How did our dog navigate his way through all the boundaries I set in the house? | Ranjana Srivastava


“I am really sorry!”

A large dog suddenly cornered mine in the dog park. I’m furious but shut up, conceding that her elderly owner couldn’t have intervened sooner.

Relief courses through my veins as I tear my dog ​​away. My children would have killed me if something had happened to him.

“Were you on your phone? Why didn’t you pay attention? How could you let this happen? Questions from my own repertoire would have come back to gnaw at me. Of course, they would generate their own loaded questions in return: who promised “do everything” for the dog – and who Is everything? Why was the dog walking between meetings and not after school? But as I often point out to anyone who isn’t listening, the dog is ours and we owe it our care.

In his first year, Odie survived Covid but nearly died after eating a grape. Well, at least the vet although he is, so caught between two ridiculous costs, the price of a pandemic pup versus the vet’s fee, I chose the lesser evil. Suffice to say, the $800 grape soured me forever. We don’t buy grapes now, we just devour other people’s.

This year, I’m happy to report that Odie is safe and has found his place in the family.

brown dog
Odie is always the first in the family to greet anyone coming home.

I once asked my married friend with kids how her dog was doing. “It’s the love of my life!” she fainted. Now I understand. The other day my teenager said, “If you line up our whole family and Odie, I’d choose Odie every time.” He brings me joy. Remind me not to compete with a dog for affection.

When someone comes home, the first “person” to be greeted is the dog. There’s a dash to rescue him from his kennel (padded, full of bones) outside, tucked away in a corner and sheltered from the elements. Sometimes our outings are constrained by his needs. Too dark, too rainy or too cold and kids resist putting it outside.

I didn’t tell them my friend John used to leave the TV on Oprah all day for his dog. I used to make fun of John for this idiosyncrasy, but when I see how Odie consumes David Attenborough (and growls animatedly at the lions), I feel like he was onto something.

He dutifully follows me and lets me press my feet against his soft fur.

The dog repays our love by being the only one to meet and greet us faithfully when we come home. Instead of mumbling something unintelligible without looking up from the TV remote, Odie skids and skates to the door, paying no attention to the risk of a broken leg. His tail wags overtime as he makes cute throaty sounds and quickly turns around to scratch his belly while holding out hope for a snack. It’s impossible to resist someone who takes such unmitigated pleasure in your presence and whose behavior isn’t dictated by what happened in the office that day.

I can’t say I wasn’t warned of this predictable fate of dog ownership, but for the first year I tried to confine the dog to “dog-only areas” namely downstairs, out good carpet and absolutely out of the good couch. . After all, he had a cozy bed, bought at top dollar on the kind of impulse I rarely reserve for myself.

The dog needs boundaries, I warned, as Odie climbed onto his lap and curled up on different feet, nestled in the folds of a blanket. Then, like a stealthy invader, he crawled up the stairs. And then one day, behold, he was on the big bed where we gather to spend time with family. I screamed and Odie jumped. He tried again and I groaned. But Odie can read vibrations. He knew the consensus view held that pushing an innocent dog out of the common bed was the wrong thing to do.

Other

Odie won. Now he invites himself in with his wood, wedges it between our toes and gnaws assiduously as we watch The Crown. He periodically growls at corgis and the queen’s horses, proud to defend us from those dangers that lurk behind the screen. I explain my concession by saying that Odie was not born to be a common ground dog. At the time of this writing, it is only allowed on the “foot end” of the bed and must not occupy a pillow under any circumstances, even one that says “Dogs, first they steal your bed, then they steal your heart”.

My relationship with Odie evolved from caregiver to companion. He dutifully follows me and lets me press my feet against his soft fur. When I write in bed, he jumps up, making sure some part of him touches me. Then, as soon as I put down a step, its ears prick up in front of one paw, then another slams my keyboard, deleting entire paragraphs or interspersing carefully selected words with random letters. But he’s so excited about going to the same place, at the same time, with the same person, that I, too, feign excitement and take him to the reserve, where he madly chases the birds, the wind in the hair as onlookers stop to watch in delight.

sleeping brown dog
Odie can read family vibes.

My favorite is a handicapped young man. An older man from his nursing home drives him to the oval every day to do laps together. As if that kindness wasn’t enough, the older man also helps her buy small treats which he gives to the dogs with her permission. The dogs love him, and he adores them. This ritual might just be the happiest part of her day, both humanizing and reminding of the transformative power of small gestures made by calm people.

I recently spotted a party at a fancy park where the dogs wore Dior collars and each dog invited received an expensive goodie bag. My guilt over Odie’s worn brown leash and council-issued poop bags only lasted a moment. I don’t know if dogs have birthday expectations, but as he turns two, my wish for him is simply that he live a long and happy life. I had no idea what a source of joy and gratification he was to become.

Ranjana Srivastava is an Australian oncologist, award-winning author and Fulbright scholar. His latest book is called A Better Death.