As an only child, our son’s periodic refrain over the years went like this: “You guys didn’t get me a brother or a sister, at least get me a dog, a big furry one please.” My husband and I successfully dodged him with a multitude of excuses for almost a decade, until recently when all such arguments have become untenable.
Some of our excuses were pedestrian. Who in their right mind will walk the dog in the dead of winter? As a newly minted teenager, my son, with maturity apparently acquired overnight, promised that he would walk and clean up after the dog, be it sub-zero or sub-Saharan temperature.
We moved on to the practical. Senior, the husband, piped in. “Will our dog uphold the family tradition and be a vegetarian?” I thought that was a sound query indeed; the Alsatian near my childhood home in Trivandrum was trained to devour Aviyal (a vegetable stew with a coconut gravy), and instinctively learned to stop barking as soon as the temple bells pealed out for evening prayers. Where are we to find a pucca south Indian Shih Tzu like that one?
Junior rolled his eyes with such scorn that the expression became an emoji imprinted on my “face book”—the one which has a bottomless feed of Junior’s facial contortions.
We upped the ante and decided to appeal to the teenager’s sense of logic.
I formed my rationale—one that I imagined to be so unassailably masterful that it was sure to withstand the middle school mock trial experience that has made Junior remarkably lawyerly in his counter arguments.
My argument: “Baby, think from the dog’s point of view. Imagine being locked up all day in a home with no freedom to answer nature’s call at one’s will. Imagine having all the love and no liberty. Imagine that the only purpose of your life is your master’s gratification.”
I rested my case, supremely confident in its foolproof-ness. A life bound by four walls—is it not akin to living in China? You can apparently hop on to the Internet, but you can’t get on Facebook there. What kind of a dog’s life is that?
Junior did not miss a beat: “Momsies, consider from the dog’s point of view, that of the dog that is languishing in a pound. Imagine letting a healthy living creature perish because of human cruelty! Isn’t a life filled with love, albeit one with only the illusion of freedom, better than death? Isn’t adopting a pet from the pound a matter of compassion, the very quality Gandhi and Mandela taught and lived by? Moreover, there are folks who think adoption should be done in pairs.” The last, I conceded was a masterful stroke.
I beat a hasty retreat. My winning strategy was starting to look like the United States arming the Taliban with ammunitions to subdue Russia.
Before I get clobbered by hate mail, I want to clarify that I am not anti-pet at all. For instance, I am already very fond of Casper Visweswaran, my brother-in-law’s Bichon Frise Poodle pup. A friend even suggested a name for our future pet, Ludwig van Visweswaran, cleverly combining Junior’s interests in all things canine and canon, Beethoven’s that is.
I have loads of affection for and even a strange kinship with the neighbor’s twin Alaskan huskies; they must miss Alaska in the summer as much as I pine for Kerala in the winter. I also have a colleague who presents me, every single holiday season, with a holiday card which I smilingly and graciously accept, which depicts his three hairless sphinx cats in a Broadway show setting. And, my adventures in pet-sitting a scorpion have been well documented here (“The Scorpion’s Diet,” April 2013, India Currents).
The true worry I have is that I will end up getting so attached to the pet that an eventual separation will be similar to living through a parent’s worst nightmare, a loss of a child. Even if it may sound presumptuous of me to assume that I will outlive the pet. How do you impress upon a thirteen year old the nature of such a love, one with such an intensity that a loss will be unbearable, an undoing of one’s very core, a love that seems to come so instinctively to mothers of all species.
Rajee Padmanabhan is a perennial wannabe—wannabe writer, wannabe musician, wannabe technologist. She lives with her iPad and iPod in Exton, PA, occasionally bumping into her husband and son while either of her iPals is out of charge.