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Happiness is indeed a warm puppy.
My world tilted sharply a few weeks ago, after I encountered a picture on Twitter, of a determined-looking puppy with springy ears, seeking a home. There was very little reflection about the timing, about whether our household could really accommodate this needy, hyper little stranger. But then again, we didn't really have much of a choice after he clambered out of his crate to briefly greet us.
All this is very unexpected. While I've been variously amused and irritated by other people's dogs, I've never really bonded with any one in particular. In fact, the most fanatic dog-lovers seemed the most unsatisfactory in human terms. The kind of people who could only feel for dumb and dependent creatures.
Now it turns out, I've joined the part of humanity that I used to wonder at — I'm a puppy bore, whose greatest interest is sustained by dog stories and antics. I've scoffed at the dog industry, their cutesy clothes and accessories, but there I was, buying toys and treats. I scan dog psychology blogs and help boards, I linger over pictures of other pariah dogs.
We never had a dog when I was growing up, partly because my father thought it was a bourgeois thing to do — aunties pampering pooches, getting dog messes cleaned by the domestic help, all that. But when I was away at college, somehow my sister successfully persuaded our reluctant parents to take in a puppy. As a child, she used to organise canine soirees for the neighbourhood, presided over by her own petite black dog elegant in a string of fake pearls. But I barely knew that dog, and she struck me as sheep-like more than anything.
This one, Appu, is my first. And the hardest thing about newly knowing dogs, in my experience, is recognising that they are a different species. That they aren't babies or living soft toys, that they don't hold grudges, that they don't really understand any language, for all our fantasies of wordless understanding. What does that level brown gaze even mean? There's a Howard Nemerov poem on walking his dog that begins: "Two universes mosey down the street/ connected by love and a leash and nothing else". Of course, I haven't got to the point where I'm even minimally understood by my puppy. Right now, our exchange is a mutual struggle for domination, a lot of hysterical "No!"-ing on my part, interspersed with cuddles.