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A Beautiful Reflection: “To All The Dogs I’ve Loved Before”

Fair Observer author Ranjani Iyer Mohanty gives a philosophical reflection on the individuality that dogs possess and that they can reveal in us.
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Dogs

Golden retriever and beagle, jumping and playing while walking in the park. A golden retriever and a beagle get to know each other, sniff each other and play together in the walking area. © BLGKV / shutterstock.com

September 16, 2023 00:43 EDT
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I’ve always been a dog lover — but always from afar. First, there was Muffet in Edmonton, a black energetic poodle owned by the landlady of a family friend. Then, there was Breezy, a gentle old dog owned by a stately older couple. There was Whisky, a big, long-haired dog at a holiday cottage in Banff. Later, in Calgary, there were Rex and Pom-Pom, a husky and a poodle, owned by school friends. And, more recently, Harry and Sabre and Jake. I could authentically sing my own (platonic) version of Willie Nelson’s hit: “To All the Dogs I’ve Loved Before.”

Decades later, my distant love affair continues. Every morning, I go out for a walk in New Delhi. In the summers, this tends to be very early. The sun is not up yet. In fact, not many people are up yet. Just me and a few dogs walking their humans.

I see them daily, so I’ve gotten to know them.

There goes Zig-Zag Dog. A beige Lab, he is all business. He has a very specific agenda. He starts at point A (stops, sniffs, pees), walks across the street to point B (stops, sniffs, pees), then crosses the street again to point C (stops, sniffs, pees) and then re-crosses the street to point D— and so on, for precisely 20 minutes. In another world, he would be a successful walking-tour guide, leading other dogs to seemingly insignificant but secretively choice smelling/peeing spots that only a local would know. He would have high ratings on TripAdvisor.

There goes Reluctant Dog. A black mixed-breed, he lags as far behind his walker as possible given the length of his leash. For him, 5:30 AM is too early. Perhaps any time is too early. Once upon a time, he pranced and pulled on his leash, eager to get out there and see the world. But now he’s seen it all. He is Zen. He does not need to take Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s “Art of Living” course or attend vipassana. “If you insist, I’ll come with you for a walk,” he sagely says, “but only to keep you company.” He’d rather sit at home, under the air conditioner, near his water bowl, and do some family-watching.

There goes Friendly Dog. “Friendly” because the owner is a lovely friendly lady, and I transpose her character to the dog. After all, I’ve seen the old cartoon movie One Hundred and One Dalmatians and I know this is how it works; dogs take on the characteristics, if not the actual physical features, of their owners. Interestingly, a recent study from Michigan State University supported this well-known home truth that dogs and owners often have similar personalities. This dog is a lab and the owner is not. However, they both have a friendly and trustworthy look – one that says “I’d make a good friend.”

There goes French Dog. His reputation in the neighborhood is that he’s a French attack dog. Maybe he’s thought to be French because looks like the comic character Tin-Tin’s dog. Maybe he’s thought to be aggressive because such dogs were originally bred to be fighting dogs, General Patton owned one, and President Theodore Roosevelt’s bit an ambassador. But I feel French Dog is sadly misunderstood on both counts. He’s actually a white bull terrier — an English breed. And he seems to go about his own business in a gentle and orderly manner, not pulling on the leash, nor stubbornly lagging behind: so far, an upstanding member of the community.

There goes Top Dog. Her tail is always way up and even curved over her back. Experts say this shows that she is a dominant dog and confident of her position, which is interesting, given that she lives in the same house as French Dog. This gives credence to my theory that French Dog’s poor neighborhood reputation is ill-deserved, and he should be more appropriately named Under Dog. Top Dog also has a pompom on the end of her tail. Dominant, confident — and a diva.

Then, there goes My Dog. Her real name is Ruby. She’s a golden retriever. She’s the dog of good friends who live just five doors down. They’ve tried to train her, but to no avail; I believe that, in a previous life, Ruby helped Nietzsche develop his concept of the Free Spirit. And she senses that she and I are soulmates — both ruled by the heart, not the head. She’s always happy to see me. She jumps up on my legs and then rolls over so I can rub her tummy. My dog.

Always the bridesmaid, never the bride. Always the dog lover, never the owner. And yet there are advantages to not being the owner (as there are to not being the bride, but that’s another article). I don’t have any of the responsibilities. I don’t have to feed the dog, walk the dog, take it to the vet, stay up nights, clean up after it or limit my travels because of it. At the end of the day, I can leave it in great hands and go home. But there are times when I feel it would be nice to have my own dog. Like when I see the opening credits of Downton Abbey and I see Lord Grantham walking his dog Isis across the vast landscaped grounds towards the mansion. Or maybe it’s just the grounds and the mansion I’m hankering for.

Tonight, I visit Dodger, a beagle owned by a wonderful family nearby. I’ve known Dodger for many years. He was once a yappy and excitable pup. Now, he is pushing 14, has a myriad health issues (including seizures), is on strong medications (including steroids and insulin) and is partially blind. He walks slowly into the room, gives two yaps for old times’ sake, smells me out and then quietly sits next to me. I stroke him gently. I’ll be very sad when he passes away. I can only imagine how his own family will feel. 

As I leave, I hear him say, “There goes Whatchamacallit Human. Disorganized. Trusting. Fuzzy logic. Panglossian. Was probably a dog in her last lifetime. Glad she came to play again, but glad she’s not staying. Too much work!”

In memory of Dodger, who passed away last month.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

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