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EMANUEL KANT, THE 18th-century German philosopher, said, “We can judge the heart of a man by his treatment of animals.” If so, my maternal grandfather must have had a kind and generous heart, since he rescued stray Pariah dogs from the streets of Mumbai, India and welcomed them into his family. I recently came across a sepia-toned picture of my grandfather as a young man in one of our family photo albums. In the photo, he smiled broadly as he cradled a brown and white Pariah puppy, supporting the dog's soft underbelly with one arm and stroking him between the ears with the other. That puppy was only one of a long line of lucky canines who found refuge and love in his house. As the youngest of five children, my mother helped bathe, feed, and play with the dogs, who served as her constant companions throughout childhood. Dogs have been an integral part of our family for over four generations.

Both my parents’ families are ethnically Chinese, from Hubei Province. However, when Communists took over China after the Second World War, mygrandparents fled by the most direct route available to them, which was to India, where both of my parents were born. Other Chinese professionals fled to Pakistan, Afghanistan, or other neighboring countries. The Chinese community in India during the 1960s and ‘70s was quite small and tight-knit. As a result, my dad's parents in Calcutta knew my mom's parents in Mumbai, even though the two cities are separated by almost 1300 miles. When my dad traveled to and from his home in Calcutta to the United States during his psychiatry residency, he had to pass through Mumbai, India's major commercial center, where he stayed with my mom's family and met her during those brief layovers. My parents must have been very compatible, because they married after a brief courtship that consisted primarily of corresponding by letter, and they remain happily married many years later. When my dad landed a permanent position in the United States in Kentucky, he sponsored my mom to join him. They had to quickly assimilate into American culture in Kentucky, since so few Chinese people lived there.

When I grew up in Kentucky for the first nine years of my life and subsequently in a rural town in Ohio, all my friends had dogs. Having a dog seemed quintessentially American, so I wanted one too. However, my parents were strict, and I was an only child, so they insisted that I prove that I could care for a dog. My parents’ greatest fear was that my love of dogs would be a passing fad and that they would be stuck taking care of a family dog if we got one. Fortunately, we had neighbors who had two Yorkshire Terriers who I would dog sit when I was 13 to prove I could and would bathe them, feed them, ...

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