I have always loved animals from as far back as I can remember. Growing up there were always pets at home but they were not kept in the house, but rather in the yard. We had dogs, cats, and even had rabbits as pets. In Guyana many people had dogs in their yards. Most often they were kept for security reasons; as a first line of defense. If some unknown person was on the premise or at the gate, the dogs would bark and create a ruckus. In Haiti it’s very much the same. It is heart wrenching the way stray animals are mistreated and are in pitiful condition. There has been a trend of late to have house dogs and as such, there are many who have little dogs or as my kids say “puppers” and they take extra special care of them. In general though, most people do not regard animals as friends or a members of the family. Animals are pets, but many are not cared for with love or appreciation. As the cost of living is extremely high, those who now chose to have pets have come to realize that if they own one, there is a value and responsibility involved in raising them, so attitudes are changing.
When I was at University, I had a dog called Sacha. He was a Cocker Spaniel and I got him on a whim one Sunday afternoon walking around in the mall. It was a mad crazy thing to do, but I saw him in the window of the pet store and he lovingly gazed at me with the biggest sweetest puppy dog eyes and I was smitten. I was also ill prepared for having a dog in my apartment. I think it took a week before I mentioned to my parents that I had a house pet. When I finally broke the news to them, they were not happy. They were concerned about how I would take care of him while I was at school. I had to try to give the assurance that everything was fine and under control. In retrospect, I really should have planned this acquisition ahead. As for most difficult situations you face in Life, you must learn from a lesson.
In the beginning there were many days of regret. Sacha was extremely needy and barked quite a bit when I was not at home. Some of my neighbors complained and others were understanding. I would leave the TV on so that he could hear human voices in my absence. I used to rush home to take him for walks and to comfort him. Often on the way home, I was anxious not knowing what calamity to expect when I got home. A bored young pet can be very destructive. The number of chewed shoes and soiled furniture that I endured in those first six months. The responsibility was great, but we soon settled into the routine and habit and Sacha became an integral part of my life. He gave me a new sense of responsibility, much the same that a child gives a young parent. He was totally and entirely dependent on me.
When my husband and I moved to Haiti and got married, Sacha also immigrated with us. It was traumatic for him at first but he and I settled in and adapted to our new home and environment. He was fiercely jealous of any new people who came around us. When I was expecting my first child, I was quite worried about Sacha’s reaction to the new baby. He was quite affected and felt usurped, but in time, he accepted our son as a new family member. Like any human child, Sacha realized that he had to share the attention with someone who was young and important. His character changed a bit, but he was still loving and highly devoted. Things changed abruptly when someone tried to steal Sacha from our home. He would often sit on a wall waiting for me to come home from work. Someone on the street below saw him and grabbed him from the wall, probably in the hope of selling him. When I got home that afternoon, I looked high and low for him in a panic. He had disappeared and no one had realized that he had been taken. I was inconsolable. My husband and I looked for 2 days combing the neighborhood and looking in every nook and cranny, asking every passerby if they had seen a small chestnut colored dog with long ears. Finally, someone said they had seen a small dead dog in the ravine. We raced there and Patrick climbed down into the deep ravine. There was our Sacha bound at the mouth with a rope around his neck and a huge gash on his head. But, against all odds he was still breathing. He had been stolen and obviously had not gone easily. He was bound, beaten and thrown away for dead.
Sacha remarkably survived this ordeal and lived 3 more years. But, he was never the same. The beating to his head caused him to go blind. He bumped into everything and was extremely agitated. He was also suspicious of every new person and with reason. It was suggested that we euthanize him, but I couldn’t do it. We loved him and even though he was blind, he learned to move around the house. When he died of natural causes some years later, it broke my heart. I never wanted to have another house dog again. The attachment was so profound and the loss so great that I could not take the heart break again. After, we had other bigger dogs, but no little ones.
Many years later my daughter Gabrielle managed to talk me into getting a Shih Tzu. Maybe it was the persistent badgering and the constant begging that made me cave. She saved her Birthday and Christmas money, told grand parents, aunts and uncles, and anyone who would listen that her only wish was to have a little doggie. For 2 years this bantering continued. Finally she found someone who was expecting puppies and she reserved one via a friend. I reluctantly agreed and laid down all of the ground rules and responsibilities which she would have to honor. She understood the poop clean up, the baths, the feeding the nurturing and agreed fully to the terms. Kibby joined our family and once again, I became “mom”!
I fell hard for this one. We took him everywhere and even refused invitations sometimes if we could not take Kibby with us. Yes, it was crazy. This little doggie with his quirky eating habits and his special ways had stolen our hearts and taken over our lives. He was more needy than Sacha. He preferred love and attention more than food!! Which dog does that?? Kibby had to have my shoes to sleep on and needed to be constantly with us; but especially me.( As I write this, he is sleeping on my feet.) It’s amazing how dogs can fill our lives with great happiness and unconditional love. I cannot explain this type of relationship, but I know that other dog lovers have the same understanding and appreciation as I do.
Today our Dog family has grown to 5. We have 4 Shih Tzus and one big dog Nahla who is a mix of Labrador and Great Dane. Every time I have said that I did not want another, somehow the circumstances changed and I ended up keeping another and adding to the family. Undeniably there is a high cost to this not only in food and vet care, but also in time management, physical care and energy in their upkeep and wellness. It’s the price to pay for this special friendship. My doggies are my shadows and make up my family. I appreciate all the time that I spend with them and I know that we enrich each other’s lives. I have suggested to many people who are lonely or depressed or even battling an illness to get a pet. Once you have the physical capacity to take care of a pet, having a dog or even a cat, it will enrich your life immensely. There are studies which show how dogs can help improve the wellbeing of patients in hospitals, especially children. I would advocate to anyone who loves animals to get a dog. This will be one of the greatest and fulfilling connections in your life.
Dogs are wonderful companions.They are smart, loving and intuitive. Their intelligence and their loyalty is unsurpassed. Dogs can sense your mood and humor and know when you are sick and stuffering and when you are happy or sad. They will love and protect you to the death, once they are loved and appreciated. Dogs have a keen perception of natural phenomenon. They can sense danger as well as impending situations and natural disaster; like the earthquake we had in 2010. If your pets ever react strangely and bark and act erratically, know that something is off. Verify your surroundings and try to understand what has triggered the behavior. Usually there is something that they have sensed and wish to signal to you. Having my extended family of dogs enriches my life everyday. They are always happy to see me and are a source of comfort to me on a difficult day when sometimes humans are not. Their love is constant, unwavering and unconditional. They are indeed in my humble opinion ” Man’s Best Friend”.