I walked into my house and there he was. Curled up on the couch. So fragile, I thought I’d break him if I picked him up. We’d told our dad one week. “We’re just fostering him. He’ll go when he finds a good home. We promise.” We knew it was a lie before we’d even said it. My sister sent me a picture while I was wrapping up school work in Singapore and I knew I’d never let him go.
He was almost two months old. He weighed less than 2kgs. The first night he was home, mom complained the morning after – “He walks all over me. He wouldn’t sleep. He jumped on my chest and I thought I couldn’t breathe. Are we sure?”
It’s been four and half years. He weighs a little over 11kgs. He still doesn’t sleep full nights. He climbed on her chest last night. She screamed with pain but then pulled him closer and kissed him on the forehead. We all know the words she wouldn’t say. “I hope these moments never stop happening.”
Because the saddest thing about having a furry family member? Their lifespan is almost always shorter than yours and my furry child has hit his half-way point. But if someone asked me if I’d have it any other way, I’d tell them – I CAN’T EVEN IMAGINE IT.
My mom named him before I got home. I always find myself explaining, “His name’s Dala. He’s a boy. I know his name’s girly. My mom named him.” If you thought you know what unconditional love feels like before a dog, you have no idea what’s in store for you after.
My dance partner, my shoulder, my supporter – I scream-sing with a ridiculously fake Italian accent and he still loves me, still sits by my side, still sticks himself to my back as I sleep. I’ve always been that girl who couldn’t sleep with someone else on the bed. It’s a struggle to sleep if he’s not next to me. It’s a struggle to live if he’s not next to me.
Dala came into my life a few months before my life crashed and burned. I’ve always said it – If he didn’t exist, I doubt I would have. When nobody understood my pain, when words weren’t enough to talk about it, when death seemed like the ideal solution, when tears would flow with no end – Dala would be there, not once leaving my side. If I’m crying, he’d jump up to sit on my lap. There would be no words of encouragement, no hands to wipe tears, no hugs or kisses but there would be calm. Someone was there. With the kind of love I never realised was possible. A loyalty that I’d never known.
I feel the back of my eyes sting as I write these words. Because I know I can’t keep him with me forever. Nothing good ever lasts. When I started university again, my biggest struggle was not feeling his warmth at my back. Missing his tiny hands on my neck as if he’s holding me while asleep. I can’t imagine going back to a life where I might never feel it again and the fear is so real every time he falls ill, every time his girlfriend fights him, every time someone tells me their furry baby passed on.
I was the girl who ran scared of dogs. I still understand that fear. But I don’t understand the ones who hate them. When someone comes up to me and says, “Tie your dogs up so I can come home,” my first thought is Don’t come. It’s rude but.. It feels like asking to tie up a family member. It’s absurd.
We got another furry baby after the Chennai floods. Mika – Dala’s girlfriend. They couldn’t be more different if they tried. We constantly remind him how he’s so badass he’s living together with his girlfriend without marrying her. He probably has no idea what any of those words mean. But we still tell him things. We tell him how funny a video is. Ask him his opinion on what we’re wearing. Complain about boyfriends not texting back.
He only ever reacts to three words – Food. Walking. Sleep.
Priorities, I tell you.
But in some part of me, I believe he knows what I’m saying. Maybe not word for word. But the emotions behind it. He knows and he understands. In that odd intuitively loving manner that only my furry, four-legged, wide-eyed boy can. It’s why when I say something sad, he sits next to me.
Someday, I’ll sit in a corner and I’ll cry. The tiny things he does like walk on my earrings, eat Mika’s food or steal food from my plate won’t be the things I’ll miss the most. It won’t be his face, that hint of sadness as I wave bye while walking out the door, a feeling of guilt like I’m betraying him by not taking him with me – the face I remember the entire trip until I come back home.
The thing that will make me cry is the moment I open the door and he doesn’t come running to me. Filled with love. Like the ten minutes I was gone was actually ten years. His face in that moment.
My best friend. My baby.