Looking back, have you ever asked yourself if you’re satisfied with whom you have become versus who you endeavour to be as a child? Well, I think we should all give ourselves a pat on the shoulder for being the person we are today, no matter your social status, your accolades, the number of friends you have on Facebook, or the digits in your bank accounts. It doesn’t matter if we are more stubborn than another person, or if we are less well-off than another being. We are all different and challenged in our own ways.
Of course, for most of us, our parents have been instrumental in moulding, guiding and nurturing us to become the person we are today. However, more often than not, we forget that we are our own parents, and we are a reflection of what life throws at us – lemons or unicorns. We learn through challenges, and we learn to calibrate and recalibrate ourselves until we rise above these challenges. We make decisions based on experiences, past learning or gut-feelings, whether it is practical or idealistic. We meet people, and we learn from them – be it learning to be as good as them, or learning to be better than them.
Dogs are no different. They too are born as pure as an angel and as innocent as a new-born child. And like us and our children, they learn through life-lessons, influences, challenges and past encounters. While we don’t speak the same language, we share this universal, unspoken language that cuts through the loudest of noises and the quietest of nights to reach the deepest abyss in our heart. This is similar to how parents can understand their babies even before they learn to speak. It’s funny that despite our many physical differences, we all so similar emotionally!
Happy, a female local, has been with us for almost a year now. She had been abandoned, and was left outside a vet clinic on a short leash. We took her in and boarded her at a kennel for the first three months, before moving her to a pet shop. Although staying at pet shops are generally more expensive than kennels, we realised it would be way more beneficial for a dog like Happy to live in a pet shop, until we find a suitable home for her.
In between, a family fostered Happy but gave her up on the third day because they thought she was way too playful and their dog didn’t like her presence. It is a shame to give up a dog so quickly before even getting to know her. Fostering is about tackling and navigating through differences, through teaching and reinforcement. Fosterer needs to be in control of their pets and foster dogs, to monitor the play and to teach and correct their behaviours when need be.
|Happy's markings are beautiful. The marking on her chest is absolutely unique!|
Side-track, I too adopted a dog last November. The family who adopted the dog previously gave him up after staying with him for just one day, claiming that he was too playful and that he broke a vase in their home while playing. What they don’t know is that while he has his shortcomings, like all of us do, he is as sweet as an angel and I can never imagine living my life without him.
So, Happy was returned to the pet shop where she lived for the next six months. While at the pet shop, she only plays with one or two other dogs, and spends the rest of the time hiding behind the shop counter or under the sofa. This had a growing, negative impact on her.
|Happy at her temporary foster home|
Despite our volunteers taking her out for walks two to three times a week, Happy developed a fear of leaving the shop. She was afraid of the screeching tyres, busy traffic, and loud, sudden noises. Like most rescue dogs, it is difficult to put a finger to what triggered these fears.
Fiona, who has spent years working with special needs children, would often describe Happy as a dog with ADHD. Much like ADHD children, Happy hardly sleeps, and spends the night pacing the shop and looking for things to play. She never seems to put on any weight even though she has a healthy appetite.
Happy also displays some similar characteristics of autism inhuman, even though there hasn’t been any proven medical finding of autism in dogs. She has trouble coping with changes and would often panic when we take a different turn from the usual route, during her daily walks. Again, much like special needs children, Happy doesn’t cope well with changes and would prefer to stick to a fixed routine.
Happy is also forgetful and would often forget what was taught to her previously. If you have worked with special needs children, you will understand that with these children, you will need to repeat teachings until it is imprinted in their minds and becomes automated behaviours.
Autistic children are also unable to moderate their own play. Happy is no different, and she needs a firm owner to tell her when to stop playing.
Although autism in dogs have not yet been proven scientifically, it is not far-fetched to believe that dogs and humans have their own differences too – not all dogs or children are the same as their friends. Fiona has found applying early childhood theories on dogs to be extremely helpful when understanding behavioural differences.
Like all of us, Happy has her own shortcomings, but she has many wonderful traits as well.
For instance, Happy has absolutely no aggression and is extremely easy-going. She is also amongst the more sociable dogs that we have met. She wouldn’t mind if you clean her ears, put medicine in her mouth, clip her nails or touch her paws.
|Happy having her photograph taken for HOPE's 2014 calendar with Joceline and Sherrie|
She gets along superbly well with humans, children and other dogs; and she eats almost anything you feed her. Happy’s favourite moment is when she is in a dog run. You can almost see her radiating with happiness when she runs freely and boundlessly along with other dogs. I must forewarn you that the journey to the dog run may be a stressful experience for her, but once you see her running about in bursts of excitement, you will know the journey was worthwhile.
Happy’s happiness is addictive, and her energy is rejuvenating.
Raising a dog is much like raising a child. They are a reflection of our teachings. We, as parents, need to set clear boundaries, to stay consistent, and to remain firm when needed; but we also need to recalibrate ourselves to better understand our children and pets as they grow up. No individual is the same throughout the course of their life; and not every mistake will forever remain a mistake. As long as we understand their differences, these differences will soon become opportunities for us to get to know them better.
Every special needs child and dog is beautiful in their own ways. They teach us such valuable lessons in life; they teach us to learn and to laugh wholeheartedly without reservation; and they teach us to live in their special worlds which are unmaterialistic, genuine and, non-judgemental.
For people who don’t understand Happy, you may think she is stubborn, difficult and wanting her own ways. Happy is none of the above. She is just different and she has her own fears, but beneath her fears and idiosyncrasies, we know she is learning to cope with her differences and to live life to the fullest like any other dogs.
All Happy needs is a family that will learn to understand her differences. Are you that special person for Happy?
Note, we think it is best Happy goes to a home with a small garden so she can do her classic “Happy” run/dash, and it would be ideal for the family to have a dog to keep her busy. Happy is not for any regular pet owner. If you are ready to understand her differences, and to learn with her through her differences, please write to us at Alicia@hopedogrescue.org. It takes that special someone to love and appreciate Happy.
We thank Zeke and family for fostering Happy.
Written by Claire Chai
We thank Zeke and family for fostering Happy.
Written by Claire Chai