Monday, April 07, 2008

Sunday Scribblings - "Photographs"

This prompt was meant to be about one photograph... but I've chosen 4. At least they're all on the same subject!

This is my first dog, Penny (for short) or Penelope (for long). I’ve always loved dogs, but circumstances ensured that we never had the opportunity to keep pets of any kind when I was growing up. So I was delighted to inherit Penny from Pete’s mother, who found it difficult to look after her because she (Penny, not Pete’s mum) was a bit of a handful, and also because there wasn’t much space in the house (Pete’s mum’s house, not Penny’s).

Penny was a beautiful, loving, shaggy-pelted, black-and-white, pure Welsh Border collie with the most ridiculously slender legs and dainty paws. You had to wonder how they held her up instead of snapping like twigs the moment she was up on her feet. Paws, I mean. She loved me no doubt, and was always pleased to see me, but she absolutely ADORED Pete and his brother Mark.

I don’t know what she saw in them, but the moment she heard Pete’s car come down the road, or Mark’s voice outside, she would be at the door, wagging her tail so hard that it wagged half her body with it, hopping about on those ballet dancer’s paws of hers, whimpering in excitement. Of course all this excitement always culminated in a little involuntary weeing when they came in the door. It didn’t matter if Pete had been out of the house for just a minute, a few hours or a few days – the excitement was always at peak pitch every single time, and there was always a little wee involved. Penny reserved some love for me, but her heart, mind, soul and bladder were always Pete’s. The little tart.

In all those years that I didn’t have a dog, I used to wonder if I would be able to understand my dog (if/when I had one) and make out what it wanted. Well, Penny settled any doubts I might have had about non-verbal communication – she had these liquid brown eyes that left you in no doubt about what she wanted. (Most of the time what she wanted was to cuddle up against you, sit on your feet so you couldn’t move away from her, and stick her cold, wet nose in your hand – or better yet, lick any exposed part of your skin. That was her version of bliss.)

When Penny officially entered our home as our official dog, she left us in no doubt that she was nervous and displaced and didn’t feel at home, cowering at the door with her head down, stealing sneaky looks at big bad me, like I was standing there with a stick, just waiting to beat her. We made a comfortable bed for her in the conservatory, in a great big roomy basket that I’d bought specially, kitted out with a lovely new, warm rug and a few toys. Hell, I was half ready to get into it myself, it looked so comfortable! But did Penny? Huh.

Pete had to put her old, smelly, hairy little rag of a blanket on top of my nice clean one, and toss in her favourite old squeaky ball, before that finicky mutt would deign to look at her new lodgings.

It didn’t take Penny long to get accustomed to her new owners and her new house – and of course it helped that the Love Of Her Life (who also happened to be mine) was around to make her feel at home. Of course there were a few teething problems. The first couple of weeks, she started barking at night, after we’d gone to bed - usually around 11.30pm. It wasn’t a volley of barks or whimpering or whining, it was one single bark, spaced out to perfection. Bark – beat – Bark – beat – Bark… and so on. If I went downstairs to quiet her, she’d be at the door, dancing about in delight at seeing me. The moment I went back upstairs to bed, she’d be at it again. Bark – beat – Bark - beat – Bark. One time I tiptoed downstairs and found her lying in her bed. She wasn’t disturbed or alarmed or anything – she was just lying in her basket, with her chin resting comfortably on the rim, sort of absent-mindedly doing that timed barking. Bark – beat – Bark – beat – Bark…

That was an annoying couple of weeks, I can tell you.

Penny was a pretty nervous dog on the whole. If there was something strange, she’d bark or whimper. One time at night she barked so much that Pete and I went downstairs to see what was wrong. We found her standing facing the back lawn, barking for all she was worth at something in the middle of the lawn. We couldn’t quite make out what it was, but Pete thought it might be a hedgehog or something. So we went out there, followed closely by Penny who alternatively barked warnings at us or whimpered her fears. The whatever-it-was in the middle of the lawn didn’t move even when I got close to it – and then we found out why. It WAS a hedgehog, but it was Penny’s new favourite squeaky hedgehog, a bright yellow and green in the daytime, but just a dark shadow at night. When Penny saw what it was, she picked it up and trotted back to her bed without another sound. Except for the hedgehog, which squeaked.

Silly dog.

And when it came to fireworks... man!

The first time I realised her extreme terror of fireworks was in early November, probably a couple of days before Guy Fawkes Day. It was feeding time and I couldn’t find Penny anywhere. I searched everywhere, in the garden, in the house, calling for her – but Penny seemed to have disappeared. I couldn’t figure out where she had gone… she couldn’t have run away, really, but I was beginning to have panicky thoughts that she had somehow escaped and didn’t know her way back. I was about to call Pete and sound the alarm, when I heard a very small whimper from behind the sofa. There was very, very little space between the sofa and the wall, but Penny had somehow managed to squeeze herself in there and was cowering in abject terror.

At that point I still didn’t realise that she was scared of the fireworks – because to be honest, I could barely hear them except as the odd pop. The fireworks were miles away – but I guess Penny’s super-sharp hearing made the pops seem really loud. She absolutely, point blank refused to go to her food dish which was in the conservatory, from where we could see the fireworks clearly. She simply put her head down and pretended to be a sack – I couldn’t even drag her. Finally I brought her bed and food and water indoors to the sitting room, where she settled at last, whimpering every now and then. But from then on, whenever I couldn’t find Penny, I would look behind the sofa – and if she was there, I knew there were fireworks happening somewhere in the world, which only she could hear.

And talking about things only she could hear, Penny had an immensely irritating – and frightening – habit that she reserved only for me, usually late at night when Pete was away DJ-ing. I would be reading peacefully on the sofa, Penny just as peacefully asleep at my feet, when she would suddenly leap up and race to the door, hackles up, barking or growling. The first time she did this, I thought my heart would stop. I really thought she had heard a prowler outside, but when I opened the door (I still don’t know if I was being brave or foolhardy!) there was nobody there. Not at my door, not at any neighbour’s door – nothing and nobody in sight. And yet Penny had found it necessary to spring straight from sleep to growling wakefulness… was she dreaming? Or had she heard or sensed something? And if so, what was it?

Eventually I learned to say “Oh shut up and lie down, Penny” and she would come back, giving the occasional growl, and curl up again... but despite it all, despite knowing that I’d personally locked all the doors and it would take some serious effort for anybody to get into the house, my nerves would remain a bit jangly for a while...

Penny was a delight to have, most of the time. She was a people person and resented it very much – and expressed that resentment very vocally - if we were downstairs and she wasn’t in the room with us. A few times we shut her in the conservatory, but she whined and scratched and made such sad eyes at us that we had to let her back in. She simply loved to lean up against your legs if you were sitting upright, or put her head near yours if you were lying on the sofa.

Penny was lovely and warm, a living rug for your feet, in the winter – but in the summer it was much too hot for a living fur rug and we had to keep pushing her away. She would bide her time, though, crawling a few inches at a time towards us when she thought we weren’t looking. If we did look at her, she would put her head on her paws with a martyred expression in her soft, liquid brown eyes – it was a look that I found very difficult to resist most times! Eventually she would achieve what she wanted, and cosy up against us – only to be pushed off... and the whole cycle would start again. She never tired of it, I have to say. Immensely patient, that dog.

We didn’t have to teach Penny to go to bed – she learnt quite quickly that when we turned the TV off and the lights out, it signified bedtime for all of us. Soon enough, the moment one of us got up, she would heave herself up and trot off straight to her bed. If the sliding door was shut, she would scratch at it to tell us to let her into her bedroom! It was really rather sweet and never failed to raise a smile from me.

I need never have worried about Penny running away – she was too much of a homebody to go exploring. Once she got locked out of the house by accident, something I realised only when I went to throw out the garbage and found Penny lying patiently on the front mat. She gave me an eloquent look as she brushed past me into the house. I sure didn’t need any translation there.

When Penny was four years old (she’d been with us about two years), she fell ill. One morning her left eye seemed to have gone wonky. She was subdued and didn’t eat her food, only drank a little water, and was running a temperature. Worried, we took her to the vet. He kept her overnight to monitor her and see what was wrong. The next day we got the bad news – Penny had a cancerous tumour. She deteriorated pretty rapidly despite our best efforts, especially when the tumour metastasized and affected her brain.

We knew something was dreadfully wrong when Penny growled at Mark when he tried to pet her – at Mark, whom she loved as much as Pete. It startled us very much, because she had never done anything like that before. It simply wasn’t like Penny. I guess that was when I realised that the cancer in her brain was causing the change in her behaviour. Mind you, she never growled, barked or in any way tried to harm me or Pete, not even when Pete administered the medicines to her. He would cradle her in his arms and try to make her eat, coax her to swallow the medicines, feed her liquids.

Time and again I would go to check on her and find that she had, ill as she was, crawled out of her bed and huddled underneath some bushes in the garden. I would bring her back out, but she was unable or unwilling to eat anything. In all this, not once did Penny make a mess – not in the house and not in her bed. She was so weak at one point that she could barely stand... yet when she was sick, she tottered out into the garden to do the job. Her bed was not soiled. Every time we took her to the vet, if we tried to lift her into the back of the car, she would jump weakly out of our arms into the car, instinctively trying to do what she had always done so easily before. It was enough to break your heart.

Penny’s last trip to the vet was the day after our wedding. I was extremely reluctant to have her put down, even though the vet said there was no hope of recovery as the cancer had spread too quickly and too far. But I didn’t want her to suffer. That last trip, as always, she jumped/fell into the car and crawled into a corner exhausted. She didn’t try to jump out when we reached there – she just couldn’t. Pete carried her into the back room and placed her on the table. The vet then injected her with the lethal solution... and two minutes later, our beautiful dog was gone.

Of course I have lovely memories of my mad dog running about in the open meadow, full of the joy of exploring without anybody stopping her... of throwing a ball for her to fetch (and once started, this game was practically impossible to finish)… of Pete swinging her around upside down, holding her front two and back two legs together (she hated it but never objected to this indignity)... of her going up to the TV when she saw any dog there, leaving nose prints on the screen... of her flopping down on my feet and giving the occasional surreptitious lick... taking her with us on driving holidays to Scotland... many many memories of the two short years that we had her. But I cant help wishing that she was alive and still with us.

Penny was only four years old and that’s too young an age to die, whether in dog years or in human years.


brinda said...


texasblu said...

I'm so sorry. I know what's that's like - I had a dog that I adored - she was perfect for me. She died under a yr old... yes, it IS too young. *hugs* Beautiful pictures - I can tell she was a real sweetie. :)

Anonymous said...

awww... i'm so sorry.
she sounds like she was an awesome little dog.

Kamini said...

That was just lovely. It made me laugh and cry all at the same time. As a dog lover, everything you wrote spoke straight to my heart. Oh, this was just such beautiful writing.

Anonymous said...

Shyam, such a lovely pet and you have expressed yourself beautifully .. got reminded of Juliet, who was with us exactly for a yearbut gave us such wonderful memories.. maya

Leonard Blumfeld said...

Beautifully told.

Jon said...

Beautiful pictures, beautiful words and a beautiful dog. I know what it's like to lose a much loved pet - words can't describe the pain or feeling of loss.

Teesu said...

Did you wite that just to make me cry? Huh? Did you? I am the ultimate dog lover -- but retired now...can't bear to lose another one. This ol' heart's still in fragments:( (Which is why, you have not yet seen a post of mine on Sandy)

Anonymous said...

Shyam, that made me cry. I can't imagine how heart wrenching it must have been to decide to put her to sleep. I'm sorry for your loss..

Uma said...

Beautifully written Shyam

mumbaigirl said...

Such a beautiful dog. If there is a heaven dogs are in it.