The old cliché – ‘Dogs are a man’s best friend’ can never be worn out. It is discovered to be true, time and time again by people across the globe. The stress of living in today’s world only highlights the comfort and respite that one finds in the innocent eyes and playful antics of a pet dog. These loyal and loving creatures become part of your family before you know it. Many anti-canine individuals find themselves playing fetch with these little bundles of joy before realising that they’re slowly but surely falling in love with them. But the most dreaded thought for every dog-owner is that of eventually losing their best friend one day. I don’t mean to be a killjoy but it is something that cannot be avoided.
The Pedigree Problem
Dogs generally don’t survive beyond a maximum of 14-15 years of age. The most popular dogs are those of a high pedigree, but sadly due to the rampant inbreeding of dogs by dog breeders, these puppies have a number of birth defects and are prone to a vast number of health problems. Most people unwittingly bring home these puppies and suffer the heartache of losing their pets prematurely. The lack of quality veterinary expertise in India makes it all the more difficult to deal with problems that may come up from time to time.
My family went through immense trauma when we discovered that my beautiful Golden Retriever, Bruno, was diagnosed with kidney failure at the early age of 7. He was one of the most strikingly good-looking dogs I have ever seen – and this is a truly unbiased opinion. A Golden Retriever of the ‘best’ pedigree, he came to us with a genital birth defect. I didn’t quite understand it as a child, but all I knew was that my puppy couldn’t give birth to more puppies. I was fine with that. I figured there wasn’t enough room for so much perfection in the world. He was the most adorable, pampered and affectionate dog one could imagine. A truly gentle creature, he was a vegetarian and wouldn’t bark at a cat (he actually ran away from cats!). While we would attempt to teach him how to bite, he would patiently wait for us to withdraw our hands from his mouth. His life revolved around eating his idlis and curd rice (or anything else remotely edible that was offered to him) and, of course, making everyone around him happy.
As an only child, he was the closest thing I had to a sibling and he was the most non-judgmental and loyal friend I had while I battled through my early teens. I spent the summer of my 10th grade studying for mid-term exams, watching the FIFA world cup and promising Bruno that I would give him my full attention as soon as the exams would finish. It was a serious blow to find out on the day of my last exam that he had a terminal illness and would not survive for long. We watched him labour through the agony of malfunctioning kidneys. It was truly heart-wrenching and impossible to bear. In the end, he passed away in the most dignified manner imaginable. I cannot put down in words what this did to me and my family, since the point of this article is to provide hope to all those who may eventually face a situation of this kind.
A Guiding Light
For those who are thinking of providing a puppy with a loving home, my advice would be to consider the option of adopting a stray dog or a dog of a mixed-breed since these dogs are generally stronger and healthier. Those of you, who are adamant on getting a pedigree, please run a full background check on the breeders, the history of your dog’s breeding, etc. This is only to protect your own family from heartache for as long as it can be avoided – all pet animals deserve a loving family and a wonderful life, especially those prone to health problems. It is an honour and a challenge to be able to take care of the more needy ones, though it takes a severe toll on your own emotions. All of this has to be kept in mind.
Apart from that, I must stress on the fact that no matter what happens, the life you have spent with your pet and the wonderful memories of sheer joy that they give you, will be cherished by you for the rest of your life. After the initial grief, you will find that each moment you have spent with your dog was priceless and has made you a better person over the years. I would like to urge every individual to look back on their pets in a positive light, instead of focusing on the pain. They may seem to be gone but they are with us at every step of the way.
I feel compelled to share a rather odd anecdote.
I was up all night studying for my Chemistry Board exam in class 12. It was around 3 a.m. and I was in a state of mild stupor, with polymers and benzene building mazes in my head. My mother was fast asleep in the adjoining room and my father wasn’t home from work. As I desperately shifted my position to a more uncomfortable one, I happened to glance at my clock and noticed something odd about the way the light from my study lamp hit my door. For the past few hours, there had only been a ball of light reflecting off of it but this time I could distinctly make out Bruno’s features – exactly as they were in a picture of him in the living room. I assure you that I was not under the influence of any kind of substance, not even caffeine. Nor was there even the slightest possibility of the picture being reflected on my door. By this time I was fully alert. I kept glancing at my door at regular intervals and he was still there, looking at me. Fascinatingly, I wasn’t alarmed, scared or even mildly freaked-out. I was overcome by a sense of calmness, peace and well-being as if I was being reassured. My stress evaporated instantly. I managed to finish the rest of the chapter that I had been labouring through, and within 10 minutes, it was done. I looked at my door for the millionth time; he was still there for a moment or two. The next time I checked, reflection on my door had resolved back into an ordinary ball of light. In this moment I felt truly blessed, I knew that my best friend was back to support me when I was all alone.
I know this could very well be a combination of my wild imagination and my mind playing tricks on me in the dead of the night, but nothing can ever take away that sense of sweet companionship that I will always hold dear in my heart. It is the wonderful experiences that you share with your pets that stay with you forever. Don’t let the last days mar your memories. All living things go through birth and death, it is the deeds they do and the joy they bring to everyone around them, that is important.
Also, many people decide that they can’t handle getting attached to another pet after having lost one, but I feel that you should never deprive yourself of the experience of having another pet and you should also not deprive your potential pet of a loving home.
At the end of the day, I know that my best friend is always going to be with me, at least in my thoughts. It is the most profoundly comforting feeling one could ever have.