Trust us: teenagers' sense of responsibility can extend to their pets
For the past few days, a friend, Siddhant, hasn't been looking forward to returning home from school every afternoon. Until last week, as soon as he pushed the door open, he would be greeted by an eagerly wagging tail, a snuffling wet nose pushing into his hand and a few enthusiastic licks to boot. Derri, a lab cross, is the sort of dog that could melt the hardest of hearts, but was only being fostered by the family for a few months before she had to return to the K9 Friends facility she came from. Wide liquid eyes that gazed at you soulfully, a sleek, intelligent face and an endearing docility compelled you to reach down and give her a scratch behind the ears.
Siddhant and Shikhar, his brother, had always wanted a dog, but, in the usual display of the lack of faith in teenagers by the world, told tersely by their mother that they weren't responsible enough. The boys retaliated by deciding to foster Derri for a few months, bringing her home from the charity K9 Friends, a facility that rescues and rehomes stray and abandoned dogs. After being interviewed about the sort of dog they were looking for, what sort of house they lived in and how much exercise they'd be able to give their pet, they were recommended the perfect well-trained, family-friendly pooch. If they cleaned up after her and didn't forget to feed her, the deal would be closed and perhaps a dog would become a permanent member of the family. What they didn't quite grasp, then, was the full extent of the effect Derri would have on their lives.
Having a pet taught them to look after someone else dependent on their care - not something every Dubai teenager has a chance to learn. More simply, though, they loved her. Baths, especially, were bonding time for the entire family, united in their efforts to get Derri into the bath tub, scrub her down amid piteous yowls and receive a facefull of soapy bath water by way of gratitude as she sullenly dried herself and stalked away to sulk, before transforming into her usual good-natured self once more. Taking her for walks in the evening around the giant lake nearby introduced the boys to a whole new world outside the realms of the PSPs and Doctor Who episodes on the telly. They chatted to other people out for some fresh air with their dogs, made new friends and got a fair bit of exercise trying to keep Derri in control as she bounded off after sparrows.
While they've undoubtedly been responsible pet owners, in a cruel twist of fate, they've had to leave the UAE. Among the flurry of packing and dissembling of furniture that preceded the move, Derri was driven back to the K9 Friends facility, her stay over. As the family sat down for dinner that night, it was a subdued affair; the Pedigree biscuits conspicuously absent from under the table. "It seems so empty after she left," Siddhant said, "I'll miss how she used to come running up hoping for a walk whenever she saw us stepping out of the house, she is an amazing dog."
Here in the UAE, you hear, all too frequently, the desperate pleas of expats having to leave the country, hoping to find a loving home for their pet, although charities such as K9 Friends do a wonderful job of sheltering these animals. Easing the burden on charities by adopting or fostering animals, as Siddhant and Shikhar did, even for a few months, can certainly help, although the moment of goodbye would be a painful one.
People sometimes don't realise what strong emotional bonds teenagers can form with their pets. The adolescent soul is a wilful, easily excited and volatile one. Girls, especially, seem to like having someone to talk to so they can carefully analyse the meaning of the "Hi" from the guy they have a crush on. You can always call up your friend for that, true, but friends can be extremely irritating by telling you that you're the fifth girl he said "hi" to that day. Your dog, cat or gerbil, meanwhile, won't contradict you or care if you have bad acne, but patiently sit through your rants, and you can pretend to yourself that their expression is one of interest. Pets can be your closest confidants and most trustworthy friends, and if you have the means, it's worth offering your home to an animal from a shelter - if only to show the parents that it takes more than a bag of poop to scoop up to intimidate us.
• The writer is a 16-year-old student in Dubai
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