Shashi Warrier | Squark, the dog on the doorstep

The Asian Age.  | Shashi Warrier

Opinion, Columnists

Warrier's Decision to Adopt Stray Pup Challenges Initial Agreements

Fudge and Squark. (Image by Shashi Warrier)

Late one night in the rains, I heard a strange noise from near the front door. I turned on the light in the verandah, and, upon opening the door, found a puppy curled up, sound asleep, on the doormat. He couldn’t have been more than a few weeks old and seemed to have appropriated the spot from our ten-year-old dog, Fudge. A storm was blowing in from the sea and I didn’t have the heart to put the little creature out into the rain. I didn’t know what to do, so I called my wife Prita out to help decide.

The little fellow slept through our conversation, and well as a couple of bursts of thunder and lightning. “He must he exhausted,” Prita said. “Should we let him stay the night?”

“I don’t know,” I said, “that’s why I called you.”

We looked at each other. We’re both in our sixties, and we’ve had at least one dog throughout our decades together. When our four-year-old pet dog Wonder died suddenly in 2020, knowing that taking on a pet dog or cat requires a commitment of a decade, we had decided that Fudge would be our last. After all, we had no idea if we’d be fit enough to take care of an active animal for another ten years...

Thanks to the weather, the puppy stayed on, but Prita and I agreed on a few crucial matters. First, we’d feed him outside, with a bunch of strays whom we feed regularly. Second, we’d try to ease him out so he’d perhaps join one of the packs of strays that inhabit the neighbourhood. Third, we’d refrain from naming him, and keep our distance from him, so when the time came to put him out we wouldn’t find it too hard. Finally, we’d put him out before it became necessary to take him to the vet...

Meanwhile, we speculated that Fudge was lonely, having spent most of her life in the company of at least one other dog and one cat. Had loneliness driven her to guide an abandoned puppy home to her bed? He was, after all, small enough to satisfy her maternal instincts, and to slip between the bars of our front gate.

The first of the agreements we abandoned was the bit about feeding him outside. Whenever it rained heavily at mealtime, it seemed cruel to expect a weeks-old pup to eat standing in the open while his friend, guide, philosopher ate comfortably in the porch. And, of course, since you don’t expect a pup to eat off the floor, we bought him a dish.

The second agreement to go was the one about not getting too attached to him. We were woken one night by what seemed to be a loud squeaking from the verandah. It turned out that it was the new pup learning to bark. What he thought was menacing was actually funny enough to make us laugh. And thus he acquired the name Squark, not after the fundamental particle but because his favourite noise was a cross between a squeak and a bark...

The third agreement to go was the one about easing him outside. The strays outside sometimes play rough, and they’re much bigger and stronger than Squark, so we had to give him some way to escape their bullying when it got too much. And since the play gets rough within minutes of its start, he’s safely inside the gates most of the time. In a couple of weeks he’ll be too big to slip between the bars of the gate, but he’ll still be too small to face the bullies. So he gets to stay inside...

Only one agreement survives: the one about vet visits. Upon reflection, though, we find it silly. He’s an active male and when he grows a little older he’ll be chasing females when the season starts. That’s not safe for a half-grown dog that’s grown up in the safety of the compound of a human home. So, when the time comes, we’ve decided, we’ll take him down to the vet and get him fixed... It simply does not make sense to do otherwise.

Meanwhile, his character has been emerging. As pups go, he’s quiet and undemanding. He often slips out through the gaps between the bars in the gate from time to time to hunt for food or play with his friends, and flees back in when the play gets too rough. And he’s smart. Just days after taking up residence, he began, like every other pup we’ve ever had, to savage the footwear we left in the verandah. When we tell him not to do it, he settles docilely in a corner, looking as if butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth. But when we turn around for a second, he’s back at his mischief.

He’s ugly, mostly black, with random patches of tan, and a white streak down one side of his face. One of his ears flops while the other stands up, so he looks undecided. His legs are skinny, and, when he eats his fill, his tummy expands until he looks like a little barrel on legs. For all that, he’s got character, and we can’t help liking him: most of all, there’s the joy of watching a pup grow up.

Prita and I had to go out overnight the other day, leaving the two dogs alone. Our reception on our return was tumultous, to say the least. When at last we escaped the attentions of the two canines, we found we had made up our minds: Squark is our last...