A friend sent me a tribute video on her beloved dog who had recently passed away. With appropriate music playing in the background, the video took me on a journey from Gucci’s birth to old age and then his final resting place. It was beautiful and touching, and can only be understood by someone who’s owned a pet.
Whether it’s a dog, a cat, or even a goldfish, pets make a difference in our lives. They provide succour to the lonely, a playmate for the bored, and a much-needed diversion from the tensions of the world. And when they pass into the next plane, which they inevitably do during the owner’s life, they leave behind a vacuum that can never be filled.
Having owned and lost two beautiful mutts, I know what it means to be pet-less. The little things in life are never the same. For example, meal times — no pets looking at me imploringly with big, soulful eyes, waiting for a scrap. Walks too. I may be able to walk more briskly, but with no dog stopping every now and then to sniff at some interesting plant or mound of grass, walking has become all business, no pleasure. With a dog by my side, I’d enter their doggy world, waiting patiently for them to finish the sniffing, and then proceed. Sometimes, a gentle tug on the lead was all it took. Yes, between human and dog, it’s all about give and take.
Nights are just too quiet. I no longer hear a lapping noise (the dog drinking from its bowl) or scratching on my door to say it’s walkie-time. Some nights I’d be woken by wild, crazy barking. Was it an intruder? No, it was just the neighbour’s cat, a beautiful, sultry tabby, all ginger-and-cream, who’d be strutting around or stretching herself languidly, sure of being safe from their barks.
I now rarely make new friends on my walks. Just like children, pets expand our friends’ circle. Earlier, I knew the name of every dog, but rarely of the owners. Someone would be “Floppy’s mum” or “Rover’s dad.” And what did we usually talk about? Our pets of course! What they did, their ailments, the best vet or the best kennel to board your dogs during the long summer months when you were vacationing. Alas, this kind of carefree talk has come to an end. Without a dog to break the ice, it’s hard to make new friends.
It’s not just dogs, but cats, birds, and even fish who have a profound impact on you. When they pass away, it’s as if there’s been some kind of atmospheric change. No happy purring (which is supposed to calm the nerves), no noises from your budgerigars, no sound of pattering feet as your dog comes to greet you when you return home, no matter what time of day.
If you’ve read Jean Paul Didierlaurent’s bestseller, The Reader on the 6.27, you’ll learn that what gives the protagonist’s sad and desolate life some meaning is his goldfish who he returns to every evening after a mind-numbing job and a monster boss. And when the fish accidentally dies, he is quick to get a replacement, because, as he says, “there was a vast difference between living alone and living alone with a goldfish.”
Not that pets can be replaced so easily, as if they’re electronic gadgets or your mobile phone. A pet has its own personality, its own idiosyncrasies, and its own demands, and this is why it endears itself to you. And living without your faithful and constant companion takes some getting used to.
Gucci’s tribute ended with a quote from French writer and poet Anatole France: “Until one has loved an animal a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.”
I couldn’t agree more.
Padmini B. Sankar is a Dubai-based freelance writer