of fur and floppy ears:: the empress & i

a post that is two years overdue. it’s no wonder i don’t even know where to start. i know people procrastinate but i am not sure if i should be proud that i have honed it to perfection with a cherry on top. in any case, i should give self a tiny pat on the back for finally getting off my ass hence this seeing the day of light.

i have always loved dogs. it was an innate love, nobody taught me about loving them nor did i grow up around any kind of pets. i was probably holding a puppy in my mom’s womb but lost it on my way out and i have been searching for my very own since then.

my earliest memory of exhilaration was finding and bringing a stray black mongrel home. i was probably seven or eight then and i named him(?) Lucky. but as luck (pun unintended) would have it, my folks weren’t as smitten as i was and Lucky was released from home when i went to school. my little mind was wrought with devastation if i knew such emotions then.

my second dog – haemu was the most adorable little ball of fluff i inadvertently rescued from a family which doesn’t deserve her. i wanted to murder those people who abused her with so much neglect and callousness. i’d never understand how could they harden their hearts to beat a pup not bigger than a couch cushion, leaving a scar the length of her back. way to go freshly minted mum and dad,  i hope you have more humanity in you to treat your new born better whom you gave your dog up for. she was in such bad shape when i got her that i thought i had a dumb dog because she didn’t bark for three days and shivered constantly. my heart shattered seeing her so broken.

we had 14 years together. went through a harrowing time of losing her, the sheer relief of getting her back, traumatic womb removal and everything in between. for all the docility haemu has, she has quite the personality believing she is more human than dog, preferring the company of humans and hardly deigns to play with her own kind. haemu was the sweetest and most obedient pup anyone could wish for, always wanting snuggles and subsequently following my mom around when i moved out.

when she got really old and health failing, we dreaded the inevitable. on the fateful night when my mom sped to my place with her tiny body wrapped in a soft towel, she was gasping for air yet her eyes were searching for mine. the moment i took her into my arms i felt her relax somewhat and my tears rained on her beautiful brownish blonde fur. i couldn’t speak but i am sure she knew how much i loved her, how much the family adored her and we were so blessed to have had her in our lives.

saying good bye to your family for good has to be the most heart wrenching thing to ever happen to anyone. haemu looked at me as the vet administered the injection, her gaze hugged me as if to say farewell for now mama, i know you’d cry a little more but we will meet again. cry i did. distraught with such a tremendous loss, my cries at the vet office must have sounded like howls to all that were present. i knew it would hurt but nothing could have prepared me for how bloody painful it would be. part of me died that night. i swore never to have another dog. i cannot deal with losing one again.

famous last words.

fast forward four years and a most bizarre break up later, i thought “that’s it, i had enough of having my heart shredded by crazies. no more relationships. no more drama …” and envisioned walking into the sunset with my…d.o.g…

truth to be told, i wanted a distraction from feeling unloved and crying my eyes out. not the best premise to get a dog yet the notion was lodged in the crevices of my then broken heart. i’d have a furry face to smoosh and sloppy kisses rained on my face, what’s not to love? never had i thought for a moment i am staying alone, it’s going to be me, myself and i taking care of my dream pup.

it hasn’t occurred to me that we had winged it previously with haemu when it came to taking care of her and in my quest to get over my heartache, i hadn’t factored in PROBLEMS. dream pup. problems. emphasis on these words that would teach me so much but that’s for later.

fuelled by pollyana like images of a better life (don’t you just love the power of determined perception), i visited animal shelters and adoption drives determined to adopt a pup that would utterly adore me.  between lucid moments of ‘what if i don’t have time and knowledge to take care of it properly’ and a stubborn want of ‘screw it, i can do this’, i found myself face to face with THE pup. she was there with her brother, both adorable but i was drawn to her gentle, hesitant yet beautifully kohl lined eyes. rescued from a litter of eight. she was known as one of the Dim Sum (mum) Dollies. i put my name down to see her again because i wanted to be absolutely certain before committing to caring for another being for the next 15 years. if only humans would be that conscientious with their relationships, there would be less heartache/tragedies, but that’s for another post. that was our first encounter.

i was invited to attend the DSD’s first birthday celebration hosted at the pup’s foster home to see her again to determine if the conviction to adopt her stayed. there were many carefree and rambunctious dogs but there MY pup was (notice how i had already claimed her…) constantly wary and reticent, it wrenched my heart.

merely one year old but her eyes held so much. she was like a slightly bruised fruit not unlike me. we both look fine but if one were to pay attention, you’d realise we are dented in some way. my mind was made up. she’d be mine. i’d be the one to rescue her, shield her, care and most of all love her with all my heart.

and the deed was done, my pup would be home on 7 August 2013. now i need to think of a name for her. i didn’t want fancy five syllable ones that you couldn’t shout comprehensibly across a dog park or plebeian ones that you’d roll eyes at. she would be the clean slate that i’d redeem myself with and her name would bear witness to our journey ahead. so i turned to the wisest being i know. God. amidst the million and one monikers that He could have pointed me to, He chose Hannah or in Hebrew (חַנָּה) – “God’s given gift to the world”, or “He (God) has favoured me/favours me [with a child]”, or in short grace/favour. hence the pup was christened Hannah because for all that i have experienced thus far in life, it was God’s grace that has carried me through.

the DAY arrived with much flurry and excitement with Hannah’s godma and friends waiting. she has a godma like any precious and precocious child would. the poor pup was absolutely terrified to see so many people and my heart sank a little seeing how skittish she was. there wasn’t going to be a awwwwww puppy comes home to mama moment and everything becomes some kind of wonderful ending. there was a gnawing awareness that the road ahead was going to be a bumpy one. this mama had no idea just how bumpy it was going to get.

her first lift ride gave me an inkling of the hurdles we would need to overcome together. some choice moments for the sampling…the little one was so frightened that she trembled and peed the moment she stepped in reluctantly. freezing and lying on her belly along a busy road when a bus zoomed past, almost tearing my arm out of its sockets while walking her were merely the start of the list. at the end of the first week i found myself so frustrated and thought ‘what on earth did you get yourself into?’ er…that is the polite version suitable for print…

the compulsory basic training that came with adopting a medium sized dog living in a HDB flat wasn’t of much help with the trainer employing prehistoric methods of training and more interested in hawking his goods – you wouldn’t believe the amount of stuff he took out of his bag to SELL on the pup’s first lesson. not knowing any better back then, i bought everything (pun unintended) hook, line and sinker. better informed and having learnt so much these two years, i must say this – said trainer needs to unlearn and relearn his methods before ruining the chances for more pups.

annnnnnnyway…behaviourial concerns aside, health issues started surfacing namely her skin. God knows how many sleepless night and tear-streaked frustrated days i have spent wondering what could possibly be plaguing my baby. rashes, pustules, fur shedding like the fourth of july, flaky skin, you name it, we have it. the pup was literally a buffet of skin problems. the first vet, bless her heart was helpful but not knowledgeable enough. needless to say, my poor baby was subjected to unnecessary skin scrapes, a horde of injections, medication, creams and ointment to slather on. chinese meds meant for cancer patients? tried them. my poor pup was subjected to a deluge of remedies and sad to say with every onslaught of flare up, only steroids and chemicals seem to work…temporarily, i hate them.

so the holy grail to understand what’s wrecking havoc on the pup’s skin began. i stepped out of my comfort zone to reach out to people, asking every possible question. i did more research than when i was in uni (or what felt like it), pursued every possible remedy. when a friend who was feeding her golden retriever puppy raw food recommended me to do the same for a myriad of health benefits including better skin condition, i was intrigued. devouring all the information on forums, online vet articles and first hand recounts, i made up my mind to switch cold turkey from home cooked food + kibbles to raw meat.

it was probably one of the best decision i have ever made for Hannah’s well being. she loved it and probably appealed to her hunting instincts. she took to it like a champ (proud mama moment). the first few weeks of her meal times were simply a sight for sore eyes…throes of gastronomy ecstasy. i have never seen her relishing her meals like this before. mama crossed her fingers that this would be the miracle cure like so many have purported.

just when i thought she was getting better and bam, her skin will flare up for no effing reason, on her belly, flank, back, bum, paws, i could probably join all the areas and form a freaking canine map of some sort. absurd has levelled up and WTF was probably coined for times like these. i could have patented so many versions of WTF because of the emotional roller coaster seeing hannah chewing and scratching herself all over red and raw. i was hell bent on getting to the root of this nasty skin business. i wanted to put an end to all speculations of food allergies (which is a misunderstood and misused term) and the much feared demodex.

when things seem bleak and you are at the end of your tether, my Daddy God is so good – He sent me a ray of light. hannah’s boarder/trainer recommended a vet whom proved to be the balm to my frazzled nerves and opened my eyes to what was actually happening to the pup.

dr. lee is exceptional in so many ways. during our first consultation i loved how she sat on the floor outside the consultation room with us, allowing hannah to approach in her own time while i filled her in on her latest episode with her reading up on the pup’s medical history from the previous vet. putting the pieces together dr. informed me that hannah likely has endocrine disorder stemming from her early sterilisation thus she doesn’t have enough/right kind of hormones to combat any form of stress. environmental, emotional, dietary, the possibilities are endless.a ‘regular’ dog would probably go meh with an insect bite but on hannah, it would probably cause an abstract art of rashes and insane itching.

of course that wasn’t the end of the tale, we have paid dr. lee many visits since the initial consultation for what else but hannah’s skin flare ups. her acute and spot on observations earned my respect and i suspect the pup’s trust as well because she grew more comfortable in her vet’s presence (a feat considering the pup is kinda antisocial at times like the mama). dr. lee suggested that we test for food sensitivities to see if hannah has reactions to any antigens in any of the proteins in her diet to identify any offensive substance, reducing elements triggering her flare ups.

three weeks later and 350 bucks poorer, we learnt that my dearest fur baby has sensitivities towards certain proteins. affordable ones, at least in singapore. sigh… i have a vision of the pup eating me into the poorhouse… nevertheless i felt like toilet scum for being such a lousy parent subjecting my own child to food that made her suffer albeit unknowingly.

the odds were definitely stacked against us. more incidences, more flare ups, more effing sleepless nights, more rashes, more pus, more of everything that you can hurl obscenities at and then throw your hands up and scream what.the.fuck.is.going.on. and of course more dr. lee…during the latest haze crazy days, all my finger crossing did nada and i see pink spots, red patches and paws…resignation set in and i dialled the clinic only to be told that dr. lee is out of town. GAH. i did what any parent would do, i emailed dr. lee. she replied despite being on vacation. i would be in line to donate my kidney to her if she ever needs one.

alas, i wasn’t able to arrest the skin situation with topical applications and antibiotics so we had to see the vet when she was back in town (at this point it is safe to assume i see dr. lee more than i see my mom) and she said to me in between kissing the pup and checking her “i believe her skin issues are atopic.” much as i love her brilliance, i wished i hadn’t comprehended the severity of the issue. how does one take on the environment and what have yous?

i gave her a wry smile and asked “we are pretty much screwed aren’t we? what are the chances that the pup would ever be completely well?” dr. lee’s reply made my heart plummet “we will never know, it’s about managing her condition and start looking for the triggers and avoiding them.”

so yeah, my pup drew the short end of the stick.

somehow we learn and managed. with the right kind of supplements with a fastidious daily cleaning routine, sticking to natural household cleaning products and careful selection of her food (all her treats are home made/dehydrated or fridge dried by the slave, i mean mama), i hope we are able to minimise horrid occurrences. it has been a little more than two years since the ink dried on the adoption papers. if you ask me whether i regret my decision with what seemed like a trouble stricken journey i only have this answer – i thought i was giving hannah another chance at life but it turned out that she was the one who saved me. she was ordained by God to be in my life, to understand redemption, understand trust, grow in faith and patience. hannah healed my heart, made it bigger and taught me to savour the smallest bit of happiness and celebrate every victory.

while a permanent solution to hannah’s flare up still eludes us, i have learnt to see the good in our journey by God’s grace. we have come such a long way from despair to each new day of hope. and hannah, mama hopes you will blossom into a confident lady, continue to be the greedy girl that you are, be curious about all that life has to offer and know that i will never leave nor forsake you (even when you drive me nuts sometimes). so hannah, that’s how we came to be.

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 always mama’s cheeky pup

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