He arrived home, oozing out of my husband’s arms, 3 months old. I could scarcely believe my eyes, a massive auburn beauty, with limbs splayed in every possible direction. It was love at first touch, soft brown fur, and pendulous ears, swaying rhythmically – a gorgeous pair of dark eyes that sprinted into my heart’s corners, establishing supremacy. I had not wanted a dog, I had not wanted a pet at that juncture in my life, I had been pretty categorical. There he was giving me that look- that irresistible doggy look. I was taken.
However, I quickly told my husband, who’d brought him along that fine morning, that we’d been cheated, that he was at least six months old if not more. My convictions quickly transferred to him, and we made a quick call to the breeder in Bangalore who confirmed that he was indeed three months old, not a day more. We were forced to believe him. As it transpires, his conduct was befitting of an infant’s, and stayed that way, to this day. Today I smile indulgingly.
I imagined then that he would not grow very much, since he bore a rather large muzzle, and oh those long limbs. Yet he continued to grow for over a year and became nigh a strapping of a pony. He was beyond all training, that had become increasingly clear. The door would be ajar and Zorro would disappear like a bullet while the entire family would hare off after him. The fear of his being hurt unwittingly by a passing vehicle put the fear of God in us all. We were in love, and we needed to protect him from himself. He loved us anyway, he knew no better.
Truth be told, I hated myself for loving him as I did. I had already left my professional life to embrace a domestic one in order to be there for the children. Our two children filled my hours with considerable homework, plus the housework, plus all the driving up and down from various extra-curricular classes- my life was full and my life was happy; there was no extra room for any extra work. Zorro was plenty extra work. He needed to be fed, he needed to be walked, he needed to be guarded and he needed loads of affection. He was one loving dog who refused to guard. He was a family dog that wanted to be petted when awake, and left undisturbed when asleep. He was full-time work. To top it he needed to bolt. When excited, he shot from one end of the house to the other, in uncontained merriment. He still does it, but now he slips and falls midway, after all he is 12 years old. How he managed to emerge unscathed from his jaunts was anyone’s guess.
Our son, hardly recognized walls of any kind. So there I was, saddled with two brats, and no stopping either. By the end of the first year of Zorro’s arrival, I had lost considerable hair, weight and was ready to resign. The daughter, bless her, tried to support me as well as she could, but given her schedule there was precious little she really could bring to my domestic table.
In his third year of life, we moved to Hyderabad. Whether it was some quirk of fate, or God’s reward for my good karma, we were able to rent a large mansion, with plenty of space for both son and dog to overlook the walls of the house, and run amuck. I had learnt to ignore the loud noises, the falls, the tumbling artefacts, and other such incidents, and would quietly put everything back in its rightful place after the storm passed. Patience, that’s what I learnt fast in my mid-years.
As far as the human child was concerned, he had a grown a little, and his energies were also put to better use, such as tennis and skating lessons. At home, exhausted, he would place his head on the pillow and sleep. Zorro, on the other hand, got burlier and more active.
One evening, as my husband was travelling, I had to walk him. Let’s just say, we tried to stroll and balance energies with one another, rather unsuccessfully. He would prance ahead and then break into a jog, gradually into a run- me flying behind him, hanging onto the leash for dear life, and holding my right shoulder, lest I lost my arm that was attached to it. That evening I was more tired than most days, and he broke free. I just sat down in the middle of the street with the leash dangling by my side, free of Zorro, weeping copiously. I pulled out my mobile and called my husband who was in some corner of some country at some godforsaken hour. When I told him what had happened, he coolly asked me to calm down and summon help. It was eleven at night, who could I summon without them declaring me a wacko! After much back and forth, the neighborhood watchman asked me to return home and that he would somehow find us our Zorro. I entrusted my Setter in his able hands. He did return him home, and had managed to lure him with an old bone, no less.
I filed my resignation- I put my foot down, I played truant- I yelled and said I had had enough and that Zorro had to be trained to walk on leash otherwise he could find himself a corner in the home to relieve himself. The husband promised that something would be done about this nuisance within the month.
The husband kept his word. In the meantime, our luck turned, and an old helper came looking for work at our door one fortuitous day. He was hired without much delay, and was able to walk Zorro morning and night for many years thereafter.However, we also found a military training school on the outskirts of Hyderabad, who were miraculously able to train this un-trainable pooch of ours. He returned chastised and seemed older and wiser. I breathed a little easier.
We moved to Bangalore where our beloved Setter fell badly ill within the first year. We were bereaved, and stricken. We learnt that his kidneys were failing and that he had a fifty percent chance of survival. That is when, with a jolt, we all realized what he truly meant to us- he was our eternal baby- as much as I had denied myself the love of a dog and hated him when he would run away- I was his mother, there was no denying it. He had to be saved at any cost, he was only four years old, and had a long and healthy life ahead. The vets were sincere in saving him, putting him on dialysis for a week, and then ensuring that his protein intake be limited. He had to be on a renal diet for the rest of his life, but he emerged fit and fine for the rest of him. He continued to run around the house when happy, and flopped himself where he could, when done. The ensuing years have been happy and disease-free.
Zorro has travelled with us all across the highways, during our moves from one city to another. His massive frame has had moments of disquiet, yet he has been exemplary in a nine-hour drive from Hyderabad to Bangalore in a small Getz, with much luggage, two kids and two adults. What a memorable journey that was! When we stopped for food at a wayside inn, he chased their hens, who clucked off for dear life, while he wondered why he couldn’t even harness one among so many, given that speed was his thing! Hens were faster, when it came to guarding one’s survival he reckoned, and ate his watery rasam rice, chastened.
He has received our undiluted devotion and love. He has been a terrible guard dog, and welcomed all and sundry without any bias, or distinction. Given his stature, we have had to do little to discourage strangers from entering.
He is twelve years old now, and continues to represent what he is best at representing, Love. He still pushes and paws me for attention, and still eats his rice and boiled vegetables with utmost excitement, as if it were a gourmet meal. He barks without any warning, and we still wonder what sets him off. His responses are slower with age, his hearing is wanting, he walks far slower, as his hips are giving way- he is aging with grace, and needs us more than ever. He is just as beautiful as ever- his limpid brown eyes still melt me just the way they had on arrival.
He puts his muzzle on my tummy every morning for extra petting- he chases, rather gently, a fly if he feels like, and absolutely loves putting his head on the keyboard when I type sitting upright on my sofa, like right now. His increasing affection makes me nervous- I know he shan’t live forever, that a dog’s life has its expiry date. I am writing this because I want to- because I feel compelled to. I hope when he does decide to take our leave, it’s on his feet. We love you Zorro, and that’s how it is and will always be- you are forever our beautiful brown baby.