I have been brought up in a house where dirt, dust and general smelliness is equivalent to laziness and utter lack of hygiene. Eighteen years of watching my mom clean, scrub, polish, and meticulously scrap dirt off minuscule holes has done nothing but make me feel guilty…sometimes. Nowadays, I clean when I have to, wash when I run out of clean utensils, throw when I run out of space. Ok, I’m exaggerating here, but I’m not that far off.
The floors are swept once a week. That too, I don’t sweep under the couch or the table. What I don’t see or feel doesn’t exist. The newspapers and magazines are kept because you never know when I would need that article from three years back. At least hubs has found a use for the day-old papers now – part of a wee wee pad. Did I mention that I still keep notes and textbooks from my college and university years? You never know. Each passing of the season is a changing of the guards. Clothes are switched from woolen winter sweaters to skimpy cotton tops, and then there are those that never get worn, but all the same are kept in the pile. New pieces come in, but the old remains. Just like that, the empire is built. The dishes are never washed immediately after a meal – ONLY when my parents are around is this dutifully done. The dishes can wait until the next day, or maybe the day after. I’ve got enough dishes and utensils to go a while without washing. But that would be just disgusting.
Because of my mom’s need to be clean, we were “robbed” of our childhood dream of ever owning a dog. Yeah, we had fishes and tortoises – all of which stayed in the tank, were as lovable as durians, AND went down the drain. We successfully murdered all of them, minus our last few tries on Totoi/Torotoi and Tabby and Tubby. After those pairs of terrapins, my younger sister and I were certified killers.
Jessie the Chrono Crusade
When we finally got our own place eight years ago, the first thing we did was drive to the shelter. There I found the love of my life, and truly, it was love at first sight. Sad, big eyes stared at me through cold, steel frames. Mud-colored fur, which should have been silky soft instead tangled in painful mats. She sat there, with her muzzle pressing against the cage, to be as close as possible to my hand. I stood guard in front of the cage while hubs was ordered to find someone to release her to me. She was calling out to me to save her. But I was the one saved in the end.
She was scared, very grimy, badly traumatized and had aged overnight. When we adopted Jessie (that was the name given to her, and we never changed it), she was supposed to be 7 years old.
Eight years later, I’ve come to realize that I must have adopted a puppy. She was given up and almost euthanized because her owners didn’t take the time to house-train her, but instead blamed her for her inability to be house-broken. One month of patience, scheduled routine, a little ingenuity, and Jessie was officially house-broken. She was afraid of loud sounds, sudden movements, shrink from fear at the touch of her hind legs and men. Two years later of daily grooming, touching, kisses and my clumsiness of constantly dropping things, she has become more confident and self-assured. Later on, I’ve realized that maybe she has gone selectively deaf.
With Jess, cleanliness went out the door. Since she had to be walked a zillion times a day, she kept tracking in dirt. We decided to wash her feet after every walk. That became not only a wet mess, but she too ended up hating her smelly, wet feet so much that she kept biting herself. We invested in shoes, ala Imelda Marcos. Problem solved. Almost.
She still has stinky feet, but now, I just smell it and get high off of it. This is a smell only a mother can love and yearn for.
My careful grooming and daily brushing of her fur does not help one bit with the shedding. The floors can be swept one minute, and the next a huge fur ball will be rolling along. The house is filled with fur. Clothes that are locked away in a dungeon, upon coming in contact with air around Jessie, immediately get fur on it. Jessie is everywhere. Including my food. Dog hair in my food would have mattered a long time ago and even seem disgusting. But now, I just simply brush it off, and continue my eating.
Picking up poop cannot be heaven. And yet, during winter, it’s always nice to hold something so freshly warmed. What’s more, Jessie’s backside gets baby-wiped after each walk. I’ve even got my father, who was at first reluctant, disgusted and thought it beneath him, to wipe her ass to follow along. I’ve heard that I’m ready for motherhood.
I clean her eye boogers with my bare hands, let the same tongue that licks her obnoxiously stinky feet and her nether regions kiss me (and love it!), brush her salted-fish-smelling mouth while holding my breath, and comb her hair better than my own. As my mom says, “You spend more time on your dog than on yourself.” What can I say? She needs to look pretty, I don’t. Plus, her fur is so plush and soft. If she were bigger, I would sleep on her. Instead, she sleeps on me to keep me warm during winter.
Haydn the Battousai Kenshin
Then came Haydn, a truly old and ancient Miniature Schnauzer that no one wanted. He was difficult because not only was he untrusting, he was also stubborn and protected himself well. However, he allowed me to be near him. So, only I cleaned his crusty eyes. I risked my fingers being bitten off to brush his teeth daily. I carried my weak little man everywhere, even though he smelled like urine most times. We would shower him regularly, but without fail, each time he was clean, he would soil himself a few days later. It was hard to love and care for such a difficult, feisty, angry, dirty and noxious dog. But we did.
Not long after we got him, he exhibited urinary issues (aside from other problems). He started peeing everywhere and anytime. He was walked four times a day, but that wasn’t enough. After monitoring him for a bit, I realized he was peeing blood. On the eve of Chinese New Year 2006, we were at the vets. The news wasn’t good, he had stones and they all had to be removed immediately. The surgery, although successful, left him very weak. But he fought. We fought alongside him too.
His diet was changed immediately. I read up on everything about stones. He was on prescription food for life, but we added a little something extra. His meals were homemade chicken soup, together with rice, peas, cauliflower and dried prescription food. He recovered, even though it took him a while. Who doesn’t heal with daily chicken soup? Even hubs doesn’t get that.
A year after that, during an evening walk in the park, hubs came home carrying Haydn while screaming in a frenzy with Jessie in tow. Haydn was badly mauled by a puppy pitbull that ran loose. That summer of 2007, he pulled through one more excruciating surgery. It was Cheh’s graduation in Boston, and we went, not only for her graduation, but a planned get-away to Maine. During the drive up, we sat through a month’s build up of grime and urine on Haydn, not to mention extra crustiness of blood and bodily fluids from the incident. It was well-worth it, because bringing him along made him heal faster and we were once again shown how brave and strong a fighter he was. Even my youngest aunt was put on sun duty, shading him and worrying about him getting burnt. My mom would have freaked out at how dirty and rancid he was; yet, we were caring for him so. He ate, slept and healed.
Even with his age, he healed much faster this time around. It could have been the extra love and attention from that many more people around him. It was hard not to love him. He was an obstinate creature but always accommodated me. He didn’t like to be touched, but yearn for the love of one blondie with extra soft and long ears to look his way. He never barked, but whine when said blond bombshell ignored him. Much can be said about the other party. She may have looked the part of the cool, and unaffected pair in the “relationship.” But when she thought no one was looking, she would creep into his bed to snuggle with him.
Then one faithful Sunday in May 2009, after an evening walk, Haydn came home and suddenly stopped walking. His hind legs could not lift him up. That night, he lied in bed even though his favorite pass time was to patrol the house at night. As we watched him, I pulled him up to the sofa to cuddle and massage his legs, hoping it would help the tightness.
He was struggling to stand up the next morning, but couldn’t. Instead of relieving himself outside, he urinated and defecated on himself and myself just as I picked him up. I didn’t care that my jacket and pants were soaked in urine. But he, who was just showered the night before, was embarrassed and frustrated with himself for ruining his cleanliness. On the bright side, he ate his food, even though it was with a lot of help from hubs and I; hubs held him up, while I fed him by hand and hoped he wouldn’t bite the hand that feeds him. (FYI: he has never done that to me, but has growled, snarled and bitten hubs countless times)
Haydn was soon whisked off to the vet that Monday morning. Needless to say, we were the first ones there. The vet told us she was going to do everything she can for him, by starting him off with a few steroid injections, followed by intravenous steroids and other fluids. The entire day at work, I never heard back from the vet, even when I called. No news is good news? After work, we were prepared to bring Haydn home. We were not prepared for what happened next.
When I saw the vet’s face, I knew it wasn’t good news. As they brought him out to us, all I saw was a suddenly limp and lifeless dog, who upon seeing us, tried to stand unsuccessfully. He was all wet from urinating on himself the entire day. I didn’t care. I picked him up, in my work clothes/jacket and cradled him in my arms. If he had more fight in him, he wouldn’t have allowed me to cuddle him so. But he lied there, allowing the embrace. Then the vet broke the news. His little body was not responding to any and all the medications given to him. Yes he was still fighting, but no, his future looked bleak. I/We didn’t understand the implications and the meaning couldn’t have taken longer to sink in. As I looked into his blank stare, tears began to well up in my eyes as I felt the embarrassing burn of a flood coming on. All I could do was stare at him, staring back at me, willing me to do right by him one last time.
Was it the right thing to give up on his fight? Or was the right thing to continue fighting with no end in sight? I took the easy way out and gave up on his last fight. It was too painful to see him struggling. The vet has probably never seen two adults crying over an old, smelly dog – like us, with snort coming off every which way. We unexpectedly fell in love with a cantankerous and miasmic dog in three years. But he taught us much in that brief time, about love, strength, bravery and learning to trust again.
RIP Haydn. May 18, 2009.
I hope wherever you are, you are no longer in pain. I hope where you are, all the blond Cocker Spaniels are in love with you. I hope where you are, you have plenty of chicken stock, rice and apples to eat. I hope that you can only remember how much you were loved by us, and not the times living as a stray on the streets. We will always love you and miss you.