When your furry friend brings more to the family than you might think.
As I sat down one weekend to write this article, I remembered that it was for Sassy Mama and would be read by parents in Hong Kong, I wanted to keep it light, family-oriented and focussed on what pets can teach kids and all of us. The first thing that came to mind was death and loss.
Not immediately light, I know, but stay with me…In our clinic, we have the privilege of working with many dogs and cats who’ve been rescued. Most people are fairly sensible and rescue a cute little pup or a kitten with its whole life ahead of it. Those first few consults make my day – a family coming in, full of love, with a fur baby who cautiously wags its tail and licks my N95 face mask or, in the case of a kitten, gives me an apprehensive side-eye (we all know this is the ultimate expression of feline love). I probably spend too long on these consults; I suspect this because my management team often tells me this directly. But obviously, I have to have a few faults or they wouldn’t be employed to manage me!
A little more rarely, a brave person will come in having rescued a little, old animal in its twilight years. A few years ago, I accidentally became one of these people. So ladies and gentlemen, for your edutainment this is the story of Sashiko.
Read more: Where To Adopt Or Buy A Pet In Hong Kong
What Pets Teach Us: Patience
I got a call asking me if I could provide a home for an elderly cat who’d been abandoned because she required a surgery the owner simply couldn’t afford. The initial surgery had been performed but there were two problems – one, her kidneys were damaged by the original condition and two, she required a second surgery to remove a leg, which I would have to perform. Sashiko had lived in a colony of cats, kept by what is known in wider society as a “cat lady”. She’d rarely had much human contact, other than being poured out kibble a few times a day.
So this was how I brought Sashiko to my home, in a fair bit of pain, recovering from two surgeries and with what is medically known as having fairly ropey kidneys. She made her resentment of the situation resoundingly clear and decided I was definitely to blame. Before that, I’d kept rescue kittens and an incredibly soppy Scottish fold who loved nothing more than to have his downy, fat tummy rubbed (they do say pets resemble their owners, after all). I was not prepared.
What Pets Teach Us: Love
Sashiko was, despite recovering from surgery, a little whirlwind of teeth and fangs and able to comfortably clear 6 feet in a single bound. For the first few months, she alternated between lodging herself behind the bookcase, the sofa, or the wardrobe. She’d come out at night to eat and relieve herself, sometimes on the sofa, which taught me to be aware of my surroundings.
My one saving grace, after a lot of experimentation, was that she loved beef. At first, she would accept exactly two pieces left a few inches from her face before she’d decide I was up to no good and swat my fingers with her razor-sharp claws. Gradually, month by month, she started to lay in the corner of the room, rather than hiding behind some ageing veterinary textbooks. Eventually, she decided that she could tolerate laying on my chest for a whole minute or so before leaping off (just in case I was planning something).
So my ritual became to come back from work, crash on the sofa, see some greenish-blue tapeta (the reflective eyes of a cat in layperson’s terms) flashing at me from behind a pile of books and hear a little inquisitive mew. Then, I’d feel a little 3kg ball of fur descend onto my chest and purr for a glorious minute or two. For Sashiko, this was an extreme trust exercise. For me, a little slice of heaven, proof that I’d won her over. I’d given her something she’d never known before – a home in which she was loved.
What Pets Teach Us: Acceptance
One rule of life, other than “chocolate makes most things better”, or that “if the kids are quiet something is up”, is that “this too shall pass”. And so it was for our time with Sashiko. One day she stopped eating. Even the richest, tastiest pieces of beef (which I’d probably advise most pet owners against trying for the risk of causing gastrointestinal issues) could not tempt my savage little sweetheart. After hospitalising her, and trying for weeks to persuade her kidneys to work, I had to admit it was time. I stroked her and heard her purr one last time as she passed beyond the veil.
Though the memory brings tears to my eyes even as I type these words, thinking of her life (and the trust that she made me earn) still brings me joy. I’m reminded of her when rescuers come to me with the furry seniors, newly rescued, having to learn so late in life of the joys of tummy rubs, walks and snacks. Whatever time they have left, it will probably be their best time. And if your family gets to share it, it’s a priceless privilege.
I’d never discourage anyone from rescuing a pup or a kitten; I’ve done it myself and probably will do in the future. But, perhaps I can also offer some heartfelt advice to all parents in Hong Kong (along with a little prayer to the gods). It’s this: Don’t forget the old cats and dogs, a bit beaten up by life, and with only a few remaining grains of sand in the hourglass, because you can offer them so much more than you think, and they offer much more back. In the short time they spend with us, these pets teach us patience, love and acceptance.
If I made you cry, I’m happy because I’m a horrible misanthrope. But it will make me even happier if you smiled and learnt something too because every day’s a school day! And if you ever consider adopting an older dog or cat someday, I hope you find a Sensei like Sashiko.