This July marks a year since we first rescued Damsel, our doggie in distress.
Seeing her grow out so elegantly and beautifully makes me feel ridiculously proud. I love her wayward ears, her long limbs, her slender frame and the lovely bits of black on her snout. She's the same puppy we rescued one year ago, yet she has grown in so many ways.
Damsel remains wary of strangers. This poses as a huge stumbling block to her adoption. On weekends, when volunteers come in droves and the other dogs are scampering out eagerly to play, Damsel girl runs to a corner of her cubicle, lays down and looks worried.
At the beginning, I reckoned it was just a phase and she might grow out of it. I put it down to the shock of being plucked from the thorny bushes by three busybodies.
Literally plucked from the bushes, I kid you not
But as I was reading up on puppies to cope with Daphne's delivery, the information I gleaned made me realise that perhaps the worry folds on Damsel's face might be here to stay.
Through my research, I found out that when a puppy is eight to eleven weeks old, it goes through a fear imprint period where any traumatic, painful or frightening experience will have a lasting impact.
Damsel was about eleven to twelve weeks old when we found her. Her mother was not in the vicinity and her siblings were nowhere to be found. She was rescued from an area where dog catchers were rampant.
Wee met Damsel's mother a couple of times while driving to the shelter. He found her to be street smart, guarded and wary of humans.
Damsel's experiences with the world before the age of eleven weeks did much in shaping her personality. In the harsh wilderness where her mother wandered, she was taught that four legs was good and two legs bad.
This puppy isn't too happy
Damsel has come a long way in the past year. When she first came, she hated to be manhandled. While other puppies loved being carried and cuddled, this puppy would yelp and snap when we picked her up. We told her off in our sternest voice and she responded by nipping our hands. Those puppy teeth of hers looked harmless but time and again, Damsel reminded us just how much damage they could cause!
As the days unfolded, Damsel settled into shelter life. She found a friend in a fellow rescued puppy Drizzle and she learnt to play like puppies should.
Damsel and Drizzle (left)
Then it was time to teach her how to walk on leash. I remember the first time I did so was during one of our furry day outings at Pasir Ris Park. Even though the pathway was relatively clear, this sulky puppy hated every second of it.
When she grew slightly older, I began to take Damsel out alone for walks. She was scared of every thing that came her way from people to cyclists to cars and trucks. It didn't help that there were constuction works being carried out outside our shelter.
Damsel walked in a zigzag fashion. She shuddered every time a car zoomed past and careened to one side everytime there were people passing by. Her tail was always tucked snugly between her two hind legs. A couple of times, she was so scared she pooped! It was quite a disaster!
To reassure her, I started walking Damsel with Diya. I knew what a good walker Diya could be and how much of a stabilizing influence confident Diya would have on our squirmish Damsel. For two to three weeks, I kept walking them together and encouraged others to do so. If I couldn't get it into Damsel's head that walks were meant to be enjoyed, perhaps her fellow canine friend could!
We all love Diya
A couple of weeks later, I started to walk Damsel alone again to curb any reliance that Damsel had on Diya. I was determined that this girl learnt to enjoy her walks. She needed to see the beauty of our world and understand that not everyone was out to harm her.
The sights along our walking route can be so gorgeous
Damsel could now walk in straight lines but she was still abnormally afraid of cars. Each time a car drove by, I pushed Damsel's bottom firmly down and made her sit still until the vehicle passed us by. See? I would tell her. You are safe aren't you? And then taking a deep breath, we would trot off, both she and I.
It was a very painful process, but each little improvement made my heart leap with joy. Damsel has overcome her fear of cars and lorries. But she's still put out by noisy cranes and cement mixers we meet along the way.
While Damsel's tail still hangs down on her walks, she is beginning to relax. She has started to sniff the grass, take in the sights and respond to the sounds of nature. Her tail is no longer jammed tightly between her hind legs and, we are proud to declare that there has been no more fear pooping!
She leaves behind a trail of paw prints
Shelter work has many aspects, but my favourite component by far has to be walking the dogs. I love the rapport that is built with that particular dog when you establish a routine of bringing it out each week. I love exhausting a walking route and exploring new grounds with the dog by my side, both of us tentative and alert. I love watching the dog and the way it reacts to the sights and sounds around it.
Some people love doing feeding. Others find cleaning the compound therapeutic. I love the simple act of walking a dog.
And the beautiful places we get to uncover together.
Damsel and I were here!
Over time, Damsel got used to the familiar faces at the shelter. While she is still mindful to stay (very) far away from newcomers, she runs out to greet us regulars with a wagging tail. She is also beginning to understand the concept of a cuddle, that a hug means comfort and a kiss means love. Imagine my surprise when she leaned in towards me one fine day and licked my face!
I was reminded of how grown up Damsel had become when she had her first heat and we had to send her to be sterilized. I recall me and Feng fretting at the possibility that she might bite the vet. But our little Damsel girl was not so little and not such a damsel after all. Her sterilisation procedure went by without a hitch and I can't tell you just how proud I was.
Damsel at the vet awaiting her sterilisation procedure with Feng
Damsel is a gift. In my quieter moments, it strikes me what a miracle it was that our paths crossed. It is not easy capturing stray dogs from the wild. They are trained by instinct and experience to stay away from humans and their prying hands. Even when you have food with you, they refuse to advance closer until you put the food down and walk away.
It just happened that Damsel was alone when we found her. It just happened that Wee heard her crying and followed the sound of it into the bushes. It just so happened that we were experiencing a quieter period than ever at the shelter and we had room for more dogs.
It could have been any puppy Wee plucked out from amongst the bushes. But we got Damsel, kicking, screaming, angry puppy that she was. I'll never forget the way her tiny paws gripped on to my hand on the journey back to the shelter. She was fuming but at the same time, she was so frightened.
She was so scared
We are hoping that like us, someone can see just how special Damsel is and sweep her away toward a future of happiness and stability. But meanwhile, we'll keep working on her, undoing those knots that remain as a result of her crucial two months in the wild.
I don't know when you were born, Damsel girl. Wee says your Mommy has disappeared from her usual hunting grounds. I hope you realised by now that you are safe with us.You are not alone anymore.
A (muscular) shoulder to lean on
For lack of an exact date, let every day this July be a special day. Happy birthday Damsel girl. We love you in more ways than you can count.