This is the story of Prince Gusting (‘Gusting' because I thought he was disgusting and my daughter and husband didn't). who held our family, friends, domestic staff, and neighbours in thrall and in tyranny for 11 and a half years and died last month, exactly the way he had lived- on his own terms, fighting to the last, and with an encourage in attendance. We are unused to our new freedom-to be able to answer the doorbell without five minutes of pleas and threats; to be able to eat paneer/chicken/papaya without having our elbow jerked and our eardrums shattered; to leave the house without the mandatory dash to the door to escape the furious creature trying to stop us. It is nice to hug family and friends, without furtively looking for Prince, because he disapproved of us having body contact with anybody except him. He disapproved of many things, and sometimes but people who disobeyed –no-steping on his towel, no hand waving as you talked, no laughing loudly, and no using a flash camera or a hair dryer or opening an umbrelly in his presence.
We took him to a dog psychiatrist when he was two. The young Parsi lady, charged a modest fee, but you had to sign in blood that you would obey her orders. Her diagnosis was that he suffered from "dominant dog or top dog syndrome". She explained that dogs were pack animals, when they came into our homes, we were the pack. When they sensed a leadership vacuum, they immediately tried to take over. She said that he was more hostile to my husband than to take over. She said that he was more hostile to my husband than to me because they were having a "testosterone to testosterone battle for the household's head". Once again, I was out of the running. Apparently, as naïve first dog owners, we had reinforced "top dog" behaviour. Dog who was a baby still was fed first, child and mom ate next and dad last, little knowing that in the dog world, the pack leader ate first and the loser last. We were asked to perform a ghastly pagan ritual wherein we put his food in the center of the dining table when we ate our dinner. While he ran round and round the table, caterwauling. We also had to fill his food into two bowls, and feed him on a leash-start him at one bowl, suddenly take him to the other. These rituals were meant to show him that we humans were the food bosses in this pack. The psychiatrist made clear the rules of combat. Never make eye contact. Don't engage in battle and grab the objects back. Distract him by ringing a doorbell or loudly dropping a utensil in the kitchen. If all else fails, then consider castrating him. I do remember thinking then, amidst the nerve-wracking cacophony of doorbells and ropped pots, that maybe this was a good formula to deal with difficult men, too.
Doggy grabbed the most precious thing in our home-paper. He shredded my daughter's homework, letters, bills, cheques. He then graduated to hunting and dragging lingerie into the living room when we had visitors and guarding it ferociously. Red faced, we'd pretend not to notice. Two things that galled me were that he shared my birthday, and had an IQ of 250. I once declared that I would indeed give him away-by then he was far gone, and had run through several expensive trainers(we calculated that his tuition bill was more than my daughter's) His besotted "dad" and "sister" asked gleefully, "Who will take him, anyway?". I said that my target segment would be people who accepted turn-around jobs in loss making companies or CEO Jobs in fiercely family-con-trolled businesses. For them, hope always triumphed over experience, and they could never resist and challenge. Of course, I never carried out my threat, and he continued to sleep on our beds, pushing our heads off any pillow, being very nice to anyone who entered through the service door, and snarling at those who came in through the main door. We shed buckets or tears when he died. He taught us tolerance, patience, and to love unconditionally. For that alone, these 11 and half years of stressful coexistence with a bratty, eternally one-and-a-half-year-old, has been worth it. I have a sneaking suspicion that I owed him plenty in my previous birth, and he was my karmic come-uppance.