My husband and I are parents to three young girls. During our marital tenure of twenty-three years, my husband’s job has made us change five locations, fourteen homes and several schools across India. We have made and lost friends, adjusted to regional cultures, local languages and all the diversity that our country is home to. Life changes have been demanding and it has taken a toll on the five of us. We find it difficult to keep up with each other’s fast changing personalities; while every one is fighting his own battle to adapt.
Two years ago, my husband was working hard to expand business for a leading company of India. His job was demanding, time at home had reduced and his impatience with the slightest disorder or delay had increased. Our eldest daughter was appearing for her job interviews first time; second one for a public examination and third was busy with her school routine. There was lot to do. Our ambitious goals created stress; we were either too busy chasing our targets or venting the frustration on each other.
I was a qualified woman doing the thankless job of running a home; I had stresses of my own. My only respite was my time with women of my own age. All of us were sailing in the same boat, facing reduced intimacy, slackening metabolism, increasing wrinkles, complaining family members and irritation with our routine lives. Every evening I also went for a walk to beat the stress.
There was a particular sight that arrested my attention during my walk everyday. It was a lady almost my age, with six stray dogs around her. She would carry food to feed them. It was surreal to watch the satisfaction and joy on their faces. The black, beige, grey coloured dogs that everyone avoided, were obedient like puppies to her signals. Their tails wagged vigorously like fans, as though thanking her for her compassion in an otherwise hostile world. I didn’t particularly like dogs, strays not in the least. Yet I found this lady’s kindness for her unlikely subjects, very intriguing.
One day I got a grip over my repulsion, aborting my walk early, I stopped by to talk to her.
“Hi! I am Maya!” she introduced herself.
“You do a great job”. I said.
“It feeds my soul. I do it for myself, not for them.” Maya’s answer was deep.
“My children ask me for a dog but I am now in a phase looking for peace and stability in my life. A dog is too much responsibility, also I worry about the germs and infection.” I confessed.
“Only when we keep pets, we experience their magic. The responsibility becomes a labour of love, a reward not a burden. Get all their shots updated and there is no risk”
“What about germs and infections they carry from outside?” I persisted.
With all the compassion Maya looked in to my eyes, “That’s where the real miracle of loving a pet reveals, your body secretes extra hormones to step up our immunity.”
I shook my head in amusement, “Don’t these dog lovers go soft in the head!” and took her leave.
One day a friend of mine posted plea about an abandoned female Spitz in our message group. Her owners had heartlessly dropped her from their car at a busy crossing. She had survived running between the traffic and an attack by feral dogs. The animal forum volunteers had advertised in the papers but nobody had responded. They had tried to put her in foster homes but people had returned her. She just didn’t adjust anywhere. It had a beautiful white coat, huge innocent eyes like black grapes. Experienced dog owners didn’t want a two-year-old female. They felt Spitz were moody and arrogant, an older dog would be difficult to adopt.
‘Power of love’ Maya’s words came floating to my memory. My heart melted, I wanted to try for once and told the children about the dog. They jumped to this opportunity, impatient to get her before their mother recovered from this temporary change of heart. A division of labour was planned and they promised to abide by it. They also pestered their father to agree. I dialed the number and expressed our interest in adoption.
Animal forum volunteers fixed up a meeting for the next day. We walked in the foster owner’s house. As luck would have it, the volunteer chosen to interview our family, was Maya. She exclaimed on seeing me. “I know her already! The way you looked at me feeding my wild babies, I knew there was a dog lover, waiting to break her shell.” Was she acting crazy again or did she really have those clairvoyant tendencies?
She asked my eldest daughter Urvashi to call the dog with the name we had decided for her. The moment she spoke ‘Zoey’, the canine jumped and sat in her lap. Seems it had approved us too. We got it home the next day.
My husband owned up to take her out for walks. He also gave her the weekly baths. He was the second member to whom Zoey’s resistance thawed.
Our eldest daughter Urvashi transformed into a loving mother. Whenever the untrained pet relieved itself randomly, she cleaned up without complain. Urvashi had been a poor eater all her childhood. It was funny to watch her fussing over Zoey for finishing meals. If I smiled, she fretted that it was my curses that had rebounded like bad karma to her.
Urvashi would continuously ring Maya and follow her directives about keeping the dog. Much to my indignation, Maya was ghost managing what we did with our dog. It was one thing to say yes out of impulse but to give the pet a permanent place in our lives was not easy. The journey to acceptance was an emotional roller coaster, a wave pattern with crests and troughs.
A month later Zoey had its menstrual period. It became listless and irritable, evidently in much pain. Every time it would get up and run barking, the blood spatters flew around and stained the floor. For twenty days I labored to maintain hygiene. Each time I mopped and sprayed the floor with disinfectant, Zoey would stare at me with its huge black eyes. They were full of both guilt and gratitude. I was doing my duty but my heart hadn’t yet opened up. I never realized there was a silver lining in the gray cloud.
My husband took Zoey for walks those days and remarked that her energy was one third of its normal. He asked me if periods were really that painful? I smiled wryly and nodded. Next time I had my menstruation he turned very tender. Offered to cook dinner. Twenty-three years I had trotted in heels after his big strides in malls. This time when I lagged behind, he stopped and waited patiently. Took my hand in his, when I caught up. A tender side of our no nonsense man was revealing itself.
Tropical summers of hot and humid Bombay warmed up, mercury rose up to forty-five degrees. The heat was unbearable. Urvashi took Zoey to the vet for her check up. The snow-white dog returned looking like a pink lamb. The vet was trying to shape its body hair. It jumped so much that a shape up became a complete shear.
Zoey was depressed and totally uncommunicative. It curled up in fetal position on its bed on our bedroom floor. That night I heard it turning again and again. The air conditioner made the hairless dog shiver. I heard it moan. At 2 am I had it pitiably pleading for warmth. I realized I could not look away. For the first time in three months I picked her in my arms and put her on my bed, covered her with my quilt. She slept all night, snuggled to my feet. I had tears in my eyes; the fourth child had finally become my own. Something changed for both of us that night.
Zoey completely belongs now and displays all signs of loving us. Aggressively intimidates our helpers and guests. The moment we return from outside, she smothers us with her love, jumps, furiously wags her tail, waiting to be patted and hugged. Each one of us rings the bell and waits for her welcome. Our old man gets the most royal treatment of all; it has done wonders to his temperament. He confesses that the main door had become the threshold to leave all tensions outside and smile. Every evening when the father returns home, our kids chuck their cellphones to see her antiques- something unthinkable before her arrival.
We encourage people not to buy but adopt abandoned dogs. Also counsel new dog owners to adjust to the new four-pawed member of their family. If I look back, I don’t recall any infection we caught from Zoey in past two years. Whether she leaves the bugs outside our door or our love has pumped up our protective hormones- who knows?
Our goals are still ambitious but Zoey shields us from the alienation and stress. Once again we are a young, playful and tender family. The sibling fights have reduced and giggles have increased. It is like having a baby at home again. We exchange updates about Zoey’s food, bowel movements and walking schedule. A furry member, who cannot speak, is the nerve center of our home. She has healed us from our conflicts. Has taught us the futility of words and importance of touch in love.
People of our housing society say that God would bless us soon- we tell them he already did. Zoey is our guardian angel. It’s silly to think we adopted her; it’s she who has adopted us.