Chapter 1: Year One
We had adopted a stray cat who had wandered in, way back in 2002.
But Deepthi and I always wanted a dog. Our family was always into pets. Mainly because Appa liked dogs. We’ve had three dogs – Boo-boo, Becky and Bingo when we were kids.
Finally, we decided we’d get a dog. Actually, Deepthi’s consistent pestering of appa was the primary reason. I was fascinated at the size and friendliness of Velvet – my best friend’s dog, and convinced everyone that a Labrador was the best option. And a ‘light colored’ one as it looked most inviting.
I had saved Rs 1700 from my first (pseudo)business ever – selling Game & MP3 CDs while in school. Appa put in the rest to make it 3000.
We went to a pet shop and saw all the puppies. The German Shepherd pups came running at us, licking. The smaller breeds were going nuts. We saw two Labrador pups. One was chocolate and one was yellow. The yellow one was not even looking at us. He just lay there, looking in a different direction. After about 5 minutes of flip-flopping, we decided we’d go with the yellow one itself.
It was time to name him. Bruno seemed apt. Yes, because of the “B”.
He was extremely passive the first week. He ate a lot, slept a lot, but never showed much excitement. The first few days, he would turn away if someone looked at him straight in the eyes. He had an affinity for the cool bathroom floor and was drawn to its corner, no matter where we left him in the house.
Very soon, Bruno turned out just fine. A hyperactive, naughty, super-friendly and smart fella. The way most Labradors are.
Year One was tough. Especially for people like us who don’t believe in keeping an animal in a cage or leashed all the time.
He used to wake us up many-a-nights with constant barks. The legs of all our furniture was worn down to the nub, thanks to one hyperactive teething puppy. He was so naughty that he’d pull down whatever he could find.
Chapter 2: Years Two to Ten
[The Splendid Eight]
This is the longest and happiest period. His naughtiness decreased and he became a full grown adult.
He used to put half his body on our beds and wake us up when appa asked him to.
He knew the only time he’d be chained is when guests came over. Just saying the words “Bruno, Guest…” would make him go to his room. And he’d stay there. He was really smart. I would assume all labradors are.
He was a darling to all our friends who used to come home. My college friends loved being around him.
Once after the night time prayers, we were sitting on the floor and Deepthi had her head on amma’s lap.
Deepthi said “Poda, ithu ente Amma aa” (Go away, this is my mother)
A whining bark was followed by him gently putting his head on amma’s other lap and then slowly pushing off Deepthi’s head from amma’s lap.
He was that cognitive, sensitive and jealous.
Bruno was most attached to amma. He refused to eat whenever she was not around. He followed her around like a shadow.
Most of the time, she had to hand-feed him the first morsel, after which he would continue having from his bowl.
‘I want’ and ‘more’ was communicated with a hand-shake. Always.
If we were dining and he’d look at us, we’d share. And ‘last’ was understood as the end. He never asked after that.
He served as our wake-up alarm during school days, Deepthi’s endless-cosplay model, the super-excited little helper, a younger brother and our full-time security guard.
We have always joked at home that Bruno is a connoisseur of quality food. He would only eat the best of foods that we got from outside. This was the family test to see if any food was of great quality.
We knew when he was happy, we knew when he was sad. We understood what he tried to say, and he understood what we said with much better accuracy.
The moment we spoke something about him (even without mentioning his name), he would start rolling his eyes.
Whenever we discussed about going to Mavelikkara (Amma’s native place), he would immediately be down, knowing he’d have to be alone at home for 10 hours the next day.
Dogs are very loyal, empathetic and understanding creatures. They are as smart as a 2 year old. Maybe this is why I make it a point to stop my bike and interfere when I see anyone abusing strays (Just an unpleasant stare is enough to stop it, trust me) or interfere when I see pets being neglected.
Things changed a few years down the line. I moved away from home for work. Initially Bruno used to go crazy during Skype calls, hearing my voice.
I made a visit home once every 3-5 months and Deepthi, Bruno and I would do everything we used to. This continued for years.
Chapter 3: Years Eleven to Thirteen
This is where all the rosy picture painted above slowly started to fade. He got sick and suddenly lost all control of his muscles.
Amma told me on the phone that his condition was pretty bad and the doctor advised for euthanasia.
I prayed I would be able to see him one more time. And I could. About 8 times after that.
It was the beginning of a terrible stage in his life. He did recover from it after a few weeks of injections and vet visits. When I heard that appa got transferred back to Trivandrum, I was very happy as there would now be additional support to look after him.
It was hard for him to walk on the smooth tiled floor. We put long green floor mats all around the house so that he could walk. We didn’t care how bad the house looked because of it.
In my subsequent visits, I found him to be very weary and he lacked any enthusiasm.
Even amongst all this, when Deepthi and I opened chocolates, we could hear him bark from the other room (“Where is my share?”). He was still fully aware of everything happening around him and could eat anything without any restriction. But he could not get up and walk easily. He was very lethargic.
Chapter 4: Years Fourteen And Fifteen
His hind legs had completely given away. Getting up or walking was out of the question now.
One thing striking was that he had extreme self-respect. Even when he was unwell, he would bark till we carried him outside to do his business. He would not do his business if we were looking at him.
This would have to be repeated every single day. Minimum two times, for two years.
I do not think many would have cared so much for a dog in such a condition for such a long time. I am amazed at the compassion and love my parents have, especially Amma in his case.
Finally, a few days back, appa shared the news that Bruno passed away and was buried.
Personally, the end of yet another era.
I have seen bachelors buying dogs and then abandoning it when reality strikes, puppies being given as gifts and then being abandoned, or worse – the dog living its entire life chained in one corner of a house.
Do not get a dog if you are not going to treat him/her as a member of your family.
If you plan to keep him/her tied up, or in a dog cage, reconsider.
If you are not ready for the first stage of a dog’s life, reconsider.
If you are not ready for the last stages of a dog’s life, reconsider.
I know people who have dogs in the prime of their lives. Cherish it.
It is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all— Alfred Lord Tennyson
Somewhere towards the end, a friend who knew Bruno’s condition asked me a question: “After all this, would you still get a dog later in life?”
My answer was a ‘yes’.
The Land That Time Forgot
Our story takes us to Mavelikara: A quaint little place on the banks of the...