By Dhanusha Gokulan
When my friend Aparna asked me to take care of her pet labrador, Whisky, for a couple of months earlier this year, I made what my mom later called “a reckless decision”. Aparna used to live in Sharjah, in an apartment on King Faisal Street till her landlord said Whisky had to leave or the lease wouldn’t be renewed.
Aparna, an architect, lived alone and found it hard to handle a full-time job and take care of four-year-old Whisky. I lived in a family of five. She figured Whisky would be in good hands.
One day, while mom was in the kitchen, I yelled from the main door as the sound of coconuts being ground in the mixer muffled my voice. “Mom, I won’t be home for lunch. Going to get Whisky. Ok, thanks, bye,” and slammed the door shut before she could react.
Growing up in Kerala, we always had dogs in my grandfather’s house in Kerala. We had a German shepherd, Dax, a pekingese, Piky, and a doberman, Betty. I told myself, “I can do this. Our house is big enough for a dog.”
Before I drove from my house in Al Qasimia, Sharjah to Aparna’s place in Qusais, Dubai to pick up Whisky and bring him home, all I had seen of him were a couple of pictures in which he was napping on a couch or feasting on frozen watermelons.
I brought him home and Whisky turned out to be the sweetest, most gentle and handsome dog I’d ever set my eyes on. He has a beautiful golden coat and big black eyes that light up every time he hears his snack packet crinkle. He barks only when he senses a threat. He is toilet trained. He never enters the kitchen, never leaves the house without his leash, and is excellent with kids. Every morning, I used to wake up to furry cuddles.
He charmed my parents, and most dog-loving residents in our neighbourhood. Though our building security and some residents raised their eyebrows when they first saw him, Whisky managed to charm them too. Just like he charmed Krishna, my 12-year-old brother, who got down on his knees, hugged Whisky, and said, “I am going to be your new brother.”
We got Whisky toys and took Friday naps with him on the bean bag. When he got sick, I took time off work and rushed him to the vet. On weekends, we drove to the Al Awir dog park and watched him play with other dogs. Life was perfect. He’d become our beloved Whiskadoodles.
However, exactly five months after we got him, we were in the same situation as Aparna. My building management announced, “If you’re renewing your rental contract, the dog has to go.” My heart sank.
According to the law, there’s no problem with keeping dogs at home — as long as no one complains. Sharjah Municipality says, “Pets need to be given vaccinations and you need to have a certificate that states their vaccines are up-to-date. In the case of an apartment, if a neighbour complains, an investigation will be launched. However, if there are no complaints from neighbours, then you can keep a dog in the apartment.”
I always cleaned up after him but people had complained, and we had to move. From mid August till November 20, we searched for a new home.
My mom was right. I had made a mistake. I had not checked with my building management if Whisky could live with us. I just took it for granted that everyone would automatically love him.
Though Whisky is a gentle soul, his size can intimidate. He weighs 36kg, and some people would turn in the opposite direction when he came near them. At times hooligans threw stones at Whisky. Some children would hit him while petting his head. I realised that people were unaware of how to behave around dogs. The most common question I was asked was, “How much did you pay for it?” to which I would politely reply, he’s not a commodity. Some would be afraid and ask, “Why is he coming near me?” or “Why does he smell me?”
Dr Sana Peeran, a veterinarian who used to work at the Zabeel Veterinary Hospital says, “Dogs are born to sniff. The area of the canine brain that is devoted to analysing scent is 40 times greater than that of the human and dogs can identify smells at least 1,000 times better than we can. By sniffing, dogs are familiarising themselves with the scent of the human. It is their way of saying hello.”
Sometime in mid-September, when we were facing mounting pressure from the building management, my mother said, “You didn’t think this through, Dhanusha. Your life revolves around taking care of Whisky. This is what happens when you foster dogs, and get too attached to them. How are we supposed to part with him now?”
Finding a dog-friendly apartment wasn’t easy. Real estate companies would either outright say, “No dogs allowed, sorry,” or ask over the phone, “Is he big? If big, not allowed, sorry.” One agent told me, “It’s ok, you can keep him. However, you cannot let him walk in the building. You have to carry him from your apartment to the service elevator.” I said, “He’s a heavy dog. I won’t be able to carry him.” The agent replied, “Not allowed. Sorry.” Another agent advised me to stuff him into a shopping bag while bringing him into the flat. When I did find the odd building that allowed pets, the apartments were uninviting and dark.
After a month’s search (75 days, to be exact), a real estate agent, Muzammil, showed us an apartment in Al Nahda where there were other dogs in apartments. It fit our budget. The rooms were well lit. And the size of the kitchen, I knew, would make my parents happy.
After all that recce, I just need to now figure out how to shift and leave the house where we’ve lived for nearly eight years. We’ll manage. Anything for Whiskadoodles.
When she’s not running behind Whiskadoodles, Dhanusha sings and writes songs