Dogs as Never Dying

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Painting: Julian Wheat

By Krishnanunni Hari

“So now he’s gone and I buried him,
And that’s all there is to it.” – Pablo Neruda, “A Dog Has Died”

The dog of my family, who we called Spiky, died earlier this year sometime in the night, probably on getting hit by a truck. He had no visible wounds and, hopefully, died on the spot. My uncle who went looking early next morning found him on the highway and buried him near a petrol pump. He reported this to my parents and they reported the same to me after a week. I welled up intermittently that day and cried a proper cry the next on the phone with a friend who I used to advise on dog matters. Though I wished for more proportionate outbursts, nothing came. I returned to Kerala upon Lockdown and have had silence on both my part and my family’s on his death, his dying, the life we gave him and the life we owed him.

In the first few months after his death, I would occasionally pant with my tongue out – part deliberately, part subconsciously. How my life was with him had already begun to slip from memory. I used to sniff around his kennel without my parents noticing to get a hint of his smell, or I would wait for the serendipity of his hair on my clothes. I keep going back to the times when I sat next to him sleeping on the sand and felt how fragile he was, how injurable and felt a love in which the world crumbles.

Because it’s part of the experience and since I wanted to know what others felt about their dog friends dying, I picked up Neruda’s “A Dog Has Died”. I expected its last lines to be resonant with how I appeared to be, but that wasn’t the case. I am yet to feel his not-being-there. We used to have this night-time ritual where I would go pee under a tree and he would emerge from deep sleep, summon a considerate measure of urine and join me in a sense of queer brotherhood. Even now, I feel him with me while I take a leak under the same tree or when I look into the darkness behind the well; I turn to a presence he has enfleshed into the air around my house. This is also why I am yet to miss him.

Of course it isn’t an embodied presence, not until the other day when I was returning home with my mother on the scooty when we came across a white Labrador who looked like Spiky (like how all labradors look alike), was as tall as him but a little older, tired and hungry, with hairless patches here and there. We rode past him and then rode back. We called him by name, whistled and when all he gave us was a tired blank look, we went our way and left him to continue sniffing the sides of the road.

This incident unsettled a lot of things – most obviously, what we had taken to be facts of his dying and being-dead were now cast in doubt. We had been looking at our life with him as a love that had run its course, which must now be consigned to the recent-past. This arrangement was worried. Seeing him there was to be taken back to an intimacy that shouldn’t have ended so soon, a difficult intimacy which, at times of crisis, I am glad I don’t have to tend to anymore. While I outweighed the troubles of taking him against the good, my mother asked if dogs remember their humans six months after disappearance.

And we didn’t take him. It can be said that our dog is dead and gone and this is just a similar-looking but wholly different one. It can be said that we are trying to deflect that reality or the other reality that it was actually Spiky and the dog we buried was someone else. Split between two worlds, another aspect comes into view: that this dog is Spiky (if he were) wandering the streets – hungry, scavenging, injured, and this is where it hurts.

I never had it in myself but he looked for me to ask his forgiveness – for cutting up space into his and ours, for denying him sex, for not listening. I didn’t answer his call from the streets; I failed him then, I keep failing him.

A dog has died and that is not all there is to it; dogs who you didn’t bury yourself, and even the ones you did, still wander as other dogs who you have a chance to meet. I struggle to not foreclose this difficulty.

Bio:
Krishnanunni Hari is a research scholar at EFL University, Hyderabad. He tries to build conversations around an intersectional approach to animal rights in his city. He can be reached on makeunniphd@gmail.com

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