Wall-to-wall happiness

by Gautam Raja

When our closest friends lost their dog earlier this year, it really hit our family too, and not just because we knew Oscar. You see, there’s a black-and-white photograph taken by my mother, that shows me as a toddler sitting by a puppy that was Oscar’s great-grandmother. The sweetest dog I’ve known, Lassie wasn’t particularly big, but from her, sprang a line of enormous, beautiful animals. And since Oscar “didn’t get married” (in the words of our friend’s father), Lassie’s legacy ended with him.

My mother loves dogs, and there has been no point in our lives we haven’t had at least one. And the big fellows have always been real characters. While most dogs play with balls and sticks, Caesar—Lassie’s son—would play with coconuts and bricks, tossing them around as if they were bath sponges. We’d throw them for him, and sometimes, he’d catch up with them before they landed. We’d wince as they crashed down on his head, but he never even noticed, carrying them back for us to throw again.

At the height of our dog days, we had a pack of six on our farm. And I don’t use the word “pack” loosely. They were a formidable hunting team, whether their victim was a trespassing human, or a suicidal stray dog. The big males and a couple of females just galloped straight at their target like battle horses, while two of the smaller dogs would circle to come upon the target’s ankles from behind.

When we’d seen more than our fair share of sobbing grown men, we realised nobody pays attention to the sign “Beware of Dogs”. After all, even people with puppies put up those words in the hope of keeping thieves out. Thieves weren’t our worry: we never locked the front door, and left the keys in our vehicles. But we worried about unannounced visitors being bitten, so one day we put up a sign that read, “Caution! Guard dogs running free. Do not enter”, in both English and Kannada.

It worked. For the most part. Out of the people who didn’t pay attention, most notable was the new police inspector who simply walked in when we were out of town. We found out about it when a friend called us—he’d seen the news in the local paper. (The inspector got away with just a torn uniform.)

I’m making it sound as if we raised savage beasts, but they were actually a bunch of soppy fur balls. It was just that strangers needed clearance from us before being allowed into the circle. And because we were so used to their size, I think it was only later that we appreciated just how breathtaking they were. These dogs weren’t large in the lollopy way a great Dane is large. Or in the pudgy way of a Labrador. They were large in the reckless way a Kodiak bear is large. A playful bop from them would knock people over. When one put his head on your lap, it was as if somebody had tossed you an entire Pomeranian.

There’s something about the floor-filling quality of a big dog that’s incredibly reassuring. Okay, it’s nice to watch TV while cuddling a small dog, but having a big dog… it’s like having a comforting divan that follows you around. And when they’re at your feet, it’s furry, wall-to-wall happiness.

Sadly, when they’re not there any more, there’s a lot of space to fill. It’s even harder when it’s a line of majestic, inscrutable giants that has ended. Big dogs… they leave big holes when they go.

First published in Gulf News, July 14, 2009