Learning to Love Al

At the risk of sounding rather cowardly, today I put to paper the storm that my puppy brought into my life. When I first met him at his foster home, Al (that’s what we’ve named him), kept pouncing on me, trying to chew my hair, my fingers, my handbag, and the loops on the waist of my jeans. When my husband and Al’s foster mom called Al “such a playful boy!”, the bullshit-radar went off inside my head. The right word would be ‘shark’, I wanted to tell them! And when his foster parents said that they liked us and would trust us with Al, I felt some pride, which was soon followed by massive loads of panic, the moment they said we could take him right then. “No! Not now!”, I jumped in, surprising everyone involved in the conversation. To not give away my anxiety and mild dislike toward the puppy, I quickly added (to everyone’s relief), “let’s get the house ready for the puppy. We’ll need to get his bed and food, right?” They all smiled and agreed at my apparent thoughtfulness and said we could take him the day after. Relieved, I went back home with the intention of convincing my husband to drop the idea of adopting this puppy. As I proceeded with caution, knowing how determined he was to bring home a puppy, I was almost as graceful with my words as a drunk bear would be on roller-blades. I blurted out the truth, through tears  – “But we just got married, why can’t we spend some time with each other first, let’s go on a few vacations before we get tied down, we haven’t even put up paintings on the walls and if we get a puppy, we’ll never be able to have rugs on this beautiful wooden floor!” I was also already secretly jealous of having to share my newly acquired husband’s attention and love! G wasn’t convinced and reassured me with a “nothing will change after the puppy comes” – The biggest lie that I’d ever been told.

A day later, images of the puppy kept flashing before my eyes as I went on with the regular activities of my day – him sneaking up behind me on the couch and pulling my hair, his protests when I refused to let him gnaw at my fingers, and his cute little face with those big black eyes. Did I say “cute”? Something had already changed inside me after meeting the little imp and when G very nonchalantly suggested that we should get ready to bring the puppy home, I did and even felt a tiny kick of excitement in my heart. When we reached his foster home, I could hear Al and sirens went off in my head. That wasn’t the bark of a puppy! Weren’t they supposed to go “Woof”? Why was this one going “Waaaaaffaahhh–aaa”? Again this time Al pounced on me, almost made a tiny hole on the sleeve of my favourite sweater, peed right next to my feet, and attempted to eat my hair clip. This time, I couldn’t make an escape. I however, extended the stay at this kind family’s home, accepted their invitation to join them for tea and ate a few extra samosas out of anxiety mainly – delaying the impending reality as much as I could. Al was placed in my trembling and unsure arms as we walked back to our car. He was surprisingly quiet and even threatening to be rather sweet during the entire car ride to the vet. Turns out he was more traumatized than I was. As we waited for our turn at the vet’s, I looked at this white ball of energy in my arms and gasped. I was now a Puppy mother.

By the time we got home, Al was exhausted from all the adventure of the evening. We gave him food and some toys. He seemed shy and passed out on the couch as soon as we put him there. I looked at his pink paws and tummy and cried. It had been a wish since I was a child, to have a puppy. But now when faced with a sleeping puppy on my couch, I felt a mix of emotions. Anxiety cast an ominous shadow over all other happy feelings. That night (and for the next two weeks), Al slept on the bed, next to G. Every time he would move, I was made aware of the massive turn that my life had just taken without me being mentally prepared for it. G was in complete control of the puppy and his needs, and that reassured me. The next morning when we woke up, I discovered a pile of poop and a puddle of pee on the bed sheet. I almost threw up and couldn’t even look at the scene while I slid a newspaper beneath the bed sheet to save the mattress. G took control of the situation and things were fine for a while until Al pooped again and this time, Al ate his poop. I didn’t know what to do, so I looked away with tears in my eyes.

When G left for a work trip leaving me behind with this biting, pooping and poop-eating machine, I was terrified at the levels of anxiety I was feeling. Blatantly speaking, I wanted to return him to his foster home. I told myself I wouldn’t be ashamed of failing at being a puppy mother. His constant stalking, pulling at the hem of my pants and gnawing at my fingers got on my nerves and I was overwhelmed, to put it simply. It dawned upon me that I’ll have to now give up my love for my own space, my own time and my peace – that there’ll always be a living being that’ll follow me and need my attention. I couldn’t take a shower that day because the moment I would go out of sight, Al would start barking and howling and destroying things. We still had some of our house plants indoors and Al had made it his mission to shred them all. A friend came visiting that evening and I almost cried while telling her how overwhelmed I felt. For the next few days Google was my best friend as my search requests went from “Why do I hate my puppy”, to “Is it okay to feel depressed after adopting a puppy”, to “When is it okay to return your puppy”. I read about similar experiences of fellow pet parents – the same levels of anxiety, the same fears, while dealing with the same kind of puppy behaviour. There were also people who wrote about how they had successfully gone past the initial months of dealing with puppy behaviour to now having well-behaved sweet dogs. I must have read about 50 blogs and spoke to all my friends who were dog parents or ‘pawrents’ as they call themselves. Some YouTube and Instagram videos later, I was standing in front of Al, with a treat in my hand, teaching him to ‘sit’ on command. To my utter surprise, Al picked it up within 5 minutes.

Al however, continued to sleep in our bed, next to G. Every time Al shifted in the bed, I had nightmares of him eating his poop. On a few occasions, I saw my nightmare turn into reality at 3 in the morning. Al had to go, I announced. If not out of the house, out of my bed. My bed was my favourite spot on the planet – it was the space I liked to keep the cleanest. It was my safe abode after a long day of working, talking, smiling and crying. I wanted only my bed lamp and my book while in bed. Great disagreements ensued. I moved into the guest room while Al continued to hog my bed. Finally, one day it was decided that Al will have to be out of the bedroom so that I could reclaim my territory. By the mercy of the God of Puppies, Al took to the couch as the duck takes to water.

As I began spending more time watching videos and training Al, I was amazed at how fulfilling it was to train a puppy! Al quickly learnt the trick of melting my heart with his puppy eyes, and one day while I sat on the couch watching Wonder Woman, Al put his head on my lap, sighed satisfactorily and fell asleep next to me. A few days later, he started curling up right between my feet every time I’d be in the kitchen, fixing his food. He had found his way into my heart and was conquering it with quite some élan.

I think the day my relationship with Al took a completely new turn was when he fell sick after eating up half a plant. He had eaten too many leaves that had jammed his intestines. He couldn’t even keep water down. The puppy monster who wouldn’t say no to eating even the sole of slippers was refusing his favourite treats. I could only watch helplessly as his energy level went down through the day. G and his family were confident that he’ll be fine, but I could hear a voice inside my head, accusing myself for not liking Al enough. We kept Al at G’s mother’s place for a few hours as we stepped out for a dinner that we’d been invited to. I found my thoughts and my heart in all entirety with Al that evening. When we got back home, Al was sleeping on the bed. He struggled to get up and walked toward me, rested his head against mine and stood there for a while. With no energy to even wag his tail, Al had still made the effort to walk toward us and greet us. That night all my anxiety and my commitment phobia drained out of me, and I only prayed to the Puppy Gods to make Al fit enough to pounce on me and bite my fingers again. Thankfully, that night Al also threw up all the leaves he had eaten. The ORS dosage had worked and when I checked on Al the next morning, he jumped off the couch and came running toward me with his milk teeth ready to dig into my arm. This time, I let him dig in and gladly experienced this new pain that felt so sweet!

Al has now lived up to his original name ‘Alamgir’. If not the ‘ruler of the world’, he definitely rules my heart.  There’ll now always be a ‘Before Al’ and ‘After Al’ when I think of time. He continues to melt my heart and annoy my entire being each day. Although he  is now almost completely potty trained, and now sits, lays down, gets up, shakes hand and stays at a spot on command, he continues to pounce on guests and still attempts to eat them up. This morning, as I picked up his poop in a newspaper and made my way to the bin, feeling the newspaper acquiring the warmth of his poop, I could no longer remember exactly when was it that I wanted to throw up at the sight of his poop! He has stopped curling up between my feet during meal-time, but now sits and waits patiently while we prepare his food; or at least pretends to, because moments later he betrays his act of patience when he gulps down the food as if he doesn’t yet know that his next meal is guaranteed. Every morning when I watch him run toward me, slightly sideways, with his big ears flapping behind his head and his puppy eyes threatening to go past supernova cuteness levels, and as I give him his daily dosage of morning cuddles and belly rubs while singing “Baby Shark doo-doo-doo”, I can only marvel at how Al quite effortlessly turned my fears into pure love. Al is now 4 months old and is the King of Puppydom. On nights when I sit with Al on the couch until he falls asleep, he obliges me by lying close to me until he gets really sleepy, after which he moves on to the next couch to spread out and prepare to be productive for the next day. My only wish for Al is that he be a non-biter and that he grows up to become a successful scientist.

Signing off,

Al’s Proud Pawrent

Al, aka Aloo (Potato) because he is good with everything.

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