“He lived tensely. He was always keyed up, alert for attack, wary of being attacked, with an eye for sudden and unexpected missiles, prepared to act precipitately and coolly, to leap in with a flash of teeth, or to leap away with a menacing snarl.” From White Fang by Jack London.
I made his acquaintance in Delhi. He looked strong and healthy in his shiny black coat, a big, handsome animal. But few recognized this, because he was a stray dog, a creature India is abundantly endowed with.
He combated daily for survival, partaking of rotting food articles, spilling out of wayside garbage bins. He was the fiercest antagonist of his rivals and a dreaded animal for passers-by.
I caught his fancy on my way back home one late afternoon, when, to my discomfort, he began to follow me. Dog lover though I am, I was cognizant of his savage propensities and watched him warily from the corner of my eye. Strangely enough, however, his personality had undergone a complete transformation, for he didn’t growl or bark and walked behind me like man’s best friend. I too behaved as casually as I could. He stopped, however, at the bottom of the staircase leading to my first floor apartment and watched me silently, till I disappeared inside its confines. He seemed aware of the boundaries of his territorial rights.
He repeated the act almost daily for the next few days. And I did not fail to notice his softly wagging tail, his tentative proposal that we socialize. Hunger clearly explained his behaviour. He was battle weary and hoped for me to bring him succour.
The next time he looked up longingly from the bottom of the stairs, I asked my wife if there was food to spare and brought it half way down the staircase and threw it towards him, aiming as accurately as I could. He ran and grabbed the victuals where they landed, overtly wagging his tail now, stealing grateful glances at me as he ate.
Over time, my wife and I slowly got used to the ritual as much as he, so much so that around lunchtime one day, he violated rules to climb up the staircase and wait in front of our living room door. The honour of the discovery was reserved for my wife. I was home and heard her say between giggles, ‘Look, who’s come for lunch!’
He sat there, his eyes as infinitely trustful and innocent as a child’s, his confidence in human friendship unshakeable. He got up on all fours as soon as he saw me and his excitement was evident from the vigour with which his tail wagged.
He earned his lunch and almost smiled as he bid us goodbye.
Our relationship continued and one day he went a step further. My wife was sitting on a couch reading a book and had failed to notice his arrival. But his self-assurance had grown and he walked straight into the living room, where he stood a few feet away from her and whined for the first time. Since she was looking away, he needed to rely on sound waves to catch her attention.
She was amused, but scared too. He was getting dangerously close. She described the incident to me when I returned back home and I too was not too pleased about the development. We discussed the matter and decided that we would need to find a way to take him to a vet for his anti-rabies vaccine. An elaborate plan was hatched about how to transport him in our car next morning.
As morning arrived and we readied ourselves for the adventure, the door bell rang. I went and answered the door and found the gentleman living next door at the landing.
‘Good morning,’ said he, ‘may I come in please?’
‘Sure, please do. Can I offer you a cup of coffee, we are still at the breakfast table.’
‘Why of course, coffee would be welcome on a chilly morning.’
We sat down at the dining table, exchanging pleasantries, as I wondered what had prompted the visit. He brought up the issue soon enough.
‘My wife is disturbed,’ he began, ‘by this dog you have been encouraging for some time. We have a young boy as you know. It’s unsafe.’
The message was clear. The dog had to be banished. Nonetheless, I informed him about our plan to get him vaccinated, but my explanations did not cut any ice with him. Vaccine or no, this scary thing must go. Embarrassing silence followed and there was little to argue about.
How do you explain to a dog, however, that he was unwanted? A plan was ready for him though when he arrived around lunch time. We kept our living room door securely bolted from inside and watched him unseen from a vantage point. He waited outside without any trace of suspicion that his hunger was not about to be appeased.
But his friends did not show up. He kept staring at the door stupidly, leaving now and then, only to be back again at his post, imagining perhaps that his biological clock had developed a defect. After an hour or so, he finally went away, but conditioned reflex ensured that he returned the next day and the one following the next. His trips continued for several days and then one day he didn’t show up anymore.
Within a month, I noticed that he was back at the garbage bin snarling and howling at his adversaries as he battled for his share of its putrid contents. I do not know if he noticed me anymore. Even if he did, he never asked me for an explanation.
Unlike human beings, dogs do not seem to bear you a grudge when you back out of a friendship.