Monday, November 14, 2011

Hand-me-down Pet

Three days after he disappeared, my brother said he saw Shippie with a gang of stray dogs, and when he called out to him, Shippie looked at him askance and then trotted away quickly behind his new-found friends without a backward glance.
It had all begun with a bath. Shippie hated baths, as I suspect do most dogs. He would go roll in the mud immediately to rub out the scent of the dog shampoo we so lovingly used on his shaggy coat. We had to literally drag him to the backyard for the Sunday ritual. That morning, he planted his legs a tad too firmly on the ground. He squirmed his head this way and that, and before we knew it, he somehow managed to slip his head out of the collar and away he went in a flash. He didn’t come home that day, or the next. We scoured the colony for him for two whole days, yelling out his name hopefully. It seemed he had fallen off the face of the earth.
After nearly a week on the lam, Shippie came home wearing his battle scars like valour badges, a devil-may-care expression painted on his face. His ears were dripping with blood-gorged ticks and when I finished cleaning him up, he looked like he had fallen into a vat of mercurochrome. I later suspected that he was the father of the pups in the litter delivered by a stray living in the colony club. Two of them had his brown patches and his distinctive pink nose.
When he came to us from a family that was leaving and couldn’t take him along, Shippie was seven – already middle-aged in dog years. We never thought to ask why he had such a weird name or what his breed was. The fact that he wasn’t a cuddly puppy or that we didn’t know his antecedents didn’t matter to us. We were over the moon because we’d always wanted a dog. Which child would mind waking up to a loving lickover every morning, or a sudden nuzzle of a cold nose? Or not look forward to an ecstatic welcome home after school?
My grandmother and grandaunt were irked by the presence of this ‘loathsome’ animal which had the run of the house and the huge garden. The kitchen was out of bounds to Shippie, but sometimes he would streak across it into the yard if the back door was open. He would glint wickedly at my aunt as he sped past. She would gesture at him with a stick. Not that he was very bothered. Punctually at breakfast, lunch and dinnertime, he would peek into the kitchen, his brown eyes melting with hope. When it came to food, ‘hangdog’ was a word made just for him!
Shippie hated us leaving him alone while we visited the city every weekend. He would follow the car, barking wildly and would only give up when we drove out of the colony onto the busy highway. When we returned, his entire body did a Beyonce-like shake and he ran all the way to the garage, lit up redly by the tail-lights.
One time, he decided to make a statement about being left home alone. He clawed the drawing room curtains to angry shreds, though how he managed such a thorough job from the outside we couldn’t fathom. Another time, we nearly jumped out of our collective skins when a white bundle leaped into the car. We were at a petrol pump near the colony gate on our way back home. Shippie had obviously stood vigil at the entrance.
And woe betide if we ever tied him up. The one night we did that, he brought the house down with his long, mournful howls.
Shippie ensured that we built some childhood memories. My mother would have ‘golu’ or the display of dolls every Navaratri and would invite the ladies over for ‘haldi-kumkum’. One year, one of our guests made the mistake of bringing over her dog. There was pandemonium as Shippie went for his throat in the middle of the living room. The women panicked and Mom feared for the fate of the fragile dolls as both dogs circled each other, growling menacingly and barking fit to wake the dead. Finally, Dad doused them with water and leashed Shippie before any damage was done.
Then for the second time in his life, Shippie had a change of owner. Dad was transferred to Mumbai and said we couldn’t keep him in a flat. My brother and I wept buckets of tears but to no avail. Shippie went to the maid who had worked with the previous owner. We got regular updates from our former neighbours about him. We even visited him once. He was nearly blind and had become fat and lazy. He slapped his tail feebly when we hugged him. A year later, we heard he had passed on, at the ripe old age of 14.
Thank you, Shippie, for giving us your heart, albeit briefly, and showing us why a dog is a man’s best friend…

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