run away. I just…. couldn’t.
After a month, my folks returned him to their friends from whom they adopted him. I know, it seems awful. My cousins didn’t get to see us adopt Checkers and have two puppies like they had hoped.
The Streeties of Bangalore City (2010 – 2015)
I grew up in the Middle East, where streeties were almost exclusively feline (no, I didn’t like cats either). The first time I came in contact with canine street animals was when I moved to India after graduating high school.
As a perpetually broke 18-year-old, a good portion of my life during the time was spent sitting on the sidewalks of dingy lanes and sipping disgustingly sweet milk tea. These lanes were also home to several stray dogs who hung around in hopes of getting fed by the students who like me gallivanted their time there. Unlike me, every single one of my (five) friends loved dogs. They named them funny things like Pavlov and Spotty (I wonder how many names a street dog has!) and made sure to feed them every day.
This brought them within inches of me, but I’d make sure they didn’t come close enough to rub their wet noses on my legs. That, to me, was the point where my heart would race, palms would sweat, I’d yell and cross the road, shedding any road-crossing etiquette whatsoever.
It’s a wonder I have lived as long as I have.
The Age of The Lions — Moose, Buddy & Mischief (2010 – 2016)
“I have three dogs, two cats, one parrot, a hamster and a snake that sometimes visits,” said my friend Rahul.
No one believed him. But he wasn’t lying. His home was a host to all sorts of animals, including a snake that sometimes visited.
The first time I visited, I was undone. He had two golden retrievers and one Labrador, Buddy, Moose, and Mischief. They looked like lions to me. I could never tell them apart.
Every time I had to climb the stairs at his place, all five of my friends would have to hold the dogs so that I didn’t pull another headless chicken road crossing stunt. They were fully grown dogs at the prime of their lives who never stayed still for a moment. I believe there was a goodness in all three of them that I greatly missed out on being able to see, owing to my phobia. I never let them come anywhere near me.
When Rahul’s family had to put down their first dog, every one of my friends cried. I didn’t really know what to do so I just told them that I was sorry for their loss. I really was, even though I didn’t feel the loss.
Over time, when we visited Rahul’s place, I noticed that no one had to hold the other two dogs down anymore. They stopped chasing us up the stairs. They stopped climbing the stairs at all. They were old and very sick. They barely moved.
One day when we visited, none of them were there any longer.
“They lived 19 years,” his mother told us, “They don’t leave easily when a house is filled with so much love.”
I felt a pang that I could tell was sadness.
My First Love – Mego (2015)
In 2015, Rahul’s sister came down from Pune with a beagle named Mego. I could tell that he was different from the moment I laid eyes on him. Mego had a quiet but watchful manner about him that I took to. He didn’t jump on me like other dogs. He never really jumped. He moved around the house, always looking a little lonely. How could a dog feel lonely in this house, I wondered.
It was during Rahul’s 24th birthday celebration that it happened.
Most of my friends were somewhere about the house. A few of us sat down for dinner as Mego strolled in. I looked at him for a while, then got down on my knees and sat beside him. His eyes looked like they were lined thick with kajal. What a beauty he was, I thought, as I reached out my hand and stroked him. He was soft like velvet.
I was in love.
In the kind of love that I kept within when every single dog I had met came at me, and all I could do was freeze, or yell and run away. In the kind of love that took 24 years to seep through barricades of phobia. In the kind of love that happens only once, but lasts a lifetime.
Muffin & Coffee & The Others (2016 – )
The age of the lions in Rahul’s house was succeeded by the age of small dogs named after eatables. In came two cocker spaniels, Muffin and Coffee, and a Jack Russell named Oreo.
Muffin is a klutz. He enters a room, bumps into a few objects, and leaves in a daze.
Coffee is a prince. He looks a little like a horse now, with a blonde mohawk over his caramel fur.
I haven’t spent much time with Oreo, but he reminds me of Chess. When I catch people lovingly call him ugly, I’m quick to reproach. Oreo is a star!
I think of Chess now, and hope he is happy somewhere. I wonder what his new name is. I think of the lions, and want to believe that there is a place called heaven for beings like them to continue on.
Nobody really understood the transformation. I am not certain that I did either. But between the years of 2010 – 2015, the people I loved most ranged from dog parents to Samaritans to hardcore animal rescue workers.
I don’t know when my love for them merged with their love for dogs. But love that flows in and out moves seamlessly. At one point, it all amalgamates into one. I was surrounded by so much love for dogs that it converted me.
That’s the thing about love, it changes you.