Saturday, November 22, 2014

ME and MY DOG

ME and MY DOG
Poignant Philosophical Ponderings of a Pet Parent
By
VIKRAM KARVE

From my Pet Parenting Archives:

A few months ago, I wrote a series of posts on pet dog parenting which I later consolidated into one article titled PET DOG PARENTING versus OWNERSHIP (Tips on Care of Companion Dogs)

Here is the article on the relationship between ME and MY DOG


MY DOG AND ME

Till Sherry came into my life, I did not know that a human could get so deeply emotionally attached to an animal.

I never imagined that I would start loving my pet dog Sherry so dearly.

And I never expected that Sherry would love me so devotedly and become an inseparable part of my life.

For over 8 years, Sherry had been a tough healthy high-spirited dog.

And suddenly, Sherry fell ill, very ill, and as she lay in a critical condition on the examination table in the veterinary clinic, a frail skeleton, almost a lifeless shadow of her former self, the veterinary doctors painted quite a dismal picture – her blood reports were haywire, she had severe pancreatitis, her abnormal sugar levels indicated she had diabetes, so she could not be operated upon for her severe pyometra – things looked bad, very bad – it seemed that her chances of survival were quite bleak.

They gave us two choices:

1. Put her to sleep (Euthanasia or “mercy killing”)

2. Try our best to save her life and put in all our efforts and resources to nurse her out of her severe illness

While the first choice was being contemplated, I looked at Sherry.

Sherry looked at me.

I cannot forget the poignant loving look in her eyes.

I could read through the language of her eyes that Sherry wanted to live – the yearning look in her eyes indicated that she wanted to be with us.

We too wanted Sherry to be with us for as long as possible.

So we chose the second option, to try our best to save her life and nurse her back to health, and the next few days passed in a daze – daily visits to the veterinary clinic for Sherry’s treatment, her strict diet, her medicines, her twice a day injections of insulin, constantly sitting with Sherry, feeding her, talking to her and comforting her.

It was on one of these days, late at night, while comforting Sherry who seemed to be in agony, sitting with her and cuddling her, I switched on the TV, and what I saw was incredible – a fantastic coincidence.

The scene in the movie on TV was a mirror image of what I was doing at that moment.

Here, Sherry had put her head on my lap and I was lovingly caressing her neck.

And on the screen, there was an old man and a dog sitting in exactly the same manner, and the man was lovingly fondling the dog exactly as I was fondling Sherry.

Was it sheer coincidence, a quirk of serendipity – or was it an enigmatic message for me?

The scene on the TV screen before me was the episode of “Candy and his Dog” from the movie “Of Mice and Men”. 


OF MICE AND MEN

One of the most poignant books I have read is “Of Mice and Men” – a novella written by John Steinbeck, winner of the Nobel Prize.

OF MICE AND MEN was published in 1937 and it was John Steinbeck’s first successful book that brought him fame as an author.

The novel “Of Mice and Men” has been enacted as a play on stage and also has been made into a movie (which I was watching that evening on TV).

The setting of the story is a ranch in California during the Great Depression.

The narrative describes the volatile life on the ranch and the precarious relationships between human beings on the ranch – friendships and tensions between the migrant ranch workers (farmhands) themselves and also between the farmhands and the owners.

One of the book’s major themes, and its most poignant sub plot, revolve around Candy and his dog.


CANDY AND HIS DOG

There is a saying that a dog is a man’s best friend.

This statement aptly describes the relationship between Candy and his dog.

Candy has had his dog since he was a pup.

It is his only friend and companion. 

Candy has been alongside his dog for all of the dog’s life and has had a close relationship with his dog.

Candy remembers the time when he first got the dog.

He always proudly tells everyone that his dog was the best sheepdog.

Unfortunately, Candy’s dog, once a tough healthy impressive sheep herder, has now become blind, toothless, rheumatic, weak, and is in frail health due to old age.

A dominant ranch worker says to the ranch boss, and to the other ranch-hands present, that Candy’s dog is so old that he can hardly walk, the dog has no teeth, the dog is blind and deaf, the dog cannot chew, so Candy feeds him milk, and he asks the ranch boss to tell Candy to shoot his old dog.

All of them tell Candy that his dog is of no good to Candy, and the dog isn’t any good to itself too, since the animal is in misery due its old age infirmities – so why doesn’t Candy shoot the dog and relieve the dog of his suffering?

The ranch boss says that the dog is no good and remarks sarcastically: “…I wish someone would shoot me if I got old and (became) a cripple…”

All the ranch workers suggest that it would be best to shoot Candy’s old dog.

After hearing everyone, the ranch boss decides that since the sick old dog is a useless burden, it would be best to end its suffering by shooting it dead.

Candy is unable to “let go” and tries his best to hold on to his old blind, deaf and disabled dog for as long as possible.

Candy reminisces and tells everyone about the dog.

He describes the time when he first got the dog and mentions that it was the best sheepdog he has ever seen.

Candy harks back to the time when both he and the dog were useful and of great value to the ranch – he was the best ranch handyman and his dog was the best sheepherder.

Now Candy is crippled, as he has lost a hand in an accident, and he has become too old for vigorous work on the farm.

And Candy’s dog is in a similar situation – blind, deaf, disabled and too old to be of any use.

Candy has had his dog since he was a pup.

His dog is his only friend and companion on the ranch, especially after Candy is crippled after losing his hand the accident.

Candy pleads with everyone not to shoot the dog and begs to save the dog’s life: “…I am so used to him…I had him for so long…I had him since he was a pup…I herded sheep with him…You wouldn’t imagine if you look at him now, but he was the best sheep dog I have ever seen…”

But no one listens to his pleas, and the dominant worker called Carlson takes Candy’s dog outside to be shot and buried.

Candy’s dog is “put to sleep” and Candy is heartbroken when he hears the gunshot.


UTILITY VALUE – FATE OF THE “USELESS” WHO HAVE OUTLIVED THEIR USEFULNESS

The “mercy killing” of Candy’s Dog symbolizes the helplessness of valueless persons.

The dog is a metaphor for Candy himself – old and crippled and not of much use to anyone.

Maybe, for Candy, the fear he feels for his dog’s death is parallel to his own fear that when he has fulfilled his purpose and he is no long effectual, when he has outlived his utility, he too will be disposed of as readily as his dog.

The story of Candy’s dog serves as a harsh reminder of the fate that awaits anyone who outlives his usefulness.

To summarize, in the novel “Of Mice and Men” John Steinbeck has portrayed a poignant situation – the hapless ageing ranch worker Candy realizes that both he and his dog have “outlived their utility” when he helplessly watches the cruel way in which his beloved dog is treated.

Candy’s dog was once a great sheepherder.

But now the dog has become blind, deaf and disabled due to old age.

The dog can no longer herd sheep.

Candy’s dog has lost its usefulness – the dog no longer has “utility value”.

So, since the dog has become “useless” – the dog is shot dead.

Candy finds himself in the same position as the dog.

Candy realizes that just like his dog has lost its “utility value”, Candy himself has lost his “utility value.

Candy is anxious, and he is worried about his own future, and he speculates whether he would be fired from his job – if they could get rid of a “useless” dog, what prevents them from getting rid of a “useless” worker?


ME AND MY DOG

There was a time when I was the sole breadwinner for my family.

I provided for my family and I was “useful” to them.

I worked as a Naval Officer and I was “useful” to the Navy.

Today, after my retirement, as far as the Navy is concerned, I am a retired “veteran”, and I am not “useful” to the Navy anymore.

Also, now, after my retirement, I am no longer the “breadwinner”, and my wife and children are financially independent.

So, as far as my family is concerned, in the “material sense”, I am “useless”.

As I told you earlier, I have a dog called Sherry.

Once upon a time, Sherry was a great guard dog (and for me, a loving companion).

Unfortunately, Sherry has been ill for the past few months.

Today, Sherry is a blind diabetic dog – she has diabetes and has lost her vision due to her diabetes.

Like Candy’s Dog, Sherry too has lost her “utility value”.

So, aren’t we in the same situation as “Candy and his Dog” so poignantly described in John Steinbeck’s masterpiece novel “Of Mice and Men”?

I am “useless” thanks to my retirement.

Sherry is “useless” owing to her illness.

Me and my Dog – both of us have lost our “utility value” and have become “useless”.

Is that why we are holding on to each other with great love and affection?

VIKRAM KARVE
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Disclaimer: 
All stories in this blog are a work of fiction. Events, Places, Settings and Incidents narrated in the story are a figment of my imagination. The characters do not exist and are purely imaginary. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

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