By Nihal Bambulkar Dec. 17, 2018
I was 16 years old when my first girlfriend, Tanya, believed I had been neglecting her, and lavishing all my love and attention towards Rosie… not another girl, it was her pet Labrador. In hindsight, Tanya was probably right.
“We need to talk.”
Those aren’t words you want to hear your girlfriend ever say, let alone when you’re fighting over a squeaky toy with a playful, eight-month-old Labrador pup. But clearly, Tanya was in no mood to postpone the discussion.
I was 16, she was my first girlfriend, and it was our first real fight. Tanya believed I had been neglecting her, and lavishing all of my love and attention towards Rosie. In hindsight, Tanya was probably right. After all, our relationship began over Rosie. It was 2012. I was listening to music in the building garden when a snow-white Labrador puppy, barely larger than a child’s forearm, ran out of the grass and began tugging at my shoelaces. A girl came chasing after the Labrador, but she was too late to save my laces.
“Stop it Rosie! I’m so sorry about that. She hasn’t been trained yet,” she said with an awkward smile.
That was the first time I met Tanya, the girl with a tender smile and hazel eyes, who’d recently moved into the apartment above mine with her parents and her pet dog, Rosie. And thanks to her puppy’s ferocious attack on my shoelaces that evening, I’d found the perfect excuse to make small talk and get her phone number. The only thing standing in the way of us finding bliss together was the furball that caused our union in the first place: Rosie.
Later that evening, I sat on the bench weeping, replaying the incident in my head. Rosie’s woeful howling continued to echo in my head long after she left.
The dog seemed to hate me at first. Whenever I’d try to get close to Tanya, she would bark and growl. I tried offering her biscuits, but she’d cut me down to size and roll over and go to sleep. The lowest point in my relationship with Rosie came when I tried to hug her, but she proceeded to wriggle around, stretch a limb over my face, and shower me in urine. Sure, I had to watch Tanya laugh at me, bathe four times on a Sunday and burn my clothes covered in dog pee. But I never gave up.
Our breakthrough came when I introduced a squeaky toy into the equation. It took Rosie all of five seconds after spotting it to come bounding toward me and cover me in slobber. That was the first time I’d ever experienced such affinity toward an animal. Having grown up with parents who detested the very idea of having pets in the house, I’d often longed to own one myself. And with Rosie around, those feelings of longing were finally fading, and being replaced with feelings of tremendous adoration toward a pet that wasn’t mine.
Perhaps that was the problem – Rosie was Tanya’s dog, but I truly treated her like she was mine. I’d become so attached to her that I’d insist on taking her for walks. On one occasion, while Tanya was too caught up with her homework and wanted to meet another day, I got into a squabble with her over Rosie. So, out of utter frustration she let me take her to play. Where once I’d check in with Tanya, ask her how she was doing with schoolwork and her parents, I would now only be calling to make plans with Rosie.
Together, Rosie and I would spend the evening attacking squeaky toys, chasing annoying children, and scaring away flocks of pigeons picking seeds. And toward the end, we’d go lie down on the moist bed of grass in the garden, where I’d talk to her about things that had been bothering me. Ironically, during these one-way conversations, I’d end up venting to Rosie about the problems in my relationship with Tanya.
One evening, Tanya confronted me: She knew that I was continuing to date her only because I was attached to her pet. And just like that, my summer romance was over. There was a teary-eyed argument, which ended with Tanya saying she couldn’t stand me anymore, before she stormed off, tugging Rosie along on the leash behind.
Later that evening, I sat on the bench weeping, replaying the incident in my head. Rosie’s woeful howling continued to echo in my head long after she left. It felt as though someone had ripped my heart out – only, I was aching for my furry friend, not my girlfriend.
The coming months were difficult. I pined for Rosie the same way one pines for a lover they’ve been forced to part with. To make things worse, I’d also stopped meeting the friends I’d made before I met Rosie, so in a way, I’d also lost the only people to whom I could vent. Every evening, I’d sit near the window, hoping to catch a glimpse of Rosie from afar. Sometimes, I’d even contemplate calling Tanya to make amends so my waggy-tailed friend and I could unite. But that was not to be.
I am not the only one left heartbroken over the pet, rather than the relationship. As this article in Cosmopolitan magazine has it, breaking up with a doggie has serious consequences. One respondent spoke about how she was worried about her two dogs after her divorce. “Their well-being was something I considered and really felt wrecked over for a long time, thinking about how much they would miss [her partner]. I cried in a closet once and promised my dogs one day they’d have another, better dad in their lives. There was still some discussion of maybe trying to split up the dogs and do a his and hers situation, but I ended up feeling really strongly that the dogs needed to stay together. It’s actually written into our divorce agreement that he has the ‘right of first refusal,’ meaning that at any point if I were to need to get rid of my dogs, I’m legally obligated to ask him to adopt them first before I can give them to anyone else.”
I, of course, was too young to have a pre-nup or post-divorce agreement – my time with Tanya was fleeting. We were both carefree teenagers, equally clueless about how real relationships worked. But the time I got to spend with Rosie taught me a few things about how unconditional love worked.
Today, when Tanya and I cross paths in the building compound, we hardly acknowledge each other as we go on our way. But Rosie always stops to give me a big, wet kiss. Love is, clearly, a four-legged word.