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The Joys And Struggles Of Being A Pet Parent

We’ve all heard the phrase, "Be careful what you wish for”, and it seems I was either too careful or not careful enough. You see, I’d always wanted a dog, but when I finally decided to get one, I didn’t realise what I was getting into. That’s how Zeno ended up barrelling into my life like an Indian train -if you’ve ever been on one, you’ll know what I mean. If not, let me say that they are always full, and the experience is both nerve-wracking and awesome at the same time. I had never seen a dog so eager to go careening into walls or diligently pee in the exact same spot on a rug with such fervour. I'd only read about such devotion and diligence in cults, but this puppy put every cult to shame.

I couldn’t help but adore him, and neither could anyone else for that matter. In the first three weeks of our time together, he was happy enough to jailbreak from  our home and make his way into the houses of whoever had their door open and their hearts by the time I retrieved him. I named Zeno after the Greek philosopher Zeno of Elea, who was famous for his paradoxes, and now I realise that in hindsight -it might sound like I’m tooting my own horn -but I accidentally managed to find an apt name for my new family member. I imagine Zeno's namesake must be pillaging the fields of Tartarus looking for ways to punish me for defiling his legend but if you met this dog, you would say the same thing.

He is a walking, barking contradiction. As a puppy, he loved food but not food that was appropriate for his age or species. He also loved to hang out with me and pretty much anyone else, the where is irrelevant. He’s hung out with my friends and me at pubs, clubs, and in the bathroom; he’s even come with me to a wedding. And he was the MVP there too! He also loves sleeping and can do it anywhere. Grass, beanbags, the floor, your head, you name it, he can sleep on it. He loves to play, but the toys never seem to live very long. Now as an adult, some of the things have stayed. He still kills toys and sleeps the whole day. But as an adult, he’s also had to do what all adults do and go on a diet to lose weight because he’s a dachshund, and his tiny legs and sausage body need to be at a certain weight for him to not have hip or heart problems. He needs to stay healthy, so he can stay with me for as long as it is caninely possible.

I have refused to let go of him since the day I got him. And vice versa. So, for the first year, I went to meetings with clients with a dog in my handbag. I went out for social visits, and again, a dog was in my handbag. The biggest reason that I turned into a human-sized tick was the fuzzy feeling in my heart every time I would pet him or nuzzle him and be rewarded with a sloppy dog kiss in return. I’ve never believed in love at first sight, but I was sorely mistaken. I can't help but love my furball. He is amazing, and he still follows me around everywhere. He cries if I don't pay attention to him. His presence and love have fuelled me with a determination to be better; it was truly a life-changing experience.

I won’t lie; a selfish desire influenced my decision to become a pet owner. At a time in my life when I was truly struggling, feeling needed and wanted by another living being helped me recover. I always used to feel that I could never commit to the long-term act of taking care of another living being (ask my plants), but I've been doing well. And now 8 years in, it’s incredible how much joy and mental satisfaction having him in my life has brought me. It’s changed me into a better person.

I think what helped was that two lonely souls found in each other the happiness and love we both wanted. I rescued Zeno from the streets where he was dumped by a breeder who felt this beautiful creature wasn’t going to make him a profit, but their bad decision turned into the best decision I ever made. It inspired me to volunteer with animal shelters and helped me mentally. It’s true what they say, being good to others is a selfish act because it makes you feel good about yourself, and it’s a double bonanza with animals because, unlike humans, you don’t have to worry about them taking advantage of you, you’re taking advantage of them. In fact, the experience of having Zeno affected me so profoundly that since then, I have adopted two more dogs, Shadow and Sasha. Shadow is a pedigree, but Sasha was a rescue like Zeno.

Shadow is bright-eyed and intelligent, making me question my sense of humanity. My little speedy Gonzales knows exactly when you’re feeling sad or about to cry and he’s there comforting you with his presence. Shadow’s name is a memento of a close friend who passed away a few years back, coincidentally on the same day my parents did a decade ago. And I feel that connection to my lost friend through Shadow. My friend was exactly like Shadow, full of life, friendly, and empathetic to people’s struggles, always rushing in selflessly to make others happy. I never understood the concept of an emotional support animal until I got Shadow. It was incredible that a tiny creature who we consider less intelligent than humans could be so emotionally sensitive and understanding. He’s one of the most intelligent dogs I have ever met and protective of the entire family. He puts himself in between every dog who might threaten the other two and diffuses stand-offs.

 I mean, honestly, as a puppy, I never expected him to grow into dog Obi-Wan Kenobi. He was an absolute rascal of a pup. He was naughty beyond belief. There was nothing safe around him, phones, pens, books, the sofa, even tampons; all were victims of his chewing. But honestly, watching him grow up with Zeno, watching their dynamic, and seeing their devotion to me really made all of it worthwhile. While Zeno was initially miffed -how dare I bring this tiny bat into HIS house- he can no longer be without Shadow. They’re now bros for life. I sometimes regret neutering Shadow, because even though I don’t want kids I feel like with his intelligence he deserved to have his DNA passed on. I feel like I will never meet another dog as intelligent as him. He's also the reason Sasha has turned into a normal dog.

Three years ago, Sasha came along. She was already fully grown at three years but had never done anything except give birth to babies, she was a breeding dog. I felt terrible. So, she came into our lives. This terrified little rat of a dog, who had never really had a name or felt any real human love, was afraid of everything, the door, the food bowl, the chair, the bed, and when she passed gas; it was funny but also extremely sad. At first, she snapped at Zeno because she didn’t know how to handle his over-friendliness, but she was calm around Shadow. She stuck to him like glue. And she sort of trusted me. I won’t say it was easy, Sasha was always terrified and always tried to run away. But she honestly had no idea where to run to. She would take off and then just stop as if she realised there was nowhere to go. She would bite me when I tried to pick her up, but she’s so small that her teeth hardly had any impact, thank God.

She had never really been taken care of the way a Furby is doted on by their pet parents, and her teeth were pretty much decorative, her tail was docked, and her ears had been clipped. It was surprising that she and Zeno didn’t get along because both had rather traumatic experiences after being adopted. When Zeno first came to me, he had a severe case of worm infection because he was a tiny puppy who had been abandoned on the street. It was touch and go; I didn’t know if he would make it but with Sasha, I didn’t know that she was sick at all. After only having spent her life having babies, I did not want that for her. So, she had a vet’s appointment to be neutered. Despite having gone through the process twice before (Zeno is also neutered) it was nerve-wracking, and I feared the worst.

Finally, it was done but the doctor called me in and told me that she had pyometra. I was horrified because I hadn’t even known or noticed! The doctor also told me that they had to pull quite a few of her teeth out because they had rotted. She also told me that Sasha kept waking up throughout the surgery, and the anaesthesia wouldn’t take, and they had to give her an extra dose to keep her unconscious. They were still stitching up incisions when the doctor called me in and the tiny stub on this ridiculous dog wagged in happiness. She was duly bundled up and handed over to me after the sutures were done. We drove back home, me in the driver’s seat and a dosed but now calm dog in the passenger seat in a giant baby basket snoozing. And that was the beginning. She started improving by leaps and bounds. When I look back, I can see that over the past three years, she’s slowly come out of her shell. She’s almost a normal and friendly dog now.

I have spent the past year away from the only three souls in my life who love me more than they love themselves and it has been a painful experience. I love them more than I love myself or more than I can ever love any other human being in the world. It sounds like a cliché and overly dramatic but human beings come with expectations while animals do not. They are miserable without me right now, but I know as soon as I go back all will be forgiven. I haven’t even forgiven my dad for spending most of his time away when I was growing up, even though I understand. But these doggies, who understand nothing about life will forgive me and love me just the same as if I had never left. I can’t think of anything in life that comes close to the happiness that I get just knowing they’re there, waiting for my return.

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