Wednesday, April 29, 2009

More doggie thoughts

This post by Sonia struck a chord; she’s said many of the things I frequently think about. For starters, this depressingly familiar business of people getting pets because it’s fashionable (or because their idiot kids bawl “Papa papa, puppy chahiye”), only to discover that it isn’t the same thing as having a stuffed toy lying about the house, and that there are serious responsibilities attached. I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard about pets being abandoned because their owners couldn’t invest the time and attention (let alone love) that they needed. In our colony there’s a young Labrador with a very glossy black coat who is let out of the house gate, unattended, for an hour or so each evening, because no one can be bothered to walk him: he bounds about near the park looking perplexed, his size belying the fact that he’s a puppy, trying to make friends with the local strays who naturally snarl at him. There’s always the danger that he’ll be hit by a passing car, and one gets the sense that his humans don’t care much either way if he doesn’t return someday.

Anyone who really cares for animals (as opposed to feeling a vague affection for the pets they happen to have about the house as a form of interior decoration) will know that dogs who are well looked after and well-loved come to acquire a very particular set of characteristics – there’s a softness in the eyes that suggests a sense of security, a feeling that nothing really bad can happen in their little world; it’s understood that frenetic tail-wagging is the correct response to the sight of any new human. At the other extreme, there’s the perpetual wariness, the suggestion of fear hardened into aggression, on the face of the stray dog who knows that he’s liable to be kicked or have a stone thrown at him any second. And somewhere in between, in some ways worst of all, is the confused, cagey expression of the pet who lives in a house where people give him food and water and look after him in a detached sort of way, but where affection is in very short supply: a dog who isn’t allowed anywhere near the beds or sofas, who spends most of the day tied up on a short leash and who was quite possibly smacked hard the first time he chewed on a chair leg. One of my most cringe-inducing memories is visiting a former colleague’s house and seeing a Pomeranian that looked nervous, even frightened, when I put out a hand to pet him, as if he had no experience of that sort of thing. There was no softness in those eyes.

My sensitivity to these things has heightened since Foxie happened. I’ve never been this close to a dog before, though my mom has had many over the years (and has always accorded them higher status than the human beings around her). Cats were a different matter, of course; when Sandy disappeared 15 years ago I decided that I’d be careful not to get too close to a pet again, but you can’t plan these things beyond a point. Foxie wormed her way into our lives and though the initial days were more about the strong sense of responsibility we felt towards her than a deep
attachment, this changed as she gradually developed a very special personality of her own. Today, she’s no different from a daughter for us. And now, whenever I see a scruffy, uncared-for, snarling mongrel on the road, it occurs to me that but for a tiny quirk of fate Foxie could have been that dog. And then she wouldn’t be the sweet, gentle, good-natured and trusting pup we know but something entirely different. Knowing how many strays there are on the roads – all of whom could, if their circumstances had been otherwise, made wonderful, loving pets – makes me feel ill-disposed towards people who pay large sums of money for “breeds”. And who, as Sonia points out, don’t even bother to do the basic groundwork.

P.S. And what about this habit that some pious people have of feeding a black dog once or thrice a week – on specified days, I think it is – because their resident goddess/astrologer has told them it’s good for their punya or karma or some such thing? Another addition to the long list of admirable traits in the religious and the superstitious.


  1. Sonia and you are right, Jai. A dog, or for that matter any pet brings with it some responsibility to take care of a it and treat it like a family member. My husband loves dogs and insists on having one. I am not really a dog-lover (I don't hate them either, just that I am not a pet person) and keep avoiding it because I know right now I am not in a position to give as much time and attention as a pet deserves.

    But it is appalling to see people ill-treat their pets. Maybe they would be better off as strays than being in a family and not loved.

  2. A pet is a huge responsibility- more than a kid- and only a very pet-devoted person should have one.

  3. Something that bothers me, which I see quite frequently in my area where strays have become a huge menace, is people feeding them regularly but not bothering to get them neutered. I believe your responsibility towards them and towards others living near you can't end with giving them food, you should also take some sort of responsibility for their behaviour.

  4. well said. we had multitude of pets(mostly dogs) while i was growing up. My wife's family had none.

    Strangely, she is the one who wants one right now and i am adamant on not getting one. With the busy lives that both of us have, it will be impossible to take good care of the dog. And i would rather not have one than get one and not care for it.

    She is unable to gauge the level of responsibility that a pet requires. pets are like kids that never grow up. not an easy job.

    on top of that, the death of the last one a few years ago still plays on my mind. i don't think i have the courage to go through it again.

  5. hi your your post was especially meaningful to me since i consider myself to be an avid dog lover...but the popular indian perception towards havin dogs as pets is i think quite different from the ones expressed in de a kid i remember my dad askin me not to pet our new pup too much since it will lose its ferocity and get too friendly with strangers hence rendering it an inefficient watch dog...often pet owners get dogs 4 the dual purpose of deterring intruders and 4 them a dog who is wary of people other than de members of the family is indeed a source of pride.And often this does not imply that the dog is ill treated at home since it is very friendly and close to ppl whom it is familiar with . I think it is merely a difference in perception after all there are different ways of doin a thing,includin keepin a pet:)

  6. A post I completely identify with.

    I also most hate it when people keep the dog in a separate place and don't allow it to enter the house because it will "dirty it". Those dogs look so sad and so unloved - you have to let the dog in and let it "horse" around, ruffle him/her, talk to him/her! Also hate it when people throw stale food to the mongrels on the street. And the worst is finding a run over dog on an early morning because of some stupid speeding motorist who probably didn't even look back.

    We had three dogs and they moved with us (the trains had a special animal compartment back then). We also had a few puppies around because our first dog was a she - generally anathema to most people - I feel a rant coming on! Luckily most of the puppies went to good places. I don't have a dog currently and miss having one.

    OK I should stop - thinking about dogs makes me feel marshmallowy all over.

  7. I wanted to point out, with regard to feeding strays, that dogs are territorial; so the idea that if you don't feed a stray it will simply leave your neighbourhood for greener pastures is a fallacy. It will forage, or starve. It cannot move around because the other dogs won't allow encroachment.

    I had to send one stray to hospital because he had encroached and the dogs on our street literally bit a hole in his head.

    But yes, while feeding is helpful, getting involved in other health aspects, such as spaying/neutering is also important.

  8. so now you have the solution to the slum"dog" problem? treat them good and minorties will behave?

  9. Just the thoguht makes me fume..
    I feel like murdering such can they leave their pets just like that on the streets to die?
    Animals are like babies ..a pet cannot survive on the streets...and ppl who treat street dogs or any other animal for that matter the way they do?I feel like strangling them...
    like Alankrita says pets are a huge huge responsibility...its like giving birth to a child...

    nothing less than that...only difference is that these children will never grow up and become independent..they remain babies throughout their lives...only someone who understands that and is ready to take on the responsibilities should get a pet..

    the mention of daughter made me smile for, that is just what my parents say that they ahve four children:))

  10. Very nice post... very enlightening to someone like me who does not own pet now but plan to in future...

  11. Well I've recently moved to the US and man do people own dos here! I've never seen this variety in dogs ... ever! I believe every other resident in my apartments owns a dog or two. It's kind of cute.

    But one day something sad happened. Somebody locked their dog our in the balcony and left for work. A little white puppy (i'm not good with identifying breeds.) The poor thing barked all day to be let in. I went out to my balcony and called out to the dog, "doggy" :D. It responded and looked around for me. I think we've become friends since. The owners did this three days in a row.

    Recently, the dog came out in his balcony and i pointed out to my husband,"look, my doggie". He pointed out that the dogs left eye was swollen and suggested that the owners mistreat him. My heart sank abysmally low.

    I'm not a dog person. I've been mortally afraid of dogs ever since i got chased around my building by a doberman as a kid. but my endearment to this little puppy is making me wonder, if i should go over and offer to doggy-sit. :)

  12. Cannot express the pain I went through when my dog died years ago in my home town. I lost weight too. Now, I am in a rented accomodation and I don't want to own one until we have our own place.

  13. What a great and touching post. Everyone seems to be pretty confident about it, but he's my baby dog and I'm a little freaked out about it. So any and all good doggie thoughts will be accepted and appreciated. some responsibility to take care and treat it like a family member.

  14. I've recently come in contact with some crazed variety of pet owners who have actually forgotten that subtle difference between a dog and a human being.. (I don't know if I'm coming across any good in putting it this way..)

    While an old professor we know commented on the state of his autistic son who lives in another country with his mother from whom the professor is long divorced, this particular pet owner I'm talking about thought of making a connection right then and said, 'I know exactly how you feel. Sometimes people look at [Tommy] in a weird way too.'

    What can one say to that, eh?

  15. Nitika: I actually read your post a few weeks ago and thought of commenting, but then reconsidered.

    ...who have actually forgotten that subtle difference between a dog and a human being...

    Just curious. What, according to you, is this difference exactly? Keeping in mind that there are people who do genuinely think of their pets as their children (my wife and I belong in this number incidentally) and who manage to do this without inconveniencing other people or rubbing it in their faces (or at least without inconveniencing others more than the parents of regular human children do). And also keeping in mind the misanthropes among us who generally have higher regard for non-human animals than for human animals (I'm in this category, Abhilasha isn't).

    As I recall, your post made a point about some pet-lovers "losing sight" of the fact that their pet won't be around forever. (Hope I'm not misquoting or getting confused!) But I don't think most of us actually "forget" that little fact. We accept it and deal with it - but it doesn't change our feelings about our non-human "kids". In some cases, it only intensifies those feelings. Don't know if you've seen this post I did on the subject a while ago.

    P.S. what that pet owner said to the professor - I agree it was stupid and insensitive to voice such a thought aloud. But only because it's stupid and insensitive to make such a comment to any suffering parent, period. Definitely not because of the assumption that a human child is somehow more important or valuable than a non-human child. (Of course, that's just me stating my own ideal-world situation. In the real world, people who are intensely close to their pets have to constantly deal with the flippancy/insensitivity of non-pet lovers on all issues ranging from birthdays to illness to death.)

  16. I guess we'll just have to agree to disagree on this one.

    Maybe it's in the way one, sort of, learns to be with pets from a young age.. I had them all my unmarried life and was close to them as any.. and mourned their deaths and still miss the last one who was my favourite.. but somehow I have always learned to decipher between the two (I wish I knew a better way of expressing this.. I don't want to say real and unreal or human and animal etc.)

    I guess I just haven't learned to love a dog as a human being and mourn its death as I would perhaps a human being.

  17. Nitika: okay, I'm continuing to comment not because I want a prolonged argument or anything (basically I agree that our perspectives on the subject are so different that we really won't be able to understand each other beyond a point), but because I really think this makes for an interesting discussion.

    To clarify my position a bit: I'm a little surprised by the assumption that a self-described pet-lover can "learn" to care for humans more than animals. Intellectually, sure, you can convince yourself that humans are more important because they are "your" species (btw, we all know the repercussions of such thinking when it comes to other categories such as religion, gender, class etc, but that's another topic), but I don't see how limits can be set for emotions - how they can be organised in such a neat, hierarchical way. In my case, I certainly didn't plan the depth of my feelings for the two animals (one a cat, another a dog) that I've been closest to - it simply happened.

    This subject doesn't really lend itself to theorising beyond a point, though I suppose the kind of life you lead (whether you spend a lot of time in boarding schools as opposed to at home, for example) does make a difference. As do the kind of people you're surrounded by/influenced by from an early age. (My mother, without ever making a big deal about it or getting up on a pulpit, has always held animals on an equal footing with human beings - and I suppose her matter-of-fact egalitarianism on this subject translated to me.)

    P.S. if you're interested, do read some of Peter Singer's essays on "speciesism" and how it belongs to the same order of thinking as racism or sexism.