“Whatever you do, don’t catch a dog by its tail”, said her dad, alarmed to see her grab the tail at first sight.
She was 8, her brother 10. They lived in a sprawling house, set in 2-and-a-half acres of trees, shrubs, a pond and what not. There were cows, cats, kids, the neighbour’s hen… All that was missing was a dog.
It was the first time a dog was bought home, and she and her brother were thrilled. Yet, she was scared to go near it and pet it. So, she sat a distance away and after a while, had decided that the tail was at arm’s length…and very touchable That’s when her dad had admonished her. Apparently, the head, scruff, back and tail are a dog’s dominating areas. “It’s where other dogs grab in fights. So, unless the dog’s well acquainted with you, you must not catch its tail.”
But well, as far as she could make out, the dog didn’t seem to care at all.
“What dog is this?” she asked. “It’s a Lab…Labrador Retriever. They are very friendly; especially with kids” said the cousin, more her big brother, winking at her. Their father agreed. He had had a Labrador Retriever too, long long back. Neetu: a beautiful, black girl. This one here was a golden. A 6-month-old ‘she’.
It seemed mighty happy, active and eager to please. The only reason she pulled her hand back vehemently was more out of the danger-tone in her dad’s voice than out of fear of the dog who turned around to look at her that moment. It wagged its thick strong tail fast and furiously, thumping it against her tiny legs. She jumped up, wailing “It’s so strong, it hurts!”. The dog lifted its eyebrows, tilted its head to the right and licked her across her face.
“Ewwww, gross!” she said, wiping her face on her petticoat. Her brother guffawed and her big brother, who’d brought the dog in, laughed aloud. Her dad laughed aloud too, and petted the dog. The dog seemed to think she liked it, for it licked her again. “Ewwwww. Stop it.” She screamed, and walked away. She turned around and saw the dog looking at her, apology brimming from its eyes. “You hurt the dog’s feelings”, mocked her big bro and she returned. There was real expressions of curiosity, doubt, wonder and affection on the dog’s face.
“What do we call it?, she asked her big brother.
“Her. It’s a she. Let’s call her Ricky”.
“Ricky? Why? Isn’t that a male name?” “
Well, maybe, but that’s what her owner used to call her. If we call her something else now, we’ll confuse her, won’t we?” asked her big brother.
And that’s how Ricky became part of the family. Her big brother, though Ricky’s “owner/master”, kept shuttling between Guruvayur (where Ricky was bought to) and Trivandrum (their hometown). So, her brother and she donned the role of ‘caretakers’ of Ricky.
They groomed her, trained her, bathed her, petted her, played with her, took her for quick runs, gave her thorough exercise sessions and swam with her (Ricky was always the first to jump in whenever the three of them went to the pond). In return for all these, Ricky would always be with them, keeping them safe. In spite of being given a bed on the verandah, Ricky would ALWAYS sleep in their room, giving them company and a sense of security. Ricky seemed to know the 8-year-old girl was too scared to sleep alone in the room, till her brother was ready for bed. No matter where she curled up, Ricky would settle by her feet, making her feel safe
Though their dad loved dogs, he was a busy man, and couldn’t spend much time with Ricky. Ricky knew this, and seemed to accept and respect him the way he was. Ricky knew he was the master of the house, even if he wasn’t her master. And she always obeyed, at the slightest nod or grunt from him.
The mother was forever in the kitchen, or cleaning the house. But she was Ricky’s chef, and Ricky loved her. Ricky would risk disobeying anyone, but the mother! Ricky seemed to know that she wasn’t spending too much time with Ricky because of other responsibilities. And Ricky respected that as well.
Ricky was fun…and the kids loved her! She loved them all too. But what Ricky loved the most there, was the pond.
What Ricky did the moment the leash was off
True to its breed, Ricky was always full of energy. Ready for a run, a walk, a jump, a dive – any time of day or night. Ricky was usually let off the leash only when the kids came back from school; or on holidays, since their mother was scared Ricky would run off (especially since she would generally be in the kitchen or indoors, unable to keep tabs on a leash-less hyperactive dog). So, the moment the kids reached home, they’d quickly throw their bags on the table, get out of their school uniform and into their swim gear, have a quick bite and rush to free Ricky. By this short time span, Ricky would be going around in circles on the verandah, giving vent to all her pent up energy. She knew the kids would free her any moment. Initially, this was a challenge…and the kids almost got dragged along. Later on, they’d remove the leash and stand as far away from Ricky as possible. And what about Ricky? The moment the leash was off, Ricky would shoot out of the verandah like a bullet, and run like crazy around the house at least 5 times before making a beeline to the pond and diving a perfect dive! The kids would follow suit It was only then that she would give herself up for a round of petting Without change, Ricky was always the first in and the last out of the pond every time!
Ricky’s unusual friendship
Ricky had the most unusual friendship: with a frog! The first day she and her brother saw Ricky pawing at a small frog, they thought it was going to be Ricky’s dinner. They quickly scolded Ricky for being cruel, and shooed the frog away. Ricky watched them with forlorn eyes and an expression that seemed to ask “???” But when they spotted the frog every evening on the verandah, they knew there was more to the story. So, they spied…and what did they see? Each time the frog hopped over to Ricky, Ricky would fling it back to the steps and wait patiently, tail wagging furiously. The frog would, each time, patiently come hopping back, only to be thrown off again by Ricky. This was a daily affair: the frog would come hopping in by 7.00p.m. and would go away by about 7.30p.m.! Without fail, every day. Even on Sundays!
The day Ricky swallowed a lizard
One day, Ricky swallowed a lizard. And that too, right when the mother was petting her. She was horrified. Lizards were poisonous. What if Ricky fell ill? She scolded Ricky, wacked her, did all she could think off to make Ricky spit it out. Ricky didn’t budge. Concerned and anxious, she called her kids aside and told them about the lizard. The kids had an idea. “Let’s hide inside and growl. Ricky ALWAYS barks out loud when we growl.” The mother agreed. She took Ricky out on to the courtyard and tied her to a tree. And she went back into the house. The three of them went into the bedroom window nearest to where Ricky was tied up, and slowly growled. Ricky had ALWAYS responded to their growls by barking out loud and clear. But this time, Ricky was silent. She seemed to know this was a ruse. The threesome gave up the plan. By now, the mother was thoroughly worried. She broke off a twig from a nearby tree and gave Ricky a few whacks. After about 15 full minutes and more whacks, fed up of the drama, Ricky pawed at the ground and uncovered a small hole she’d dug: and there lay dead and buried, six centimetres under, the lizard the three of them thought was in Ricky’s mouth She’d probably spat it out an buried while we were busy growling from the dark room
The day Ricky relocated
And after almost a year and half, it was time for her big brother to move off to Qatar, where their aunt lived with their uncle and two little brothers. The aunt had found him a job. Ricky, he decided, would now go to Trivandrum and give his mom, dad, sis and brother-in-law some good company. The kids were heartbroken. Their Ricky would no longer be their Ricky But well, masters decide what their dogs do. And so, one day, the kids bade goodbye to Ricky and sulked for many days. They had company. The little frog came looking for Ricky every day for almost a month, when it was finally convinced its huge, friendly, loving, golden fur ball had truly vanished. [Every time the family went to Trivandrum after that, there was a visit to the aunt’s house. Ricky always gave them the warmest possible welcome. And the best of her love, she always saved for the mother, her previous “chef”.]
The day Ricky bade goodbye
Ricky had a problem with her reproductive system. Her uterus was faulty; which led to an illness that Ricky lived with forever. But being a true Labrador, she was always the happy, spirited load of sweetness! While with the kids, she had always had ample exercise: something VERY crucial for the well being of all Retrievers, be it Labradors or Goldens. But when she went back to Trivandrum, she went into a household that LOVED all animals, but wasn’t very particular about their fitness. Ricky put on a lot of weight, her persistent illness got worse, and she bade us all a quick goodbye – much earlier than the average lifespan of a Labrador. The kids, both of them now older and more conscious of their behavior, went into the privacy of the room they shared and wept. The loss was incomparable to anything they had ever felt.
While the life chapters of Ricky came to an end, her spirit, her love and her memories lived on. It still does. And it always will. Ricky brought in a lot of love into our household. Never did we think that many years later, the mere mention of Ricky would bring back a flood of the sweetest of memories…and that ‘Ricky’ would always mean ‘love’ to the family she belonged to: to us. Every golden Labrador we see anywhere (on the road or on screen) is always Ricky; any Labrador we think of buying is always referred to as Ricky. Any credit for our love of dogs, and Labradors especially, goes to Ricky.
Today, as I write this, I’m filled with a deep sorrow. Guess I (and the rest of my family) have not, and never will, get over Ricky. And I’ve decided – no dog that comes into our lives will ever be called Ricky again. The name represents only one dog. A vivacious, full-of-life, bubbly, spirited golden Labrador Retriever that lived with us in Guruvayur in 1993.
To Ricky. We all love you…and we all still miss you.