When Bella came home to us on a rather warm summer night almost five years ago, she weighed a little over a pound and had beautiful, black beckoning eyes. With her delightfully patterned black and white fur that covered most of her eyes and her adorable antics, she sealed her place in the hearts of my husband and I. We had been married for just over a month and we were already gloating like proud parents, showing her off on every possible occasion.

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But it soon became obvious that our darling wasn’t a very welcome guest at my in-laws’. My heart literally broke when I heard people say, “Dogs must stay outside the house” or “It’s a dog, it is not afraid to sleep alone at night!.” Too afraid to voice out my concerns with my in-laws a month into marriage, I could only but try sneaking her upstairs to our bedroom. Thankfully, my husband stepped forward most of the times and rescued our two-month old baby from what would have been otherwise a very rough childhood.

Over the years our families have grown much fonder of her than we had hoped. So much so that, my mother-in-law is often accused of fattening her up or feeding her more meals than is required during the day. Her argument: She is a kid; she must feel hungry all the time.

Well she ain’t a kid anymore. Almost two years ago, she gave birth to five beautiful puppies, two which died sadly. The rest were taken care of until sent home with good families. Bella is now what we humans would call middle-aged. Her fur has started graying and has lost its sheen, and she gets more tired easily. She even gets wild mood swings during which she just won’t sit with us and would instead go hide somewhere in the attic. But her eyes, they still hold so much love and understanding, that it’s hard not to consider her a person.

I realize that out there in the West, people are more open to letting pets become a part of their homes and lives. But here in India, the concept still remains somewhat alien. People are known to worship animals in the name of religion, rear them for livelihood and most certainly butcher them for meat. But not love. Of course there are people, like us, who do love animals, but as a society, we just cannot accept that animals, like humans, have an equal right to live and share this planet with us. Lest I should sound too critical of my own culture, I have heard that the case remains the same with many other Asian and African communities. Maybe it was because from the very beginning we’ve had to ration our resources very carefully and we proclaimed ourselves the most superior and deserving of all of God’s creations. Humbug!

Scientists and zoologists have always refrained from giving humane attributes while studying animal behavior. Of course, they are only allowed to record what could be perceived with evidence and not what was felt. Hence we’ve read about ‘aggressive behaviors‘, ‘predatory instincts‘ and ‘breeding calls‘, and not ‘anger‘, ‘hunger‘ or ‘passion.’ And honestly, there is little tangible evidence to show that it is not otherwise.
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On the other hand, psychologists claim that we humans share four basic primal instincts with animals, that could very well put us all in one basket;

a) survival
b) sex
c) hunger
d) emotions

Most of man’s other complex characteristics arise from one of these four. So what does that mean? Well, whether we like it all not, we are all more animal than we are willing to accept. And that, we may have evolved a lot, but we all come from the same place, the wild.

But man is much more complex than that, I agree, and apart from these basic instinctual functions, we have congratulated ourselves for developing more finer characteristics that make us unique, like the awareness of self. It is said that man is the only creature aware of his own being, until recently that is. Lately studies have shown that chimps trained with a mirror have shown an understanding of their selves and even exhibited like or dislike towards one’s own reflection. Teach them to take a selfie and I am sure they’ll get what self-obsession is all about!

The use of language for communication, culture, memory power and empathy are some other human qualities that have been declared absent in the animal kingdom. And those of you who are gloating about it, let me break another bubble here, these traits are very much present in animals as well. Mainly primates, whales and some species of birds and fishes have been found living in a close-knit and well communicated societies of their own. So what if we don’t understand their language or accept a rain-dance by an African line of chimps as a cultural milestone? They have it in them just like we had it in us millions of years ago. Cats are said to have ten times more short term memory than most of us. And dogs have made us cry with their stories of undying loyalty, emotions and empathy, not just amongst themselves, but across species as well. Take a cue people! I once heard the story of a chimp who signed “cry” to his instructor, on being told that her baby had died.

So yes, man may have come a long way from his tree hugging ancestors, but I wonder when we decided that it was okay to be considered God’s most valuable creation. I wonder who gave us the right to destroy whatever it took to become the supreme species.
Our furry friends on the other hand, surprise us more everyday, by their sheer willingness to accept us inspite of our weak egos. Yet, we fear to take that step towards understanding and accepting them as lives worth respecting. Are we afraid of finding ourselves small in their vast understanding of this planet? Or is it just a fool’s confidence, growing by the day, blinded by ego?

Bella is my baby and sometimes it breaks my heart when I have to leave her alone at home or make her sleep under then bed when our son sleeps with us. But I try to make it up to her later. Sometimes when I talk to her, she looks at me with so much knowing, I feel she has understood each and every word. And I am reminded, she and I, we all are connected to this one source of life. The only difference between the both of us, is that when I love, I seek fulfillment. And when she loves, she finds happiness.

Until one has loved an animal a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.

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