Behind the Scenes

An animal’s eyes have the power to speak a great language; but only a few can understand this. I respect those who do not understand this language, and believe that a pet isn’t for them. Their reasons may be any, but are respected as they understand that they are not ready for it, and, know for sure, that they will not be able to care for the pet and do justice by bringing it home. These people are far better than those who brings pets home for various reasons, and, leave them neglected or abandon them or leave them back to the shelter.

I have come across a few people who have enquired with me to bring a dog home, only on the basis of seeing me and my dogs and how easy I make it look. So, today I am going to talk about the actual challenges I face and have faced by being a “make it look so easy” dog mom. As I always say, “Will it be easy – no! Will it be worth it – absolutely yes!”

I have heard this common statement, “I have grown up with dogs, I have always had dogs in my house, so I can handle a dog after marriage also, etc.” What they forget to compare is, they lived in a joint family where many were there to take care of the dog. These days, we live in a nuclear family in apartment houses and working couples. The biggest challenge here is, who will walk the dog? And once you have a kid, who will look after the dog? It doesn’t stop here. Even if couples distribute their walking schedules, who will wake up in the middle of the night if the dog throws up or falls ill and clean up? These are not small issues, as a dog’s life revolves around you, and if you struggle with the basics, then it is advisable to not bring a dog home. A dog is just another child; everything you do for your kid; you do for the dog. I cannot emphasize this more and its every word of it is true to the dot.

According to general public, I am living alone happily, I do what I want, I can go out party whenever I want, I can call anyone at home, etc. Because my dog stays at home peacefully, doesn’t destroy things, doesn’t bark or bite, doesn’t smell, etc., all because I make it look easy. Let me make one thing very clear, whatever I have done or do for my dogs is because I WANT TO DO IT. They are my responsibility and my babies, and I will make sure that they are healthy, happy and safe. And I believe, anyone who has this mentality will always make it look easy to others about caring for their pets.

Thus, these are the behind the scenes of keeping my dogs in the best atmosphere. Recently, I had fallen ill. It was so bad that I couldn’t even sit for more than 5 minutes. But, even in such a state, I had to take Junior for his walk. I was so liverish, but I had to feed Junior his meals on time and keep filling his water bowl as and when it got over.

I rarely go out for late night parties. Because then it becomes difficult for me to wake up in the morning to take Junior for a stroll. Living in a crowded city and being alone, I as it is sacrifice on taking Junior out to the beach or socializing as it is not my cup of tea. So my emphasis is more on his walks as that’s the only time he is outdoors.

When Casper or Junior are unwell, I stay up all night to make them comfortable. If they are better by the day, then I go for work or else take days off to look after them. Pay cuts, juggling between vet visits and back log, and make sure my dogs become healthy again. And not a damn soul would come to know I was struggling from past few days.

When I was heartbroken and going through the post breakup depressed phase, I grappled through my daily activities. I wasn’t even in the mood to take a shower or make coffee for myself. But, I fulfilled all my responsibilities towards my dogs.

I went broke for a period of time. I quit having one meal for myself to save money so that I could feed my dogs their required meals. And again, people thought I was living my best life alone with my dogs.

I adjust or miss out on many outings with family and friends because of my dog’s schedule. I don’t regret it at all, but there have been times when I had to skip on some important occasions because the boarding lodging was full and I had no place to keep my dogs. Also, recently my cousins planned a holiday and I to cancel it because Junior was recovering from pancreatitis and I couldn’t leave him at boarding lodging. When I needed to take that break the most, but I couldn’t. And it is ok, because that sacrifice was worth as Junior is in the best of health now.

I clean my dogs vomit, I clean their poop, I clean their drool, I clean their butthole, I apply ointment at weird places whenever needed, I remove ticks and fleas (whenever they get) from their body, there is dog hair all over my house, etc. and some people call it disgusting after knowing what all I do. Until then, “wow your dog is so clean, he doesn’t smell, his coat shines.”

Even on daily basis, whether I am in a good mood or a bad, I have to keep all that stuff aside and make sure my dogs schedule is not disturbed. My dogs do not bark, or bite, or destroy things is because I have put in a lot of effort in training them. My dogs can stay home alone without creating a ruckus is because of all endeavor I have made to tutor them since they were puppies.

I will definitely accept the fact that if I had a little help or someone with me, then it would be a lot easier for me to care for my dogs. Nevertheless, I still make it look easy for others on my own; but the fact is, It is NOT easy. Some days, you see stars in the day, some days, you only want to cry, some days, you are in too much pain, either physical or mental. But end of the day, when Casper and Junior sleep besides me snoring out loud, it’s all WORTH IT.

A dog is not just a Christmas gift or a companion for loneliness or an Instagram model or a status symbol. And definitely not “I have had pets all my life, so I can bring a dog after marriage”. A dog is a family member. Most of the people will get a dog and within a month return it. So, think about all the aspects before you decide for a commitment of their life time. He might only be here for a part of your life, but for him, you are his whole life. Remember that people. Dogs are forever, not until you get tired of them – be sure before you get one and once you do, he is for life! Would you return or abandon a baby no matter what the reason? Then why abandon a dog?

He is just a dog!

The tittle of this blog exemplifies the general mindset of many in this world who believe a dog is just a ‘thing’ or a play object. Many believe, a dog, is just another hobby and do not even realize the bond the parent and the dog share. Just because we humans consider ourselves to be the superior species does not give us the right to dictate the existence of any other species. While everyone may not share the same love many of us share for animals, especially dogs; their indifference towards our babies is at times very naïve, and to a large extent, even annoying.

Buying or adopting a dog is more serious than having a baby. At some point, the baby will grow up to be an adult which essentially means fend for himself, and, live his own life. Your dog will remain your puppy all his life; you may have many friends and social acquaintances, and places to go to – for your dog, you and you alone are his universe. He will never be able to feed itself on its own, and will wait endlessly for you to return home. I am not trying to dissuade anyone from getting a dog into their lives. Infact, what I am truly trying to convey is – if you really want a dog – Get a dog! Do not compromise that void with the general principles set by mankind by having kids and later repenting not having got a furry friend. I am not against having kids. I love children and dream to have a child of my own. But my dog is no less of a kid to me, and this is something that perplexes many people who keep saying – “HE IS JUST A DOG!” They so miserably fail to see he is my baby, my child, my son.

Raising dogs was a choice I made; although accidentally, I did become a dog mom, and a parent does not differentiate between their children. In the process of raising Casper and Junior I had to give up things, went without doing many things, and, honesty, I regret nothing. My life was, is, and will always be, for my dogs, no matter how big or old they get. They didn’t ruin my life; they gave me unconditional love and a totally new view of the meaning of my life. I live alone and have raised my dogs all by myself; there have been times when I couldn’t go out for parties or social functions because it clashed with the timings of feeding my dogs or walking them. In those times, people have told me, “you are stuck” or “you are ruining your life because of your dogs.” What people don’t realize is, I am missing out on nothing. If a child has to be fed or walked, then that is what a responsible parent does, and I reiterate, a baby is a baby, the species does not matter!

Junior Shah

Even today, there are some people who keep advising me to give up my dog for adoption, as they believe it will be hard for me to find a man to marry, as no man who will accept me with a dog. First of all, I do not need to be accepted by a man. If that is the scenario, I would rather be single. Love is a two way street. Love is an intense feeling of deep affection. It is not just going on fancy dates, buying gifts, or applying conditions like “if you have a dog, I will not marry you.” Yes, there are people who are not dog lovers and that is absolutely fine. When I married my husband, I knew he was a dog lover and I was petrified of dogs at that time. But I never put any conditions on him to abandon his dog or to give them up for adoption if he wanted to marry me. I loved my husband so much, that I accepted his love for dogs and started preparing myself for the same. A dog is not an object of play to be given away – A dog is the only thing on earth that loves you more than he loves himself. I will always choose, and keep choosing my dogs over any man – If someone comes along who is a dog lover, it would be an icing over the cake.

There are some who say, “If we come to your house, you will have to tie your dog up or put him in another room.” Please understand, I will be more than happy to not have you at my house; My dog lives here, and this is his house! He is a child and totally harmless; he merely gets excited seeing people and his only intention is to play with you. I can understand there are people who are scared of dogs; but he is domesticated animal not a lion! You do not necessarily have to pet him, but, at the same time you do not get to dictate to get him locked up in another room!

I have also heard people say that you can’t love a dog as much as a child, which may be true. Although I do know that looking at a dog can give you the same rush of emotion as looking at a baby, thanks to the hormone Oxytocin. Oxytocin is known as the “love hormone” and released during breast-feeding and loving physical contact. Scientists at Azabu University in Japan have recently discovered that dog owners experience a rush of this feel-good hormone when they interact with their dogs – just like the mothers of babies. Love from dogs is unconditional. And as it’s said, a dog is the most loyal living being on Earth and a man’s best friend. My dogs have never broken my heart, never betrayed my trust, and never deceived me like a man. Very little they ask for in their short life. Just feed them, play with them, give them a clean and cosy place to sleep and love them. We have family and friends, but for a dog, you are their only family.

I am very content in life. I have a small dream of having my own little loving family where my child would be raised in the presence of a dog. There are some benefits of that. Kids can practice motor skills by feeding and grooming their dog. Not to mention, a dog can help your kids develop a stronger immune system and prevent sickness. Kids who grow up around dogs are less prone to allergies and asthma than those who grow up without a dog. Most important, kids learn to care for and love every living being. They grow up to be more compassionate, humane and warm-hearted. When I was happily married, I wanted to have a child in the presence of Casper. But life took an ugly turn, and neither did I stay married nor do I have Casper. But it’s not the end and if God is kind on me, I will have my family and a child while Junior is still there. 

Jon Katz (American Journalist) famously wrote, “Animals have come to mean so much in our lives. We live in a fragmented and disconnected culture. Politics are ugly, religion is struggling, technology is stressful, and the economy is unfortunate. What’s one thing that we have in our lives that we can depend on? A dog or a cat loving us unconditionally, every day, very faithfully.”  More often, people also tell me he is “just a dog.” Even four years after my Caspu passed away, I still can’t bear to talk about him without a tear in my eye. Yet, he is just a dog. I come across an old picture of him playing and my heart sinks. Yet, he is just a dog. After a long and mentally draining day, when I come home and hug Junior, all my tiredness is gone. Yet, he is just a dog. When I am down and depressed, Junior cuddles with me and does not let me sink in. Yet, he is just a dog. Those who have never owned a pet will never get it. These dogs are my friends, my cuddle buddies, exercise partner, play mate, anxiety reliever, alarm clock, guard dog…etc. and yet, Just a dog, right? For many, it’s just a dog. For me, it’s my world. From time to time, people also tell me, “That’s a lot of money you are spending on your dog.” They really don’t get it and it makes me laugh now; he is my child – if he needs something, I will spend on it. Your spending on your child is not any more normal or somehow more ethically justified, than me spending on my dog, only because yours is a human and mine is not.

Jerome K. Jerome (19th century writer) famously said and I quote “Dogs never talk about themselves but listen to you while you talk about yourself, and keep up an appearance of being interested in the conversation.” Some of my proudest moments have come about with my babies. Many hours I have spent alone with my dogs and they have never let me down. They haven’t left my side once, and are more than eager to just sit by me and even listen even if means me blabbering about mindless things!  Even during this pandemic and lockdown, my Junior or let me say “just a dog” has kept me sane and lively. I couldn’t have asked for anything more. He makes my life complete.

If you too, think it’s “just a dog”, you will probably understand the phrases like “just a friend”, “just a sunrise” or “just a promise.” My dogs bought into my life the very essence of friendship, trust and pure unbundled joy. They bought compassion and patience that made me a better person. M.K. Clinton (American author) has said, “world would be a nicer place if everyone had the ability to love as unconditionally as a dog.” For me or people like me, it’s not “just a dog”, it’s an embodiment of all the hopes and dreams of the future, the fond memories and the pure joy of the moments. I hope that someday people can understand that it’s not “just a dog”, it’s something that gives us humanity and keeps us going. Dogs have given us their absolute all. We are the centre of their universe. We are the focus of their love and faith and trust. So the next time you hear someone say this, “why you do so much for a dog”, just smile because they “just don’t understand.”

If the kindest souls were rewarded with the longest lives, dogs would outlive us all!

Limitations are self-imposed!

You know what’s the worse feeling in the world? The worse feeling in the world is when you are with someone, but, you still feel alone! You feel you don’t belong anywhere. Sleeping right next to the person you love every night but those few inches in realty are more than a million miles. The life, the home, and, the family you had made, were falling apart like a crushed dream. Have you ever had that feeling where deep down inside you know this marriage is not going to make it through, but, you aimlessly wait for a miracle? You wish, pray, to the extent desperately hope, for your partner to change. You have endless conversations and efforts only to realize that everything is fine for 2 months and then you are back to the same old situation. I have realized It happens to everyone as they grow up. You find out who you are and what you want, and then you realize that people you’ve known forever don’t see things the way you do. So, the best thing to do is keep the wonderful memories, and move on!

Casper coming back into our lives was a big ray of hope; as for once, me and my husband both wanted something together and would spend time together discussing him. I am sure all of you are probably baffled by the idea that how can a girl who is petrified of dogs, not only decide to adopt and raise him, but eventually turns out to be a dog mom. Honestly speaking, I am perplexed myself till date about how the events of life have unfolded and carved me into what I am today.   

Whenever we got Casper home, my husband would go for his work for couple of hours and then come back and work from home. In those 2 or 3 hours, when I was home alone with Casper, I used to be terrified and keep Casper confined inside his crate. Then one day, my husband got annoyed and gave me an ultimatum that either I work on removing my fear of dogs or he would have no choice but to give Casper up. I was super happy not touching Casper and only seeing his little paws dance around the house, but giving him away was not an option I could accept. So, with great courage, and a task which was no less than bravery on a battlefield for me, one day, when my husband went to work, I sat down in the centre of the living room and told my maid to remove Casper from the crate and leave him free. Casper came running towards me and started licking and biting me with his small teeth. For the Initial few minutes I literally froze to death; almost like I was a helpless goat in a field, faced with a tiger and inevitable defeat. But after the initial few excruciating moments, slowly my fear started to evaporate from my body. All I could feel was love and the feel of a tiny gentle soul trying his best to get all the attention from me that he could.  For the first time in days I took Casper in my hands and hugged him and there was no feeling in this world better than this. Things were fantastic for quite some time. He bought us a lot of joy and happiness. From a breaking down marriage, to looking forward in anticipation for a better tomorrow; that’s the magic Casper had done. Even though we only saw him every 3 months, whenever we did, our joy had no limits. Each time when we would meet him, we would be surprised to see his growth from a little puppy to a big dog. We would regularly be sent his pictures and videos from the boarding lodging and that would bring a big smile on our faces. We were pleased that he was in good hands in our absence and was taken good care of.

Whenever we would come down to Mumbai, we would take Casper on short trips, buy him a lot of toys, pamper him, and, also got him trained. As I have mentioned before, I took up further studies and had to come down to Mumbai for my final exams. During that time, we had sent Casper to a summer camp out of Mumbai and had plans to pick him up once my exams were over. But, before my last exam, I had a break of 8 days, and, so, we decided to have a surprise visit to the place where Casper was. Typically, Casper would enthusiastically come running to us as soon as he would see us. But this time something wasn’t right. When we reached there, Casper didn’t move and lay still on the ground. We immediately understood that something was wrong and without wasting a single minute, my husband literally picked him up, put him in the car and drove back straight to the vet’s clinic. Our fears were confirmed and Casper was not only diagnosed with tick fever but also was in a critical state. The vet immediately started his treatment and upon asking, he informed us that chances of his survival were bleak. My world came crashing down. This was the first time in months that I realised that I wasn’t a dog owner, I was a dog MOM. My child was fighting a battle with the Grim Reaper and I wanted nothing else but for him to live.

Day and night, we were at the vet’s clinic doing everything we could; I was cursing myself every minute to have sent him to the summer camp. After 5 days of treatment, Casper finally showed some positive results. The vet told us he would make it and I was overjoyed and mirthful that my baby was going to live. In all this chaos, I didn’t get the time to study for my final exam and I decided to mark absent for it and attempt it next year. But my mother told me, “If you don’t appear for your test, you will as it is be marked as failed. Why don’t you read your books and give your exams. At least you will be satisfied that you gave your best instead of not going at all.” I took her advice, stayed up all night to study while my husband bought Casper home and was looking after him. I appeared for my exam and when the results were declared, I had PASSED.  Guess chaos is only a matter of perspective; what is chaos to a fly is normal for a spider. Giving up at the first instance of seeing a difficultly in life will surely ease that particular situation; but we won’t know what possibilities could lie ahead only if we try a little harder then. It is always better to try, give it a shot, rather give it our best shot, and then accept whatever happens, rather than not try at all and then sit and think a few years later what if we had only tired. The possibilities are ambiguous, but at least we know within us that we tried!

Within months, I had seen life, death, failure and success. My mother taught me a very good lesson which till date I remember and follow whenever I have to. No matter what, get up, dress up, and show up. This has become a motto for life. Seeing Casper near death and back to life gave me a new life. Basically, a new and stronger perspective to life. He taught me to face my fears. He showed me that anything can happen in life, good or bad and we have to be prepared for everything. He taught me how to have fun and laugh for no reason. He made me a responsible human being. Above all, he made me a Mom. Yes! I am a proud Mom and my kids have four legs and fur. As I write this, my eyes glow seeing Junior sitting next to me and once again makes me realise, I am so lucky to have this baby in my life. Casper taught me life, and Junior is the reason that I am living my life. And I always thank God, for blessing me with such beautiful babies.