When he was just a puppy, maybe 2 or 3 months old, I heard Simba, our Indian indie or Golden Gangster as my husband calls him, howl for the first time. It was a sad howl of longing and my heart broke as I walked out the front door.
He was really small then, and didn’t like being left alone. But he soon learned that we would return with snacks and treats. So he stopped howling and settled for a bit of pining before he plonked himself on every forbidden surface – sofa, bed, kitchen counter – until we returned.
Now a teenager by dog years, almost an adult, Simba has taken to howling again. But this time, it isn’t us he’s longing for. We’re in the room with him after all. It’s for the packs of dogs he senses outside.
He’s taken to wriggling off his leash on walks. He also slips out of the front door the minute it’s opened more than a crack. At the crossroads the other day, he took off in a direction that wasn’t home.
I’d followed him a while. Wondering why he was being so bad. Why he didn’t understand that all I wanted was to protect him.
I kept my eyes on him from the distance at which he was keeping me. I even tried communicating with him telepathically, to guide him back to me.
“Don’t go down there,” I said. “There’s a pack of vicious dogs that will bark, bite and chase you out.”
But he wagged his tail in the face of danger and walked right in.
“Hey guys!” he seemed to say to the pack of growling dogs. “How’s tricks?” Snarl. Snap. Bark. Bark. Bark.
I ran to protect him. Empty leash in hand, I tried to swing it threateningly at the dogs so they would back off. But Simba didn’t want them to back off. He looked around as if to say, “Hey! You mind? I got this.” He looked at the pack again and went close enough to sniff another’s snout. “I’ll see you later ok?” I imagined him saying and trotted off towards another street. I gave up chasing him them.
“Fine. You want to walk into the dragon’s lair? Go ahead. I’m going home for a cup of tea.”
As I sat down on the sofa, by the front door I left open for him, I started to draft a ‘Missing Dog’ poster. I worried that we wouldn’t be able to find him because at brownish-blonde, he’s a very common colour for an Indian street dog. I imagined the worst possible scenarios – a hit and run, a street fight gone seriously violent, a kidnapping and whatnot.
But just as I was about to put a full-stop to a teary obituary, in he walked and raised himself up on my knee. I wanted to scream, shout and punish him. But the look on his face was so damn happy I found myself hugging him tight and scratching his belly.
“You’re ok!” I sighed.
“What’s for breakfast?” He asked.
I learned something important that day. Parents spend a lot of time conditioning their children to be independent. Pet parents on the other hand, seem to spend all their time trying to keep their dogs co-dependent. A street dog was born to own the streets. To domesticate one as a puppy is to help it survive out of cruelty’s way. But to confine it to a leash as an adult and cage it within four walls, no matter how wide, is nothing short of cruelty.
But as a parent, I still worry.
I stood at a crossroads today, bent down at eye level with my dog as he tried to wriggle himself free. One hand around his shoulders, the other on the buckle that would unleash him, I look down at the road that will lead him home and then at the other that would lead him to adventure.
Taking a deep breath in I unbuckled his belt, and walked home to make myself a cup of tea.