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Dogs R Us

Manjula Padmanabhan | Updated on February 21, 2021

ILLUSTRATION: MANJULA PADMANABHAN

“Bad Dog” by Anna Heyman is the name of an article I just finished reading in this week’s issue of The New Yorker. All the way through it, I was expecting it would be a typical Hollywoof tale: heartwarming, uplifting, full of cuddles. But no: Even though the author loved him and he loved her, the piece is about a dog who, by almost any standard, had gone “bad”.

It’s a powerful read and I would urge all dog lovers to look it up online. Reading it has inspired me to share two stories centred upon dogs. The first is about a furry friend I never met, a little black Pomeranian, belonging to someone I’ll call Buzz. This was many years ago, in Bombay. Buzz was not a close friend and I don’t recall why we got into the subject of male dogs and their humpy ways. What I DO remember is that Buzz said, with no apparent embarrassment, “Well, I used to just let him go for it. Cushion, towel, whatever. You know? Let him do his thing. I mean why not? Isn’t it just... kindness?”

That question has remained with me. I don’t know how many dog lovers have quietly, and without fanfare, let their four-footed friends “do their thing” rather than insist on abstinence out of some very human notions about “nice” versus “super-gross-out icky”. There are of course broader implications that I won’t go into here but they come down to that issue about kindness. Buzz loved his little buddy and, according to him, that included permitting occasional “relief”.

My second story involves my dog Solomon, a young Alsatian-mongrel mix. I was eight years old. We were in New Delhi at the time, living along the road that our driver called “Well-Jelly” (i.e., Wellesley), now Dr Zakir Hussain Marg. Solly had the colouring of his pedigreed mother and, with his half-pricked ears, was almost the same height as me. He was always very sweet-natured and I loved him dearly.

But one day I came home from school, ran up to give him a hug and he bit my hand. He yelped as he did it and was immediately very upset. So, of course, was I. It turned out that he’d had some problem with his neck. I’d been away in school and had no idea that by petting him, I’d hurt him.

It was so clear to me that he hadn’t meant me any harm. He’d needed to remove my hand from his neck at once and the only means at his disposal was his mouth — which, unfortunately, was full of big, sharp teeth. I wasn’t afraid of him, he didn’t have rabies and the skin on my hand was only slightly broken. Nevertheless he was eventually sent away. I was left with nothing more than the sunlit memory of my friend. And the indelible knowledge that when someone bites you it can mean that they are in pain.

Manjula Padmanabhan, author and artist, writes of her life in the fictional town of Elsewhere, US, in this weekly column

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Published on February 21, 2021
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