I love dogs. No! Scratch that! I’m scared of dogs. If they’re not mine, I get scared of them. But here’s the irony! Every single family member that I have ever been in contact with, has wanted a dog. And has successfully had one. And then has proceeded to consider that dog a family member. So needless to say that I have spent half my life in constant fear of some of my family members.
I have asked my family many times about why these animals whom my family considers their rightful heir down the line, were elevated to the status of a family member without putting in the work. I mean I didn’t get any free tickets to becoming a part of the family. I’ve been dealt with the requisite rite of passage before my family accepted me as their own. This includes laughing at my parents’ extremely lame jokes, pretending to be interested in religion for my grandmother, acting like I am the big sister who can solve all the problems to my younger siblings and even eating questionable food items that our dog had already licked and rejected. Until I did these acts of self-deprecation and many more, my loyalty was questioned and I’m sure that some of my family even questioned my species.
Then how does every new dog become a part of the family? How does every dog that we’ve ever had has never had to show any skills to be my dad’s favorite? They couldn’t catch a frisbee, wag their tails, bark and some couldn’t even chase cats but were instant favorites. In fact, the more pathetic their resume, the more brownie points they scored with my mom who gushed over them all day long.
But even though I have had huge philosophical differences with my dogs and they have gone so far as to being Christopher Columbus to the natives (me) I usually developed an affinity to them after a few weeks of feeding them, cleaning them, walking them and cuddling with them at night.
When I got married I knew my husband didn’t have a dog and never planned to have one. I sighed with relief. I couldn’t let my newly married life be interrupted by a dog.
But soon after I got married, my dearest mother-in-law invited me over for a month. Like all newly married people I had huge hopes for our relationship. I planned some amazing outfits for the trip and also bought expensive gifts for my MIL.
As soon as I landed in Columbia, Maryland I realized that this was much warmer than Toronto, Canada where I was traveling from. I realized soon that this neighborhood was a positively posh and borderline snotty neighborhood compared to my immigrant-favored, modest and kitschy, mainly apartment complex- based, blue collar neighborhood. I also realized that just because people had so much land here they had decided to populate it with more life. Some nice people had introduced life in the form of plants, some in the form of animals. And I also realized that the favored animal was unanimously ……… the dog.
This would’ve been okay. I mean I’m a person who has extremely liberal views about letting people live their lives without judgement. I’ve seen our neighbor peeing on the grass and have turned a blind eye. I’ve seen my nanny eating my toddler’s cereal and have forgiven her. I’ve seen my husband using my deodorant more than once and haven’t doubted his sexuality. I am actually the most liberal person that liberalism has created. I don’t sweat the small stuff.
But I couldn’t ignore that my MIL had four dogs too. Why four, you might ask! I asked the same question and the look that she gave me froze a part of my blood and believe me, no amount of standing in the sun has melted it to this date. I would actually applaud you for your knack for asking appropriate and relevant questions. She has nine kids so having four dogs does seem like an overkill. Usually many dogs are kept by people who haven’t had to run after their kids to feed them or haven’t picked up enough kids’ poop off the floor or haven’t been scratched everywhere by a few kids. Four dogs was an unfathomable number because if I had nine kids and I had had the life with many migrations that she had, I would’ve probably wedded and matched all my kids off to worthier candidates than me and lived on an island. But not my MIL! She actually filled the vacuum that empty nesters complain of, with more kids.
Yes more kids! Because that’s what she calls her dogs. She thinks they deserve respect and adulation befitting for her own born.
The four dogs were various sizes. There was a pit bull, a chihuahua, a German Shepherd and a Great Dane. See her wonderful taste in collecting dogs? All four dogs were not only different in size but their personalities also were as different from each other as they could be.
The pit bull, as the name implies, was the most feared of the pack. Well call it an idiosyncrasy but my MIL picks out the mosh ill-suited names. For example the name of the pit bull was Sweetie. Even though Sweetie was a boy and weighed about fifty pounds, he was vain. He would get offended each time I wore a nice-smelling perfume or wore a new pair of earrings and would ruin it for me. He would particularly chase me around in the backyard when I was trying to get super adorable selfies in my carefully done bedhead. I can’t tell you the number of selfies that have been ruined or what some people would say, preserved how nature intended for them to be preserved , just because Sweetie chose the most inopportune time to jump at me or simply, yawn in my direction.
The chihuahua was my MIL’s life and heart. She was also the smallest and stayed indoors most of the time. Imagine something soft and snuggly creeping into your bed, unbeknownst to you, and claiming a small spot near your head. You raise your hand to scratch your head and instead scratch something small and furry. You wake up with a yelp but that’s not the worst part. There is something, a living thing, that’s frantically jumping up and down in the bed now and darting between the door and your head and scratching both to get over its panic. Even though the chihuahua was the smallest and according to my MIL, the cutest, it soon became annoying and the bane of my existence.
The German Shepherd was a big burly guy. He was probably the oldest and looked wise just by the look in his eyes. He also seemed super judgmental of me. I had a feeling that he suspected me of having an extramarital affair and was always surreptitiously checking my cellphone. I would usually find the cell phone in his mouth. And once I removed it from his little pee pad. I don’t know how and I know you won’t believe it but he had actually opened my Whatsapp messages and was likely poring over them, hoping to catch me in some salacious act of embarrassment and moral depravation. I’m just happy to report that the initial days of my marriage were so busy and mentally exhausting that I was of half a mind to not conduct an affair with my own husband. Other husbands weren’t making the list at all.
Now I know you guys think that the Great Dane was probably the dog whom I was attracted to instantly, even though I’m not a dog person. And I will admit to a little trivia about me. I have always found the Great Dane to be the Brad Pitt of dogs. I mean just look at this specimen of nature. Its sturdy build, combined with its strong jaw balanced extremely attractively with its deep-set usually brown eyes, with a squareness to its shoulders that I’m sure is envied by most Dobermans, make for an extremely pleasant and impressive vision. But….. like Halle Barry spoiled Catwoman, Britney Spears spoiled catholic school outfits and Justin Trudeau spoiled Punjabi dances , the Great Dane was spoiled by………. yup, dear friends, the Great Dane was spoiled by Scooby Doo.
Imagine the stately appearance of this magnificent creature and then imagine how we chose to use it, callously and disrespectfully, as a dog with questionable detective techniques and a stupid man friend. This casting of the Great Dane in the role of the legendary stupid dog Scooby Doo has ruined any chances of my happy friendship with this particular type of dogs.
Even though I ruled out the Great Dane as the recipient of my affections ever, I still had better tolerance for him than the other dogs that my MIL owned.
Now my MIL didn’t believe me but as soon as I came into that home they took me as an invader of my MIL’s love. If they had known the interpersonal dynamic between my MIL and myself they wouldn’t have suspected me of any such adventure. But because they loved her, they considered all humans and dogs to immediately fall in love with her. Because they constantly vied for her attention, they anticipated me to vie for it too.
But I had no such plans. I was hoping to have a quiet month, get as much sun as possible and live a life of idyllic laziness. My bag had more Jackie Collins novels than clothes and I was hoping to live the life of a carefree, sexually charged, morally corrupt seductress vicariously through those novels. So their concerns were unfounded and actually, quite unnecessary.
I don’t know what humans do when they feel threatened by another human but I know what dogs do. They bite. And they don’t just bite once and teach you a lesson. The bite you enough times that the lesson sinks in to your skin, literally and figuratively.
So the dogs wanted to bite me and teach me a lesson from the jump. They would charge at me when I was least expecting it. Like when I was practicing my yoga and trying to wear cool white yoga outfits and contorting my body into all sorts of pretzel-like shapes. They would jump on me and catch me completely unawares. There have been a few times when my arms and legs, by virtue of being gangly and miles long, have been knotted and twisted into each other, so much so that if I hadn’t been dealing with this situation since puberty we would’ve had to call the fire department to get me out of my literal pickle.
Sometimes they pounced at me while I was chatting with cute neighborhood men. Now married I may be, but I consider myself a woman of great aesthetic appreciation and therefore like to know every beautiful thing a little more than what meets the eye. I’m prefacing this before you judge me because I can see the eyes rolling and the ears perking at the mention of cute men and married woman in the same line.
While generally I would like one of these men to save me from a dog jumping on me, my mortal fear of dogs didn’t let this be a cute event. I ran for cover, ducking between trees, screaming like a banshee and tripping over my own feet and landing in a small puddle of water. Well, water and sand. Or mud for better understanding. The rearrangement that my facial features had to go through after this was enough to scare those men off. I think they looked more scared when I, drenched in mud and embarrassment, tried to laugh through it while angrily hissing at the dogs. For those of you who have had a chance of witnessing your parents’ anger when you deliberately attack the roasted chicken before the guests have had a chance at it , during a formal sit-down dinner, know the look I’m talking about. This is the look of extreme agitation mixed with the effort to restrain this agitation. This look can only be compared to the look that I give my husband when he makes jokes about my cooking over our dinner parties. This look has an unparalleled, almost revered place in my husband’s life. When I assume this look he knows what’s best for him and quietly makes his bed on the couch for that night.
Sometimes the dogs tried to attack me while I was trying to be a perfect vision in my pastel maxis and picking flowers. Don’t think this is my normal taste in fashion though! A Muslim woman’s conundrum over dressing modestly but seductively never ends. Our wish to look modern and worldly while not looking like someone our moms would consider the local hoochie is a truly difficult one. But maxis looked like a dress that would be accepted by the super-chic women in this neighborhood and I actually replaced all my jeans and tank tops with them soon after coming to this place for a southern vacation.
They would make my heart leap by a million miles by jumping out from behind rose bushes and blackberry hedges. Then they would chase me and play with me as humans play polo. One would chase and then pass off the chase to the other. The other would chase and then would have another one chase me. Ultimately they would all get together and come bearing down on me and usually the gardener saved me.
My MIL was aware of my social struggles with her dogs. She had been talking to her servants about the reasons behind why the dogs had a discriminatory and racially bigoted attitude towards me. Now the servants are good people. But because they and I had developed some hugely philosophical differences since I had come to live with my MIL, I would’ve been stupid to expect any support or good word about me from them.
The cook hated me because I showed him how to make a chocolate cake. Now if you have ever been someone who considers themselves a cook around professional cooks and chefs, you might be well-advised to stay out of their business. You can’t tell them that the food got a little salty or too sweet or undercooked. They don’t like this type of commentary. If you really want to criticize someone’s cooking then marry a nice woman who cooks your meals three times a day without a salary and feel free to criticize her. If you’re a woman then just wait for your son to get married and then criticize your daughter-in-law’s cooking. She signed up for it. The chef didn’t.
The housekeeper actually initially liked me until I told her that she needed to clean my bathroom too. As a consummate Pakistani who was born to parents with some money I have always considered myself above household chores if other people are around to do them for me. I mean I can’t change my values now! That’s the kind of cultural shock that prevents half of Pakistan from accepting admission to Ivy League schools and sends the other half routinely back to Pakistan. The housekeeper mentioned that cleaning bathrooms wasn’t her job. I didn’t believe her and decided to embarrass her by catching her in a lie over dinner one night. I orchestrated a whole plan where my MIL listened to me building up to the housekeeper’s noncompliance in this matter. I thought I was winning when MIL quietly ended my diatribe by saying “We clean our bathrooms ourselves”. Really? Then why does she have a housekeeper? Isn’t paid help supposed to do things that are beneath us? Let me tell you! My MIL was running that whole operation wrong.
The only person that I could see being aligned with my sorry self in this big house was the guy who did my MIL’s financial work. Not sure if he really was a financial advisor because he asked me many times what two and two make. I repeatedly told him it was four until I had to show it to him on the calculator. He argued that I was multiplying two and two. I explained that 2 when added to 2 is the same number as when 2 is multiplied with 2. He didn’t believe me and I’m sure my MIL was surprised to see a huge chunk of her paid taxes coming back as returns.
So one fine evening when I had barely saved my honor from all four of her dogs by climbing over the next door neighbors’ wall, and hence running into THEIR dogs, I was asked by MIL to see her in the room that she called her sunroom and where most of her favorites, that is, her house help and her dogs spent their time.
Imagine a decent person like me having to explain my various attempts at befriending her peeps and failing. Imagine her extremely favoritism-reeking attitude. Imagine that she had actually collected everyone in that room with the house help on one side and the dogs on the other of her proverbial throne AKA the famous LazyBoy recliner.
But decent as I may be, I had spent enough hours in the principal’s office in my day to know how to win this one. I wasn’t gonna admit to anything. The fact that I had actually left a firecracker in one of the dog’s pee place so it would go off under their privates when they peed was not going to be admitted by me. The fact that I had actually tried to give one of the dogs a mortal fright by meowing at him out of the bathroom as he frantically chased his own tail looking for that dreadful cat couldn’t be admitted either. The incident where I had put heads together with the neighborhood gardener on how to teach these dogs a lesson by letting our lawn mower chase them had also got to remain a secret. I couldn’t absolutely cop to adding extra sugar to the pudding after the cook made fun of the dog poop stain on my yoga clothes and my laziness in removing it. I mean, was he kidding me? Dog poop is an organic product and probably the only good thing that comes out of those dogs. Dog poop has medicinal properties, including the benefit that those dogs chased me a lot less if they saw my outfit ruined by them already. They considered their good deed for the day already done.
As I was standing there, steeling myself to their looks and trying to avoid my MIL’s eyes boring into my heart, I heard her address me.
“So I hear that you and the dogs aren’t getting along. Is that true?”
“No! That’s not true. I mean, it’s true. We aren’t getting along but it’s not my f……”.
“I’m not ready to decide yet whose fault it is”.
“Is it true that you tried to put some funny tasting candy in Sweetie’s dinner?”
Now this is true but I had resolved to fight this case like all honest lawyers. I wasn’t going to admit to anything.
“I can’t answer that without going into details and some of them involve other people so in the interest of saving everyone’s time, I’m just gonna deny this allegation”.
My MIL squinted at me. She frowned. I looked at the ceiling. I had a feeling that I couldn’t stare her down.
“You do realize that you’re sounding guilty by admitting to others’ hand in it? You have partially admitted to doing this”.
Have I? No, don’t be silly! You haven’t! But I must have if she is so confident about it. I do put my foot in my mouth every now and then. Why can’t I think more before speaking?
I finally speak again, but deliberately slower than before to take some thinking time between my answers.
“The only reason I added some candy to his food was because he seemed to be getting so skinny. I actually knew that candy was funny tasting. I learned a long time ago that dogs aren’t particularly crazy about sweet things. They prefer sour candy. I researched this again and based on a real chihuahua research, which has been cited in many major animal journals and pet magazines, sour candy is the number one choice for a healthy chihuahua. I was only watching out for this little darling”.
“So you were trying to make her food more nutritious?”
“Yes! Yes indeed! Besides my medical degree I have several other certifications also and one of them is in dog nutrition”.
“Where did you get that certification from?”
I feel like I’ve gone overboard with this. I try to put the toothpaste back in the tube.
“Well I didn’t get it from a real institute. Actually I got certified by my grandmother who noticed my intense interest in our dog’s food and quality of life and bestowed this certification on me. This was a course in observing and actually making nutritious meals. Anyone can go to a college but I did it hands-on and you can’t really put a dollar amount or an institution’s name on it. You don’t know my grandmother but she was an amazing…..”
My MIL interjects rather rudely.
“I knew your grandmother really well. She was a fine woman. It’s a pity that she didn’t live long enough for you to learn some things worth learning from her”.
Okay so she agrees with me on something, I think happily. Now that I’ve identified a certain clue as to the type of convincing that she will need to consider me innocent of all charge, I felt confident and bolstered.
“I also heard that you’ve been trying to sell my dogs”.
Now that’s not entirely true. I wasn’t “trying” to sell her dogs. I had actually almost sold one of them to her neighbor. Almost because I have the money but he doesn’t have the dog. And if he hadn’t had to leave for an exotic vacation with his wife who used to be his dog walker and is now completely turned off by any mention of dogs, he would’ve rudely asked for the money back. I know what his complaint would’ve been. That he doesn’t have the dog. But in all honesty, I left the dog at his place. But the dog chose to follow me back home. I can’t help how dogs choose their humans. May be Mr. Neighbor needs to be more personable for living beings to like him.
“That’s not true”.
“So you didn’t try to sell my Great Dane?”
“Then what is this?”
She waves the stupid receipt that I had, in my excitement and pride over this deal, printed on her HP laser jet myself to make this transaction sound legit and impressive. I kinda wanted a memento out of my first business venture. This has backfired massively. Now I see why shady business is conducted without receipts. Leave no tracks is the first order of any business where stuff is sold without explicit permission of the owner.
I started doing some fast thinking.
“This indeed is a receipt. Something that marks a transaction. But people sometimes forget that it always marks an honest transaction. Any dishonest transaction is usually more like a stealth operation and no tracks are left behind. So even though you think that I tried to sell your dog, I was only acting in his best interest. May be you don’t know but your neighbor is a prolific screenplay writer and I have always wondered, or at least since I’ve known this magnificent dog, why he can’t be a worthier representation of the Danes. Why can’t he upstage Scooby Doo? Why can’t he be to cinema what Scooby-Doo was to cartoon detective work? Forgive me for taking the liberty to revere this almost-human like dog who actually puts a clumsy and uncoordinated human being like me to shame. Forgive me for watching out for him. My hope was to discuss this with you after obtaining explicit details of your Dane’s work in the film industry. I just wanted to bring good news to you”.
I can feel my MIL softening. I know the dog isn’t buying it. He is looking at me with narrowed eyes and an expression that says “you scoundrel”. She finally says,
“That sounds like something that he would like . I’m not going to be around forever to care for them. They should have new homes at some point”.
The dogs started whimpering. I became a little bolder.
“Well, dear MIL, you know I only have their best interests at heart. They’re kinda wasting the prime of their lives here. They could’ve been so much happier if they had newer homes. My heart aches for them. I’ve seen the loneliness in their eyes when you’re sick or playing bingo with your friends. They really need new environments and they really need to be valued for the amazing individuals that they are”.
I can see my MIL looking at me affectionately. She has never looked at me with those wet eyes. She has given me many looks that range from condescending to downright chilly in the short time that we have known each other but this sweet look has never travelled between us. I’m feeling like I came over a hurdle. Who knew I only had to suck up to her pathetic dogs a little bit to get somewhere with her? Who knew that the way to her heart went through the kennels? Who knew that she would be totally smitten by my love and commitment to her dogs’ future?
I was pulled out of my reverie by MIL softly calling my name.
“I’ve never felt anyone love my dogs as much as you do. I have felt for a long time that these dogs need another human. They need another home. You know my cruise is coming up. I’m going to be away for a full year. You have come like an angel. I can’t thank you enough. But actually I can. I can thank you. I can thank you by giving you something that I can see you want but can’t ask for. These acts of kindness that you’ve been doing towards my dogs are acts of love in your own way. You have watched out for them since the beginning. I have really misjudged you even though I take so much pride in being a very sophisticated judge of character. You totally threw me off. But I know what! I love you for being the mother to them I won’t be able to. I want you to have my dogs”.
During her monologue I had been smiling from ear to ear. The type of smile that Oscar winners have. The smile that differentiates an Oscar winner from a mere nominee. The smile that says “suck on that, loser”! The dogs have been hating me and becoming more possessive of my MIL. My smile doesn’t falter initially as I heard her last sentence. Maybe because I didn’t quite get it.
“What do you mean?” I ask, smiling even more serenely, sure that God wasn’t going to ruin this for me now. He had brought me along to be a winner today. To be the best lawyer in the case of Sonia versus Dogs. To defend myself against the wickedest quadrifecta that has ever lived. He was going to exonerate me and then have my MIL give me half of her jewelry, half her property and half her house help too.
“I mean you have proved to be the most deserving owner to them after me. You love them like I wish I had the energy to love them now. They need someone energetic, smart and playful. They need someone fun. You can take them. Consider them my wedding gift to you”.
I’m bamboozled, ladies and gentlemen! This is one of my bamboozled moments. And not just because she is giving me the four most monstrous animals I’ve ever seen in my life but also, did she just say I could consider them by wedding present? Is that what she said? Is that her present to me? Did I hear her right? Is the thing that she’s gonna give me for my wedding gonna be her dogs? Are you KIDDING me?
My MIL takes my silence as a yes and comes over and hugs me. I have to get my wits about me. I have to come up with more on how I am an inept owner and totally incompetent for this job. I try to take her hug as gracefully as I can. I separate myself from her and look remorsefully at her.
“My dear MIL! I can’t take them from you. I can’t. I can’t do that. It wouldn’t be fair. More than how unfair it would be for them, it would be unfair to you. You need them. They don’t need you as much as you need them. Your existence has so much more meaning with them. Your life is fuller because of them. You are actually in better health than people without dogs. You need someone to care for you. Why, I’ve noticed you becoming thinner and weaker since I’ve been here. You need care and love and attention. And these dogs give you that. I mean, look at them! They’re the perfect companion for someone like you. Didn’t you say you have diabetes? Well who is gonna bring a bowl of sugar if you drop on the kitchen floor due to low blood sugar? Didn’t you say your blood pressure is high? I’ve heard dogs are therapeutic for reducing blood pressure. You know you run the risk of stroke and heart attack with your blood pressure problems. And your cholesterol is through the roof too! Now imagine you eating all the animal fat yourself if you couldn’t throw it to them while cooking? Anymore fat will likely bring your end. I know you think that you’ve got enough diseases but I think you’re just starting. You’ve got some major health problems and other health problems are quite possibly right around the corner. You need these dogs. They will save your life one day.”
“Do you think I’m in bad shape?”
“Bad shape? My dear MIL! If truth be told I think you need four more dogs to care for you. That way you’d have the army you need. If truth be told you should surround yourself with more dogs and people in order to have the medical attention that you need. Four is just not enough even though these dogs are so committed to you”.
MIL thought for a long time. Then she looked at me, smiling.
“You know, my dear, no one has ever expressed their concerns for my health in this way. The worry that you have for me, the interest you have in my well-being, the astute insight that you show in my morbidity and mortality is enough for me to call you my favorite and favor you with a special offer that would make you very happy and take a lot of worry off of your mind”.
As I was rejoicing at escaping the dog ordeal and silently celebrating what sounded like a worthy present to score finally, I heard my MIL giving me my wedding gift.
“I’ll come with you dear. You’re right! I’m old and need care. Before now I had never realized that I had so much going on. I’m a generally careless person when it comes to my health therefore I need to have a responsible person around me. Someone like you! And look! A doctor too! I’m truly glad that you’re my DIL. Even more glad at how you came to stay with me and now we will stay with you……. forever”.
“We?”, I managed.
“Yes, sweetheart, we! Surely the dogs will come. As you have pointed out, they keep me young. They keep me going. I wouldn’t ever dream of parting with them after the insightful conversation I just had with you”.
I called my husband at night and told him what happened.
“So are you saying that you are bringing my mom with you ? A woman you dislike with every fiber of your being? And not just her, you’re bringing four dogs with her too? Dogs who hate you apparently and have been a source of angst and suffering while you’ve been on vacation?”
“Of the many talents that you have, I’m always amazed at the one that keeps getting better. The totally frightening and absolutely dumbfounding talent of putting your big foot in your even giant mouth. Thanks for keeping my life entertaining. I’ll pick you guys up from the airport. Love you”.
As I turned to put the phone back I saw the dogs, all four of them, sitting on my bed. I didn’t have the heart to ask them to get down. I got in the center of my bed and made a little space between their paws and went to sleep. They snuggled with me. Warm and fuzzy. Sometime during the night, my MIL came in the room to check on the dogs. I felt someone touch my face and stroke my hair. It wasn’t a paw. It definitely wasn’t a paw. ❤️