A cat-aggressive dog knew before his humans, that a kitten had been adopted
This is meant to be the simplest story I tell, having narrated it often, for more than two years now. Some stories are however closer to the heart. They are sometimes private despite having lived public lives. I’ve procrastinated penning it for a while, but every hero has a backstory. If the audience of these blogs reads through future tales on animal behavior, dog training, cat grooming, pet boarding, you name it, they’ll hear a lot about Mau’mau, my rescue cat. Setting context helps.
As is often in Mumbai, it was a wet and stormy monsoon afternoon. I had just had a lovely lunch with Swaroop, a BSchool senior. The plan was to pick an assortment of meats from the wet market in Chembur and then cook up a storm at my parents’ place. Basically my idea of a good start to the weekend. The next morning Bruno and I would venture out to hike wherever the weather permitted and then he’d get his weekly dog groom and massage session. Bruno being my brother’s golden retriever who instead of just being a well trained dog had managed to train the family as per his needs as well.
I stood at the entrance of the market desperately trying to manage an unruly umbrella.There at the shallow end of an open sewer was this creature. It looked like a bleached out rat going by the pale hairless body but sounded like a kitten. The volume on this little mite was way beyond its size. A bloke parking his bicycle says ‘pata nahin kal raat se koi phek ke gaya hai’. My heart sank. It was already late afternoon. There was no way I was leaving the kitten in the wet any longer. The man made a face as I picked it up. A sewage water soaked cat, covered in blood and feces wasn’t smelling of roses. I thought that the skin had dark spots, only to realise later that they were swarms of ticks and fleas.
With this tiny thing scarcely covering the palm of my hand, I went to the fishmonger upstairs asking that he cut me equally small morsels from the fish I chose, to feed this screeching banshee. He snorted, there are no teeth, barely a tongue, she needs a mother. Good idea I thought. Was there a female cat who would adopt this baby. A man of the world, he laughed. There are tom cats and big rats here. They will kill it in the night and I’ll have to clean the mess in the morning. Leave it back in the gutter. It should die soon.
That man was made of way more sterner stuff than me. I rushed through my purchases, couldn’t find a cab, found myself in an autorickshaw braving the rains with a stinky kitten held under my nose enroute to my dinner plans. My mother didn’t quite understand what I meant when I said, there’s going to be a cat in my purse when I get home. Take the purse off me before I enter the house and Bruno smells her.
In a signature Golden Retriever move, Bruno jumps at me in welcome. I sit on the floor and submit to all the love. Why fight happiness? Then the dog’s nose comes into play. He can smell a cat in the bag. My father has joined the party and is rhetorically asking repeatedly ‘what’s the point of a cat? Why is there a cat in the house?’ Who had time to answer him. Bruno’s nose was now stuck to the bottom of the bag. Time to get the show going.
I take the kitten out, Bruno’s excitement levels go from already at hundred into the stratosphere. My regular sized mother tries to control the tornado. My father who is an ardent fresh non-veg buyer, shudderes at the thought of a murder in the house and runs to hide behind the last bedroom’s door. For the purpose of brevity, please imagine him peeping googly eyed from the same location with his eyebrows stuck to his hairline for the rest of the story.
I take Mau’mau to to the bathroom, lock the door and start washing all the sins of the world off the tiny fail body. I fear I’ll crush the delicate bones in my rush, as by then Bruno is leaving deep scratch marks on the door insisting that he be let in.
This I believe is the moment of truth in my relationship with Bruno. I trust him to be mischievous and quite wily at times. More on that later. But he has heart. Animals understand compassion and empathy. No amount of dog training can teach that. It’s just innate.
I opened the dog and my mother tripped backwards and fled to stand next to my father. Bruno was on his hind legs, panting right at Mau with widely excited eyes. But he was not an aggressive dog looking to maul a kitten. He just knew before the humans in the family that we had a new addition. Dogs are smart like that.
He watched Mau’mau being washed adoringly. Saw me struggle with learning how to feed her. Gave me a warning look when we got to my home two days later that he would not have his schedule messed up by the interloper but he welcomed Mau’mau home. This is as much a story of Mau’mau coming home as much as Bruno showing how animals are far more intuitive than humans and know when to just welcome unquestioningly. We have a lot to learn from our pets. More on the Mau’mau and Bruno dynamic later.