Monday, October 29, 2012


As Phoebe matured and began oestrus, mom wanted to get her spayed for the fear that she would have to go through the same ordeal as Cara if a stray dog ever entered our property. But, following several pleas from dad and us, she relented and said that Phoebe could have a litter just one time before the surgery. To make things even better, it was right around the same time that I had met a writer who was searching for a mate for her male Labrador Retriever.

Discussions were had and stud fees were fixed, and before we knew it, my sister and I were driving Phoebe to and from the writer's Tivim-based house for three consecutive days to facilitate mating.

At first, we thought the interaction would be unsuccessful. Despite introducing the dogs to each other around ten days after Phoebe began bleeding, all that the couple was doing was playfully chasing each other around the writer's garden. We didn't expect anything much when we returned home with her on the third day.

Three weeks later, however, we noticed Phoebe becoming sluggish...and heavier. A trip to the vet confirmed that she was indeed pregnant! She was immediately put on a slew of supplements. The vet feared that she might develop complications because the pregnancy was detected rather late.
BUNDLES OF JOY: A filmstrip of the delivery
Thankfully, the pregnancy was progressing normally and Phoebe was healthy and unusually cooperative. Even at the peak of her gestation, she would allow us to put our ears to her tummy to hear the gurgling of amniotic sacs and feel the kicks from within. Being a one-of-a-kind experience for us, we researched on canine pregnancies so thoroughly that our school and college projects paled in comparison.

March 27, 2006 arrived and mom noticed Phoebe getting restless and searching for a quiet place in the house. Her contractions had begun by tea time, and at around 5.30pm she gave us a priceless gift...her first puppy! Tenderly licking off the remnants of the sac from her first born, she graciously let my sister tie and cut the umbilical cord, wipe the tiny thing and place it near her teats for its first feed. It was a golden female (Phoebe's mating partner was the same colour).

We had read that simultaneous breastfeeding facilitates an easier delivery of the remaining litter. And, it seemed to be working. Everytime Phoebe nursed her puppies, her contractions came on stronger. 

The cycle went on for almost five hours, by which time Phoebe had delivered TWELVE healthy puppies, surpassing our expectation of a maximum of eight. They were immaculate. Nine females and three males. Six black and six golden. The last puppy had almost turned blue because Phoebe, tired and stressed by the time, refused to lick the sac from its face. A few pumps of air into its nostrils and several downward swings later, the golden female was fine.

Thursday, September 27, 2012


In October 2004, Cara got a new playmate in Phoebe - a Labrador Retriever we purchased from a breeder in a neighbouring village. Needless to say, Phoebe was a spunky and adorable little puppy whose features mirrored those of her mother, Slash. She was all of eight weeks when we brought her home, but her energy and cheerfulness filled the void that was created by Cara's silence.

WHAT DID I DO NOW? Phoebe caught ruining a broom
 We instantly fell in love with Phoebe. So did Cara. In fact, Cara doted over her like she would have over her own offspring.

Phoebe's mischief was what attracted us to her even more. For one, she would chew on anything...legs of sofas and chairs, shoes, brooms...anything that was chewable. And if she was caught in the act, she would put on the most apologetic face, that even mom - who would be livid from seeing her best pair of shoes between the tiny jaws of this black puppy - would melt like an ice-cream.

SLEEPING CHILD: One of Phoebe's countless puppy naps
She also had the cutest sleeping position - always on her stomach, head between her forelimbs and her hind limbs outstretched. If she managed to squeeze behind a vase or a sofa for a nap, that too would do just fine.

Like Cara, Phoebe also took an immediate fancy to Brownie, the cat. In fact, it seemed like he thought it was his duty to groom her coat with his sandpaper-like tongue, play with her, and be her cuddly bear when she slept. It was truly a sight to watch them interact. He, a rather large cat, could have easily scratched her tiny eyeballs out if he wanted to (yes, she used to annoy him to no end at times), but the camaraderie between them was unbelievable. The phrase, 'Fighting like cats and dogs', seemed unreal whenever I watched the duo spending time together.
TENDER MOMENTS: Little Phoebe with Brownie

Phoebe grew up quick and strong within the span of a few months, and before we knew it, she towered over the feline who had nurtured her as a puppy. But, the love between them hadn't changed. Perhaps Cara and Brownie influenced Phoebe so greatly that she became almost human-like in her interactions with others. Her maternal instinct was so well-honed, that I guess it stood her in good stead for the following years of her life...

Thursday, August 23, 2012


SHE'S GOT THE LOOK: One of Cara's rare poses
In the course of a few months, Little Miss Fernandes was turning out to be the most angelic pup we'd ever had. She was so prim and proper that mom sometimes called her (I know this is going to sound ridiculous) her 'best daughter'. She was a hassle-free, sun bathing little Dalmatian, hardly mischievous and extremely sensitive...almost as if she was half-human. In fact, the only mischief Cara had ever been up to was dragging our shiny new Canon digicam along the staircase right up to the terrace once, and stealing the occasional chance to lounge on our sofas when mom wasn't around.

At that time, I found her disposition rather odd, because although I had grown up around sensitive dogs, they had all had an equal measure of mischief and playfulness.

LITTLE MS. SUNSHINE: Cara sunbathing on the parapet
When it came to Cara's companionship, I think it was dad who enjoyed it the most. When on vacation from the U.A.E - where he used to work - he would fancy an evening scotch on the rocks. And although he was more of a solitary drinker, he spoke most to Cara. I still remember eavesdropping on his 'conversation' with her one evening from my bedroom window, and giggling to glory. But that was Cara's gift...being human and humane...and it was my dad who understood it.

Cara did find someone rather unusual as her own best friend...our neighbour's ginger brown cat, Brownie! They did almost everything together, including eating their meals side by side. Brownie, a roadside romeo, would often be missing for days, but Cara would always wait patiently for him to return home. And when he did come back, her vigorously wagging whip-like tail would say it all.

THE MEAL DEAL: Brownie and Cara at lunch
This petite spotty creature lived with us for almost a decade, in the course of which she had had a miscarriage (when she was just over a year old and a pariah had had his way with her) and had to be spayed because mom thought her to be too frail to carry a litter to term. In fact, we hadn't known that she was pregnant until the day of her miscarriage, when her body expelled a black, slimy sac, which she promptly swallowed.

Gradually, like Bingo, she began developing hematoma, and cataract in both her eyes. Her immune system began weakening too because she was getting rather choosy about her meals and would often go an entire day without food. What finally undid her was a common cold, which, over a few months, had spread to her lungs, despite our best efforts to rid her of it.

Cara left us in the first quarter of 2008, just as silently as she had entered into our lives.

Thursday, July 19, 2012


Let me get back to my dog tales. You see, every time we lost a pet dog to death, we'd make an unspoken vow that we would save ourselves from further heartache by simply not adopting another. Major's traumatic death hammered this in ever more clearly. My mother, particularly, couldn't even bear the thought of having another dog after she lost him. Her silence and sorrow boomed throughout the house, a warning that the three-letter word should no longer be discussed.

September 1999 turned into October 1999. Just one month had passed since we lost Major. And we continued to miss him...our hearts as gloomy as the monsoon sky outside. But, October was soon drawing to a close. Cloudy skies began to give way to the glint of the smiling sun. The transition was metaphorical because it was about to happen in our home too.

RAY OF SUNSHINE: Cara, at three months
Wrapped in one of mom's old white blouse with black spots was Cara...a Dalmatian! It was mom's surprise for us as we returned home from school one mundane afternoon. I'd earlier thought Dalmatians were just figments of Dodie Smith's imagination. Clearly, they weren't!

Later that evening, mom confessed to us that she wasn't excited to have Cara. She had accepted her out of compassion - and also because she looked adorable, swathed with soft cloths in a cane basket, red ribbon round her neck. Cara, she told us, was the runt of a litter of 13 Dalmatian puppies. Since her mother began rejecting her and no one was willing to buy her, the owner thought it best to hand over the fragile life to us. "Amusing," I thought, because till then, Major was the only dog we had bought...the rest had been given to us gratis.

As a three-weeks-old pup, Cara didn't look one bit like the Dalmatians I'd seen in Smith's novel. Yes, she was nose, sealed ears and all,...but fully white with light liver coloured patches instead of spots. To my sister and I, she seemed like an exquisite breed that we knew nothing about. So, we took to Volume D of our World Book Encyclopedia to educate ourselves. Later, in the dictionary, we came across a glossary of names. I chose Cara, because I liked the way it sounded (apparently it means 'friend'). My sister chose Candita, which means white/pure. As we couldn't come to a consensus, we named our cherubic pup:


Incidentally, Cara was unknowingly bestowed the honour of being the first dog to take on our family surname.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012


While watching re-runs of Bollywood actor Aamir Khan's show, Satyamev Jayate (Sanskrit for 'Truth Alone Conquers'), I came across a poignant statement made by Harish Iyer, a victim of child abuse. If you aren't familiar with his story, I'd suggest you watch the following clip in its entirety:

On the other hand, if you are aware of his case, just watch between 8:01 and 8.54.

For those of you who don't understand Hindi, I will try my hand at translating what Harish said in those few seconds. It moved me to tears and it will you too!

"If anyone has helped me, it was not a human dog helped me. I had a German shepherd, Jimmy. When I would return home after being abused, I don't know how he used to know that something bad had happened to me. When I would return home, he would pull and take me away to the bedroom and, jumping on to his bed, he would to flay his paws and signal me to come and sit next to him. I used to go on talking, go on talking, go on talking, and when I used to cry, he would lick my tears. He has drunk my every the true sense of the word. And that gave me strength."

Monday, June 25, 2012

DISCUSSION - Distemper and Hepatitis in dogs

As an offshoot of what happened with Major, may be we could discuss what distemper and hepatitis really are and how they can be prevented from affecting dogs. 

According to what I have researched, canine distemper is caused by a virus of the paramyxovirus family and is contagious. It mostly strikes the respiratory, gastrointestinal and central nervous systems of dogs and manifests itself through a runny nose, fever, vomiting, loss of appetite, heavy breathing, seizures and poor motor coordination. 

Whether a dog will be able to fight the virus depends solely on its immune status, which should be boosted by an annual vaccination routine. In Major's case, our greatest mistake was that we hadn't vaccinated him the year he died, because of which his immune system became extremely vulnerable. 

Hepatitis is also caused by a virus - the canine adenovirus type-1 - and targets a dog's liver. Some of its symptoms are similar to those of distemper, such as loss of appetite, coughing, vomiting and fever. Like distemper, canine hepatitis is also contagious, and a combination of both the diseases can be fatal.

That's the reason why I can't stress enough on the importance of regular vaccinations for your pet dogs. I've learned from my error the hard way, but you don't have to. Care for your dog's health first and all good things will automatically follow.

We get our current dogs vaccinated annually against the following diseases:
1) Distemper
2) Parvo virus
3) Canine hepatitis (Adeno virus 1)
4) Adeno virus 2
5) Rabies

It would also be advisable to check with your vet about new strains of viruses that could affect your dog and ask for vaccinations against them.

And just for the record, what I've written in this post is based on my experiences and limited research. If you have some worthy information you would like to add, or if you'd like to correct me if at all I've said something wrong, please do so in the 'Comments' space.


Following Bimbo's death, and the grief it brought with it, we were rather unwilling to have another dog...apart from Bingo of course. Life went on like this for a couple of years, until our neighbour whisked my sister and I off for a drive one evening in 1996. He told us he just wanted us to get some fresh air. But what he actually wanted us to get was far from that.  

Halting in front of a quaint cottage in a village neighbouring ours, he led us through the gate and into the garden. What we saw there was nothing short of amazing. Eight adorable Labrador puppies were busy on the lawn...chasing small balls, tugging at each other's tails and trampling on top of one another to get a feed from their mother. It was truly a sight to behold. But our joy knew no bounds when we were told that we could choose one of the puppies as our pet! That was how I chose Major.

STANDING STATELY: Major on guard
I knew that Labradors were a pretty expensive breed, but I didn't care. Mom and dad would handle the finance. All I knew was that I wanted to have a pet dog again and Major, a jet black Lab pup, caught my eye instantly. And so we drove back home, him on my lap, the wind in his ears and a huge smile on my face.

Oh, coming to his name. You see, we were bent on calling him Max. But our neighbour - who seemed to have a penchant for naming his pets after dictators or politicians (his own dogs were called Saddam and Mussolini!) - told us that Max was a common name and suggested that we name our pup Major (after UK's John Major). Looking back, I really can't fathom how I agreed to that, but the excitement of having a pup again transcended all other hunting for a name perhaps?

And so Major grew...from a carefree pup to a terrific watchdog, from mischief to obedience, from a playmate to a companion. In fact, we were so fond of him that we considered him to be our little brother. We did almost everything together. I particularly remember reading my lessons aloud to him during exam prep, like as if he would correct me if I went wrong anywhere. To him, I was most surely an imbecile, but for me, he was a support system like no other. He would patiently sit with me through all my revisions and then plant a big, wet kiss on my face and lead me towards the garden for a run. 

I have many, many happy memories of Major, but the saddest one is of his death. Major was almost three years old when he fell prey to distemper and hepatitis. He had lost his appetite, developed a high fever and had poor motor coordination. Repeated trips to the vet and several hours of glucose administration worked only for a couple of days. At one point we thought he was fine again, but he relapsed the very next day and went into an epileptic fit. We knew that there was no point holding on and decided to put him to sleep. But it was a Sunday. The vets were closed. And Major suffered. Helplessly watching my best buddy in the throes of death was by far one of the worst feelings of my life.

After hours of seizures and frothing from his mouth, my Major breathed his last. We mourned for him like we'd mourn for a family member. My mother was inconsolable...Major was as good as her son, and in her words, "my darling".

Saturday, June 23, 2012


Family friends came over to our house one day with a surprise for us. No, they didn't bring us candy or trinkets...they came with a puppy! Their bitch, they told us, had littered a month ago and only two of her five pups had survived. They kept one and gave us the other. And that's how we got Bimbo.

An extremely handsome pup, full of energy and mischief, Bimbo got his name from the subject of a song made famous by Jim Reeves. We initially presumed that he would grow into a medium-sized dog. But as a year passed, we realized that he would be only about half a foot tall. Bimbo, we concluded, was a probable mix between a pariah and a Dachshund.

GET SET...GO! Bimbo ready for a sprint
However, regardless of his small stature, he was a power house of sorts. During his younger years, there were no threats he couldn't bolt away from and no crevices he couldn't creep into. In fact, he was particularly good at sniffing and chasing out rodents that scurried into our house from time to time, and hence, doubled up as a cat.

The other side of him was completely contradictory. He was a softie and loved to bask in the attention of children. I vaguely remember how my sister and I used to doll him up sometimes...complete with sun glasses, nail varnish and a scarf around his head. He was also a good playmate and specialized at treasure hunts (bones being the treasure) and hide-and-seek.

His regular excursions outdoors, however, attracted a lot of ticks to his small body. This - coupled with failing eyesight and hearing, and weakness in his limbs - robbed Bimbo from us sooner than we expected. Looking back, I reckon that some of the ailments he developed could have been an offshoot of random breeding, because although he was given to us much after Bingo, he passed away much sooner.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012


LORD OF ALL HE SURVEYS: Bingo in his hay days
With a snow-white coat and symmetrical black patches around his eyes and ears, Bingo looked every bit like a panda bear and lived the lifespan of one too...19 long years! Unable to distinguish his breed - he looked neither like a pariah nor a purebred - my maternal grandfather finally decided that he was a mongrel. Bingo was Papa's cutest dog, and his last one too. 
The most attractive thing about Bingo was his tail...rolled like a coil and perched perfectly on his lower back. He was fairly tall, his legs rather skinny and often coated with the dark grey silt in which he loved to frolic. His eyes were truly a mirror to his soul, because even in his later years with us, they betrayed a glint of mischief through those many clouds of cataract. 
Bingo was one dog who had been there and done ALL that. Be it scouring the hills to chase stray cats or digging up the backyard to hide bones that Papa used to give him from the kitchen, or even lying right in the middle of the road and having motorists negotiate their way around him, there was very little he hadn't done or experienced in his years with us. I remember Papa saying that Bingo cheated death at least twice...once when a coconut plummeted onto his head during a siesta under a coconut tree and next when a drunk biker struck him hard in his hip after skidding on the road one rainy evening.

Unlike your average pet dog, Bingo was a nomad, a free spirit...unwilling to be confined to the four walls of a house or compound wall. He ate and drank at will and would be difficult to trace sometimes, much to Papa's ire. But he was a remarkable watchdog, and could smell a trespasser from a distance even during the darkest of nights. When Bingo barked, we knew we had to be alert.

Papa passed away in 1996 and Bingo, himself entering the winter of his life by then, relied on us for food and shelter, and on May - a British tourist with a passion for dogs - for support. In fact, I think he thought of May as his mother. All he needed was to hear the sharp ring of her bicycle bell every morning as she passed by our house towards the beach, and would dart to her for a treat. May made sure he got all his vaccinations on time and if he was sick, she would treat him gratis. By her own admission, she loved Bingo and cared for him like one of her own.

Eight years after Papa's death, Bingo began fading away. He developed hematoma in both his ears, was having problem hearing, was virtually blind because of his cataract, and became extremely frail too. But I must mention that till his last breath, he was a jewel. He took his medicines without a fuss and tried as hard as he could not to mess the place where we had kept him. Even if he did mess up, the apologetic look in his eyes told us that he didn't mean to.

It was a peaceful evening when Bingo closed those sparkling eyes of his forever. I was 20 at the time and he was nearing 100. But for me, he will be forever 19.

Monday, May 21, 2012


I’ve loved dogs ever since I was a child. Something about them never ceased to fascinate me, and I knew right then that I would share a never-ending romance with them. 

I had two pet dogs to start with. Brownie – a rust coloured pariah – belonged to my paternal grandfather and Blackie – also a pariah – was my maternal grandfather’s. Since my parents’ houses are right beside each other, I had the privilege of enjoying the company of both these canines through my early childhood. 

Brownie was the more laid-back of the two…enjoying a frequent siesta on the cool mud benches in the balcony or even on the sofa in the hall if he fancied it (much to the wrath of my mother). 

Blackie, on the other hand, was the sport…chasing speeding motorcyclists, playing fetch with my uncle, or taking a quick plunge into the creek just across our house. In fact, anytime he was near the creek, he would leap into my uncle’s arms and indicate that he wanted to be launched into the water. 

Once in his water world, it was very hard to persuade him to come onto dry land. And when he finally did decide to do so, he would arrive with mud socks on all of his fours, courtesy the silt lining the banks. Sauntering into the house, his dark brown footprints behind him, Blackie would be oblivious to my granddad’s rants and threats of a spanking. After all, he knew he was the uncrowned king of the home. 

I don’t remember when exactly Brownie and Blackie passed away, but I know that they did in quick succession and on account of a grand old age. And although my memory of them is rather restricted, they were my first loves and my ushers into the fascinating world of dogs.