In November last year, when a little, white scrawny creature with exceptionally long limbs for a puppy and an unusually thin tail came strutting towards me, I knew our life would never be the same again.
Seems a little dramatic? Believe me, it’s not. Firstly, ever since Khal, our Dogo Argentino entered our home, I have been in a constant tug of war in between him and my mother. Secondly, Khal is the only subject that, both, divides and unites me and my husband.
Let’s talk about my parents first. Both born and bred in Mumbai, they have had no interaction with animals. They fear them because they don’t know them and vice-versa. My mother was dead against the idea of us getting a dog. She had several reasons.
“A dog is a big responsibility. How will you manage with your work? Who will take care of him when you travel?” After we answered all her questions, came the ultimatum. “Do what you like then, but if you get a dog, I will never come to your house.” It was the fear talking. She had been chased by a puppy when she was a child. When the puppy got close to her, she panicked and ran. The puppy, mistaking this for a game, playfully ran after her.
Little did the puppy know then, that he was scarring my mom for life. Now, that wound is causing pain in my life too. The two times I have taken Khal to my parents’ house, my mother has only panicked — she would panic even if Khal as much as looked at her. She prefers if he were a statue there: no moving, no sniffing.
So, we stopped taking Khal to the house I spent half my life in. My husband and I take turns to visit my parents as one of us has to be home with him. This is a problem especially during festival season. It makes them feel that we are choosing Khal over them. It’s hard for me to explain to a generation obsessed with having (human) grandchildren, that Khal is my baby. This is especially blasphemous for them because I don’t have a human child.
Over the year that Khal has been now been with us, my parents have only visited us twice. The first time they came, they were so nervous around my pet, even though he was on a leash and far away from them. For the three hours of their visit, my husband had to take Khal to the bedroom and stay there with him until he was fast asleep.
That was hard and uncomfortable and unpleasant, but their second visit was something of an emotional roller coaster for me. This was when my mother’s pulmonologist advised her to stay elsewhere through the 10 days of a paint-job in her house. Obviously I wanted her to stay with me. She was reluctant, however. Knowing this was on account of Khal, my husband offered to move with Khal, to his parents’ place for the duration of her stay. But my mother didn’t want that either. She didn’t want to inconvenience us, but at the same time, couldn’t get over her fear for Khal.
After a lot of cajoling, she agreed to come to my place for only three days. The other seven, she and my father spent at a sanatorium in Lonavala. As a grown up child to ageing parents, I feel terrible about this. But she wouldn’t have it any other way.
Equally, however, the three days that my mother had stayed with me, I was happy, but sorely missing Khal. I was constantly guilty about having him and my husband live elsewhere. On one of the evenings, when I met my husband at a park to give him something he needed, Khal ran in circles around my car, trying to get into it. But he couldn’t, as my parents were in it.
Would there ever be a world, where my parents and Khal can cohabit? Will there ever be a time when my husband and I will not have to take turns to visit my parents? And will my parents ever stop thinking that we choose Khal over them? I don’t have the answers to any of these.
Just like I don’t have the answer to whether my husband and I will ever stop fighting about taking more responsibility of Khal. As pet parents of a big, active dog, who needs at least two to three hours of exercise every day and careful meal prep and planning, we have no time or stamina, like other normal couples, to bicker over, say, Netflix recommendations, or what restaurant to go to.
Our fights, big and small, are all about Khal. The smaller ones are about deciding who might walk Khal or who will boil his vegetables. The bigger ones are a lot more complicated: for instance, whether to send Khal to his trainer during Diwali.
Our baby is petrified of loud sounds. My husband was of the opinion that his trainer would be able to help Khal fix behavioural issues arising from the stress of festivities, and cope better during the period. He wanted professional care for Khal during Diwali. Plus, he wanted to enjoy a peaceful Diwali with the family and not worry about Khal’s anxiety.
For me, it was cruel to send our anxious dog away from his safe zone — his home, and from us the people he loves and trusts the most — at a time when he is predisposed to being scared. Moreover, sending him away would to wash our hands off the situation rather than dealing with it. Also, India has so many festivals and weddings. Will we keep sending him away to his trainer all the time? Plus, sending him away also costs money. But most of all, I couldn’t bear the thought of celebrating Diwali without Khal.
After days of arguments and silences, I finally got my way. But that came at a cost: over the next few days, whenever Khal acted out because of loud cracker sounds, I would hear an ‘I told you so’.
This Diwali has certainly been difficult for us as a family. An anxious Khal, a squabbling couple, disappointed parents who couldn’t see their beloved daughter and son-in-law together. On Diwali evening too, we couldn’t have a peaceful dinner together. I tried to comfort Khal while my husband ate, before it was my turn to gobble down my food. I’ll be honest — these are the things that make me feel like my marriage is fighting serious blows because of having a pet.
But we did come out of this phase, together, and we are back to laughing at Khal’s shenanigans and fighting the smaller fights. As for Khal, he is a little less scared of crackers now. He slept through the fireworks on Gurunanak Jayanti, and we haven’t seen any behavioural issues in him yet. I think we did okay. And I want to think things will only get better, for us as a family. I don’t know what we will do next Diwali. But the one thing I am certain about is this: for Khal, a thousand times over.
Riddhi Doshi is a Mumbai-based independent journalist, Kathak student, and first-time pet parent.