HOW MY FOUR LEGGED HAPPINESS ENHANCED MY MENTAL HEALTH
I was wondering how I’m going to start this piece and this small anecdote that happened a few days ago came to mind. A small disclaimer before I start, Arthur (My 18 Months Old Labrador) is much more to me than just a pet and at certain times in this article, I will refer to him as “My Boy” or any other cliched nickname but that’s the thing - to me, he was never a dog or a puppy. He is my baby who changed my life.
A few days ago, I was deeply disturbed by everything happening all around us. Social media or media in general can get extremely harsh when you’re locked down and have to take all of it in with no escape. In the midst of all this, I had reached a point where I began questioning my life choices (that’s a whole different article for a different time) and my mind was stuck in a loop where I woke up at dawn and just began crying profusely, thinking about how worthless I am. It was as if my life had lost purpose and I just couldn’t breathe. I slump to the floor with no energy left in my legs. Arthur opens one eye, glances at me, rushes towards me, and starts sniffing all around me. So I push him gently to one side, and he comes back licking me in the face like a crazy person. Considering I have the sleepiest, laziest boy in the world who wouldn’t move for an earthquake, this was different, something I wasn’t used to. So after considerable licking, he resorts to jumping up and sort of hugging me where he puts his arms around me. He doesn’t stop until I laugh at how silly he is. All this at 5:30 AM! Soon after I laugh a little, he goes back in his corner and passes out, and at that moment I forgot what I was sad about, all my insecurities, all my troubles were pushed aside with a hug and a few face licks. What really stuck with me is just the purity of that emotion, the ability to give and expect nothing (well, maybe just a walk and a few belly rubs).
Arthur came into our lives in April of 2019. We adopted this tiny 4-month-old pup who I could pick up with one arm. His arrival came at the time when my grandmother, who was the last of my grandparents, had passed away about 8 months prior and my family who had given so much to take care of her, was slowly slipping into monotony. In no means is monotony a bad thing, but that’s the thing about it, you will never realize how deeply monotonous you are until one day you wake up and realize all the conversations you didn’t have and all the moments you’ve missed because everyone just went about life like it was a role played in a deeply boring movie. Here comes this little black pup who’s sniffing around the house trying to find the best and coldest places to sleep on, licking everyone to identify who tastes the best, watching my mother give the “That’s so gross!” expression every time he rolled on the bed. Over time, we as a family began this journey and as all relationships go, the adjustments were hard. I feel pets are so misunderstood because we lack the ability to communicate with them and seldom make the effort to understand that all they need is love. And I have to be honest, the early days were hard. Understanding what Arthur wanted turned out to be so confusing. I did a small study and found out that most people give up in the initial months itself when they realize that they might love pets but are not cut out to keep them at home and tend to them. In fact, Arthur himself changed three homes by the age of four months until he finally found his forever home with us. But it was not easy. Right from toilet training to maintaining a walking schedule, these are things that we as humans can’t fathom. But it teaches you something super important. It taught me how love, as an emotion, is so selfless, without any expectations. “A bond built with love”, is extremely floral and easy to say but, you have to put the work in. This means the next time your pet takes something and runs or breaks something or bites into something, don’t get enraged. Focus on training them better. The last thing you want is your pet being scared of you rather than loving you.
I’m usually someone who looks at the world with a very black and white approach and that protects my feelings and helps me deal with them better. I’m not relatively sure if this process is right but I know for a fact that when I have to perform on stage, this approach helps me keep my feelings in check. The reason I’m telling you this is because in recent times the only two things that break all my emotional barriers are my matters at work and this Four Legged attention-seeking lump of happiness. This one time as he had begun teething, he would bite anything and keep chewing into it. (So this phase was particularly bad for my father who lost his spectacles to Arthur.....countless times). But when no one was noticing, he’d constantly bite into his leash. Then one day he stopped eating. We dismissed it as a tantrum and gave him new stuff to eat but he’d reject it. This coming from a dog who redefined gluttony, was new to us. We let a day pass by and checked if he’d eaten but nothing changed. Moreover, that day we started noticing this weird behavior where he’d just stay aloof and curl into a ball or stuff his face into a corner of a wall. On the third day when he refused to look at food, things started to get really scary. I rushed him to the vet and he diagnosed it as a stomach ache and I thought it was done.
That night, he vomited. In the mess was a piece of the leash he had chewed on. I think everyone freaked out after that. The vet asked us to keep inducing vomit and try and push the leash out and with every bout of puke a piece would come out but he wasn’t getting any better. Four days into not eating and the constant vomiting, the entire atmosphere around the house was all Arthur. This was the first time after a really long time that I saw the entire family come together as one. Everyone just wanted this little baby of ours to be okay. However, even after an X-ray and constant IV drips, we couldn’t understand why he wouldn’t eat. He had lost 7 Kgs in 5 days and could barely walk. My parents tried to cajole him and when it failed, they shed a tear. The doctor said there was a last resort but it was extremely risky.
I remember that day like it was yesterday. I had gone to Pune for a night on some urgent work and Viren (my brother) and my mother took him to the hospital. I rushed back but when I reached, the surgery had already started. I remember going into that operation theatre and seeing my boy unconscious with his tongue out and two tubes into his throat and the doctor showed me that a large 8-inch portion of the leash had been swallowed. Walking out of the operation theatre, I broke. Never have I ever felt anguish this strong. For someone who has control over these emotional outbursts, this was new to me. When they finally managed to take that piece out after intense three hours, we all knew there was hope. The entire mood around the house was suddenly uplifted and we couldn’t wait to get our baby home.
The reason I told you this story is because we live in a highly toxic world. Constantly around negativity and differences. Only when we look past all of this, is when we can see what love truly is. My entire family, including me, went through this extremely strenuous experience to understand that pets don’t conventionally serve their masters, they’re a part of the family. So what if they can’t talk to us. Love is universal. At the cost of being too cliche, love has the ability to transcend beyond the boundaries of Humans and Pets. We’re all living beings who need to coexist in a world that was gifted to us. Pets have this inherent quality to give you everything they have. They only want to be able to please you. Together as a family, we’ve had this put into perspective. So much so, that we’ve all become a little more sensitive to each other and their struggles. For example, My father, who never cooked in his life, decided to help out by learning how to cook and he’s been doing a great job.
In the end, as I reflect on the entire time that I’ve spent with Arthur, I feel he’s taught me so much. Every time I feel life is difficult, his sleepy face reminds me of how easy it can be, and all you need to do is find a nice place and sleep under the fan, and eventually, someone will give you a belly rub.
Written by - Vishaal Rasquinha
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