The Power of the Dog
There is sorrow enough in the natural way
From men and women to fill our day;
And when we are certain of sorrow in store,
Why do we always arrange for more?
Brothers and Sisters, I bid you beware
Of giving your heart to a dog to tear.
Buy a pup and your money will buy
Love unflinching that cannot lie -
Perfect passion and worship fed
By a kick in the ribs or a pat on the head.
Nevertheless it is hardly fair
To risk your heart for a dog to tear.
When the fourteen years which Nature permits
Are closing in asthma, or tumour, or fits,
And the vet's unspoken prescription runs
To lethal chambers or loaded guns,
Then you will find - it's your own affair -
But . . . you've given your heart for a dog to tear.
When the body that lived at your single will,
With its whimper of welcome, is stilled (how still!);
When the spirit that answered your every mood
Is gone - wherever it goes - for good,
You will discover how much you care,
And will give your heart to a dog to tear.
We've sorrow enough in the natural way,
When it comes to burying Christian clay.
Our loves are not given, but only lent,
At compound interest of cent per cent.
Though it is not always the case, I believe,
That the longer we've kept 'em, the more do we grieve:
For, when debts are payable, right or wrong,
A short-time loan is as bad as a long -
So why in - Heaven (before we are there)
Should we give our hearts to a dog to tear?
~ Rudyard Kipling
THE FIRST DOG
The dog was in possession before the girl came. He owned her father first and reluctantly allowed his wife, her mother, into his family. In fact, he did all he could to keep her out, jumping on to the sofa or bed if he found husband and wife seated together, and pushing the intruder away. But she was fond of animals, too, and the dog soon gave in to her blandishments. He was jealous of his rights but not ill-natured.
The girl's parents wondered how he would respond to her arrival. They need not have done. He took the addition to his family as he might have done a pup of his own fathering – or a Buddha. The dog was Tibetan, a Tibetan spaniel. In the monasteries his ancestors had all aspired to be Dogs of Fo, guardians of the Buddha, and to that end had learned how to guard first the Buddha's house.
His name was Teddy. The little girl could manage that. It was not so great a distance from Da-da to Te-dim. Dog and girl were almost inseparable. When she was old enough for a rusk or a biscuit, she gravely shared it with Tedim, turn and turn about, both seated on the rug in amity.
Looking on once was a pair of doctors, her aunt and uncle, both very strict with the mother about childcare and hygiene. "What about this, then?", she asked them, pointing to the two on the rug. "Some things we must leave to God", was the inconsistent but fond reply.
One day, when she was older, the girl's cousin came to call along with his parents. He was notoriously ill-behaved. When the two rose to leave, the dog darted out of his accustomed place and seized the boy's ankle. Did not bite him, merely held him fast. At once there were cries of "Bad dog!" The girl's father was mortified. But the girl's ayah had seen, herself unseen, what the boy had done before. He had slipped into his pocket a toy he coveted. Tedim, her own Dog of Fo, was not going to let his little girl be robbed.
The father went on transfer to a northern district. He was both District Magistrate and Collector of Revenues. Every so often he held court outdoors, hearing grievances, settling disputes. The dog sat by his side. Occasionally he strolled among the men sitting cross-legged on the ground. Once he growled a low soft sound. He did no more. Only a growl as he stood beside the man and looked him over. There was a moment of apprehensive silence and then a loud burst of laughter. "Your dog is wise, Sahib", the other men cried, "he can smell out a troublemaker and a dishonest one."
As the girl grew into her fourth year the dog, not quite a pup when he was passed from hand to hand to end up with her father, the dog grew older still. That is the way with dogs. But he loved as faithfully and was no less beloved. Yet a time came when the three he claimed as family must go for a short while to a distant city where he would not be welcome to their hosts. It was the briefest absence. But it was in winter. Winter in that place was severe. The dog was immovable from his place in the verandah, where he could see the motorcar turn into the gate. He neither ate nor drank. The servants placed a rug beside him; they dared not lift him on to it. They ventured to cast another over him. His gaze fixed, he took no notice.
When his family returned, the dog lay still, unable to rise and greet them. He was not dead but near death. Pneumonia took so many human victims, why not an ageing dog? Yet they tried to save him. Frantically they tried, sparing no effort or expense.
The household, the office, the very town held its breath and commiserated. What would the Sahib do without his faithful dog, the wise one? The Sahib was like a man possessed, they said. He had driven all the way to the big town, to Ahmedabad, with the dog, seeking a better doctor.
The dog seemed to revive, but the strain stopped his brave faithful heart. In this moment of her first encounter with death, the girl's world seemed to fall apart. "Bring him back," she yelled, beating with her small hands at her father's legs. Here was the all-mighty, this giant who kept her world together: he must bring Tedim back. But he could not. His eyes red and swollen with unshed tears, he did not mind her wild cries and blows. Her weeping mother gentled her away.
They buried Teddy on a knoll in the sprawling compound, near the much-loved horse of a previous British Collector. A grave mound was raised over him and shaped in steps, with a shallow concavity to hold flowers country fashion. It was the mali and others who shaped it lovingly. A headstone was made and set up.
There would be other dogs and other losses in the grown woman's life. At least one dog as dear and losses as grievous. But the memory of that first one still reduces the old woman to tears.
~ E.M.R.H 26 September 2009