The Year of the Dog
When I saw all my friends posting photos of theirs or of dogs I thought the Year of the Dog was the time to remember the creatures that have populated my life and given our family so much joy. We have had dogs big and small, very big and very small, smart and not so smart, beautiful and not so. I realized that dogs are much like people; smart, kind, loyal, dull, sneaky, indifferent or mean and you never know what you are getting.
As children, and until our parents moved into an apartment in Paris, we usually had a dog. There were two and they both lived long lives. First Youpi and Croco, two Airedales, one reasonable, the other boisterous. When I came along in 1956, our mother and Germaine gave our father an ultimatum saying it was Croco or me, that one had to go, and of course, it wasn’t going to be me.
Youpi passed in 1965, at the ripe age of thirteen and the next year I was given Tilou, a cairn Terrier who was intelligent and loving. He lived until 1982, long after I had left home. In India, I decided one dog was not enough and since there was no one to stop me, Kalsang and I had dozens of dogs, some inside the house, others outside, some given, some picked up, some left by departing cooks or guests, some born to our dogs, others who just wandered in. We had dogs before we had children and they were children to us. We slept with them, and my parents brought them toys when they visited. In the evenings, we watched them play, and their chases and scuffles replaced TV. There was Yangki picked off the street, Norzon the mongrelized Apso who visited the lama next door and stole his socks, Boubou who, as a puppy was small enough to fit in my hand, and Tashi, who belonged to the Gadong oracle up the road but decided to move in with us.
When the first wave of dogs had died off or disappeared, which was sadly the case for Boubou, we started with the second batch around 1991. First came Dikyi, the daughter of the Norbulingka matriarch who ‘owned’ the land, was privileged to welcome all important visitors, among them Madame Mitterrand and was respected by all the other dogs. Then the monks who lived in our house making dolls (that is another story) picked up a very large, yellow dog, impressed by his size. I nicknamed him the Godfather, as he was involved in shady operations that included killing the sheep of the local farmers on the hill behind our house, and teaching his skills to Dikyi. He also attacked monkeys, a rare occurrence as the two species generally learn to measure each other, and had his tendon bitten, acquiring a permanent limp. Around 1996, the renegade couple was joined by Chophel, found on the roadside. The children loved Chophel, who grew up to be the Godfather’s right hand until they had a huge fight. The Godfather came out of it with a scarred face and Chophel lost a piece of his ear.
Inside the house, where things were a little calmer, we had the spitz/apso/Pomeranian combination twins, Yanga and Tashi, given to our daughters by a friend. The children loved them and treated them like dolls. Then another friend, to whom we had told some years before that a Pekinese would please us, suddenly sent one over in a box. Dolma, who was a more country style Pekinese with less of a flat face and a silky auburn coat, became one of our favorites. Around 1994, they all started to multiply, beginning with Dikyi with the Godfather, then Dolma, with the twins. At one time we had over 17 dogs and the children, who wanted to keep them all, would leave little notes everywhere saying “Please let us keep all the puppies”
Sad things happen too. Whiles some puppies we given to loving families, a large number of Dolma’s offspring stayed with us and vanished in stages, caught by civets and leopards in the garden after dark. In 2003, Dolma herself disappeared while I was away. I was told me she had died of a heart attack, which seemed plausible due to her obesity, when in fact, as I discovered years later, she also had been caught by a nocturnal carnivore. The twins died of old age, though Yanga narrowly escaped being eaten, saved only by the howling of the other dogs that brought on our timely intervention. We figured the civet that had preyed on him was old and missed Yanga’s main artery, leaving a tooth in his neck instead. Yanga was so shaken he spend weeks hiding under the coffee table in the living room, trembling like a leaf. Tashi lost all his coat in old age and Sochoe massaged him daily. He loved her caring touch, and would totter over to the living room for his massage every day at the appointed time.
For a while after that, we had a rather disjointed pack, collected here and there, mostly by guests, cooks and Sochoe on a summer visit from college. That pack, which numbered about six mostly died of a mysterious disease at the same time, except for Traga, a black dog collected as a puppy near the house. We suspect he was a victim of torture by children, and was blind and had no use of his back legs when we found him yelping in a ditch at the back of our garden. He recovered both sight and use of his legs in time, but never allowed human beings to touch him. He is still with us today. Other dogs just left, as did Buns, found as a tiny puppy standing in the middle of the road and saved from a truck by Noryang. He had a singular attraction to monkeys who returned the favor, and his presence in the garden would attract dozens of them who took turns playing and grooming him, several dutifully picking his lice while he basked in the sun.
At one point, when we were totally out of small dogs, Kalsang said he wanted something tiny to keep on his lap, and Sochoe obliged with a Chiwawa, our very much loved Chichi. Then we began to feel unsafe with no dangerous dogs to greet visitors and I talked about something big that could scare people but not bite them. Sochoe obliged again, with a Saint Bernard. I wasn’t happy about that, but after five years, grew used to it. Sangpo is charming, but SO big. He is afraid of thunder and one day, as the lights went out during a dinner, he pushed himself into the living room and unto the lap of our guests. I couldn’t help laughing but was told afterwards that no one else had found it funny.
Then of course, there was Daisy, Sochoe’s exceptionally charming and intelligent dog, who had her own story (in a previous blog) and joined our household in 2011. Chichi and her, in spite of their size difference, were best friends. Chichi became everything he had hoped to Kalsang, living on his lap, sharing his life of shunning any form of exercise. She is overweight with oversized nails which she won’t let us cut. She is also very defensive of her master, jumping out at any hand that nears him.
Daisy left us in July leaving a big hole, and Tenor gave Sochoe Luna, a Shiatzu, who is now friends with Chichi, who is starting to have white hairs.
And of course, there are Dechen’s family dogs in Tibet, whom I meet quite often; Thopdan the mastiff, now the same age as Norzin, and Norbu the chocolate poodle, who follows Dechen everywhere she goes. And life goes on….