It was ten minutes past four and I was sitting on the top step of the staircase in the corridor. I didn’t know whether my tears were because I was relieved, exhausted, sad or all of them. I couldn’t cry in the flat. When a few tears did flow the night before, Ladoo, with her grossly distended abdomen, clumsily rose from her bed and waddled to sit in front of me in an attempt to comfort me. When she put her paw on my knee, I yearned to pick her up and hug her, but I couldn’t because I was afraid of putting pressure on her chest which might cause her to gag. All this happened two days ago.
For the past five months, Ladoo has been unwell. The most terrifying moment was on 11 January 2013. Ladoo hadn’t been eating properly and, for anyone who knows my little one, that’s bad enough. That morning, she woke me up at 5 a.m. and demanded I take her downstairs. After she evacuated her bowels, she couldn’t move. When I picked her up, I saw something I’d never seen in her eyes – fear. The question was clear: “Mummy, what’s happening to me? I’m scared, Mummy.” When she could see that I was equally frightened, she began to panic. Her tongue hung out, her gums became pale and she started to fade away. I hugged her close and started to pray. When we arrived home, I lay her down on a towel and used a syringe, without the needle, to force 100Plus down her throat. That gave her some energy and I repeated this regularly until we saw the vet.
During the next few weeks, after blood, urine and ultrasound tests plus an X-ray, the vet finally made a conclusive diagnosis: the dachshund I named after an Indian sweet has incurable congestive heart disease. The best I can do now is manage the signs and symptoms when they occur. The vet also said, “She has to be on medication for life.”
I’ve been wondering how long that ‘for life’ will be. In the many nights since, with Ladoo resting her head in my lap and trying to sleep, I’ve surfed the Net to understand this condition, find treatment options and suitable medication, and to know how long ‘for life’ can be. Some vets say three years; other people say four months. A lady at the clinic said her dog was on the same medication and had been on it for five years.
I’ve also learnt a few new things, the foremost being the sense of hopelessness a mother feels when her child is ill. One night during this hellish time, neither of us slept. Ladoo’s girth became larger by the hour, filling up with fluid. Her skin was painfully taut which made it impossible for her to sit. Her laboured breathing made it hard for her to lie down, walk or rest. While we lay on the bed and I waited for morning to come so that I could rush her to the vet, I held her close and did the only thing that came to mind: I recited the Maha Mitrunjaya mantra, which Hindus believe wards off death.
As I watched the ceiling fan rotate, I willed my dog to live with positive thoughts and happy memories. I vowed I would write a story, not only about what a joy she was to me, but about how she’s had an impact on the lives of others.
Let’s start with the main man in our lives – my father. I’ve always known that Daddy is a gentle man. With Ladoo, though, he’s desperately tender and struggles between giving in to whatever Ladoo wants and sticking to the rules. Ladoo, of course, knows how to manipulate him. For example, when she wants that bit of banana she knows he’s reserved for her (which she’s not supposed to eat), Daddy struggles to avoid making eye contact with Ladoo. Then, defying me, she jumps up and leans her paws on his knees. She tilts her head and her ears droop, making her eyes huge and soulful. With Ladoo looking pathetic, Daddy gives in and feeds her the banana. Guilt-ridden, Daddy cannot make eye contact with me after this.
Ever since Ladoo became ill, each time I call home, Daddy’s first question has been, “How’s Ladoo?” There are days when he’s woken me up to ask about her health.
From the start, my mother made it a rule that Ladoo cannot enter the bedroom. Nothing is cuter than our dachshund standing at the threshold of the bedroom, stretching her long body and neck to peek at what Mummy’s doing inside. Still, when Ladoo was scheduled to have a procedure done, my mother did not go to work until it was over and Ladoo was home, safe.
My dog is not a quiet, sit-in-one-corner canine. She’s exuberant and demands attention and affection. The one person who always obliges is our maid. When the front gate opens and Ladoo sees the maid waiting, Ladoo’s hysterical crying from inside the car hurts my ears every time.
In December, my cousin visited and brought along a special wish list prepared by her twins. My six-year-old niece’s list, written in pink, included this: photos of Ladoo. Apparently, she has a set of pyjamas with dachshunds printed on it which the little girl calls her ‘Ladoo pyjamas’.
Her brother was once given an interesting task: he had to assign each number in a single month to someone’s birthday. For instance, since his mother’s birthday fell on the 10th, 10 would be ‘Mummy’s Day’; since mine fell on the 4th, 4 would be Aneeta Aunty’s day. When he finished, there were still days when no one he knew had a birthday. The next morning, he asked his mother, “When is Ladoo’s birthday?”
A few years ago, my parents reupholstered their sofa. When Mr. Beh delivered the new cushions, imagine Ladoo’s joy when she saw he’d created a custom-made bed for my extra-long dog by joining two old cushions together. It’s similar to my joy the day our regular vet said Ladoo causes a cacophony when she visits his clinic, but she is a dog with a big heart.
Sometimes, stressed-out friends visit us to relax. Ladoo never hesitates to go as close to them as they will allow her to. Those who take her onto their laps might experience what I call a ‘Ladoo Hug’. If you pick Ladoo up, she’ll place her paws on each shoulder and lean her snout on one of them. This way, she presses her whole body against yours. If you are able to close your eyes and imagine it, you might feel the flow of energy from her body to yours. If you’re lucky, she’ll even sigh contentedly for you.
Ladoo remembers all her visitors and when I say the names of her favourite ones, she wags her tail, not from side to side, but round and round, ecstatic. I want so much to call these people and invite them over now. I want to say, “Please come. Ladoo would love to see you.” What I can’t bring myself to say is, “Come now. Because I don’t know how long she has.”
There are memories of Ladoo that I will treasure throughout my life. For example, six-month-old Ladoo, reaching out a stumpy, puppy paw to feel grass for the first time in her life. Then, there was Ladoo abandoning the peanuts my mother accidentally dropped, to comfort me when I received a terrible report from an editor. I kept a straight face when the vet said Ladoo was beautiful because I brushed her coat every day. Actually, I was thinking, ‘I don’t comb my own hair every day and you think I comb her coat?’
Now that she’s on medication, Ladoo is recovering fast. Today, she chased the birds and fussed when I was slow to serve her food. She wanted to go further than the 10 metres we’ve been walking each morning for the past five weeks.
I don’t want to be told, “You’ll have to accept it when the end comes,” or “Don’t get too attached so that you’re not hurt.” The worst thing said so far is, “After all, already nine. She is a dog, you know.” During intense moments, I am sure that since Ladoo is part of a family whose members have defied heart disease and lived much longer than expected, she, too, will live for a long time.
My mother says that Ladoo must have done some good karma to be loved this much. In fact, I think the opposite is true: I must have done some good karma for the many blessings and joy she’s brought me. God give me strength for I know that when my sweet dachshund dies, a part of me will die with her.
By Aneeta Sundararaj
(11 February 2013)
29 March 2013 (Good Friday): I am very sorry to report that Ladoo passed away in my arms at about 10 p.m. I am grateful, however, that when she died, she was surrounded by all who love her. She is buried in my parents’ garden. I only pray that she died knowing she is loved unconditionally.
Here’s a story called ‘A Forever Bond’ which I wrote after Ladoo died.
You are free to publish this story, email it to your friends, share it on Facebook or circulate it in any media. All I ask is that you keep it intact. If you choose to edit it in any way, please say that you’ve done that. And, I will appreciate it if you inform me you’re editing it. All comments are welcome.
Places where this story has been published:
I’ve also written an eBook that contains a set of short stories that feature Ladoo. Here’s the link to that eBook, which is available on Smashwords.com