One is lucky if, at least once in a lifetime he or she had the privilege of sharing it with a very special dog. There have been many dogs in my life, but Daisy stands out as a very unique one. Yesterday, she left us, and with it, a big, empty space.
Daisy was Sochoe’s dog, and hers is a great story; A smart dog who had a good start, then had to fend on her own, relying on her charm to work her way to be owned by the human being of her choice. Through Daisy, I came to understand many things about the relationship between man and dog, from the point of view of the dog. A couple of years ago, I wrote down her story, in view of making an illustrated children’s story. Now is the perfect time to share it and remember Daisy, the wonderful times we all had together, and the insight she gave us on Man’s Best Friend.
Sochoe pieced together Daisy’s life from people who had seen her around in her early years, as she was not an easily forgotten dog. She was born to the dog of a Russian-Tibetan couple in the area around Norbulingka, in lower Dharamsala. We are not quite sure when, though we calculated it must have been around 2004. Her mother was an ordinary dog, who had been adopted by the couple. One day, they left for Russia. They took the mother and left her puppies to fend on their own, probably with some recommendations to friendly neighbors and the baggage of having once belonged to a loving family.
Daisy must have lost no time looking for opportunities. A dog’s life in India is unregulated, and depending on the area, dogs can have their own life with no owners, live and packs and find their own source of livelihood. They have their friends, competitors and enemies, and move around as they please, bound only by other dog’s territorial rules. Despite that they still depend on humans for food and have to face much hardship and competition with only the strongest and cleverest surviving.
Outside Norbulingka’s lush gardens are many shops and small restaurants where there is always a little something for a friendly dog. Knowing Tibetans are generally responsive to dogs, people in the area dumped their puppies outside the Norbulingka gates, thinking they have a better chance of surviving there. The cleverer ones gradually find their way inside, though they were always subject to the acceptance of the already established packs.
Daisy was a puppy with expectations. She had tasted the warmth and security of a home and craved for the love of a well provided human. In the meantime, she went for whatever she could get. All the best places inside the Norbulingka Gardens were taken. One had to carve out a place, and the best way to do that was to get the attention of a special human.
Daisy had large round eyes and could stare in a way humans found cute and endearing, which earned her the attention food and a temporary home from various store owners.
There were different types of dogs that patronized the Gardens. There was the group Sochoe called ‘the losers’ who depended on people’s leftovers and the smarter ones who had discovered the restaurant and fiercely defended their hard-won territory. To get to the restaurant, a dog needed a sponsor, a human to tag along with to give it weight. Daisy gradually found her way into the Gardens, learned to welcome the tourists, the men and women who trudged along in walking shoes and cameras. Many liked dogs and Daisy knew how to be welcoming; not too much, a friendly yelp, a little dance, just enough to get near the table, sit and stare and get a few tidbits and even a pat on the head.
Tourists were handy, but they came and went. Daisy learned that she needed a more permanent solution; an owner. There were many dogs with owners, and she must have decided that belonging to the right human (or owning a human, depending on the point of view) was a worthy goal. The local owned dogs still roamed freely but got food every day, had place to go home to at night and someone to love them and call out their name. Most were prettier than Daisy, too; small with pointed ears, curly hair or flat noses, or large and wolf-like. Daisy was neither; she was too small to be a big dog and too large to be a small one. She had pointed ears, though one sagged. An animal organization regularly neutered all the dogs in the area and Daisy was caught, spade and to make sure she wasn’t again in a later raid, they marked one of her ears with a big dent so that it now sagged forward.
Daisy eventually spotted two humans she would like to belong to. One was an older Tibetan man who had a house that was something of a hostel for dogs like Daisy. Big dogs, medium dogs and old dogs. They all had a bed with their name on it and the favorite got to sleep inside the house. Daisy made sure the man noticed her and greeted him every time he came in sight; she danced around him and ran ahead barking, announcing him, like one does for an important person. He liked Daisy and fed her sometimes. Though he seemed willing to have her come to his hostel, it was hard work to get accepted by the resident dogs. Daisy knew it would take time, and was ready to wait.
The other interesting human Daisy spotted was Sochoe. She watched her arrive every day in a car. Her arrival always caused a stir among the dogs, and waiting for her was a part of their daily activities. Sochoe was one of those humans who knew, loved and understood dogs, and of course, all the dogs knew that. She recognized all of them and gave them names, just like owned dogs. She made sure they were fed if they hovered around the restaurant and would let one or two of the more enterprising among them follow her around. She was aware of all their politics, their status, who was senior, most respected, had the most friends and who was the worst loser, and took care of them if they were ill.
Sochoe spent most of her day in her office, where dogs were not admitted, so they waited for her to emerge at meal times. Her office door was usually surrounded with napping losers, and when she went to lunch, which was mostly outside, she would be encircled with the enterprising café dogs. This made her very difficult to approach and Daisy probably had to wait a long time before making her move to get Sochoe’s attention. Her opportunity came when Sochoe spent the whole afternoon outside doing a photo shoot. Sochoe’s current favorite, a fawn colored bitch she had named “Ginger” was in her constant company, sitting close and growling menacingly at any other approaching dog. Daisy watched Sochoe from a distance for a couple of days, getting as close as she could. Sochoe began noticing her, which brought her even closer, to Ginger’s dismay. On the third day, she made her move. She found a sheep’s horn and carried it in her mouth, right up to the place where the photo shoot was taking place. She stood there while everyone stared at her, then delicately placed the horn in front of Sochoe. This was a clever move; Sochoe knew it was a present and Daisy struck her as a very special dog indeed. Daisy felt empowered and had a scuffle with Ginger who admitted defeat and went to try her luck elsewhere.
From that day, Daisy became Sochoe’s close companion. She entered a building and discovered the world of offices. Sochoe’s office, where she dressed up dummies, painted and worked on a computer. The floor was cold, but Sochoe put a cushion there for Daisy. Gradually, Daisy entered the Director’s office, then the General Manager’s office. Those had carpets, and the Director’s office had a couch. No one seemed to mind that Daisy liked the couch. She escorted Sochoe to lunch, and if Sochoe wasn’t there, she accompanied the Director. One of them always ordered her lunch, brought in a stainless steel bowl and set on the floor or the grass by the table. Sochoe provided food for other dogs too, and they knew that they had to accept each other’s presence. There was a big yellow dog called Bolo. Daisy tried to shoo him off, but he was bigger than Daisy and Sochoe liked him too, so they learned to tolerate each other.
At lunch on the restaurant lawn, Daisy and Bolo screened the people entering the garden through the main gate. Hippies and beggars were menacingly barked at. Daisy had a special dislike for the local labor and tried to scare them away too. Sochoe figured out that she must have received her share of kicks outside the gardens and now felt in a position to strike back. The tourists filing in would be greeted and welcomed; basically, she differentiated humans through their clothes and demeanor, which earned her the title of Fashion Police. Sochoe was annoyed that Daisy still felt compelled to beg from the tourists, even after having her own bowl. But Daisy was smart; she knew she still didn’t really belong to Sochoe. For all the nice offices, soft carpets and cushy couches, she watched Sochoe and the Director leave at the end of the day. She walked ahead of them with her tail wagging, saw the car, stopped and stared. They walked ahead and Daisy watched them get in, her tail gradually dropping. Then, she turned around and was on her way. In the morning, as soon as she heard the car, she rushed over to the parking lot and greeted Sochoe jumping up and down with joy, then barking and running ahead, announcing her arrival to everyone.
Sochoe wondered where Daisy went at night. Would she find a place to sleep when it was cold and raining? She had brought her a dog’s bed and left it outside her office, but Daisy sniffed disapprovingly, detecting the smell of Sochoe’s home dog, a white Spitz called Yangchung. She shunned the bed and it was later taken over by another dog, who used it to give birth to a litter of puppies. Sochoe did discover that Daisy still had many friends, people who said: “I know that dog!” or “I fed that dog for a while!” and figured she knew how to look after herself.
Daisy didn’t think much of the Garden Dogs, a gang on large dull creatures lacking any drive or ability to improve their lot. They sat all day baking in the sun in their spots and didn’t even bother to cultivate the tourist population at the restaurant, instead eating their food from the canteen. Daisy was ambitious and sought a more direct route to happiness, which involved circulating on their turf avoiding them or their approval. She had forced her way into the garden, using her leverage with Sochoe and the Garden dogs resented her for it and she fought back. Walking around meant sticking close to Sochoe or avoiding their hang out areas altogether.
One day, Sochoe bought her father a Chiwawa puppy called Chichi. Chichi was tiny, fawn colored and had with big eyes and large pointing ears. Sochoe brought her to work in a bag. She was afraid Daisy would be jealous, but things proved to be otherwise. We discovered Daisy liked being associated with an owned dog of high status, which she detected in Chichi’s attitude and size. She let Chichi nibble on her ears and played with her. All the Owned Garden dogs wanted to associate with Chichi, but Daisy didn’t let them. Chichi was her friend and her friend only. Sochoe, Daisy and Chichi became inseparable… except at night when Sochoe and Chichi got into the car and Daisy watched them ride away.
One day, Sochoe came down and didn’t find Daisy greeting her as she got out of the car. She wasn’t there the next day, either. Sochoe, the Director and the General Manager all became worried, wondering what could have happened to Daisy. Sochoe and her friends printed a photo of Daisy and posted it everywhere outside the Garden. The next day, the man at the Cyber Café said that he knew that dog, and that the fruit seller, who had owned her as a puppy had reclaimed her and taken her away to Palampur, a nearby town. More alarmingly, he was planning a move to Delhi with his family…and Daisy. The Cyber Café Man knew the fruit seller’s name, and also provided a phone number.
Sochoe and the General Manager drove to Palampur. They tried to call but the number was no longer valid. They asked about the fruit seller and wandered through Palampur for hours, no one seemed to know the fruit seller. They were about to give up and decided to give one more try, engaging in a narrow lane where a shoemaker pointed to a little house. They knocked on the door and a woman opened. Daisy was inside, tied to a bed. Daisy jumped and cried, pulling on her rope when she saw Sochoe. The fruit seller’s wife said that Daisy was theirs, that they were taking her to Delhi. The Fruit seller explained that he had owned her as a puppy and had found her wandering around in the evening, looking dirty and unkempt. Sochoe told them she loved Daisy and offered money. The fruit seller and his wife grew tired of arguing and took the money. Daisy was untied and followed Sochoe and the General Manager to the car. This time, she went straight to the car and climbed in. She knew her time had come.
Life continued as before, except that at the end of the day, when Sochoe walked to the car, Daisy didn’t stop and watch her leave. She hopped in behind her.
Daisy became Sochoe’s dog and moved in with her and Chichi. Daisy slept on Sochoe’s bed, with Chichi and an assortment of cushions. Every day, she jumped into Sochoe’s car to go to “work” at Norbulingka. She curled up on a chair and watched her paint or draw. Sometimes, Sochoe stayed home and worked in her studio. Daisy sat with her, or wondered off on the terrace watching the birds and the monkeys, listening to the sounds coming from the valley. Dog TV as I call it. In the evening, she wandered over to the big house, and enjoyed the big living room, dinner and couches. She accompanied Sochoe everywhere, learning to stick close to her in crowded places or when crossing areas with other, usually hostile, dogs.
There were four other dogs in the compound. Chichi, Daisy’s best friend, Traga, Pishi and Samgbo. Traga was a black dog who was picked out of a ditch as a puppy near our house around 2004. When we found him, he could neither see not walk, but nursed back to life, was able to do both. He grew into a handsome black dog that was friendly to other dogs, but never let humans touch him, with the exception of a little pat on the head by Sochoe. There was also Sangpo, a Saint Bernard Sochoe bought ‘to guard the house’ in 2013. I was furious; too big, too fragile and not very interested in doing any guard work, but Sangpo was there to stay and his imposing size kept people off our property. The last to come was Pishi, a yellow stray who looked like a dingo, picked up to reinforce the guard dog collection. Strays rarely make good guard dogs, being too close to pack politics, too involved with striving to evolve into the circles of human affection, and Pishi was no exception. Even Daisy, for all her craving for human company, was too busy keeping possible competitors away to think about figuring situations between humans. Her job was to announce the arrival of her favorites by running ahead of them, barking loudly. This made me think of my father, who told me about the ‘aboyeurs’ ,barkers in French, a prewar practice at formal gatherings of loudly announcing guests with their full titles as they arrived.
Daisy’s tense relations with Pishi reflected an insecurity that never left her. Pishi was desperate to please, always approaching Daisy in the most submissive of fashions, and Daisy could have accepted her as a secondary dog, one who would have looked up to her and done her bidding. But she saw too much of herself in Pishi; a street dog risen to the top, a constant threat to her security. This translated into extreme hostility towards Pishi who paid her back in kind, and drove her to crave Daisy’s privileged position. Since she couldn’t sway Sochoe, she used other means; while Sochoe was away, she enlisted the help of Sangpo, and waited for Daisy to come out of Sochoe’s house. She then attacked her and Sangpo, usually neutral, followed suit. They had to be separated with sticks and a water hose. Pishi couldn’t stand seeing Daisy get into a car, the ultimate sign of dog success and would attack her with Sangpo every time she tried to get past the front gate, which made very eventful entrances and exits for Sochoe and anyone else with her.
Daisy lived seven happy years sharing her life with Sochoe. Her attachment to her was extreme, and she would be depressed for several days if she ever went away. For the rest of her life, she craved any sign of her relation to humans. While Chichi always refused to wear a collar, Daily loved them in every form, the more elaborate the better, sucking in the reactions she collected from humans. She favored Princess necklaces, flower garlands or, towards the end of her life, a double row of pearls. Last year, we noticed her hearing had gone down, and though she was physically fit and still jumped up and down in excitement, she was confused and would lose Sochoe in crowded places. She spent her days going through the house, in and out, until we realized she must be senile. In mid July, she stopped eating, and began to look for strange corners in the garden, like dogs do when they know the end is near. Sochoe stuck with her until the end, carrying her in and out between her house and ours. We all knew she would be gone soon and when she was, the hard fact that we become intensely attached to creatures that live such short lives hits us hard and leaves us to reflect on the inevitable.