(Published in The Hindu: http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/)
This is what Wikipedia has to say about Loyalty :
‘Loyalty is faithfulness or a devotion to a person, country, group, or cause. Philosophers disagree on what can be an object of loyalty as some argue that loyalty is strictly interpersonal and only other human beings can be the object of loyalty.’
To Wikipedia and these philosophers I have one thing to say – I object! Because I know who I can trust blindly today, who will be loyal to me no matter what the circumstances, who will silently comfort me just by being there. And who will never leave me, hurt or betray me. The one who will be at my doorstep to welcome me home from work everyday as if they were meeting me after years and who will listen to me whine, rant and vent endlessly with quiet patience and come give me a big, loving, kiss after I am done. (And I could have just said that I murdered someone.)
Sounds perfect, doesn’t it?
Which means, Wikipedia, that I am certainly not talking about Human Beings. I am talking about those members of my family who are furry, four-legged, who are unable to speak or express themselves and yet they touch our lives like perhaps no human being can. Who define the words Loyalty and Faithfulness like no human ever could.
My mother grew up in a home full of dog-lovers. (It can be any kind of pet for you but in my case, I speak of dogs as they have been my family since I was born.) My mother, her two sisters and my maternal grandmother – all of them being ardent dog lovers even to this date and always having kept pet dogs meant that it was of no surprise when soon after my parents were wed, a black Spaniel pup was gifted to her as a wedding present. And so, when I was born, Aster (as the Spaniel was named), was my first furry friend and pet. Today, of course, I have only one vague flash of memory of Aster – that of attempts being made to feed me my breakfast eggs by trying to remind me that Aster eats egg too and his daily presence around the dining table every morning. I started to call them ‘Aster eggs.’
Since Aster, there has been no looking back. I suppose you could call it a legacy of sorts but my brother, sister and I also grew up with an inherent fervor and compassion for animals too – specifically dogs in our case. We have been proud owners of up to three of these lovely creatures at a time and I know I speak for all of us when I say that being with them, running around with a ball in the garden with them, watching TV while they sit snuggled up next to us or when they come and paw us irresistibly with those sad, hungry, droopy eyes – these have been some of the happiest moments of our lives and will continue to be so. It also never fails to amaze me how intelligent they are and how they very quickly learn and adapt to their new, unfamiliar environments and how they respond to you, sometimes in such a human way that you are left speechless. Like a human baby.
Speaking of babies – I would also like to encourage those of you who have babies or small children and are somewhat dog lovers yourselves but are sceptical about having them around the kids – trust me and do it. I don’t have kids yet but I have seen and heard enough to know that the bond that will build between your baby and your dog right from the beginning will be indelible and a whole different kind of precious.
After I got married and moved to a different city, one of the things that I missed ardently and do even to this day are my three dogs – Joey, Max and Rio. (And I feel like I should mention Leo too who passed just a few years ago.) My husband who is also a big dog lover and owns a beautiful golden retriever called Disco with his sister (Disco lives with his sister) also has almost paternal love for Disco and I know the feeling is mutual! Due to our jobs and then recent move to another country, we have unfortunately been unable to keep a dog of our own but I have been feeling the itch since day one and it only grows stronger! (I have seen dogs being walked on streets and had tearful moments for no apparent reason except the sheer longing for one of my own! True story.) But I have every plan of bringing at least one into our home and hearts ASAP!
In the world of humans today where love, loyalty, brotherhood, friendship, compassion are mere words riding on the backs of malice, revenge, greed, betrayal and terror, also exists a parallel universe that houses and breeds these magnificent creatures and while I am in no way condoning the capturing of animals for wrongful acts like laboratory experiments, I believe that human intervention of a different kind – of adopting them, bringing them into our homes and raising them like our own not only exalts our kindness towards them by providing them with nutritional food, warmth and love but their presence in our lives also has a life-changing impact on US that I think we don’t even seem to notice.
Some of us love them and choose to adopt and raise them as our own, some of us can’t stand the sight of them and want to run far away from them – but ALL of us NEED them. Truth. Speak to any pet owner (to reiterate, I am biased as I have grown up with dogs only but this can be any other animal for you) and they will show you very proudly all the tricks and skills they have taught their pet but they will also tell you how much that pet has changed THEIR lives. How much more they have learned to love, listen, be patient, forgive, hug and love some more! It really is like therapy. For the hard worker, its the best way to destress. For the lonely individual perhaps even battling depression of sorts, it is the companionship they need – just not in the human form. We all could do with THIS kind of loyalty. And in return it becomes our duty to protect them from harm, to not turn a blind eye if we witness injustice being done to them on the streets or in homes, just like you would do for a fellow human being.
I have another brief but vivid memory of a day when I was in my early teens perhaps and I had started playing tennis in a coaching center in my hometown. I remember a litter of new born puppies just outside the court on a mound of grass and while I was playing I noticed a bunch of slightly elder boys picking up some of the puppies and roughly trying to shove them into their tennis racquet covers and then laughing. Bullies. I remember dropping my racquet and running angrily towards them and pointing to them with tears in my eyes while the coach shooed them away. In more recent years my sister, perhaps even more of a dog lover than me, found some puppies in the field behind our house in pouring rain, brought them home and kept them safe and warm with milk and blankets for two days before leaving them safely back with their mother.
Unfortunately many animals like dogs have much shorter life spans than human beings. So it is also painfully heart-wrenching when a pet dies either of natural or unnatural causes. The loss and grief felt is as profound and crushing as the loss of a family member. I can never forget many years ago when I was in the 11th standard in school, I was away on a school trip for a few days. During that time we had a beautiful golden Labrador called Bruno. He was perfect in every way – beautiful, obedient, loving and I was completely in love. So you can imagine my shock and heart break when my father picked me up from the railway station upon my return and delicately broke the news to me as we pulled into our driveway, that Bruno had been unwell the last few days and had passed away in my absence. At first I refused to believe that it was true, and when I saw my mother in tears too, I must have cried for a whole week. Bruno was only 7 months old and had swallowed something sharp that had instantly collapsed his lungs.
This is the vicious circle of life. Even though my mother always taught us since we were little that we should always be prepared, that we shouldn’t get overly attached as dogs like many other animals are prone to incidents like these and don’t live beyond 13 to 14 dog years, every untimely death of every pet always brought with it, insurmountable grief. I am sure many of you know exactly what I mean. You want them to live forever. Just like you would want for your human family.
To move into a more cheerful light, the point I am trying to make is that until you haven’t adopted one, you will never know what you are missing. The feeling is simultaneously magical and inexplicable, unconditional with a pinch of therapeutic salt. There is no shrink in the world who can fix you quicker than the love that your dog emanates for you and what you feel when you are with them.
You’re probably thinking I don’t know what I’m talking about – equating owning a pet to magically possessing the ability to love more, to be a better person. I agree – it IS magic. And you are missing out if you haven’t had the pleasure of experiencing it yourself. It comes in all shapes and sizes, colors and attitudes! But they will all love you more than you can ever but what will surprise you the most is how bottomless your own barrel of love is that can churn out more warmth and unending love just when you thought you had exhausted your stock.
So come on – go get yourself a dog, a cat, a furry friend to love and change your life! And please – I encourage you to adopt from shelters or those your friends may have found abandoned perhaps. They all need a loving home too just like orphan children do.
PS – If you haven’t heard the old classic – “How Much is that Doggy in the Window?” by Bob Merrill, you must. Your kids will love it!