Every time one of our dogs dies, the shelter grieves.
You might roll your eyes and think that we are making too much of a fuss over it. Death is, after all, a stage in life we must all reach.
But each one of our dogs has become a very special friend through time, circumstances and shared experiences. Each one of them are individuals with distinct stories, characters and idiosyncrasies.
When a dear friend dies, we can do little to stem the flood of grief and pain that arises from our loss.
Baby left us Tuesday, 6 March 2012 at around 1030PM. She had been diagnosed with acute kidney failure.
Today, I am not going to dwell on the sad. Two dogs left us in a matter of five days and I reckon we have endured enough sorrow for a while.
Now's as good a time as any to travel through time, return to the youthful green days of yesteryear and remember Baby as she then was.
They were younger. They were stronger.
When I first think of Baby, it is not Justin Bieber that comes to mind but an orange, furry, slightly grouchy and extremely wary shelter pooch.
We inherited Baby from Madam Wong's Shelter. By then, she was well into her adulthood and her character was more or less set.
My first hazy memory of Baby at Madam Wong's was how we had to be mindful of her during lunch time. Her good pal Buddy had the habit of quietly advancing toward her plate and gobbling up her food or at least the tastier parts of it.
And the exasperating but rather endearing thing was... Baby would let him get away with it! We started out having to stand guard over Baby's food, but eventually, she started having her meals in her cubicle where her food was safe from prying paws.
Baby and Buddy for you
I recall quite clearly how we couldn't peer at Baby when she ate her meal. If we did, she would simply refuse to eat. She was just the type of dog who needed her personal space and for most of the time, we let her be.
A perfect illustration of what I mean!
When Gentle Paws was first established, we moved our dogs a few units down to our current location. All they had to do to get from the old site to the new was to run down a common corridor. While the rest of the dogs, even Debbie, excitedly made their way from one unit to another with relative ease, I recall Baby being confused and slightly petrified.
All her canine pals had left and there she was, with a hoard of suspicious looking people. At that time, we couldn't leash Baby or touch her. I recall we held cardboards and towels and stood in certain strategic positions to shoo her in the right direction. Unfortunately, Baby was frozen with fear and our grand plan was alas, also a grand failure.
In the end, out of the crowd emerged Dean, one of our volunteers, who decided to risk it all and carry Baby in her arms to our new place. I recall being mighty impressed when Baby let herself be carried with nary a complaint to be heard.
Operation Transport Baby
Dogs are adaptable creatures. Baby soon adjusted to life at the new location.
Just a few months ago, she began opening up to us humans. We started being able to touch her when she was in her better moods. Florence was soon able to shower her.
We then decided to take the next big step of bringing her out for a walk. It would be the first time in at least 4 years that she stepped out of the shelter grounds.
It took some coaxing for Baby to be leashed and to take her first tentative steps out. But once outside, we believe she was happy.
Success! First time out in 4 long years!
Yes, she was uncertain and nervous but dare we say that she was curious and rather in awe of this beautiful world. This was everything that she had been missing for a good chunk of her life while she had been cooped up in the shelter.
With her first walk in the bag, we decided it was time to unveil Baby as the latest participant of our monthly Furry Day outing to the beach. Sure enough, it didn't take much effort leashing Baby. It might have been the fresh air, the sea breeze or the green, green grass... but without the shelter as a backdrop, Baby looked like a very different dog.
And with that, we have come a full circle to the present. Baby coops herself up in her cubicle so much that it's easy to overlook her presence. Yet, the moment she is no longer around, her absence becomes so stark and glaring, staring at you right in the face. The room she shares with Buddy suddenly feels too empty when all along there were just two dogs to begin with.
Everything feels the same, yet different.
I read somewhere that heartbreak is life educating us. Seeing our dogs in sickness and in pain is a slow, torturous experience. But with every furry friend that leaves us, our resolve to make this world a better place for our remaining dogs grows stronger.
So fret not, we will keep calm and carry on.