How A Dog Taught Me to Be A Mother
I was ready to be a mother long before I thought of having a child.
I was five when the first pet arrived. My older sister had brought home a Lhasa Apso pup from an old neighbour. She sneaked the tiny thing inside our house hidden in her school bag and then crept into our room with a shoebox to set her up. Of course, Ma found out and wanted to hear none of it; she had two kids already, right? But our father took our side. Our love for the puppy seemed almost genetic. His family had always had pet dogs. Somewhere, in one of the cupboards, was a photo of his brother feeding Jimmy and Naughty, two medium-sized but fully grown, shaggy and lively Pomeranian dogs, with a spoon, as though they were infants.
We grew alongside Silky, playing endlessly around the barsaati we called home, figuring out she liked watermelon more than eggs, and dancing with her to Madhuri Dixit numbers. Ma moved from sulking to loving in no time, never grudging the fact that the third and littlest child in the house was really a dog. But time passed, and we all grew up. Silky became old and weak amid the chaos of my board exams, but I still tended to her like a baby in her last days.
We soon adopted Gucci, another unkempt Apso, who, like a best friend, somehow sensed how low I had become after Silky’s death. When I was sad, he would rush to me no matter how busy he was chewing on a juicy bone. He would just plop himself next to me and no words were needed; and when he was overwhelmed by his new home, or got scolded by Ma, the fur ball would find me and take position behind me, as if his defense was impenetrable. Long after the pain of Silky’s death eased and Gucci adjusted to his surroundings, we still depended on each other. Sometimes I would confide in him the pain of heartbreak or just mindlessly run my hand on his furry body while reading a book.
As a young adult, I fed him, bathed him, cleaned his potty, took him for walks, and cared for his frequent ailments after a hernia led to two surgeries. There were nights when my mother, recovering from a surgery for a cancerous tumor, would stay up, crying in pain, as Gucci howled from his own postoperative hurts. I would take turns with my father to look after both; never even once did the thought of giving him away occur to any of us, including my mother.
After my marriage, Gucci shifted to Ahmedabad with me, adopting a vegetarian lifestyle (albeit with a permanent quizzical look on his face). But with age came a bad kidney that made him pee frequently and everywhere. There were warts, less fur, dull and cold days when he needed a warm bed more than us. At all times, I patiently tended to him, along with other new family members, who had come to love him as much as I did.
I had fed, groomed and unconditionally loved dogs for two decades. I had cleaned up their waste and cuddled them when they were sick. I had learnt long ago to communicate with a creature that has no language. So, when I was expecting Ochoa, I felt no stress at the thought of being responsible for a tiny human. The expectations and hard work that come with the news of a baby’s arrival didn’t scare me. I had read up on what to expect after a baby is born, and I could tick off most of the things as jobs already done, from cleaning or cooing. I often wondered if it was normal to be so relaxed about a tummy that was rounding up so fast, but I realized much later that confidence came from my pets. Even while pregnant, I rarely had a bad day, thanks to the amazingly happy canine waiting for me at home. While the husband complained when I propped my heavy legs on his lap, Gucci was content snoring under my limbs, fully aware I was crushing him only out of love.
I was ecstatic to imagine a life with a dog and a baby. (If YouTube videos were real, I was going to have an amazing time.)
And I have. Ochoa has, too. And I think Gucci did, even if he was surprised to see a bald head lounging on my lap at all hours and confused by the crying that now started at the crack of each dawn. He stayed under Ochoa’s swing when anyone came home, like a guardian. And every time my 3-month-old cried, Gucci had a very disappointed look, as if to say: You’re not acing this. I wish Gucci had lived to see me ace it, to see Ochoa through his own highs and lows. But I lost Gucci to his kidney ailment in the first few months of having Ochoa.
But there is a dog out there waiting to be my son’s best friend, to enrich his childhood like Gucci and Silky touched mine (and to strengthen his immune system). After all, we are a dog family. It’s practically genetic.