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The Forever Dog

Written by: Nikhil Jayaram

“3 to 6 months. With kidneys as bad as his… I’d prepare if I were you.”

It’s difficult to hear this about your dog when he’s been at your side for years — and even harder with our 14-month-old pit pup, Elliot. The vet meant well, but “prepare” sounded like a call to reduce our brown-furred, freckled, jowl-laden, enthusiastic dog to a condition and ticking clock.

It was logical. But unless you have property to guard or require a service animal, owning a dog is emotional, sound reasoning be damned. Rather than distancing ourselves from Elliot and simply treating him with kindness, my girlfriend Siduri and I chose to love him and to hope, assuming we knew how his story would unfold.

I have OCD leanings, at times struggling to control my urge to wipe floors, wash my hands, and seek out typos. When Siduri and I started dating in June 2011, she introduced me to Gracie, her two-year-old, über-expressive, strawberry blonde rescue pit. As a child, I loved dogs. When we visited family who had them, I spent more time with the animals than the people. I begged my parents for a puppy. But my Indian immigrant dad decreed I had to care for myself before I could care for an animal. And our house was hardly pet-proof. As I succinctly put it, “white carpets + brown father = zero dogs.” In adulthood, valuing cleanliness and ease, allergies burgeoning, I enjoyed dogs from afar, hands in pockets so I didn’t have to wash them. Indeed, the first few meetings with Gracie, rather than pet her, my hands would wipe my nose after copious sneezes. Yet, as weeks of dating Siduri led to months of a relationship, the dog and I formed a bond — one worth soaping my hands. I embraced her, literally.

I realized I had the best of all worlds: I got to wrestle Gracie, play fetch with her, and never deal with a mess in my apartment (though the fur clinging to my clothes for dear life exasperates me to this day). Even my itching skin, tingling nose, and irritated eyes didn’t dissuade me from the few hours every week where Gracie was half mine. Things were so copacetic that I began to doubt how smoothly the man-dog relationship would go once Siduri and I lived together, a step on the horizon. Could I handle Gracie (and her fur) full time? Would I ever regret having her?

Come February 2012, Siduri and I finished moving into our first townhome. Gracie did not adjust well, acting out. A couple times, when she’d bark or growl (no more than any small dogs in the complex did), our neighbors called Animal Control. For a fleeting moment, we wondered if we could provide Gracie the best home, and how (in my case, perhaps “if”) she could better fit into our lives. Thanks to Siduri, we enforced rules with more discipline and no less love. Gracie calmed down. And one day months later, I had a realization, which I uttered with shock and a tinge of submission to Siduri: I loved the dog. And paradoxically, though my heart was full with Gracie, it was my great love for her that opened space for another dog. There was simply more love to give.

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