Sunday, February 7, 2010

In Memory of Feefee

FeeFee was always smiling or whining. She was barely ever serious. She also had a short fuse. Her spurts of anger were obvious from her mad dash to the gate, teeth bared, legs splayed and a low guttural growl that made the bravest of guests perch on the balls of their feet, ready for flight.

She was eight when I last saw her. Having given birth to a litter of three beautiful puppies, she was still more playful than her kids.

Out of breath, I would give up well before she did. I couldn't help but marvel at this tiny animal's forceful energy. In her self-styled game called 'Chase me!' Feefee would weave circles around the garden chairs with dizzying speed. After a while of chasing, a bystander wouldn't be able to tell who was chasing whom, which I think was the very idea Feefee had in mind. You see, she was a dog with extraordinary intelligence.

After reducing me into a blob on the grass, she'd break the chase and dive in front of me.
Planting her triangular head and whiskered white ears over her dainty paws, she would then proceed to ogle at me with her big brown eyes, an endearing expression that can be best described as pouting

She barely got sick. But when she did, it would change her demeanor. She would lose weight; her skin would sag; her eyes would go dull; her whippy tail would lose energy and she would start to sigh a lot.

She developed a fungal infection in her ear that, despite rigorous treatment, worsened with time. It developed into a burning skin disease that made her lose her hair and her appetite. She would fight the debilitating pain by sprawling on the wet grass in the dead of winter. The frost apparently numbed her suffering.

My sister Muni and Ami, horrified at the sight of Feefee sprawled in the cold, uncovered and shivering, would drag her back to her kennel, at times locking her in. Thinking, the poor souls, that they were doing what was best for her. Little did they know this was the last thing she needed.

When the disease started to spread from animal to human, Feefee's vet raised the alarm; “hospitalize her at once and see a skin specialist for yourself!” he ordered.

Muni and Ami took Feefee to the local veterinary Hospital, the only available option. The University of Veterinary Animal Sciences is the oldest (125 years) and largest veterinary care hospital in the Punjab. But that doesn't make it the safest. I've done reports on the place, and although the place has improved considerably, the conditions in which the research animals are kept are deplorable and inhumane.

She was there for three days and two nights. A phone call from the hospital broke the bad news on Saturday. Muni took the call. 'You're dog has expired- we're sorry.'

What does one say at that point? I can imagine Muni standing in Ami's doorway, phone receiver in one hand and the knife from chopping vegetables in the other, mouth ajar, eyes bulging and then what? What does one say to some indifferent, probably bearded Pakistani lab assistant who is busy picking his nose and examining his find on the other end of the line? How does one kill the messenger when the messenger is some one so deprived of empathy he can’t tell a loss of a loved one from the loss of a dirty green booger on a laboratory floor?

Poor Muni must have felt so alone in the world at that point. I wish she didn't have to take the call and find out that way. I wish I were there. After our first dog died, Lassy the graceful and beautiful Alsatian, I had closed up and refused to cry. In the process I unintentionally left Muni out in the cold. She loved Lassy like no other. Since then, I promised myself I would never do that again.

But I'm here, some 7,000 miles away from where my family silently grieves... How do you comfort each other on the phone? How do words suffice for the yawning gap left in your home?

I remember we compared the two dogs; Lassy was the graceful, older and more mature one with a heart made of gold, and Feefee was what we lovingly called "Gawar,” or the uncouth one. She never learned how to indicate she wanted to go; I failed in potty-training her. Our training sessions on the terrace with the aide of sugar balls only resulted in two things; Feefee bouncing off the walls with the sugar rush and developing the habit of pee-ing just when someone would pet her.

I also failed miserably at teaching her how to fetch. Feefee would chase after whatever you threw her way, catch it, chew it, attempt to mutilate it and then leave it a few feet further away from where it landed. She would return to you with a gleeful smile as if to say, 'Now you go get it.' And so we would. It soon became our special fetch game- in reverse.

She preferred meat to milk and hated bread. The roti that we fed her with the choicest offal had to be broken into tiny pieces otherwise she would completely disregard it, leaving it for the birds to pick on in the morning.

She had the habit of picking her favorite pieces and walking away with them. She never ate directly out of her bowl. She loved ice cream. She loved tearing things up into tiny bits. Yes, even the morning paper.

And then Feefee had her bad days; when she just wanted to be left on her own. She'd dig herself a hole somewhere in the corner of a flower bed and lie there, curled; the look in her eyes distant and cold. Times like these she would growl if someone came near her. She wouldn't even let me close. And then, just like that, she'd come bounding out, with that cracked smile of hers, black lips spreading from ear to ear, and embrace you as if to say 'I'm sorry!'

Feefee was the most communicative dog I have ever come across. She would come hollering at you, demanding to be pet and played with. If you refused, she'd lie on her back and wave her feet at you, emitting a bark-like noise that sounded halfway between a pleading 'come-on!' and an admonition.

If you still refused, she'd sit back up and talk to you between a yawn that made her sound like a complaining child who's denied candy. And if that still didn't melt your heart, she'd hurl herself at you, planting her tiny padded paws on your knees and squeak until your ears hurt and you just gave in.

Feefee was a great watch-dog. She barked her head off at the smallest provocation. She woke the house up when a burglar jumped into our lawn. We called the police but the man managed to get away before the cops got there.

She hated cats. She could bring the peace of an afternoon siesta to a crushing halt with her vicious, berating barks. We'd come out groggy eyed to find a smug looking feline, sitting all puffy on a ledge. Thoroughly amused, the cat would watch a hysterical Feefee go black and blue from flinging herself at an eight foot high wall again and again.

Feefee’s bark was far bigger than her. She sounded like a monster from the other side of the gate but was shockingly small framed. When we went to Khunjerab, I left five-month-old Feefee in a friend’s care. Their she would routinely terrify guests on to beds and chairs with her barking. Only when she would emerge, her tiny body jerking with the force of her barks, would they climb down, embarrassed and thoroughly amused at the sight of the little creature.

I remember when I brought her home the first time. She was only three months old and flee ridden. The vet said she wouldn't make it if we didn't get the flees off her soon. She was weak and scraggly. After many days of scrubbing, plucking and washing, Feefee radiated like a white cotton ball. Two sparkling hazel brown buttons for eyes and a small black and wet heart for a nose were the only markings on that bundle of white.

It was cold out on the terrace, so I'd smuggle her into my bedroom-not accepted practice in my home. She'd snuggle under the bed and wet the carpet in at least four different spots by morning. The routine ended one night when Ami walked in and sniffed the air suspiciously. Before I could cook up a convincing story about a window left open, Feefee came ambling out from under the bed and peed at Ami's feet.

We thought of calling her Reema and other random names. I kept calling her Meera, unintentionally, of course. Eventually, it came down to Feefee because somehow it fit perfectly.

Now Feefee is gone. She died alone on the cold floor of a shady hospital ward on February 6, 2010. None of us were there to help her. None of us were there to hold her tiny paw as she slipped out of consciousness, one last time. I feel more responsible than anyone else. I brought her home and I should’ve seen her out. Somehow that thought will never let me be.

For what it’s worth, Feefee, you will always be our favorite girl.

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