Once upon a time….not really that long ago there was a big, yellow mutt who loved the snow. Since he was an itty bitty puppy he simply loved the white, fluffy stuff that accumulated on the ground on a cold winter’s day. He would run out to the fenced in area, dig his nose into the snow and come up with snow on his nose. When we laughed at his snow covered nose, he gave a ‘what are you laughing at?’ look and went right back in it. He play bowed and rolled, he romped with bundled up Ryan and Sahana. He took his time to finish his business and did not care at all that I was freezing and needed to get inside.
The snow in our yard was never left untrampled in all these 10 years. This year is different. The snow in our yard remains pristine. The snow digger is resting in my heart. In his last winter in 2019 he did not get any snow to play with. He bid adieu on January 31st, 2020 and although I don’t much think of what comes after death, I like to think Sage is playing in snow somewhere today.
We had our first snow storm without Sage and all through it I thought of him. I felt the raw pain of losing him all over again.
Sniffles and congestion had become part of him. There was hardly a time that we found baba free of sniffles. It was infuriating not only for him but also for those who lived with him. He did not feel sick, just sniffly, always. Finally, he saw a physician who diagnosed that he was allergic – to the loves of his life, dogs and cats.
After hearing that, I suggested perhaps he should stop petting the 8 or 9 stray dogs that follow him and jump on him lovingly as soon as he gets out of our apartment complex. My suggestion was ignored and I did not persevere. I knew it was a lost cause.
Since I was very little, this love for animals was ingrained in me by my father. Or perhaps, I inherited his love and understanding for creatures big and small. We did not have a pet in our house while growing up but I was not deprived of puppy or kitty love. Thanks to my father, I had at least 4 or 5 dogs just outside our house, ready to be petted, fed and loved. Thanks to his silent support, I was allowed to not only save, but keep my first kitten, Pushi. She came meowing loudly, floating in waterlogged alley of our neighborhood during monsoon. I jumped in knee high water, grabbed the tiny kitten and brought her to our little verandah. Ma wanted me to give it milk and leave it in a shoe box outside. I, generally a compliant child, rebelled against this cruel decision and my faithful ally in the good fight was my father. We brought the kitten inside, loved her to bits and she returned the favor by not only bringing us dead mice but also gifting us with kittens every birthing season. And we kept them all. Pushi treated us as her personal babysitters, which we were, left her babies with us to do her rounds around her domain and intimidate the neighborhood dogs and cats. She was the indisputable queen of the neighborhood and no one could raise their head in her presence. She kept the stray dogs away from the neighborhood with her vicious hiss. She was indeed a force to be reckoned with. Believe me when I say this, I have seen her in action. At one point in my life, baba and I had seventeen cats coming to eat in our house. Baba made an arrangement with the local fish seller to sell the leftover of fish parts to us to feed our army of cats.
This is a father’s day post to celebrate and appreciate my father which morphed into a blog about his love for animals and this love that he has passed down to me as well as his grandson. There is an aura about both him and Ryan, a certain stillness around animals that exudes calmness. Animals know instinctively that they have found someone who cares. I write this as a tribute to my father because whenever I think of him, I see his faithful posse of four legged creatures following him with their tongue lolling and tail wagging.
On a day that is designated to tell one’s father what they mean to you, I choose to thank mine for giving me the gift of love for animals. Loving animals has taught me kindness and compassion and the love I have received in return has been invaluable.
Lastly, I have a feeling when I wish him Happy Father’s day, the response will be “Hmmm. thank you! Same to you!” Why, you ask? Because he is not used to being wished happy father’s day or happy birthday for that matter. He gets all flustered and does not know how to respond, eliciting a “Arre, thank you bolo! “(say thank you) from my mother!
My dog is an awesome football player and perhaps soccer player too. When we all sleep at night he sneaks out of the house and performs crazy feats with Ryan’s football and his soccer ball. You should see his skills, the FIFA and the NFL should video tape him to show the pros. What? You don’t believe a word I say? You should not. I am making it all up.
Sage tore his cranial cruciate ligament. For the uninitiated in vet talk, that is your ACL which athletes tear playing contact sports. After Sage started limping and we started conjecturing the various reasons for the limp, I read up on several pet sites about CCL – the procedure, the recuperation, the rehabilitation of the injured foot and hoped and prayed that his limp was temporary. Perhaps lyme disease? Perhaps a bruise in the pad? Perhaps something that will simply go away?
Well it did not. The limp started getting worse and I had no choice but to contact a surgeon. A check up confirmed ‘Yup, he has torn his cranial cruciate ligament in his right hind leg!’ The dreaded surgery was inevitable. The surgery itself is not that big of a deal however the recuperation is. The dog, after the surgery, is supposed to be in crate rest for at least two weeks with only bathroom breaks. Movement has to be severely restricted so as not to cause more injury to the afflicted leg and to let it heal. The idea of crating Sage made me very distressed because he had hated the crate as a puppy and so we, being the indulgent parents, never put him in it. Crate rest after surgery would be miserable for him AND for us. Sean and I took our nervous boy to see the surgeon, she evaluated him, set up a surgery date and then I broached the dreaded question. Does he need to be crated to recuperate? The doctor became my favorite person as she shook her head. She did not see the need to crate an animal who has never been crated. They are already traumatized and in pain, there is no reason to add to their trauma. “Just restrict his movements”, she said. The surgery was done. We knew Sage would be in bad shape but when Sean brought him home, I started crying. He was groggy, his leg was all stitched up and as he walked blood dripped on the floor. He had the hated (by him) cone of shame so he did not bite his stitches.
The night, as one can imagine, was miserable for him and for me. He slept on the floor at the foot of our bed and cried all night. I cried with him, stroking him and cooing at him. I decided to sleep on the couch letting my hand rest lightly on his body as he tried to get comfortable. I had done the same thing on the first night that he spent in our house as a little fuzz ball, far away from his mommy and siblings. I had kept my fingers on him so he could rest knowing somebody was right next to him. He cried when I moved my fingers. He slept almost the whole of the next day, exhausted and groggy with pain medication but cried again at night.
Slowly, as days went by, he seemed to emerge from this fog of pain and haze. His eyes cleared, he slept less, he started showing interest in his surroundings, he ate, he went to the bathroom. He had to be leash walked slowly for bathroom breaks and then brought back right away to lie down and rest his leg. His cone came off only when he ate or drank. It was not easy. One day, as I upended his water bowl on our hard wood floor trying to support his leg, untangle his leash and put his cone on at the same time, I cried out in frustration:
“It is only January 8th!!!!!! The stitches don’t come out till January 21st! How am I going to do this????”
My stoic 9 year old consoled me, without missing a beat:
“At least it is not January 1st!”
True. Why can’t I look at things like he does? Why is my glass always half empty and his always half full?
Sage slowly healed. But I watched with love and admiration how the whole family rallied around him and helped him in his healing. The children brought their homework next to his blanket and finished next to him. Sahana read her book with one hand on Sage’s back, Ryan watched his videos and shared the screen with him so Sage could be entertained. Sean lay down with him, after work and gave him innumerable belly rubs. I was the nurse, of course – feeding, watering, comforting, medicating, putting the cone on, taking the cone off. Sage was surrounded by a circle of love. We planned out our family schedule for 2 weeks so one of us was always home to keep him company and see to his needs. Our friends, outside my family, who love our boy sent their best wishes for a speedy recovery. All the wishes contributed to the stitches drying, pain lessening. It had to. And Sage? He taught us acceptance of something that is out of our control by going through this ordeal with his usual patience, kindness, perseverance and love. He just looked at us with his soft, beautiful eyes questioning the pain, his helpless state but never our love. He was always ready to love us with wags of his tail and a quick lick of our hands. When he did not doze his eyes followed us around although he couldn’t for a while. And although we were helpless to take his pain, we all let him know that we are standing by his side, cheering him on to the road of recovery.
After such a surgery, the recuperation is long and painful. But he seems to be doing relatively well. The stitches are gone. He is going for short, leashed walks. He still favors the leg but he is limping less. It has snowed a bit. So he is enjoying pushing his nose down the snowy grounds and coming up with little balls of snow on his reddish nose. His brother takes him out to the fields at the back and they break ice together. He tells me they sit together on a snow covered mound so Sage can rest and they can just look around to take in the quiet surroundings. I ask him to use caution and he tells me he knows he needs to be gentle with Sage since he is still healing. Ryan forgets sometimes and runs around the house. Sage wants to join him and I have to curb both of their enthusiasm. Sahana forgets to do her chores yet she never forgets to give Sage his pain medication. It seems that she has taken over the job of medicating him after his meals. And she is constantly by his side, a calming presence as opposed to her rambunctious little brother. Sage needs them both, one who excites him and the other who calms him down.
We are hopeful he won’t suffer anymore once he heals completely. We dream of taking him on our hikes and letting him do what he loves the most – run free with his human siblings while keeping an eye on his human parents as they bring up the rear. He keeps his pack together and his pack ensures he becomes whole again, with the help of rest, medicine and most importantly, love. And he trusts them and loves them back with all the trust and love that his doggy heart can hold.
Disclaimer: This blog has some gross stuff. If you are squeamish about doggy doo doo, please stop reading now 🙂 !
If not, here is a story:
‘Bring a urine sample and a fecal sample when you bring Sage for his annual check up. And collect the first urine in the morning, that gives us the best information about his kidney functions.’ The vet tech informed me as she gave me an appointment for Sage’s annual vaccinations and well check.
‘Ummm, urine sample?’ I gulped nervously.
‘Yes, our records show that he hasn’t had a urine culture done for the last three years! It is time for one!’ She said sternly! I could hear ‘you negligent doggie mother’ going through her head.
‘Ok, Ah, I will try!’ I was still squirming, feeling judged.
‘Just take one of your throw away plastic containers and hold it under him as he raises his leg to pee! You will be fine!’ She tried to be reassuring.
Poop, I wasn’t worried about. Don’t I pick up his poop everyday to keep our environment clean? Don’t Sean and I get into a poop counting competition – who collected more poops from our backyard? Yes, the fecal sample is a piece of cake! What? You don’t like that analogy? Well, should I say fecal sample is a walk in the park, then 🙂 ?
The only time I collected urine from Sage was when he was less than a year old. The vet’s office had given me a tray and asked me to hold it under him when he peed. I came home with some trepidation about the whole thing about collecting pee and felt irritated that I had to be the designated one to do this job – the mother, of course.
I remember the day being extremely windy. I remember Sage being exasperated with me and then decided it was a game I wanted to play with him. He kept running away and play bowing, ‘Catch me if you can!’ He was still a puppy and hadn’t acquired the dignified disposition that he has now. I had led myself to believe I had trained Sage to do his business on command. On shivering, cold nights, I held on to his leash and said, ‘Hurry up!’ When he did his stuff, I gave him a treat. He is an extremely smart dog, he caught on quickly. The day of urine collection, ‘hurry up’ command failed. Long story short, I got the urine sample somehow. I remember the urine blowing in the wind and me blowing with it. Anyway, the deed was done. I ran it to the vet’s office, paid a bunch of money to get the urine tested. Sage was proclaimed disease/germs free and I felt the money and the effort was well worth it.
I do not know how I managed to dodge the urine check up for the last couple of years. I probably said I won’t pay for it, the accusing eyes of the vet be damned. This time however, the vet tech’s serious accusatory tone was my undoing. Also Sage is 4 years old, still young but getting up there. I acquiesced.
The appointment was at 9:30 in the morning. I did not sleep well the night before devising different strategies for collecting pee. When morning dawned, I was loath to get up because of the unpleasant task that lay ahead.
Here I must give you a brief description of Sage. A friend described him aptly – he is that kind of dog who gives you the feeling that he will don his bifocals and read the Sunday New York Times. He is dignified and Sagely. He never grabs a treat from your hands, but takes it between his teeth daintily. He stares down his food but doesn’t eat it unless he hears the magic word ‘ok’. He doesn’t break his ‘stay’ command (unless given by Ryan) till we say Ok. There are, of course, exceptions to the rule. His wild side comes out while playing with his 8 year old human brother (who, he considers a fellow puppy), when people come to the house, he goes overboard showing his love and errrr….when he discovers fox poop. He rolls in it! Other than these indiscretions, Sage is very dignified. And so am I.
So a dignified dog and a dignified woman were on a mission – to wrestle some pee out of the dog and collect it in a container.
I put him on a leash and took him out at 7:30. Hurry up Sage! Sage knew something was up since I had a container in my hand and a leashed walk this early was highly unusual. The usual routine is a grumpy woman opening the back door for him, first thing in the morning. He wasn’t going to make it easy for me. Of course!!! He sniffed and sniffed and my hopes leaped. Maybe now, may be now! Now???? After 10 minutes, I gave up, came back in to yell at Ryan to get ready for school. Sage looked at me with his beautiful, chocolate drop eyes, ‘What is wrong with you, today???’
I didn’t wait for Ryan to get on the bus, like I usually do. I gave him a kiss, said goodbye and took Sage for a walk, armed with the container, a ziplock bag and a big plastic bag to hold it all. My focus was only on the dog, or rather on his back legs! When would they rise, when would I hold the container? It rose in a while! I jumped ahead and put the container under him! The leg dropped. I had collected a single drop! Literally, a single drop! On top of that I got a look from Sage which said, ‘WHAT ARE YOU DOINNNNNGGGGAAAA???’
You’ve got to be kidding me!!
I realized then as I straightened up and looked around me in frustration, that each driveway had children and their moms standing, waiting for the elementary school bus. I had started walking too early. And they were staring at me, at my container and my baffled dog.
I was too determined to turn around. I wanted the job done. The dignified me wanted to dig a hole and hide in it but the ‘let’s get this done’ me wanted to get this DONE once and for all. I plodded on. Sage, finally lifted his leg at his favorite fire hydrant and let out a stream. Elated, I crouched down and held the container, ignoring the warm spray on my hands. And then he dropped his leg. And his leg hit the container held in my hand. And the container dropped from my hand! I looked in horror as the precious yellow liquid stained the white snow!
Now, I am not the one the one to curse. But once in a while, I reach my limit. This was my limit!
SHHHIIIT!!! I semi-yelled.
And then I heard a whisper, ‘What is she doing, Mommy?’
Another whisper, ‘I don’t know honey! Shhhhh….!’
I did not look. I knew it was one of the little kids waiting for the bus. I pulled down the brim of my baseball cap with my unpolluted hand and walked on without looking back.
Finally, Sage did do his business. I did get adequate sample. Sage could not figure out my erratic behavior and I did not explain.
We went to the appointment armed with our booty. Sage shivered and asked me repeatedly to take him home. He got 4 shots, lots of love, bunch of treats and a clean bill of health. All’s well that ends well. I will not do this urine test for him for the next three years. He’d better stay healthy!
Oh, the indignity of it all!!! But the clean bill of health makes the pee collecting effort, somewhat, worth it.
When I make my husband sit down and read this blog at gun point, he will be mortified that I shared some of his deepest secrets with the world. But share I must because those moments and secrets are very tender and when we are both old and Sage is just a memory, we can look back at this and remember the unconditional and uncomplicated love he generously gave us.
To put it very stereotypically, Sean was the quintessential male who was getting a dog. Just before Sage came to us at 8 weeks, he would make arbitrary comments like ‘a dog is just that, a pet! I find it funny when people make it their children. They humanize them! That is ridiculous!’ He doesn’t come from necessarily a dog loving family, although they owned a dog when he was growing up. He dog sat for friends, but as a dog owner, he was a newbie. I heard him and stayed silent, not knowing what kind of owner he would turn out to be. Of one thing, I was certain, he wasn’t going to be an unkind one. I read up zillion books on puppies, dog training, dog ailments, fictional dog stories. I went back to my childhood favorite James Herriot. I rented Marley and Me to watch with the kids (and then did a lot of explaining to 4 year old Ryan – as Marley’s owners tried to conceive a baby) ! Finally, after thanksgiving, Sage was ready to come to us.
As Sage walked into our house diffidently, the three of us – my two children and I melted like ice cream on a hot summer day. Sean kept his distance so as not to ‘overwhelm’ the puppy. Finally, when he uttered ‘Hi there big guy!’ Sage looked up at the big, tall human, heard his deep voice, promptly rolled over on his back and presented his belly in complete submission. That continued for quite some time. A sighting of Sean and bam – tummy side up, little paws kicking in the air in total submission. I am sure the first few nights, Sean silently questioned our decision of bringing a puppy in the family. Sage squealed and cried and wanted the furry comfort of his mommy. I was a poor substitute. I carried his crate to the guest room, put it right next to the bed, let one of my arms dangle where he could sniff my fingers. That seemed to calm him. We both caught a few winks that way for about a week, till Sage started sleeping through the night.
The first few months were fun and frustrating. There were chewed furniture, there were accidents, there were sock stealing and sharp puppy teeth. Sean was loving but firm. And Sage was still….a dog, a pet. Then one fine morning, we decided to take our 8 month old scared dog to a dog park in an attempt to socialize him. It was a disaster from the start. Sage stood by us, tail between his legs, literally shaking. Sometimes he would peek his little nose to take a sniff and retreat quickly when another dog came by to say hello. In the meantime, a German Shepherd and a huge Mastiff mix got into a terrible fight resulting in a ripped ear and a bite on one of the owner’s arm. While this chaos ensued, we tried to make a hasty retreat. But Sean was apprehended by a pit bull who cornered the poor guy and started barking viciously at him. A transformation happened before my eyes. The runt of the litter, our scared puppy launched himself between the pit bull and his human. He didn’t bark back but he stood his ground and protected his ‘dad’. The owner of the pit bull ran up, apologizing profusely. The dog didn’t like people standing in front of a chain link fence. Sean was doing just that, it was ‘nothing personal’. We left, and needless to say, never went back to that particular dog park.
The relationship, however, between the dog and the man changed. I don’t know if I attribute the change towards that particular incident or the charm that Sage naturally possesses and it was simply a matter of time. All I can say, I witnessed a change in words and demeanor. Gone was the ‘pet’ owner, instead ‘dad’ took over. I overheard mumblings like ‘you are my boy! you are my good boy! Aren’t you my good boy?” as Sage’s belly got rubbed. Ryan was chastised with ‘leave your brother alone’ when he was too rough with the pup. I was found thus, “Go find your mummy! Where’s is your mummy, Sage?”
Today Sean is most certainly the prefered parent as he is the one responsible for walks, runs and playtime. Mom is the one responsible for heartworm pills, flea medication, and dreaded baths. As I see Sean walk around the yard, trimming bushes, sweeping the driveway, I know his white shadow is not far behind. Sage follows him with adoring gaze and a heart full of love. When Sean comes home, he waits patiently for his dad to get out of work clothes before he claims his share of attention. After the initial romp, those two are joined at the hip. Sage silently pads along with Sean, and flops down with a sigh where ever Sean settles. Often times the long snout peeks in through Sean’s hands to investigate the laptop dad is working on. Sean gives an absent-minded patting on his head, and Sage just disintegrates in happiness. He smiles widely, settles down at Sean’s feet, closes his eyes and lets out a sigh of contentment. As long his favorite man is by his side, all is right with the world. They play, run, converse or just commune silently. The mutual giving is a thing of beauty for me to witness. The adoration and the love are precious. Sage came into our lives for a reason, I know. He teaches us to love selflessly, without holding back.
Elton John wrote ‘Your Song’ for the love of his life. I hope he won’t mind if I use just a couple of his lines for both my son with four legs and his human dad because life is indeed wonderful since they are in the world. I don’t know whether humanizing an animal is good or bad, all I know that Sage has added immeasurable value to our lives. His patience, perseverance, unconditional love enrich our lives. In our tumultuous google calendar dictated life, he provides the gentle shade where we come to relax, and unwind. His non judgemental, loving presence is our comfort. Sean transformed from a dog owner to a daddy. I am not surprised. How can one not, when one is given unadulterated adoration for no reason other than simply being, just existing!
4 year old Sahana said ‘Mom, may I please have a dog?’
Mom said, ‘Not right now!’
4 year old Sahana said, ‘When can I have a dog?’
Mom said, ‘When you are older and can take care of it?’
4 year old Sahana said, ‘When I am 10?’
Mom (to end the conversation) ‘Sure!’ Thinking the little girl won’t be 10 for a long, long time.
Well, she turned 10 in the blink of an eye.
What can I say about Sage? Take a look for yourself, but do hold on to your heart. The cuteness overload in these pictures have wreaked havoc in mine.
Sage is the most wonderful, most Sagely, kindest, gentlest, smartest dog that ever graced the face of the earth. What, you think I am biased? Well….! He is the gentle salve for Sahana’s teenage angst ridden, troubled soul, he was the non judgemental listener to Ryan’s halted reading when he started to read, he is my silent companion and the soft presence just under my feet when I settle on the couch with a book, and he is Sean’s shadow and a supervisor to all his chores. Nothing comes into our house without a quiet inspection of a reddish brown nose and a long snout.
He has faults too. He considers himself an honorary lap dog and wants to get his 94 pound body on to guests’ lap to show them his affection. He also feels it is a privilege for humans to scratch a particular spot on his back, right where his tail begins and in letting them do so he is doing them a favor. When they stop, he uses his wet nose and long snout to give a gentle nudge to remind them of their sacred duty.
But this blog is not about my dog, Sage (did I say, he is wonderful?)! This blog is about the parallel universe that we discovered because of Sage. The universe of dog lovers.
We learned the protocol of never exchanging greetings with a dog’s human before greeting the dog. That is a big no-no. We scratch the dog, pet him/her, shower him with attention, focus all our energy on our dogs playing, try desperately to untangle the leash which, inevitably gets entangled while the doggies wag, and jump, and play bow and play. We smile at them, comment how cute they are together, we exchange information about our dogs – their name, age, chewing habits, vet care. All this conversation happens, primarily without eye contact and without formal introduction. We don’t need those. Introductions in these cases are redundant. We just pick up and go with it. When our dogs lose interest, we do too. We mumble a ‘Have a good day’ and move on…till we see the next pup on our walk.
Dog lovers universe is very black and white, there are no 50 shades of grey in between. You are in if you completely, utterly and unconditionally love dogs. You are out if you don’t completely give yourself up to canine love. You don’t have to own a dog to belong, you just have to feel the love for dogs (and animals in general). We are pretty inclusive that way. We applaud the works of those tireless humans who dedicate their time and energy to save, foster, care for and adopt dogs and try to give them their forever home. We encourage our children to volunteer at animal shelters in the summer. We inform our fellow citizens of this parallel universe that their dog has gone to the bathroom and whether they need plastic bags to pick up the poop. We discuss the nitty gritties of doggie behavior for hours and think nothing unusual about it. We feel most comfortable in dog parks and automatically bend our knees without thinking when big dogs come bounding at us. We, as I said, earlier, bond quickly, deplore puppy mills and we stand united in our condemnation against those who do unspeakable things to man’s best friend.
We understand the joys of watching a puppy tumble, a young dog run leash free, a senior snooze in the sun. We feel the warmth of the wet nose just by hearing a description, we love each others’ pups and firmly believe puppy kisses are good for the soul. We read SPCA newsletters cover to cover and get overjoyed at every successful adoption story. We wish the dog and his/her human well. We watch back to back episodes of Dog 101 and look forward to more. We baby talk to the pictures of our friends’ dogs that they post on Facebook and engage in lengthy conversation with perfect strangers on social media about dogs.
And only we understand the full depth of sorrow of fellow members of our universe when they lose a canine child. No words of consolation suffice, so we just sit by their side and hold their hands and feel their grief.