The Book of Dog: an endearing anthology celebrating dogs

The Book of Dog Hemali Sodhi
‘The Book of dog’ features original write-ups from ― Shobhaa De, Ruskin Bond, Rajdeep Sardesai, Gulzar, Maneka Gandhi, Michelin star chef Vikas Khanna… and a story from Dog with Blog as well.

Featuring forty-five original stories and essays from some of India’s best-known writers, The Book of Dog, has distinctive new voices, and individuals who have dedicated their lives to animal welfare. The depth with which dogs touch us, the special bond we have with them, and the unique place they hold in our hearts and lives. Through a series of unforgettable, funny, poignant, warm and playful real-life stories, the authors celebrate the remarkable dogs they once knew and loved. The editor and all the authors have contributed to this project for free. All royalties will go to registered animal welfare charities.

Here’s an excerpt from The Book of Dog, thanks to the editor, Ms Hemali Sodhi and HarperCollins India. She shares her deeply personal journey from being a cynophobe to a dog devotee and touches upon everything in between that any dog lover would relate to – playful puppy antics, the journeys, the eventual silver years and the grim pangs of death.

The Book of Dog

‘If you’re lucky, a dog will come into your life, steal your heart, and change everything.’

I have a confession. Growing up, I was terrified of dogs. It was an entirely irrational fear—I’d never been bitten by a dog or had an unpleasant experience, but I was a timid child, fearful of many things I didn’t yet understand.

Social gatherings were a traumatic affair if the hosts had a canine member in the house—all hell would break loose, and everyone’s attention would be focused on keeping me calm and keeping the curious dogs away. For as anyone with a dog will know, one of the unwritten rules of the dog world is that the more you avoid them, the more they’ll come sniffing around you, puzzled by this strange presence in their territory that seems to be displaying highly questionable behaviour: which surely calls for a thorough investigation.

Life continued the way it was, with dogs and I maintaining a respectable distance from each other, occasionally coming close to curiously sniffing around the contours of these invisible but firmly drawn lines, but never crossing them—till (the irony!) I got married into a family of devoted dog lovers. Since my partner’s family lived in another city, this did not pose any immediate threat to my carefully constructed dog-free existence. But slowly, softly, dogs began to enter into conversations, and to hear dogs being spoken about with such affection stirred the first beginnings of curiosity in me. These weren’t just alien, scary beings anymore; Chikky, Kellie and Brandy all became real characters, with defined personalities of their own.

And I began to wonder. What, really, would it be like to befriend a dog? Had I missed out on something special all these years? And I slowly came around to the idea of giving myself a chance to see what could happen. Around this time, a friend in another city sent out a distress signal—he was moving and needed to rehome his pup—would we know anyone who might want to give little Simba a home? After days of intense discussions, I hesitantly said yes, with all ‘fallback’ safety nets in place—if I couldn’t adjust to this startling change, we would have friends who would take in the pup, we’d get a trainer to make the adjustment smoother, it wouldn’t be the end of the world—and really, how much harm could a little pup do? The monumental decision was taken: a pup would enter our home and our lives. And thus began a period of intense preparation as we (anxiously, in my case) awaited the arrival of this new member.

Simba Hemali Sodhi


A dog person and a pet parent, Hemali describes her best days as those spent in the company of dogs.

But fate clearly had something else in mind. Due to a variety of circumstances, little Simba could not be sent to Delhi, and his family decided to keep him with them. And suddenly, it was unbearable that after all that anticipation and all that preparation, we weren’t going to have a dog! This was the biggest anti-climax if there ever was one—we had to have a pup now, one we could call Simba since we had grown so accustomed to the name! We began asking around and found there was a family in our own neighbourhood that was looking for homes for their Labrador litter—would we want to take a look? We went across; I sat in the car, a bundle of nerves, while my partner went inside the house to see the pups.

Minutes later, this round, chubby, golden-white ball of fluff was put into my arms. And so, on a perfect day in February many years ago, little Simba came into our lives. And completely changed my world.

See also: All Creatures Great and Small

I have always been at a loss for words when it comes to talking about Simba. It is said that there are life-altering instances that change everything about you and every belief or preconceived notion you’ve held on to. Simba was just that—a moment of falling completely, irrevocably, unquestioningly in love. With the sweetest temperament and the kindest heart, Simba was an old, old soul in a young body. There was dignity and kindness, a gentleness in him, which put everyone at ease (oh how I wish I had Simba in my life in my growing-up years!). If someone at home had a challenging day, Simba would pick up on that immediately and come sit next to them. He had many nicknames, each sillier than the next, and he’d respond to each of them. He patiently listened to the tuneless loud singing I subjected him to every morning, with a huge grin on his face, tail slowly thumping in support (appreciation may be taking it too far).

He loved car rides and travelled with us everywhere, heading to the door automatically when he heard the word ‘drive’. He had a favourite blanket he carried around everywhere—including on his walks! He loved muffins, and was perhaps the only dog who recognized a café on sight, his tail immediately wagging in anticipation.

Simba completely won over my parents, who ended up loving him unreservedly; early mornings saw Simba and my father sit with each other in companionable silence, my father sipping tea and Simba lost in his own thoughts. Everywhere Simba went, he left a trail of smiles—people would stop and stare or give a pat to this calm and gentle dog with the kind, brown eyes, whenever we took him anywhere.

Simba’s arrival also opened up an entirely new world for me; from being scared of dogs, I now plunged headlong into a world inhabited by dogs and dog lovers. I made friends with other dog parents. I gradually became invested in issues around animal welfare, and those of animals in shelters desperately looking for someone to adopt them, abandoned dogs, and dogs living on the streets. I learnt about unethical backyard breeding, and about the many dogs who were given up by their families who couldn’t—or didn’t want to— take care of them. My heart sank on hearing stories of horror and mistreatment and celebrated stories of rescue and hope.

Eventually, when Simba turned five, we got more dogs—to give Simba company, we told ourselves. But honestly, I think we just loved the idea of being dog parents so much that we just had to expand our family. And so more dogs entered our heart and our home—the delightfully crazy brothers Jack Sparrow and Carlos; Cooper, who was rescued from a shelter; the tenacious Nikki, king of our street, who adopted our home after he was run over by a car; and more rescues: Junior and Muffin, and Custard. Our house became full of the most incredible, loving, amazing dog children (each of them with their individual, delightful personalities, and deserving a chapter and story of their own—but one I won’t get into here).

Simba did all that.

Book for dog lover

But there is a heartbreaking reality that every dog parent is aware of—one we skirt around and don’t put into words, but which lurks constantly at the back of our minds. Dogs have short lives. You will see them grow older, the gait become slower, the muzzle greyer. You will see the crazy zoomies turn into a slow and painful limp, and you will see that beloved face turn old. It is devastating, and even though it was something I knew would eventually happen, I wasn’t prepared for it—with Simba, or with any of the other dog children, we had. It is said that dogs come into our lives to teach us about love and depart to teach us about loss—and eleven years and one month after he entered our lives, Simba left us after a brief illness. And even though I knew that parting was inevitable at some point, losing him meant losing a part of myself. I know that I am now lesser. Something has changed irrevocably, and even the happiest day of the rest of my life will not be perfect, for it will be a day without Simba.

But dogs also teach you some of the most profound lessons of life. They teach you to live in the moment, to live for the moment. They teach you unconditional love, given so freely it sometimes makes you tear up and wonder what you did to deserve this. They teach you to love unreservedly, and never let the child die in you. And they teach you kindness.

In 2020, when Covid hit unexpectedly and the world went into lockdown, the dogs at home were probably the only ones not unhappy with this strange new world—their humans were home and spending time with them for longer periods: it was like hitting the jackpot!

And it was the dogs who kept many of us sane and provided comfort—in a world where everything was uncertain, here were our dogs, delighted with this change of circumstance and making the most of it. And that’s when an idea I had thought about earlier slowly started taking shape—a book of essays and stories on these funny, furry, four-legged companions, an ode and a tribute to all the wonderful dogs from their devoted humans. And that’s when another extraordinary truth about the effect of dogs came into play—dogs bring us together in a way few things can, and bring out the most remarkable side of us.

When I started reaching out to writers I knew were pet parents, I was making a huge imposition and demand on highly regarded authors and accomplished professionals who led busy lives—and I didn’t have much to offer: no money (in fact from the beginning I was keen that the royalties should go to animal welfare charities), no sight of a publisher at that stage—just a heartfelt request to these remarkable individuals to send in an essay on life with a dog.

These are stories of love, and stories of loss—for that is the nature of being a dog parent. But there is also tremendous joy and laughter, silliness (everyone should be silly once in a while—nothing to beat an old-fashioned bout of silliness to get some perspective), and the sheer, simple happiness that dogs bring into our lives.

Dogs make our world better. As you go through these pages and read these stories, you will share some of the best moments and adventures of what it is like being a dog parent.

And if you haven’t yet, I hope you will meet your Simba one day.

Complement The Book of Dog with The Big New Yorker Book of Dogs, and books written from a dog’s POV.

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