I feel lucky that I was born into a family of animal lovers. Dogs, cats, cows, goats and whichever other animals you can name. When I was born, I was welcomed into my family by four humans and one pet dog named ‘Naughty’. He was about 10 years old then but he was still very playful. I would sleep next to him and sometimes even on top of him and he treated me like his own pup, always taking care of me and alerting the humans at home whenever I pooh-poohed or pee-peed or started to cry. He would walk next to me when I started to crawl and he would let me hold him for support when I started to walk. He would even run around the house with me when I learnt how to run! When ‘toddler me’ offered him a biscuit from my hand for the first time, he felt so nervous and shy that he refused it. He may have thought that his big teeth could hurt my small fingers, but I had full faith in him and kept the biscuit in my outstretched fingers. After five minutes of persuasion, he gently took the biscuit and relished every bit of it! As I was obviously short at the age of 3, I could not look down at the road from my balcony. I would carry a stool for me to stand on from inside and stand on it. He was a not very tall either. That is why he would share the stool with me to look upon the world. We gazed at the traffic, the people, ice cream vendors, birds, butterflies, trees, flowers, the sky and all we could see, together. When I started going to playschool, he would bark ‘bye’ to me from the door. Once he knew the time I returned home, he would always be there to greet me at the door. He would rush into my arms, without pushing me over, and lick and smell me all over to find out how my day had been. When I would go to play with my friends in the evening, he would urge my uncle to bring out the stool so he could keep an eye on me while I was downstairs. After he got over with his initial shyness of eating things from my hand, he loved to take peanuts from my palm! He was also in the habit of chewing betel nuts which my grandma used to have back then. At that time, none of us realized that these nuts would affect his oral health. He started having a very bad odour in his breath, refused to eat many things he used to savour earlier, cried sometimes during the day and in his sleep and his gums started bleeding. My uncle took him to the vet. It was mouth cancer. I was only 4 when it happened so I didn’t quite understand why he was kept away from me and why he was being fed medicines with every meal. Two months after his diagnosis, I was eating peanuts one afternoon and I remembered how much he loved them. Although I had been instructed to not feed him anything or go towards him because he was in a lot of pain and could have bitten me in his discomfort, I went to his kennel and offered him one. He gently took it from my palm and chewed on it painfully for a long time but finally finished it. He gave my hand a last lick and went back to sleep. He never woke up again.
The pain I felt almost 15 years ago still makes me cry now. He is a part of me and always will be. I missed the pitter-patter of his paws on our marble floors. I missed his long wet tongue all over my face when I returned from school. I missed his ears pricking up even in his sleep if I got down from the bed. I missed the ‘bye’ and the ‘welcome’ bark before and after school. I missed his silhouette in the balcony when I went down to play. I missed us running around the house. I missed us playing hide-n-seek in the house wherein I always hid and he would always smell me out. I missed his coarse tongue sweeping peanuts from my palm. I missed patting his head. I missed hugging him. I missed crying into his fur after I got a scolding. I missed hugging him and sleeping. I missed his jovial face. I missed his ears, whiskers, eyes, tail, everything. But if you have never loved and lost a pet, you don’t know what true love is. His love for me was unconditional. Even our parents sometimes put conditions into the parent-child relationship. But pets never do. They love you for who you are, not for what they think you should be. It would take a person with a heart of stone to not fall in love with such loving, caring, dedicated, faithful, protective, innocent, playful, adorable, loyal and beautiful creatures.
A couple of years after ‘Naughty’ passed away, we took in a stray pup and named him ‘Genie’ because he seemed to appear at our doorstep out of thin air! The same year, a cat befriended us. We named her ‘Kitty’. She opened a door in our hearts for the feline community too. She brought us her kittens and her great-great-great-great-great grand kittens are still with us. When we shifted to a new home, we took in another stray and named him ‘Jaspah’, which means ‘the brave one’ or ‘the leader’. We had to give ‘Genie’ and ‘Jaspah’ away because of some family issues. But now that we are stable, we have taken in a Doberman-mutt who we call ‘Princess Dobi’. There is a long story behind how she arrived at our home, but let’s save that for later. Right now, she is calling me to bed. I am in love again!