Vasanta and I got married in 1956 and till 1964 the thought of keeping a dog was not on our minds as we were busy making and bringing up the kids. In any case Vasanta was scared that the children would get rabies. It was only living in the company bungalows with a large expatriate crowd as neighbors keeping pets that slowly changed her. Of course the kids exerted pressure. I went abroad in April 1964 for an extended period and it was during this time that fates intervened in the person of our neighbor Brian Wauchup. He had been asked by his friend to look after his dog, a boxer. In his absence on leave the boxer got friendly a with pie dog and had a litter of eleven dogs. He was disposing of the puppies before his friend returned. He persuaded Vasanta to take one giving her the first choice. I am told that he took the help of little Sekar to persuade his mother.
I returned directly to Bangalore where I was posted on my return. I was given a hero’s welcome by the kids and Vasanta and by the new addition to the family.
He had been named Johnny. He was very boisterous and affectionate and playful. Johnny was a delight and Sekar and Kamini were fascinated by him. I played with him when I returned from work and took him for walks. He gave me a boisterous welcome when I returned from office and jumped all over and licked me. Vasanta was also getting over her fear of rabies and getting to like Johnny. Then out of the blue Johnny fell sick. He would not eat and lay down all the time. We took him to the Veterinary hospital next morning and he was diagnosed as having distemper. He was left there for treatment. When we went back in the evening he had passed away. We were shattered. The children were asking about when Johnny would come back and we covered up by saying in few days. In due course we got over it.
By this time the bug had bitten Vasanta and she started looking around. Some friends in Whitefield had puppies born of a red setter and retriever and were very keen to find good homes for them. They offered us the first choice and Vasanta went and brought back a cute, handsome fellow. She was associated with the Cheshire homes and decided to name him Len after the founder Leonard Cheshire. He was the handsomest one among all the extended family.
There are seven stages in life when you bring up pets. The first when you are a child, next when you are growing up, then in adulthood, after marriage, after marriage and with children, then with grandchildren and lastly when you are old and alone. After an aborted start with poor Johnny we were well truly into the fifth stage and what an enjoyable time it was.
Len was a pedigreed fellow and one had the feeling that he was aware of his antecedents. He would not stoop to beg for anything but on the other hand expected his rights to be recognised. He behaved like an English Lord among the natives! His dignified looks and bearing were regal. Even Vasanta, who came from a Commie background was taken in by him and treated him with respect. Sekar and Kamini adored him. Kamini was treated like a small child to be tolerated. He developed a strong affection for Sekar and allowed him to take liberties with him. I have a feeling that he had a contempt for me and my attempts to train him. At that time I was the only one in the family who could run at top speed with him and so I was accepted as horse rider accepts his horse- a necessary evil.
We stayed in a big single storied bungalow with a long veranda. Len used run at full speed up and down this veranda. He developed a strong dislike for our neighbour’s dog and had running fights with him. When annoyed he dug up the neighbour’s garden. The retriever blood in him was very dominant and catching birds and the neighbour’s chickens from the coop was his hobby. He was very gentle with the birds and the chicks and carried them in his mouth without hurting them.
In spite of valiant attempts by Vasanta to keep Len off the dining table when we ate he pushed his way there aided by the protests of the children. Vasanta compromised by banning all feeding at the table. This was followed more in the breach when her back was turned. Len cooperated by looking innocent and normal even with a big bit of chicken in his mouth. There is a follow up to this later on. Some times Len’s fondness for roast chicken overcame his training and he took it off the table and ate it up. The first few times we were at a loss at the disappearance of the chicken but soon Len was caught out and got a good thrashing.
Len insisted on joining the parties, wagging his tail at every one. Soon he had the ladies eating out of his hands and cooing over him. His tail was huge, full of hair of a reddish copper colour. The only problem was it was so huge and heavy that when he wagged his tail he knocked down something. Kamini called it ‘fan tail’. Len had thick coating of copper brown hair. We wondered how he would survive if we were transferred to Madras. I was temporarily transferred to Madras for four months and Vasanta and children went to Kerala. I took Len with me to Madras and he had a taste of Madras weather.
In Madras in the 60s there were plenty of butler cooks left over from British days. They were very good in continental and Anglo Indian dishes. I employed Raju, a very talented cook, who was very fond of dogs. Milord Len loved the food and it was a love affair with Raju. He spent all his spare time with Len, taking him for long runs, grooming him, and making fresh liver biscuits everyday. Len had never been pampered like this and enjoyed every moment of his stay in Madras. Even when Vasanta and the children came for a few days Len would not give up his new friend Raju.
After a few months the time came to go back to Bangalore. I decided to return by plane as managing Len in the car for six hours would have been difficult. Fortunately the pilot of the flight was a canine lover and so was the air hostess. They agreed that I could take Len in the cabin. I was to keep Len under my seat which was occupied only by me. Flying was simple those days and you were treated like a king. No security to go through and you could walk right to the plane. I gave Len tablets to make him dopey. I boarded the plane half an hour before others. The air hostess petted Len and gave him a big chicken sandwich which he promptly gobbled up. Len curled up under the seat and dozed away. He woke up only as were landing in Bangalore. I got down only after the passengers had gone. Len got a chocolate cake from the air hostess and he was delighted. As we walked down to the exit he saw Vasanta and he pulled off the leash from my hand, ran to Vasanta jumped on her shoulders and gave her a good lick! Only then we realised how much he had missed his foster mother.
Life settled down and we thought that the permanent shift to Madras would not come when out of the blue I was transferred to Madras. We had a big two storied house and Len settled down without any problem. He was happy with the wide open spaces to run about chasing birds. Our cook was Sukumaran with whom Len established close relations. He missed Raju and the liver biscuits but this was made up equally delicious left overs of liver fried in ghee made for Sekar. Then there was the French Omelet with sinful filling. This was made for Kamini just before she left for school. Len was a constant companion at the dining table whenever any one ate. Vasanta was busy getting ready to take Kamini to school and Kamini was alone with Len at the dining table and nature took its course. Starting with small morsels, it ended up whole Omelet for Len. It would have gone unnoticed but for the fact that Len vomited the omelet and Sukumaran, who had been asked to keep an eye on Kamini, just walked in. Vasanta was informed and Kamini was in the dog house for a long time. Kamini had got so adept at throwing foods over her shoulder that she got caught out by her grandmother where she used to go for her afternoon tea after school. There was no Len there to cover up.
Len was easily won over by omelets. His true friend was Sekar. His lordship condescended to treat him as his equal and friend. When Len was scolded it was Sekar who stood up for him. Sekar played with him and took for long runs. Len behaved like a lord and was so handsome and well mannered that he had the ladies cooing over him.
We tend to forget that the life spans of our pets are much less than ours. We enjoy their fast development and are not prepared for the the last stage. They cannot talk of their suffering and you have to see it in their face and behaviour. It shatters you. Len became dull, did not want to walk or run and suddenly his rear legs got paralysed and he could not move about. We had to carry him about. He wanted us to be with him. When we ate at the dining table he growled and had to be carried to the room to be with us. He deteriorated and his rear became swollen. The doctor advised us to put him to sleep to put him out of his misery. After another two weeks we agreed. Len was given his favourite chicken omelet which he ate with great gusto. Some time later I kept him on my lap while the doctor gave the lethal injection. All of us where shattered. He lived just over ten years.