The pack of beach dogs that played in the glinting waves, trotted purposefully onshore and shook off their sea-drops. Heads high, they searched for shade, under hulls of fishing boats, behind the beach huts and beside the tyres of the lifeguard’s red jeep.
One of the dogs was brown and fluffy, her fur was long enough to disguise battle scars, except for the edges of her ears which were missing in places, crimped by bites and healed painfully by sea water.
She clawed a hollow deep enough to reach dark, cooler sands and round enough to lay in, and there, like a large furry meringue but with love-me eyes of polished ebony, she dozed under my lounger.
Except for a slight scratching sound, and an an occasional brush of her tail on my foot, I’d never have known that Brown Fluffy Dog was down there.
A brief note on the Indian pariah
Fluffy Brown Dog was an Indian pariah. If you’ve been to India you’ve seen them running the streets at night, scrounging outside restaurants, sniffing along railway tracks, rubbish heaps and market places. You’ve heard their night-time yelps, gifted them scraps and perhaps they’ve given you little gifts that you’ve stepped on.
These are the free and feral ones, the rogues, the outcastes, the scrap eaters and scrap fighters, the mangy mutts, the outsiders. Be not deceived though by their name, the pariah; there’s nothing lowly about them. They are super-smart and resilient ( they eat any food, except dog food according to some); hundreds of millennia of natural selection have blessed them with alert eyes, pricked up ears that twitch to the slightest sound and a proud Anubis-like muzzle. These are the oldest of the dogs, with a long line of unbroken lineages, a relative of the dingo and the wild dog.
These are, the fighters that won.
They’d canter along proudly surveying the beach. They’d mark their borders with a nonchalant quick piss on beach bags, inflatables, anywhere.
Fluffy Brown Dog and her pack behaved like they owned the beach; that’s probably because they did. Come the rains, the shacks and huts are flattened and packed away in blue plastic sheets for another tourist season. People, the monsoon, the tides, the full moons, all come and go, but the dog days are never over.
By mid afternoon Fluffy Brown Dog was awake. I patted her on the head, then tickled her chin; she lay on her back and lifted her limp paws – a sign of trust.
It didn’t even feel like I was being played; the hopeful pines and big eyes at the calamari lunch went unnoticed. When you become enamoured, you lose the signs, and gloss over the rational; many times in history, more has been won by seductive glances than money and armies.
As the sun lowered, the beach strays came alive. From stirring, to yawning, to biting their flea bitten fur, then scratching their ears with their hind legs.
The black dog in the same pack, raised the alarm with a shrill bark; soon Furry Brown Dog joined in the chase for a dog from another pack, kicking up sand in her trails, till the trespasser was on the other side of the beach. She growled to expose rows of sharp white teeth.
Furry Brown Dog returned to her hollow to become lovable once more; barks became gentle yelps and snarly teeth hidden under a soft almost smiling muzzle. Those sharp teeth now gripped a tennis ball we threw at her, but her jaws were soft and giving when she played.
She worked us perfectly. Both Sarah and I could see Fluffy Brown Dog’s genuine affection, her simple unconditional love of just being in our company. We were falling for her. The joy was real.
In the evenings we’d seek out beach restaurants on her turf with a hope of seeing or feeding her. Some nights we did and ate our Goan seafood curry with her at our feet under the table.
One night we had a crazy idea that step by step, didn’t seem so crazy after all.
– What if we arranged to take her home?
– To London? That’s insane.
– I had a friend who befriended a stray in Thailand she took it back to England. A local animal charity arranged it. They sorted jabs, legal stuff, everything. It cost her a grand.
– You could get a purebred alsatian for less…
We discussed it on the candle-lit table on the sand, facing the rising dark tide. I felt that her life here was full of companionship, sun and fun. Sure she got into fights, and got scratched and bitten and there was no guarantee of food, but she must have been used to that now? How does a long sunny beach compare to the greyness of London’s skies? What could she get there that she couldn’t get here?
– What about love? came Sarah’s reply.
The next day we saw Fluffy Brown Dog on the beach again. She followed us partway to the sunset point, rubbing against our legs occasionally. It was then that I noticed her ear was bleeding, and a small chunk about the size of a five pence piece was missing.
On our last day, we discussed it again. Her wound gave me a new perspective. No matter the sun, and the beach and the sea views and the lifestyle, if you’re a dog getting in to fights and scraps and constantly looking for food, your life is as shit as the excrement you leave.
I stopped noticing the dogs faces but instead the imperfections on their bodies. The limps. The scratches. The sores. How some of them twitched nervously, and how some hung their heads in capitulation to life.
She followed us back to the cottage, on to the porch and into the front room. We filled up an ashtray with water, left her some cheese and chives flavoured Lays.
We kept the door and our minds open. Rationality was starting to prevail over emotion. There were just too many layers of complication; we own a cat; we both have jobs; we have a small flat. Pragmatism reigned.
At first light Furry Brown Dog was gone, the door was still slightly ajar and in the sandy pathway, some paw prints.
So that was it. We didn’t even need to decide. I once heard someone say, If you love something let it go. If it comes back, it’s yours. If it doesn’t, it never was.
Perhaps one day we’ll return and find out.
*Credit: Title of this post inspired by Fine Young Cannibal’s ‘Ever Fallen in Love’.