I almost gave up my dog, Yogi. A couple months ago I submitted his photo for Pet of the Week in the local paper and wrote an article about him, trying to entice someone to take on a problem puppy with questionable housebreaking habits.
There were no takers.
Yogi was one of my more impulsive acts. When I first landed in Kolkata in the early morning of a sultry monsoon, the city seemed overtaken by dogs. As my taxi drove through the dark, damp streets, dogs ran singly or in packs, scavenging through piles of garbage, sleeping in the awnings of stores. And, thus, was born my first photography project of my six months in India: photographing India’s street dogs.
So when I came back home, I decided to bring a dog. Let me rephrase that. I brought two dogs back from India. Four-month-old brothers, rescued from a New Delhi garbage dump with a story to break your heart. Since I already have a dog, I originally considered fostering them both until I found them homes, but when I brought them in the house, Yogi laid down on the rug with a look that said, “I’m home.” Zorro, his brother, quickly found a home. Yogi stayed.
At first he seemed calm, but that didn’t last. He’s stubborn. He’ll listen when he wants to. He’s smart, as you might expect from a line of dogs that have lived wild for generations in India’s crowded cities. They’re known as Desi dogs, and are believed to be descended from the original domesticated dogs in Asia.
My other dog, Radar, is a sweet, even-tempered, obedient mutt that my son got a few years ago in San Diego. I thought Yogi would follow her example, learn from her, but he had other ideas.
For instance, one morning at 3:30 a.m. I got up to take Yogi outside to do his business. He just sat and stared at the moon. I took him back inside and he immediately squatted on the floor and started to pee. You can fill in the expletives here yourself. I grabbed the leash to haul him back outside, but before I could get it on, he bolted. A few minutes later I heard the neighbors’ dogs baying and I knew Yogi was racing around their pen, stirring them up. I ran after him. My backyard is juniper, scrub oak and lots of rocks. I have more scratches and bruises on my legs than I’ve had since I was 10.
I’ve now alienated my neighbors. The last time I chased him down there, my neighbor threatened to shoot him.
And just as we humans have a propensity for attracting into our lives the very thing we say we’d like to avoid, so does Yogi. After a plane ride from New Delhi to Dallas to Reno in a crate, he’s traumatized by small spaces. Early on he had a knack for locking himself in the bathroom. Short of installing dead bolts, I’m not sure how to keep him out. I’m also not sure how he managed to get in, but I suspect the cats, who have a collective mean streak, were helping him out. Regardless, several times a week I used to hear anguished howls and had to go release Yogi from where he sat quivering, the room as torn apart as a cubicle made of tile and porcelain can get.
My life began to revolve around Yogi. Even my reading habits changed. Caesar the Dog Whisperer replaced Henry Miller on my bedside table. Caesar says puppies need a lot of exercise; so two to three times a day I take him out for a run. To my consternation, this includes early mornings. I have nothing against mornings, but I think they are best spent with a cup of coffee watching the clouds change colors. Now, by 7 a.m., the dogs are in the pickup truck and we’re headed for back roads so Yogi can race through the mountains.
Even now I sometimes still wonder what was I thinking? Just at a time when I’m simplifying and bringing my life to a calmer, more centered place, why would I bring a half-wild Indian street dog into it? Why couldn’t I have been satisfied with photographs? I don’t know. Maybe I wanted to do something for the country that showed me so much warmth and hospitality. Maybe I was just impulsive.
Whatever the case, Yogi is still with me.