A dog’s life

IN the end, body parts wear out, and all living creatures enter into decline, ending in death: nature designed us to make room for the next generation once we have fulfilled our duty of propagating our respective species.

This is what happened to our beloved Puffin recently. A handsome, endlessly entertaining Jack Russell terrier, he was a character who dominated us in a way children do. While I was accused of spoiling him rotten, Puffin was convinced that I had been created for his personal comfort.

Whenever I sat in my armchair to read or watch TV, he would hop on to my lap; when I was working at my desk, he would jump on to my knees; and in the car, he would insist on standing on my lap and sticking his head out of the window with his ears flapping in the wind.

Puffin had a particular commanding bark to tell me he wanted something, and his needs ranged from water in his bowl, the door to be opened, or an indication that he wanted to be taken for a walk. Every once in a while, he would swagger in with a tennis ball, demanding that I drop everything to play with him.

In his younger days, Puffin would keep a sharp lookout for squirrels and rabbits that he would instantly chase. His one success was a young squirrel in Hyde Park that was too slow to escape up a tree. As its twitching corpse lay on the grass, Puffin waited for it to get up and resume the game he thought he was playing.

One is sorry for those who haven’t experienced the love of a good dog.

In the country, he would smell a badger and dash into its lair, or sett. Once down there, it could be literally hours before he emerged, covered in mud. We feared that one day, a badger would turn on its tormentor as these animals can be dangerous when cornered.

But the alternative was to walk him on a lead, something that would curtail his freedom to a degree unacceptable to him or to us. So while we could hear him barking underground, he pretended to be deaf to our urgent calls.

Luckily, dogs don’t have a sense of time the way we do. For them, a day can be as long as a month.

When we left him with dear friends who loved him as much as we did to spend most of the winter in Sri Lanka and Pakistan, I felt a sharp pang of guilt.

However, he was just as happy to see us when we returned as though we had gone off for a weekend.

I feel sorry for those who have never experienced the unquestioning love of a good dog. Many dog owners use their pets as objects to exercise power and control, exulting in their ability to follow orders rather than being playful companions. Others are either terrified of dogs, or consider them unclean. In Muslim countries, pet dogs are taboo because of a dubious belief that says that angels don’t enter a home that has a dog. Frankly, I would much rather have my Puffin than any number of angels.

I think it was Gandhi who once said a society should be judged by how it cares for its animals. Whenever I have written in favour of animal rights, I have been rebuked by a few readers who say I should not be wasting space on animals when people are so badly treated in Pakistan. I reply that while people have voices to protest, animals need spokesmen to speak for them.

After 16 years of fun and frolic, we noticed that Puffin had aged noticeably when we picked him up on our return: he was almost deaf and could barely see; most tellingly, he was reluctant to go for walks. And much to his evident embarrassment, he could no longer jump on to our bed as he once did with such practised ease.

A blood test confirmed that his kidneys were failing, and we took the wrenching decision to have him put to sleep rather than prolong his misery.

The late Taufiq Rafat, probably the finest Pakistani poet to write in English, expressed a kinship with flagging powers in The Kingfisher:

“Bird or hovercraft, your angling skill/ proclaims the confidence of repeated success; you flash/ rainbows as you plunge to kill…

“But what about tomorrow? Will they hiss/and boo from the sidelines/as you find, pause, fold and dip towards/the horror of your first miss?

“I’ll learn to love you then, for lost/ causes link all temperaments/What drains my speech of sap will blunt/your keen iridescent thrust.”

Years ago when my father was still with us, a PTV producer who had come to interview him commented that he seemed to love Sundal, his pet collie, very much. “Yes,” replied my father dryly. “Better than most human beings.” That’s pretty much how I feel about Puffin.

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