My Children

I am stressed. And I am tired. Recuperating after an illness and taking care of three furkids. Zachary, who is this beautiful Virgo brindle boxer, who came into my life when I was in the depths of agony at having lost my girl, Zoe. My family bundled me up and took me to Pune to meet him, they disregarded their own grief as they shuttled me there because I was inconsolable – when I think about her I still hurt.

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Bonzo and I, 1982 (?)

It hurts when I think about Bonzo, the spitz who saw me through childhood, who put his head in my lap through those horrible teen years when I was estranged from society and did not know where to go or be.

Undesired I thought I was until he wagged his tail when he saw me, and in many ways, I was cruel to him, as we all are in matters of neglect caused due to life or human pain and all he did was love me. He was a part of my life when I was four, and he lived with me until I was 20.

Rolfe and Diana came into my life when Bonzo left it. We got the siblings from a family in Dadar.

Rolfe was the last of the litter and Diana was the stronger one with beautiful eyes. She was a burnished brown and he was a dappled fawn. She and he started my love affair with boxers. I remembered the first time Diana smiled at me. I thought she was snarling but she was actually baring her teeth in a simile of a smile. I remember the good times, I remember falling in love for the first time and they being around me, the walks we shared in those days were so filled with a crystalline life. It sparkled.

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Diana, having a rest after a session of play on our terrace.

Diana developed mange around the same time my heart broke. She and we braved the plethora of vets we made our journeys to and fro. She was misdiagnosed, mistreated medically. Chosalkar who just had a mobile clinic then said it was an infection caused by heat since it started around her muzzle. When we met Dr Chavan she had reached the end of her tether. He brought her back through rigorous treatment and her own sheer dent of will. Scorpio child.

When Rolfe fell ill with a stomach infection, it was a mild case of diarrhoea and vomiting. Diwali time. Dr Chavan was out of town. When I took him to the dispensary at Khar, they injected him with wrong medicine on an empty stomach and he flew into convulsions. They abandoned him and asked me to rush him to the SPCA hospital. I did not know that that would prove to be a fate far worse.

They refused to treat him until I admitted him. I did. They did not give him treatment but waited for his blood work until the next morning. I left him there. There are very few things in life that I regret, and the regrets I have I can count on one hand, and all of them have to do with my kids’ medical treatments. I still remember going home. Diana wondering where he was. We thinking that he would be okay – it was a pet hospital after all.

It was a Friday, his condition had not improved. I still remember the small cubicle they had kept him in. I couldn’t imagine how I could have allowed it. But he was my second child, first time at a hospital, I thought it was for the best. They tested his blood and the blood work would come back the next day. Fees were taken. IV drips were given. He was lucid and we walked around the compound. We stayed from the time the hospital gates opened to the time they shut at 6pm. I left him again.

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Rolfe and Diana, the very first day I bought them home.

Saturday we find that the lab had misplaced the reports, there were none. So the tests were retaken. IV drips were adminstered. We stayed. To find that the test results would show up on Monday. The lab was closed on Sunday. Two days were spent in agony. By Monday, Dr Chavan returned and surreptitiously asked us to have him discharged. But by then my mom, sister, Anand and I wanted him out. I have never yelled at “doctors” the way I yelled then, I had him discharged and I brought him back home. I knew he was dying by then. He couldn’t walk. I got him home at 5:45pm. Rolfe met Diana and in a few minutes of lying on our hall floor passed away. I remember. They say the death of a dog you have loved is like the death of a child. I agree. It will never cease to pain. He was with me for six years, 1995 – 2001.

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Diana, at 8 and Zoe, at 1.

Zoe came into my life in April 2002. She was a Bandra girl. Her mother was Becky, a beautiful fawn boxer with a large face. Apparently, she was a star, said her owner, she had acted in a movie with Anil Kapoor. I smiled. And when I went down into the litter of pups, I noticed Zoe bundling towards me with her pink nose spotted with black spots, she had such lovely markings. I picked her up and it was love.

When I got her home to Diana, Diana accepted her with no fuss. No jealousy, no tantrums. She was a calm, beautiful natured girl. My Diana. When Zoe was three, Diana fell ill at night. She had trouble breathing, and on consultation, the doctor said to give her electrol water and keep her calm. But she was calm. Her breath was laboured. I kept her company through the night, and fed her water, and held her and soon I dropped off to sleep. Mom woke me and told me that she had passed away. Hers was a death I could bear. I was with her, she was 10, she came in my life in 1995 and passed in 2005.

(I took a break right now, I couldn’t keep up with the emotional upheaval and went and hugged my mom who was busy doing paperwork. It’s nice to save a few hugs for people, too.)

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Zoe, in 2012.

Zoe came into my life when my relationships flourished. It was a good time for me. I had settled in a career. I had a good bunch of friends. I had found a footing in the life that I had chosen. She was my golden girl. She was possessive, bossy, obedient, loving. She had beautiful markings and people stopped and asked about her. Everyone wondered on how beautifully she behaved. She was intelligent and sassy. Most of all, she loved me crazily. I used to sing “Zoe, I love you”, to the tune of the old Hindi film song, “Bhool gaya sab kuch, yaad nahi ab kuch” from Julie.

She also saw me through the toughest times of my life, post 2005. I learnt a lot about life when she was in it. That stretch of a decade was when I grew up. I learned that life comes with a lot of heartache and pain, and the good times are fleeting and rare, but they are what make life worth living. I always used to count her as one such good thing in my life. Her time with me was hers alone, I didn’t share it with another kid, after Diana. So it was her and me against the world.

She developed bladder stones during Diwali of 2008. She stopped peeing one night and I went crazy. She was diagnosed by Dr Chousalkar who by now had a clinic in seven bungalows. After he eased her discomfort, I began oscillating between him and Dr Chavan, who now had bitten the commerical bug and taken a clinic for himself at Vakola.

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Zoe, looking up at what used to be our old flat, to her it wasn’t just an abandoned, old structure.

We shifted homes in 2012, since our home was going through redevelopment. We moved a block away. Zoe would run to our old compound on our evening walks and look up at the broken building where our flat used to be. She remembered her childhood. I was trying to forget mine. Mom was diagnosed with cancer in 2012 and began her therapy. In the midst of all the turmoil, Zoe’s last year with us was fraught with tension.

She developed Degenerative Myelopathy at the end of September, 2013. Slowly, she lost control of her hind legs. I ordered harnesses for her. I would carry her down and she would try and keep up. I knew the end was near. I used to believe in God back then. I used to pray. I remember standing under the shower one day and saying, “if you are around, take her, don’t make me do what will pain me the most.”

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Zoe, one night in October, 2013, wearing the first harness I helped her walk around with…

On 27th October, post dinner, she started retaining urine. She was in extreme discomfort. She couldn’t stand, obviously. I couldn’t help her urinate because she couldn’t. I spoke to my doctor friend, he suggested I try and use a catheter and try help ease the urine out. We tried. This happened around 2am on 28th, and she lay in the bathroom, with me trying to help her and she looked at me and kept looking at me – I know she knew I was trying to help. She just looked at me.

I gave in to fear and love. I took her to the SPCA hospital at 4am. The ward boys there checked her and went and woke the doctor there who didn’t want to treat her without me admitting her. I told them I was not going to do that at any cost. So the doctor, tried using a metal catheter and poked her vagina. I stopped him, after a few seconds, because I knew she was in pain. That brought me back to the same space I was in with Rolfe years ago… I told him that was inhumane and he said he wouldn’t touch her then unless I admitted her. I told him to fuck off and picked her up and brought her to Chosalkar’s clinic. At 5:30am.

I waited for two hours, until the doctor came on my request a little early and inspected her. He helped ease a bit of urine out, but said that the doctor at the hospital had hurt her and it was best he didn’t investigate. He gave her a saline drip and a pain killer. Her urine eased out.

I brought her home.

When she began retaining urine again in an hour, I knew it was time. My friend, Bhavesh, brought his own vet to check her and he suggested I let her go. At 2pm on 28th October, 2013, I have made one of the hardest decisions of my life. I asked him to put her to rest. When she died, so did my belief in anything supernatural. I had to take her body back to the SPCA hospital for cremation. But as luck would have it the electric crematorium was not working, so they built her a pyre, and that was the last I saw of my golden girl.

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Zach (brindle) and Xena (fawn)

A week later, Anand found Zach on OLX. We drove to Pune and found his home. I met his mother and all of his siblings. When I got him home, he was aloof and distant. That was his character. He was one of the most handsome boxer pups I have ever seen. But he took his time to thaw towards me. He is loved by everyone who sees him. He is gentle and has a kind heart. He is my big boy. But I didn’t want to have just one this time. So I found Xena via a website. She was in Bangalore. She has the perfect face. Wide, deep intelligent eyes and big droopy ears. The dominant one. The bossy one.

It’s not easy for me to see any animal in distress. If I can, I help. That is what being human amounts to me. When I heard Bilbo crying out in distress, last Sunday morning, I had to go down in my pajamas to see what was happening. When I saw him cowering in a corner surrounded by men with sticks, all I had to do was bend down and open my arms. He ran right in to them. He could have perceived me as one of that species that was trying to harm him. He didn’t. He noted the compassion and that makes him a far more empathetic species.

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Bilbo

Dogs complete my family. I love them. I will not have children of my own. I believe I was not meant to have any. So be it. But these dogs are my children. They have given me what a child would give. Affection, acceptance, understanding, company, satisfaction, heartbreak and love. Many times I am faced with the question of whether the heartbreak is worth the love. But I smile. That’s like asking me why do I live when I know I am one day, going to die.

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