Having a dog is akin to parenthood and yet at Dog with Blog, every few days we receive emails from pet parents putting their ‘beloved dog’ for adoption. We are but dogs, aloof of the ways of the world but we understand that mothers don’t abandon their children so why abandon the pets?
Far from the oft-celebrated puppy days, in this guest post, acclaimed travel writer Shikha Tripathi writes on what it truly means to acclimatize and eventually share a life with the rescued Himalayan mastiff dogs (also referred to as Gaddi, Himalayan sheepdog, Tibetan mastiff or Bhutia dogs), the responsibilities a pet parent must own up and the patient journey that parenthood err… doghood is.
Himalayan mastiffs are also known as ‘Dok-Khyi’ in Tibet, which means ‘nomad dog’. In Nepal, these dogs are called ‘Bhote Kukur’, or ‘Tibetan dog’.
The Himalayan Sheepdog is found in the Himalayan foothills from Kashmir to Eastern Nepal. They help village folks and residents as a guard dog for herding and to protect sheep from predators.
The Himalayan Sheepdog resembles the slightly larger Tibetan mastiff. They have a thick double coat, usually black and tan or solid black with some white markings on their toes, chest and neck.
The Indian postal department also commemorated the Himalayan dogs and in particular, Bhutia dogs via a special stamp.
“Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.”
― Anatole France
Most people have heard this quote, but the truth of the matter remains mere words unless you experience “Doghood”. While Doghood literally is the time or state of being a dog, for lack of a better word I’m using it for motherhood, except to describe an experience one has on getting a dog in his or her life instead of a child. I speak about my two Tibetan mastiffs, Lucy and Jian, in a similar fashion, often comparing their behaviour patterns to infants of young mothers.
Midway through my conversations, I realize that perhaps it’s not the best comparison to be drawn and I steer towards more polite exchanges. But Doghood is indeed similar. It’s all-consuming; it’s demanding, challenging and taxing. While Lucy came to us as a three-month puppy of European lineage, Jian came as a much bigger 1.5-year-old.
Work started immediately on gaining his trust and hunting for that perfect name. As an ode to his Chinese roots, my partner and I spent hours going through “Chinese names for boys” on the Internet to christen him. We decided on Jian, meaning strong, which proved to be his greatest gift. He could tow a mini truck, and on the flip-side, break a strong iron chain like a cotton thread and charge at someone he dislikes.
Doghood is no mean task. While what most people see is the rosy picture of two giant, cuddly mastiffs running around with gay abandon in sunny gardens and licking our faces with joy, there’s a lot more to the package. Some of it is prevalent across all homes with dogs, such as cooking for them, feeding them, walking and bathing them. And yes, cleaning up after them when they poop as they please, especially as young pups. Other concerns, though, are more specific to the breed. Tibetan mastiffs have a massive diet, and primarily a carnivorous one.
A weekly trip to the market becomes part of your regime, and so does cooking a giant meal every morning and evening, that could very well feed ten humans. A most difficult task is grooming their supremely thick coat and keeping it allergy and tick free. It means hours of dedicated tidying with a hairbrush and watching out for signs of any skin reactions or fleas, much the same as looking for a needle in a haystack.
A big bottle of shampoo cleans this coat thoroughly one time alone. It’s also not the best deal to have to wake up at 6 am on a freezing winter morning and walk the dogs in minus temperatures, braving sleet being hurled in your face along with the forceful wind.
Not only is Doghood a financial commitment, but an emotional one too. You have to maintain your calm when you find your new shoe ripped to pieces, or your laptop covered in a kilo of drool. You have to manage travelling and other schedules such that someone is a stay-at-home guardian to them at all times, even if it means sacrificing the best-laid outing plans. It also means staying put mostly in the mountains, because taking Tibetan Mastiffs to anywhere over 25 degrees is sheer torture for them.
This is one of the reasons why I don’t say much when requests for Lucy and Jian’s puppies come pouring in. Jian was acquired from a place where he had started losing all his hair and weight because of the intense heat, and Lucy was rescued from someone who had the environment but not the time or resources to take care of her long list of needs. Tibetan Mastiffs are only for those who ensure that the dogs have enough space to run around, cool mountain air, plenty of meat-based foods, and owners with time for them.
Get them only if you can personally go that extra mile. Anything less, and you are not ready for the commitment that Doghood demands.
In return you get fierce loyalty that you might never get from a best friend, a dizzying welcome when you get back home that you might not get from family, excellent guarding no watchman can provide, and joy that fills you with pride when your dog gets protective about you. There’s really nothing more than that. Because despite all you do, at the end of the day, one needs to understand and accept that Tibetan mastiffs can be temperamental and unpredictable. They aren’t Labradors that love being petted all the time. They will not fetch, will sit and stand as they please, and only oblige you if they wish to. Obedience is not one of their stronger traits.
They are instead aloof dogs, and don’t care too much about being fussed over, and won’t show affection either if they don’t want to. They are like difficult teenagers, who love you but like to maintain that cool demeanour. But like all things in Doghood, you’ve got to understand and accept them for who they are, because like motherhood, it demands your greatest unconditional love.