Papa’s Pet

I hate to say this but that title was hijacked and I was replaced by a mutt for the past 13 years. After my grandma passed away in 2009, my parents moved to her bungalow from their cozy 2-bedroom apartment not too far away. For years my dad and brother, both dog lovers, had been trying to convince mom to get a dog. But mom hated dogs and refused on the pretext that our apartment was too small. Now, with a fairly decent-sized yard in my grandma’s place, she couldn’t use that excuse.

My dad and brother went to Blue Cross and came back with a weaselly, mangy puppy with an unimpressive tail. Several deworming tablets and vitamin bottles later, his coat became shiny and his emaciated body filled up. His miserable tail blossomed into a furry black and white plume that curved towards his body making a magnificent ‘C.’

We were living in Boston when Papa got this puppy and my kids were pretty young then. Papa wanted the kids to come up with a name for his pup. Sparky was my son’s suggestion and Papa seemed to like it. In hindsight, the name really fit him. Sparky had this fire (not spark) in him. No one knows his story before Blue Cross rescued him but it was likely that he was abused when he was a puppy. The poor guy had trust issues and was extremely aggressive. Even Papa and Dinesh couldn’t break down his wariness. We just accepted that he would never be one of those cuddly, friendly dogs that loves everyone.

Papa always treated him like his own child. He called him baby and had this cutesy voice that was reserved only for Sparky. I once complained to him that he never pampered me the way he pampered Sparky. Every morning, Sparky got half of Papa’s Complan drink, bread with butter if that was the morning’s breakfast, and chapatis for dinner like Papa. Mom complained that now she had to make “extra” chapatis for the dog. I have never seen a dog relish chapatis before. Sparky would sit on the kitchen floor with the chapati between his front paws and he would tear off pieces of it with his mouth and chew it heartily. If we had icecream, Sparky would get his share too—Papa made sure of it. Or Sparky would scratch the door and bring it down till we gave him his share.

Since my parents didn’t eat meat, Sparky was pretty much on a vegetarian diet and ate rice, curry, veggies, and yogurt like they did. But everytime my parents went to a wedding, conference, or some such event, they would bring back some meaty treats from the buffet for him. He would get excited the moment he saw them at the gate with a bag dangling on one of their arms. A whole lot of howling and jumping on the gate would ensue till he could sink his teeth into the mysterious contents of the doggie bag.

Sparky sank his teeth into other inapproriate stuff too—like human flesh. Yes, this guy was a biter. Up until his passing he had bitten nearly 20 people including my dad and brother. Only my dad could give him a bath because he would bark and try to bite him the whole time. After Papa passed away we took him to an animal hospital to give him a flea treatment and bath. Muzzling him took about 30 minutes and he continued to try to bite through the muzzle. He jumped out of the sink and trembled and shook like he was having a seizure. Two baths later, the attendant advised us not to bring him back.

There was a time Sparky bit my brother really badly and my brother had to get several stitches. That was the last straw as far as mom was concerned and she threatened to throw Sparky out of the house. Papa and my brother pleaded with her and pacified her. Perhaps Sparky knew that if he ever bit my mom that would be the end of his life. She’s the only person he didn’t bite. But over the years mom also warmed up to Sparky. When she thought no one was around you could hear her whispering sweet endearments to him. We all knew she secretly loved Sparky, although she never would admit it and would constantly scold him for his cantakerous behavior.

I always kept a distance from Sparky although I love dogs. And he had to be tied for me to be anywhere around him. In 2020 that changed. Sparky and I could be in the same room as long as he didn’t come too close. The moment he did, I would scream for my dad or mom. Papa would laugh and say that I was being paranoid and that Sparky would never hurt me. I was always amazed at how many times Papa forgave him and saw the best in him (that none of us could ever see!)

When Papa came to visit me in the US, Sparky stopped eating and would lie in one spot, listless and morose. Mom was really worried that something would happen to him while dad was away. She coaxed him to eat by tempting him with chicken rolls from Cakes ‘n Bakes. Papa had half a mind to cut short his (already short) trip and go back home to Sparky. Thankfully, Sparky perked up in a few days and started eating again. When both my parents went to Sweden, Sparky would go up to the terrace, his favorite lookout point, and howl his heart out. None of our neighbors slept for a month and when my parents returned, they begged them not to leave Sparky alone ever again!

Papa never left home for more than a couple of days at a stretch, thanks to Sparky. As he grew older, Sparky seemed to mellow down a little. But he still didn’t lose the fire in his belly. He would bite a dog or a human here and there just to keep everyone in line. My parents have paid their fair share of medical bills and listened to abuses hurled at them by irate victims. They had to keep the gate locked for years so people wouldn’t barge in and get in Sparky’s teeth and hair, literally!

We always thought Papa would outlive Sparky but this past year proved us wrong. A day before Papa’s passing, Sparky went up to the terrace and yowled the way dogs do when they sense impending death. When they took Papa’s body away, his loyal companion watched helplessly from him roost on the terrace and let out the most distressing cry. A dog who couldn’t stand his master going out of town for a couple of days would surely not be able to survive his sudden death. Danny, my grandfather’s Daschund, died a few months after Abba passed away. I thought Sparky wouldn’t even last a week. But he seemed to be coping. He was eating and quite active. My brother took him for regular walks. Baths were out of question after the animal hospital turned us away. Mom would tie him to the gate and hose him with water from afar.

Exactly six months after my dad’s passing, Sparky developed renal failure and lost the use of his hind legs. He fought hard and tried to get up but finally gave up, exhausted. His forelegs gave up on him a few days later. The vet and some blood tests confirmed that it was renal failure and there was nothing we could do for him. Just seeing this cocky, spirited dog lying helpless with his head lolling to one side was too much to bear. Mom and brother fed him and cleaned up after him and kept a constant vigil on him. On August 1st, we decided to put him down. Emotions overcame me as I tried to say bye to someone so dear to my dad, over a video call. I broke down. I had never loved Sparky in the way I had loved other dogs and yet losing him was so painful. All the grief of losing dad resurfaced and I was drowning in it.

A few days before Sparky died, I was drifting off to sleep when I had this vision of Sparky and Papa. They were in a beautiful field with the colors of the sunset bouncing off their resplendent faces, laughing and running together. They reached a clearing and there was my grandma, grandpa, and Ganga sitting on white wicker chairs that my grandma owned when I was a child. And around them were all the dogs they ever loved in their lifetimes.

A day after Sparky died someone posted a picture of a dog on Facebook and the first line read, “All dogs go to heaven and can communicate with you.” That was confirmation that Sparky was in heaven with Papa.

One thing is for certain, all those who have loved an animal in their lifetime have experienced a piece of heaven right here on earth. Farewell Sparky and thank you for showing us that dogs too deserve a second (several in your case) chance and can’t be abandoned because they are family!

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