Sunday, December 10, 2006

Nuts about mutts

I’m sure she’ll forgive me for saying this, but my wife seems to have a bit in common with every Chinese leader since Mao (but you’re far prettier, dear). I’m not saying this simply because they’re all great dictators, with vision and charisma who have done a very good job of giving the world outside the general impression that their charges are happy with the general state of internal affairs, but also because they’re all very efficient at quelling in-house rebellions.

Emboldened by the Chinese dog owners protesting last week at Tiananmen Square against the ban on big dogs (taller than 14”), unregistered dogs and the one dog per family rule, I, an inveterate dog lover if ever there was any, couldn’t help but murmur a protest about the ‘no dog in the family’ rule at the family Tiananmen – the dining table. While the Chinese protesters turned out to be all heart, I ended up as chopped liver.

However, this being the Chinese Year of the Dog, I’m willing to push my luck a wee bit more and build a case for every closet dog-lover who would love to bring a Tommy, Jimmy or Moti home but is biding his time, his tail between his legs. And while we are at it, do forgive me dear reader if you feel like you are caught in the middle of some heavy-duty domestic crossfire, but how is a soul to preach and practice all that is good and great when he doesn’t even have the right to choose his best friend? (Just a handy phrase dear…)

Dog discovered man long before man discovered the wheel, and was the first to be domesticated by man (where else but in China) and while every other animal had to be trapped, or broken in, dog and man chose a mutual association where each recognised the advantages of associating with the other. But beyond that, there has been a mutual kinship between the two – a mystical synergy that the early man shared with the first wolf-dog that is evident even today.

It’s common knowledge that there isn’t a more reliable and committed security system in the world (against not just physical assault on person and property but also bombs, cancerous growths and seizures) than a well trained dog but what makes this relationship so special, so unique and so enriching is the effect that the loving presence of an unquestioning, unflinching four-legged friend can have on one’s psyche and one’s physiology. Every survey in the world, whether it is conducted by the US Department of Health, a German socio-economic study, or a UK-based research group, has come to the same conclusion – irrespective of age, ailment or habit, pet owners live longer healthier lives, recover faster from debilitating cardio-vascular ailments and diseases like Alzheimer’s and have far greater control over stress and blood pressure levels (keep reading honey, and if you still haven’t changed your mind, there’s more). These studies have also established across ethnic and economic groups, that children, who grow up with a dog in the family, have higher levels of self-esteem, are more confident and more compassionate as adults. And if you are wondering about rabies and worse, don’t because there are vaccines available for both your dog and you. In fact, non dog owners are more likely to get bitten than those familiar with canine behaviour.

The dog has walked for longer than any beast and further than many men in the march of civilisation and it is a pity that there are those amongst us, bereft of the joys of such unconditional love and companionship (come on dad, mom, honey, it’s just a column). Dog lovers of China (and here I refer to those who love them as pets and not on their plates) count me in as a comrade in your crusade for justice against the dogged determination of your leaders. As for me, honey, I realise that revolutions have never worked in India, so like Gandhi, I’ll go get a goat instead, and who knows that might get your goat too… and then we’ll all live happily ever after.

A friend in need – indeed!

Man’s best friend has been living up to his reputation from the very first days of the association. Some, like Balto, the Husky mix that led a sled dog team to deliver a diphtheria serum to Nome, a town battling an epidemic, through blinding blizzards during the Alaskan winter of 1925 and Hachiko, the Akita that waited for 10 years at Shibuya station for the return of his dead master, who had died after leaving him at the station have both been immortalised in sculptures that stand even today. There have been superdogs like Roy the Alsatian, who rescued a toddler from a 40 ft high ledge and Caesar, the war dog that had saved countless lives during combat.

Then in the early 1800s, Barry, a Saint Bernard from the Hospice du Grand in Switzerland is reputed to have saved more than 40 people trapped in their snowy graves during avalanches and storms and to this day, Barry stands proud, mounted in the Natural History Museum of Berne. And a legend as great as any canine in history is Endal - the ‘Dog of the Millennium’ – a Labrador Retriever owned by Allen Parton, a wheel-chair bound war veteran. Not only does Parton depend on Endal to fulfil even the most complex daily chores, like withdrawing money from an ATM but Endal has even transformed the hitherto gruff and bitter Parton into a more amiable and happier person. “I owe everything to Endal,” said Parton. “Endal brought us (his long suffering family) together again.” Love, devotion and trust, this bond between man and beast has all that is noble and worthy of admiration. May this friendship live long and forever.


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