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On Saturday, our family dog Zoya departed for the great kennel in the skies. She was seventeen years old, mostly deaf, blind in one eye, very weak from tummy upheavals, and had a vascular tumour which was bleeding and for which they was no cure. When my parents discovered maggots, they knew it was time to let go. Although I had been preparing my parents for this for many months, I was surprised by how terrible I felt by the finality of Zo’s death.

Zo was the dog we dreamed of through our avid reading of Enid Blyton adventure stories, in which a faithful spaniel was a common fixture. I was the kind of kid that would pet random dogs in the street and am still prone to ignoring human beings if there’s a dog around. We had been begging our parents for a dog for as long as I can remember, and they had constantly put us off with the refrain: “When you are older.” Finally when my sister and I were in the twelfth and tenth standard respectively, they didn’t have an excuse, especially since we were pretty much model daughters, if I may say so myself. Also, they were jolted by us bringing home a stray pup one day, which for some reason they didn’t let us keep.*

Since we were sure we wanted a spaniel, we called up our old history teacher, the only person we knew that had one. She said there were no plans to mate her dog soon, but a few days later she called back to point out an ad in the newspaper for spaniel pups. We went over to see the pups and, of course, there was no looking back. A tip for kids trying to convince their parents to get a dog: Tell them to come along just to look. Chances are the parent will fall in love with the animal and you won’t have much further convincing to do. Worked for a couple of friends.

We loved Zo on sight but were told she wasn’t available so we chose another pup. Later, we got a call back saying that Zo was available after all. To pick a name, it was decreed that each of us would come up with three names and we’d vote on the best one. In the end, only I came up with options. They were: Sasha, Mel (after Mel Gibson) and Zoya (I was reading Zoya by Danielle Steele which said zoya meant “life” in Russian). Zoya was the unanimous choice. One of Zoya’s siblings ended up being named Sasha. And for very personal reasons, I’m grateful Mel didn’t stick.

We collected Zoya eight weeks after we first saw her. She came from a prize-winning bloodline and had the most pretty face of the litter. We were urged to enter her in dog shows but my sister and I decreed we were ideologically against beauty contests. Zoya did enter one show with her siblings and her mother Blondie and they won a family prize. That was the end of her show career.

The family that gave us Zo was quite protective. One of them accompanied us home with Zo to make sure we had a good environment to live in. I remember Zo peed in our lane when we got off the rick. It was the most adorable sight, and ever since then Zo has continued to be shy about peeing with people looking. The lady cried when she left. Later, that family organised a reunion for all the puppies. It was awesome to see how all the siblings had turned out.

The first couple of nights with Zo were hard. She was disoriented, missed her siblings and cried the whole night. When we tried to comfort her, she gnawed our hands as she was also teething. We had read somewhere that we should not take her into bed with us, but that was abandoned after a couple of hours. Zo then had a permanent spot on our bed, just like the dogs in Enid Blyton and much to the disgust of a lot of other people.

Zoya saw us through our late adolescence with all its ups and downs. At a time when our social lives were developing, we had to dogsit because Zoya like many other spaniels proved averse to being left alone at home. We learnt to clean puke and pee and poop at the same time as we discovered make-up. Zoya converted friends who were fearful of dogs into tentative dog-lovers because she was just so full of enthusiasm for people and obviously harmless. If we were sad, she would sit on our chests and lick the tears off our faces. But she would also wake us up by scratching our heads, hangover no bar.

She was the alibi for going on long walks with my first boyfriend, who also had a dog. The two of us walking our dogs together was grist for the building rumour mill. She was also the worst if you were up to something sneaky. I once tried to hide my boyfriend, who I had been up to hanky panky with at home while my mum was out, in the bathroom but Zo basically kept barking joyfully (she loved the boyfriend) and gave the game away.

She was my soulmate because her life was dandy but she still saw cause to look mournful as if the weight of the world rested on her long ears. We also had an uncanny ability to fall sick together, giving my mum the pleasure of tending to both of us.

Zoya was my mum’s baby, pampered beyond belief. At the end of her life, she had an armchair in the hall (the one in the photo) that she was loathe to cede to human beings, like myself. I once asked my mum who she loved more – Zo or me – and she said: “The thing is, Zo doesn’t argue so much.” I couldn’t argue with that.

I am grateful that my kids had the opportunity to meet Zo. Mimi pursued Zo relentlessly the entire week we were in Bombay, driving us all crazy. We were afraid Zo might lose it and snap at her, but she was remarkably patient and would just eventually leave the scene, with Mimi squawking behind her in delight. (Mimi reminds me a lot of Zo – both of them beg for food no matter how many tidbits they’ve been passed and carry things around with their mouths. In fact, I had wanted to name Mimi after Zoya but I was overruled) When we Skyped with my parents every week, a surefire way to get the kids to focus was to bring Zo to the camera. Yesterday, I Skyped with my mum and I had to shush Benji as he shouted: “I want Zoya, I want Zoya!”

There’s a dog-shaped hole in our lives right now.

 

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