Wednesday, August 3, 2016

The little Prince

Caspian wasn't your typical prince.

He wore his feelings on his sleeves. When he was grumpy, well - he was. When he didn't like you taking his plate, he showed. When he was excited, he danced.

Caspian passed away 18 June 2016. He was found motionless that Saturday morning, lying on his side in a peaceful sleeping position. Rigor mortis had already set in. We don't know when he slipped away. He was last seen alive at around 2.30pm in the afternoon, before Wee left the shelter.

Caspian - circa 2012

Desmond and I were at the shelter that night to carry out night and medicine feeding. It had poured heavily and the lights short-circuited. We worked in near darkness, depending largely on the lights from the last row of kennels behind our shelter.

Caspian and his roommate Deena were usually one of the last dogs we would feed at night. It was hard to collect Caspian's plate for re-use. Because when it came to food bowls, he was not friendly with just anyone. To circumvent that, we would usually coax him to come to the front of the kennel, just behind the gate to have his meal. This facilitated easy plate collection when he was done.

Sometimes, Caspian came forward to eat. Sometimes, he didn't - and we let him be. Over the years, it could be any number of reasons that affected his appetite at night. He could be too busy barking at the dogs in the neighboring kennel. It could be a result of a downpour. Night feeding was almost always a race against time to ensure that everything was done before the workers locked the farm compound for the night. We weren't afforded the time to coax them to eat.

That fateful Friday night, Cas didn't come forward but Deena did so happily. It had poured and we glimpsed him lying atop his crate silently. Like many dogs, Caspian didn't like the rain one bit. In wet weather, he would go off by himself, sometimes into his room, sometimes curled up on his crate. As a result, we didn't sense anything amiss that night when Caspian didn't have his supper. We carried on with the feeding and washing without skipping a beat. I am aghast to say I didn't even take a second look.

I have thought and re-thought through the events of that night which seems like such an awful blur to me now. Why didn't we go check on him?

All I can recall - for the life of me, was feeding King his pill when we first arrived. Then we tried to coax Deckie to eat his food and medicine, because we had been failing to the past couple of nights. I recall Denver stepping forward gingerly to sniff me while I administered Rosie's ear drops. I recall Katja barking loudly at me and startling me when I latched her gate too loudly. I recall checking the time before we left and deciding to join in the search of Dessa, who had gone missing while on a trial home stay. 

Truth be told, Caspian was the furthest thing on my mind that night. This belied how perfectly healthy and normal he had been all this while. After he completed his heart worm treatment years ago and save for some skin issues that crop up now and then, his health had never been a cause for concern.

And then, we left just like that - which pains me, knowing on hindsight that we probably left him curled up on his crate, either close to death or already gone. Would it have made any difference if we had spotted him behaving abnormally? Could he have been revived, saved even?

There are some questions for which you will never get answers. This is one of them. It frustrates me knowing that we were so close, yet so blissfully oblivious.

Imagine my shock when I received the call the next morning, informing me of Caspian's passing. It was such a bolt from the blue. I recall stuttering, trying desperately yet failing to recall anything particularly peculiar about Caspian that night we were at the shelter, save for the fact that he didn't eat.

With that I have conveyed the manner in which Caspian passed on. It is now time to turn this rather sombre entry on its head and recapture the dog that he once was. Because those years that he was with us were some pretty memorable ones.


Caspian came to stay at Gentle Paws around May 2010, about a month after Gentle Paws commenced operations proper. He joined the shelter on a boarding basis, together with 9 other dogs from the same rescuer.

Caspian, circa May 2010, when our journey began

I don't recall his plate or territorial aggression issues surfacing immediately. It only became apparent later on when he was housed separately from the rest with Qiqi. The first real impact that Caspian's aggression left on me was when he bit a volunteer's hand and someone anxiously called for the ambulance. It wasn't a deep bite. The volunteer sustained some punctures on her hand. Much to our relief, everything worked itself out. The volunteer was traumatised but physically alright. Nevertheless, the day the ambulance came to our shelter, sirens blaring, will always live on as a story to be remembered in the annals of Gentle Paws' history. This wasn't an isolated incident. Over the years, while the Prince never did inflict any lasting injury on anyone, he did bite several more people.

You would think that a dog with such a remarkable track record as Caspian wouldn't have many friends, won't you? Well then, it is time to be surprised.

We have some very special people in the shelter who recognise that there is a reason behind every bite. Aggression is an effect that follows a cause. It does not define the dog. It is not a personality type. Behind the food and territorial aggression was a playful, intelligent and loyal dog who needed people to stick around long enough to see that. Caspian was like a diamond in the rough that needed investors to uncover its shine. Except instead of money, what this dog needed was investment of our time, effort and energy. Dogs like him thrived on consistency.

Caspian on one of our furry day outings to the park

It is terrific that Caspian was such a photogenic dog. He leaves behind him not just memories but beautiful photos of beautiful moments he shared with so many of our volunteers. I needn't even describe the manner in which these volunteers spent their energies breaking down the barriers with Caspian. It shines through from the photographs below that were taken over the years.

One of my favourite photos of Caspian with his first 
human friend at the shelter, Choo

Caspian with Murphy on our annual Walk a Paw event

Caspian with Shiung Qian, who never failed to bring Caspian 
to the dog run upon reaching the shelter

Caspian with Suat - who after Choo, joined the ranks
of those who could have their way with Caspian

Caspian with Venn, the first of our younger
volunteers to reach out to Caspian

Caspian with Li Hui, the latest volunteer 
to win him over

Caspian was one of the longest staying dogs at Gentle Paws. While he joined the shelter on a paid boarding basis, Gentle Paws eventually adopted him. All the other 9 dogs who had come to the shelter with him back in May 2010 managed to find homes over time. Caspian was the last one standing amongst them. He was with us for six long years. It came as no surprise that volunteers, both old and new, grieved his passing - some more so than others.

Caspian - just being Caspian

I will never forget those hours we each must have spent, some time or another over the years, trying to get Caspian to just walk out of the shelter compound. No amount of cajoling, coaxing or chiding could make the stubborn boy budge. He was content to stay put outside the shelter gates for hours rather than venture one step further. Perhaps it was the other dogs down the aisle barking away at him… Caspian always seemed spooked by something at the farm compound. He walked perfectly fine when we brought him to the park by car or van.

An all too familiar sight - Caspian and a volunteer stuck
at this very spot for hours on end

It used to be the case that Caspian was one of the last dogs to be walked because few could even leash him. But this changed dramatically over the years. He soon became the first one many volunteers would take for a romp in the dog run when they arrived at the shelter. Caspian absolutely loved his time there and they indulged him endlessly.

Just dancin'

For more than a few of the volunteers, retrieving Caspian's plate became a non-issue. They could shower him, administer Frontline on him and managed him when he needed to be vaccinated. Sure, he still snarled when he was grumpy. Walking him still took ages although inroads were certainly made.

Say hello to Mr Grumps

But it was clearer than ever that Caspian had become a well-loved member of the Gentle Paws family. What was most heartening was the fact that Caspian didn't have to behave any other way to earn this love. He was loved for being himself. That - to me, has got to be the truest kind of affection of all.

Well, love.

I always called him a grump. But guess what? Caspian turned out to be a rather marvellous roommate to the dogs who were housed with him over the years. From affectionate Qiqi to traumatised Daphne and then strong-headed Deena, these girls gained strength from him. Each of them thrived in those years they roomed with him. Caspian never did face much problems getting along with other dogs.

With Qiqi, his roommate from 2010 to around 2011.
Qiqi was eventually adopted.

With Daphne, his roommate from 2012 to around 2015.
Daphne was eventually adopted. 

With Deena, his roommate from 2015 to June 2016

Following his passing, I learnt that Caspian was rescued as a puppy with his siblings from Senoko drain, near an out of bounds generator back in 2009. He was adopted by an expat family who eventually gave him up when they realised they had no time to spend on him. By then, Caspian had already developed bad habits that no one bothered to correct. He had a twin brother - Oscar, who looked exactly like him. Oscar was adopted and migrated to New Zealand with his folks. Meanwhile, Caspian lived out the rest of his life at the shelter. I wanted to say that fate could be so cruel. But then I thought about it and decided that Caspian wasn't alone. He had friends - some really good ones to boot, at the shelter. Yes, he lost some in life, but I think he won some as well.

Having fun at the dog run

In one of the editions of the Gentle Paws calendar, Caspian was featured as one of the "difficult" dogs in the shelter. Whether difficult or not proved to be a matter of perception. To an outsider, he was undoubtedly a handful. He was surely not ready to be adopted by an inexperienced family. Yet, those who really knew him could see in him, with their hearts, what was essentially invisible to the eye. Caspian was stubborn, playful, moody and affectionate all at once. On his passing, I saw the grief etched into many a volunteer's face. I knew at once that he left with many of them unique memories that will stay with them long after he has gone.

Having a rollin' good time at Furry Day

Caspian was only about seven years old when he passed away. We can only lament that seven years is surely too short. But we take comfort in the fact that he doesn't ever have to go through the pain of a long drawn out illness.

My last entry was so long ago. The typewriter's dusty from unuse. But when an old friend has left us for good, I feel obliged to create a memory in writing that will not fade away with the passage of time. This one's for you, our funny little Prince.

May you go with the angels.

Prince Caspian 
2009 to 18 June 2016


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