On January 1, 2018, six days after I moved to Bangalore, I wondered: What if….I rescued a dog?
I had seen this on Facebook a few days before:
Ankit had been feeding this dog for a couple of weeks, but could not take her in because he was preparing for his move to Germany and already had a dog of his own.
I asked him to meet me at the park where he had spotted the dog. I also asked Mohit, an INSEAD alum, to accompany me to go see a dog.
As we drove to the park, my mind cycled the negative thoughts on rapid-fire…“You crazy girl, you don’t even know what you are doing in India, and now you’re going to have a dog?”
When we didn’t find her immediately after arriving at the park, my mind created even more doubt…“Maybe this is a sign, Sab. Maybe you’re not supposed to have a dog here in India. You should really be focused on your startup.”
Within minutes of that thought, Ankit arrived and helped her into my arms. She seemed terrified, but remained quiet and still.
Mohit and I decided to take her to the vet. After her checkup, bath, and grooming, I took her home and named her Luna because it was a full moon that night. And that’s when the nightly terrors started.
Luna refused to sleep on the floor right from the first day. I was fine sharing my bed with her until she started biting me at night.
She was already an adult, so I knew she was not teething. I just need to teach her not to bite, I thought to myself.
Every time she tried to bite me, I held the skin behind her neck and shouted, “No bite!” This had worked with Caesar, but with Luna, this resulted in her biting me even more ferociously.
Timeouts in the bathroom didn’t work either; she would come out leaping with more aggressive energy and throw herself at me.
I googled for hours to figure out why she was biting me and why it was only at nighttime.
I knew she didn’t have pent-up energy because Varun, my flatmate, spent hours chasing Luna around the garden every evening when he came home from work.
On some days, Luna would fall asleep a little earlier in the night and I would think ok, finally, I will get some sleep tonight. But I was wrong. She would wake up right when I turned off the lights and was ready for bed, ready to bite me again.
When I pretended to cry, she would stop biting for a few seconds but as soon as she knew I was okay, she would continue biting.
I sent videos of her biting me to several people including a dog behaviorist, looking for advice. These people assured me that this was her way of playing with me or being affectionate and that I should get her some toys.
Before I had a chance to buy those, Luna chewed up the buttons on my throw pillows, the curtains in my room, and any towels or clothes I left on my bed. After her chew toys and bones arrived, she still chewed up all four corners of my comforter.
When she wasn’t biting me or chewing something up, Luna was barking at our watchman or the cleaning lady. I tried everything from silent whistles, rewarding her for being silent, and even spraying water on her every time she barked. Nothing worked. Needless to say, this left me sleep-deprived and frustrated.
One day, when Luna was incessantly barking, I picked up my shoe and towered over her, attempting to hit her. She crouched into a corner, half waiting for the blow, and half hoping I would change my mind. That scene instantly took me back to a specific moment in my childhood and I immediately broke down into tears.
Subconsciously, I was worried about Luna’s future. Who will want a dog who is destructive and unmanageable? What am I going to do if I can’t find her a good home?
I wondered if this behavior was the reason she was abandoned. And strangely, this reminded me of when someone had asked me why I’m single. My mind perceived this as: why are you divorced, abandoned, rejected, and unwanted?
When we know someone has been rejected, the mind tries to find reason(s) to justify it. The label “abandoned” triggers all sorts of emotions, like pity, pain, and sadness, followed by the thought that there must be something wrong with her. We have an unconscious bias to assume that the other party was perfectly rational and had good reasons to let go.
What was even more strange was that I identified with Luna; I remember acting out early on in a new relationship because I was deeply afraid that I would be abandoned again. I was “testing” the new relationship, but also playing out a self-fulfilling prophecy. If I was going to be abandoned anyway, I might as well get it over quickly rather than wait and see how it plays out.
Unknowingly, I was looking for stability and permanence in the world rather than creating it inside of me. I didn’t know how to soothe myself during a stressful situation, let alone a crisis.
But I learned over time. I learned to talk to the child inside of me, and assured her that she can trust me, that I will do what I say, and that I was here to stay. I gave my inner child the comfort she had been seeking from others.
I knew I needed to do the same thing for Luna. But first, I re-patterned my thoughts about Luna. Every time my mind tried to decide on the reason she must have been abandoned, I reminded myself that realistically, I will never know the reason she was abandoned. It may have nothing to do with what kind of dog Luna is and everything to do with what her previous owner had going on in his/her life. It’s also possible that Luna ran away from home and abandoned the owner. All I knew is that it just didn’t work between the two of them.
I then created a new routine with Luna to establish trust. When I left the house, I told Luna that “Mama has to go to the office and will be back in a little while.” For the first two weeks, she threw a fit every time – blocking me from reaching the door, biting anything I was holding, running away before I had a chance to lock the gate, and barking so loudly that I heard her 3 flights down. It was heartbreaking to force her to stay inside, firmly lock the door, and walk away without looking back.
Luna’s behavior changed over time. We finally established a good routine, her anxiety subsided, and I was able to trust her to stay home and stay sane. No more destructive episodes!
Creating a safe space for Luna to heal from past trauma was a learning experience that changed me from the inside out. I could not have done it without all the support I received from the community that Luna and I created together. Beginning with Ankit and Mohit (co-rescuer), to Varun (flatmate) and his wife Mansi, Roopa (Luna’s walker), Nashmera (flatmate & godmother), and finally Udyan (permanent adopter, the dogfather), and the countless dog-sitters, Luna has an ever-growing fan club.
We all celebrated her 1st birthday in Cubbon Park before I left Bangalore in April 2018.
I am so thankful Luna was abandoned, because she went from being abandoned to adored in just four months. Luna has brought so much love into our lives, creating lifelong friendships, across frontiers and many continents. In fact, I am writing this blogpost while on a train to Cologne, Germany, to see Ankit for a few hours before returning to London to catch my flight back to New York.
And thanks to Looney Luna, I now have the confidence to pursue more of my crazy ideas that start with: “What if…?” 🙂