Monday, February 1, 2016

Emerging from the Ruff and Tumble: Insights from a Beginner Adopter

I adopted a dog. 

It still feels slightly funny saying that aloud. I am so much more used to watching adoption take place from the sidelines at the shelter.

It's been close to three months. I am still more positive than ever that this is one of the best decisions I have made. 

I am not going to advise on adoption. I have realised that I am so much of a greenhorn myself. Instead, what I hope to do in this entry is to share with you little every day insights that you will probably never discover until you - like me, embark on the journey yourself.

1. Separation anxiety - Whose?!

We both work full time so Dazzle has to be left at home on her own for pretty long hours. It helps that at almost four years of age, she is a full grown adult. 

Nevertheless, having gone through much of the fodder on separation anxiety online, we were concerned that Dazzle might experience the same. All her life, she lived with her sister at the shelter. While they sometimes bickered, they were each other's constant companion. 

It turned out that our girl was pretty independent. Sure, she was nervous at first and would bark when we closed the door behind us. But in just a few weeks, she learnt to settle down with her Kong and rawhide for company, not even batting an eyelid as we headed for the door. I guess she started realising that when we left, we would return.

We began to discover that the ones with the separation anxiety wasn't Dazzle. It was us! That awful ache I felt as I left for work each morning. That distracting urge to log on to the webcam mobile application to peek at her too frequently during our working hours. These were all symptoms of separation anxiety. Except we were the ones down with the blues, not her! 

2. Your life becomes one big routine - And that might not be a bad thing.

These days, I jump out of bed when my alarm rings at 6am, splash some water on my face and head out the door with Dazzle for her morning pee time. We go for a twenty minute walk. When we return, I wash her paws, wipe her face and underbelly and prepare her breakfast before I jump into the shower myself.

On weekdays, we have to ensure one of us gets back sufficiently early for her evening pee time. That's the trouble with your dog being grass trained. 

We walk her between forty minutes to an hour. We head back home to prepare her dinner. She sheds quite a bit and the messy little eater tends to leave drool stains on the floor. So we have to vacuum and clean. If we brought her for her evening walk early, we try to slip in another one just before bedtime. That - in a nutshell, is our day.

I have never been one for waking up early or cleaning my house fastidiously. I have the habit of sleeping late and I love sleeping in. Having a dog instilled in me a newfound discipline I didn't think I possessed. 

Our trusty vacuum cleaner has become an indispensable part of my every day life. They say keeping a dog dirties the place but for me, my little flat is cleaner than ever. 

Staying up too late exhausts me now because I have to crawl out of bed early the next morning. Dinners with friends, trips to the hairdresser's, shopping, holidays... Our lives have to be re-organised to accommodate her because there's just the two of us for her. 

But guess what? The most incredulous thing is, I actually find myself happy doing it all. It is very strange how things work themselves out in the end.

3. You no longer see - you look.

When you see, you do so without intention. But when you look, it is purposeful. 

Adopting Dazzle has taught me to look at the world around me and not merely to see. Much like to hear and listen, the difference is nuanced. That is exactly how my life has changed - in subtle ways that matter.

Because I have to walk Dazzle early each morning, I have come to know the people in my neighbourhood crazy enough to sneak in a jog when the air is cool and the sun has yet to shine. For the elderly folk practising their morning tai-chi, the sight of one sleepy human shuffling along with her gungho four-legged pee machine at the other end of the leash has become a familiar sight. 

I now know where the loose tiles at the void deck are because Dazzle and I pound the same pavement at least twice every day. I know where we are most likely to meet the community kitties who never fail to glare menacingly at my oblivious dog from afar, back arched and ready to pounce.

While exploring the park connector with Dazzle one night, we stumbled across the thriving dog community in my neighbourhood who gather there nightly. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that a sizeable fraction of the group was made up of mongrels. Being adopters of the breed themselves, these owners looked beyond Dazzle's wariness and reached out to her patiently. They were the first strangers she allowed to pet her without jumping away like she was scalded. Needless to say, I was heartened and so very proud. 

To vary our walking route, I find myself traipsing along with Dazzle, taking different turns in the road to uncover new grounds - grounds worth sniffing. These are parts of my estate I would never have thought to go by foot if I didn't have her. The neighbouring HDB blocks, the town park, the park connector have all become our usual hunting grounds.

Despite our efforts, there is only so much variation we can introduce to her daily walks. Regardless, she injects into each walk an irrepressible enthusiasm. She can always be seen sniffing away at the ground self-importantly, surging forward urgently like a search dog wannabe. 

Though the sights may be largely the same, my dog teaches me that every day is a brand new day and every walk a spanking new, hopeful adventure. 

4. Knowing you are not alone makes everything easier 

We all have good days. And then we have some bad ones too. Sometimes, you just don't feel up to anything at all. Or perhaps you desperately can't get away from work because of those impending deadlines. 

Yet your dog needs to be fed, walked and cleaned. Having a partner to share the load makes the going so much easier. You get to take that odd break or two when you have to. There is an indescribable sense of comfort knowing that someone's got things covered. 

Dazzle has always been more of my dog than the husband's. I will always be grateful that he received her entry into our lives with such open arms. Because on hindsight, having a pet is a big deal. Without a joint commitment to the endeavour, you are in for a very tough ride. I have thus cultivated a newfound respect for those who somehow manage to go at it alone successfully while juggling work, family and other vissicitudes of life. 

Not sure about you - but something that worked for me was having a group of friends in whom to confide throughout the journey. Because I volunteer at the shelter, I am lucky to have crossed paths with like-minded dog-loving people. I reckon the average man on the street probably wouldn't be too interested in hearing me fret over my dog's swollen eye and tick infestation or agonise over leaving my dog home alone every day. I can't tell you how comforting it is knowing you can count on these girls for their frank views and sensible suggestions. It went a long  way in assauging self doubt and helped keep any self recrimination at bay. 

If you aren't as lucky as me to be surrounded by dog people, fret not because you will make friends. Be it through social media or simply bumping into fellow dog walkers in your neighbourhood, a listening ear is not so hard to find.

5. What you see is not what you will get 

Probably the greatest take away of all for me is the realisation that a whole different personality lies beneath the dog I got to know at the shelter. 

I cared for Dazzle for four years at the shelter, since she was a 3 month old puppy. I thought I knew most things about her. But I was wrong. There were so many facets of her personality yet to be uncovered from those short hours I spent with her at the shelter. 

For instance, I found out that Dazzle is not a cuddler but she absolutely loves belly rubs. She doesn't care about toys or balls apart from her Kong which has to be full of treats. She is very food motivated. Without her sister, she can be a touch fearful. She is wary of large foreign objects. She loves racing around in the dog run. She is friendly with most other dogs but only if she is introduced to them one by one. 

She sleeps and lazes around a lot at home - a far cry from the active, irrepressible, noisy little girl at the shelter. I guess we are only at the shelter a couple of hours each day. We don't get the chance to realise just how much they snooze. But they do. A lot - and I have found out it's nothing to be overly worried about. 

These are but snippets of the personality that we unearthed at the centre of that pair of small eyes, big ears and skinny torso. We continue to find out new things about her each day, both good and bad. The hope is that we are able to help her grow into a stable, comfortable and well-adjusted member of our community. One day, incrementally.

Wrapping up and life continues

Before this post becomes unduly tedious, that is about all I have to share in these couple of months since we adopted Dazzle. Things are still work in progress and I foresee, they are pretty much always going to be. Because at the end of the day, this is one long journey of which we are just beginning.

We visited the vet to do a blood test over the weekend. Dazzle was, expectedly, pretty nervous. I had to assist in holding her neck and murmur soothing words to allow the vet to take blood from her neck area. "She really trusts you!" The kind vet exclaimed as completed the procedure and set aside the syringe. As you can tell, I was almost falling over with pride at this point. I guess that's the reward you get from adoption. You build a relationship, a bond with a living creature that strengthens over time.

It's a pretty wonderful feeling. You might want to experience it too.

In doing so, remember - adopt, don't buy. 


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