Of Cats And Dogs

There were some random discussions going on at a friend’s house. And as random discussions are wont to, the topic suddenly shifted from the secret pleasure of wearing mismatched socks to growing up with pets. Somebody then asked me whether I love dogs or cats. And that simple question sent me scampering down memory lane in a flash.

I adore dogs. I can't get over their capacity for endless unconditional love. We have had a couple of dogs of mixed parentage. In other words, we had no idea about the parentage.
One of our first dogs was Kalu. He had a glowering no-nonsense personality. Not exactly Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver. More the senior Focker in Meet the Fockers. Not many could befriend him. And only a select few were allowed to rub his belly. After Kalu went to that special place where he could chase rabbits to his heart’s content, the frisky Cap'n Jack Sparrow entered the scene.

Cap'n Jack was a mongrel that my mother claimed had Alsatian genes. Not because of his dimensions for sure. He was just a little bigger than the average dog. But because he could be quite ferocious if he wanted to. And therein lies a conundrum. Cap’n Jack was so named because of his as they say in India - slightly ‘off’ behavior. He was never sure whether he wanted to be ferocious or not. Especially when he was young. He will bark away at a stranger. 

But the moment the stranger made a friendly overture, such as whistling, Cap’n Jack will expose his belly with a happy grin plastered on his face. Or climb all over the person with his tail wagging in all directions. Once the tail wagging was so intense that my mother’s colleague’s ‘Made in China’ wig flew off. Cap’n Jack obviously thought it was great fun. He quickly grabbed the wig and ran off with it. The incident had a profound influence on that colleague. He embraced his baldness.

But then like most of us, Cap'n Jack became an adult and sobered down quite a bit. He now walks around fiercely protective of us. And the house. He will greet regulars with excited barks. However, strangers are welcomed with menacing growls till he sniffs out their intentions. You can learn a lot about people when you have a dog in the house. The growls are always reserved for the mean ones. The 'well wisher' who is not exactly one. The ‘friend’ who always has a sob story ready for some cash in return. Or the neighbour who is always ready to borrow stuff but then forgets to return them. When my brother and I got married and our respective better halves came home, Cap'n Jack just trotted up to them and welcomed them with cheerful wags of his restless tail. I heaved a sigh of relief. And I am sure so did my brother. Cap’n Jack during his youthful days had this habit of waking us up in the mornings with a jolly fight on the bed. He would especially target my brother. He would jump on the bed and pull the blanket away. Failing that, he will try to get inside the blanket. This activity is accompanied with a lot of excited barking. The poor thing is now getting on in years and every time we are home he tries to pull that same trick but you know what they say about willing minds but non-compliant flesh. Bonding with Cap'n Jack is one of the highlights of being at home.

My brother and I love cats too. I especially relish winning their (sometimes) hard-to-earn trust and
dare I say, affection. Yes. As any cat lover would testify, cats can shower affection too. In their own special way. One of our first pets was a runaway kitten. He responded quite favourably to the name my brother and I gave him – Meow. It’s another thing that all other cats that have adopted us have also been anointed as ‘Meow’. In order to avoid confusion, we decided to have Meow The First, or Meow The Second, Meow The…you get the drift. Anyway, Meow The First was as affectionate as the clichéd Bollywood grandmother – the one who’d eat the Sunday section of NavHind Times to quell her hunger pangs while she fed her grandson the last remaining piece of mutton rogan josh. He thought nothing of grooming us after he finished grooming himself. 

We doted on Meow The First too. During my high school days, he was my alarm clock. My mosquito net used to serve as his oversized hammock. Every morning, at precisely 4:30 am, I’d wake up to find Meow inches away from my face, mewing to let him out for his morning walk. Even today, memories of Meow’s playful antics are still fresh in our minds. 

My brother and I have been fortunate enough to be adopted by several cats during our school days, college years and Is-the-weekend-already-over phase. There have been attention-seeking cats, constantly-acting-cute cats, affectionate cats, not-so-affectionate cats and injured cats. Attention seekers – you scratch them behind their ears and they keep on nudging you for more. Drama queens – they meow piteously, you feed them, they meow some more, you feed them more and then suddenly they go quiet and start licking and grooming themselves. Mischief mongers – they will quickly slap the nearest unsuspecting feline nearby and go on a wild dash around the house knocking over all kind of items. Especially fragile items. The conversationalists - Believe it or not, I once had almost a 20-minute conversation with a heavy-lidded cat with impressive whiskers. I think he told me the meaning of life or how to open a bottle of jam without exerting much pressure. 

Right now, I stay in an area where people find it a bit convenient to abandon their pet cats. Quite a
few of them have somehow found their way to our place. One fine morning, a mother appeared with her kittens and then used her feline intuition to decide that we can take better of them than her. She would then disappear for hours on end with the responsibility of feeding the kittens given to us. And then she disappeared for good. One kitten succumbed to an illness. While the other made herself a part of our lives. Then a gang of three brothers and sisters surfaced from nowhere. Obviously somebody who once took good care of them has left them behind. They are extremely friendly and I refer to them as ‘comcats’. Definition of comcats (comfort + cats) – cats who can make themselves comfortable in the most comfortable part of the house without uttering a single ‘meow’.

The sister is extremely affectionate while her brothers don’t miss any chance to bully the others cats. Especially the kitten that is now a young adult with temper and sharing issues. The sister looks for every opportunity to climb on the nearest sofa and catch a few winks. Or climb on top of my head and stay put there, purring away contentedly. The kitten turned angry adult loves nothing better than a good chest and belly rub rub. The moment she spots my hand hovering near her, she quickly lies on her side. My better half, not really an ardent admirer of these furry balls of fun, mischief and occasional Lady Gaga impersonators, declared them persona non grata inside the house. However, slowly but surely, they started unspooling her resolve like a ball of twine. Nowadays ‘cat food’ has found its way in the weekly shopping list.

Over the years, we have had several pets. A turtle. A parrot. A pair of rabbits. And then very quickly a colony of rabbits. But I have found cats and dogs to be the best companions. So, am I a cat or dog person? Well, let me put it this way. I’d want one curled up on my lap, purring away contentedly and the other at my feet, chewing away on a slipper, also contentedly. It's called having the best of both worlds.