Little or large, a dog’s size has little to do with the relationship it enjoys with its human family. Two people tell us why their canine companions mean the world to them

Love is not an emotion that translates easily, though we do try extra hard by slotting it, commodifying it, giving it a day, making movies on it, writing books on it …

The bond between man and his best friend, the dog, is a complicated one.

We may be the ones sheltering, training and feeding them. But they are the ones who own us – with their slobbering kisses, indefatigably wagging tails and mooching eyes.

The domestic dog, (Canis lupus familiaris) is thought to be a distant (we are talking of thousands of years) cousin of the grey wolf. Dogs have been used as beasts of burden, guards and even as a source of food and fur.

A more affluent lifestyle has led to the integration of these animals into our lives as not just guard dogs, but also as guides for the blind and companions for the lonely.

The animals may have changed shape and lineage through artificial selection and cross-breeding, but they retain their inherent status of being ‘man’s best friend.’

Many of the people we contacted for this interview refused to speak, perhaps fearing the ‘evil eye’ that the publicity would cast on their beloved pooches.

But there are some others for whom life has become more meaningful because of their pets. Here are the stories of two such people.

Love and cake unlimited

Kannamma and Pepper set up a raucous bow-wow chorus when visitors trudge up the stairs of their Tennur Bazaar Street duplex home.

The Dachshunds are very quick to sense strangers, because their hunting instinct is naturally sharp, says their owner Mrs. Suganthi Krishna Kumar, an associate professor of English at Holy Cross College, Tiruchi.

But today their talent to locate their prey has served them well for another reason – to quietly polish off the slices of date cake that Mrs. Suganthi has set out for the guests in the drawing room tepoy.

A scolding ensues, and while tan-coloured Kannamma waddles off to sulk under the divan, the black-coated Pepper begs for another slice of cake with his limpid eyes.

It looks like there’s never a dull moment in this household with its mother-son doggie duo up to all kinds of tricks.

“We have been owning dogs since the 1980s, as my husband is a dog-lover from childhood,” says Mrs. Suganthi. “The first one was Julie, a mixed breed Alsatian-mongrel that lived up to 13 years. When it died of cardiac arrest, we got a hairy Dachshund pup as a gift, whom we named Fluffy. It was never naughty [Kannamma and Pepper look up], and was with us for another 13 years.”

Kannamma (who is 8 now) came into the picture after Fluffy died of meningitis. “My sons got her from a pet shop, where nobody wanted to buy her because she was a female dog,” recalls Mrs. Suganthi. “Most people don’t want female dogs because they are afraid to take on the hassle of puppies, but we like them. Female dogs are very possessive and conscious about what is happening around them.”

Pepper, 7, is the last pup of Kannamma’s first litter, and from the start, was always a sprightly animal.

Sadly, Pepper has been diagnosed with heart disease. “Two weeks ago, our helper, to whom the dogs were very attached to, got married and left our home. Pepper became very quiet since her departure, and we thought he was simply feeling lonesome. But suddenly we noticed a swelling on his stomach.”

Two of the dog’s four heart valves were found to be blocked, after a thorough screening at the government-run veterinary hospital in Namakkal. The fluid retention that this has triggered has to be drained through medication.

“We tried to hide the hypertension pills in ice cream, Pedigree and halwa – all their favourite foods – but they know our tricks and just stopped eating,” says Mrs. Suganthi. Putting the animal to sleep was never an option, says Mrs. Suganthi. “They trust us unconditionally, so how can we think of killing them off? We never think of euthanasia when someone dear to us is terminally ill, why should we think of it for animals?”

Mrs. Suganthi changes the subject as she says the dogs can sense that they are being spoken about.

So she tells us about their daily routine.

A dog flap in the master bedroom door ensures that they can troop in anytime, though it also means for Pepper, a jump up the bed to admire his reflection in the large mirror there.

“I can’t think of a day without these dogs,” says Mrs. Suganthi. “Life would be too boring.”

Living life, Prince-size

Prince lives like a royal. This St. Bernard, one of only two such dogs in Tiruchi, has a room (his size makes ‘kennel’ sound woefully inadequate) that is fitted with an air-cooler. He has a trainer to help him maintain his movie-star good looks and impeccable manners that won him the first prize in the city’s dog show last month. And Prince has his own registration papers plus a microchip to indicate his pedigree.

But none of this matters to his owner, St. Joseph’s College MBA student R. Richard, who had wanted to own a St. Bernard ever since he saw a series of Hollywood films starring the burly breed. “I used to own a Labrador before, but it was not really fit for guard dog duty,” says Richard, as a chained Prince sniffs out the newcomer from the family members at the Cantonment area residence. “I waited for two years, researched and then bought this St. Bernard,” he adds.

Bought in Bangalore as a month-old pup for Rs. 50,000, Prince is today a striking two-and-a-half-year-old adult. He sure has outgrown the small travel bag that his owner transported him in to Tiruchi.

“Prince knows when Dad’s car is nearing the house, and he’ll be there at the gate to greet him,” says Richard. “Strangers cannot even hope to touch the gate unless they want their fingers bitten off.”

Despite the fearsome image that description builds up, Richard and his mum insist that Prince is really a softy – he loves mangoes and homemade food, and will simply lope around giving company to his human family in the air-conditioned rooms of the home during daytime.

“Prince dehydrates very easily, so we have to feed him glucose and keep him out of the sunlight,” says Richard. “We give him a tonic for his shaggy fur, and since big dogs tend to develop leg problems, we have to make sure he gets adequate exercise.”

Monthly upkeep costs in the region of Rs. 6,000 to 10,000, but that doesn’t seem to unduly trouble Richard. “Everyone is fixated on the money, but that’s because they consider pets to be mere animals, not a part of their family,” he says.

Prince’s outing to the dog show in May was both exciting and worrisome for Richard. “At first, he was terrified of the new faces, but then he relaxed. He’s been trained to move around with people outside the house, but inside, he’s a guard dog.”

He did well in the obedience test, due to the lessons given by his trainer Babu. Prince can be controlled with the words ‘stay’, ‘sit’ and ‘speak’ (bark), but he won’t obey any order conveyed with a stick or a beating. Mating may need another trip to Bangalore, as the other St. Bernard in Tiruchi is also a male.

Asked what is Prince’s most endearing feature, Richard replies, “his face. It’s the best thing about him, and his bark is great, different from other dogs.”