It’s been almost 3 months since Max entered our lives. I’m not going to lie or to sugarcoat things, Max was quite a handful. He isn’t naughty, he doesn’t misbehave, but like most rescue dogs, he came with his own baggage. For one, he’s scared of people. He’s territorial and can be aggressive sometimes. He isn’t treat-motivated outside because he’s distracted by sights, sounds and smells at the park and that makes it challenging for us to train him. He has to pass his obedience training in order for the license to be transferred over to us so it is causing us some stress and lack of proper rest. But like every rescue dog, the most rewarding thing you can ever have in return is their unfailing love and loyalty.
To be honest, I questioned if adopting him was the right move. That is not to say I didn’t want to adopt, I just wasn’t sure if I was ready to. Suzie meant a lot to me – I can’t describe just how much in words because that’s limiting my love for her. Suzie was more than just my pet, she was my family member and my companion through all the ups and downs in life. Losing her was obviously a huge heartbreak in my life and one that I would never quite get over despite the days that have gone past since her death. Adopting Max put me in a place where my freedom was cut short just as I was about free to do almost anything I could.
You see, when Suzie was in her senior years and nearing the end of her life, I gave up quite a lot to be with her. It was my thesis year and a very stressful time in my life. I wanted to go somewhere as my grad trip since I have not travelled overseas for 3 years by that time. My last trip was to Perth with my dad and that was before the start of Lasalle. Suzie’s health took a turn for the worse so I decided I will not go for any grad trip and give Suzie all of my time. Because of that, I made that decision not to find a full-time job after graduation. Instead, I freelanced on projects as an Art Director on shoots just to get some income to survive. I didn’t go out of the house a lot because Suzie’s health was really deteriorating and when I received calls from home that she fainted again, it caused me a lot of stress so much so that I just hated being out. Two days before her death, Marion and I had booked tickets to watch a movie just to de-stress but Suzie was really in bad shape and we decided to forgo the movie which is something we usually don’t do. We were both really concerned and we knew that nothing we did at that point would take the stress or anxiety away. I knew death was near and the vet knew it too. When Suzie passed away, I was in too deep a grief that my mood was severely affected – I wasn’t able to communicate properly with my loved ones. I was angry with the world. Till this day, I still am. I sought help in the best way I knew how – I went through counselling and picked up Muay Thai just so I can keep my mind occupied. I was desperately looking for a full-time job and thankfully, I was blessed to be able to find one. 2016 was a window for me to go overseas and enjoy myself because I had my own income and I was able to save more to travel. However, I didn’t have anyone to travel with and at that time, the thought of a solo trip seemed more scary than inviting. I dared not ask my parents if I could travel with Marion because the last time I did, it didn’t end well. So I ended up not traveling again.
This year, I felt myself becoming really, really upset with life. Something in me just felt dead and purposeless. I felt the need to get out of Singapore for awhile just to take a break from everything. I finally asked my parents if I could travel with Marion and to my surprise, they allowed us to. We made plans to travel and booked the necessary flight and hotel and starting planning our itineraries. In January, Chels mentioned adopting a dog as she felt we were ready. I wanted a dog in my life again but I didn’t feel quite ready to have one. I decided to go along with it anyway because I thought it was fears that were holding me back. Turns out, it was for practical reasons that I held back – of course this was unspoken.
When we first met Max, I adored him but I wasn’t sure if he’d be a perfect fit with the family. We took him in any way and the duties that came along with Max did take away a lot of time from my alone time. I knew that this was expected but I didn’t realise just how difficult it was going to be. I painted a perfect picture of Max like I always do for everything, and like everything else that happens in my life, I was disappointed in myself for painting a perfect picture because the reality was not that pretty picture I painted. So of course, with my flight booked, I had to make arrangements with Chels to swop our schedules to ensure Max is taken care of. Just last week, Marion and I bought tickets to BKK to see Coldplay next week and it was something that I had to inform Chels about first because we need to ensure someone is on duty to walk Max in the mornings and evenings. I thought to myself about how ironic the whole situation is because I was free to do whatever could last year, and I had the money but I had no one to go with. And this year when I have all these things in place, I am back to having a dog to be responsible for.
Maybe at this point it seems that I don’t love Max as much as I loved Suzie or that Max is my responsibility. To be honest, Max IS both mine and Chels’ responsibility but he’s not just a responsibility, he’s my family, and I do love him. To compare that love to my love for Suzie is hardly fair because Suzie and I were blessed with 11 years for our bond to grow. Max has only been with us for two months and he came to us as an adult which means he too had his won fears and uncertainties. But Max soon won my heart over with his love. He’s so genuine about his love for us and you can tell he loves us deeply. He’s a very sweet boy who loves nothing more than to be hugged and fussed over because he never got any of that when he was left to die. He appreciates the littlest things.
To tell you the truth, I only truly started feeling the bond grow stronger just last week. Chels found old photos of Max when he was in bad shape. To sum it up, he was half dead with 10 maggot wounds all over his body. One wound left a hole in his back, another left his tendon exposed such that the vet had to cut off the rotting ligament which resulted in him having to walk with a permanent limp. When I scrolled through each photo, my heart sunk because to think Max suffered and endured so much by himself before help came along – that just makes me really sad. I mentioned he’s afraid of thunder. Can you imagine when there was thunderstorm and he was scared but couldn’t do much because he was so weak and badly injured? He didn’t belong to any pack so he was alone. If CAS didn’t come to his aid, he would have died there without experiencing the fullness of life, without love, without friendship. I ran to him on the floor, laid beside him and hugged him. I told him I loved him and that I will never let anything harm him ever again. It was at that precise moment that I felt myself really meaning the words ‘I love you so much’ to Max. Before, I held back even though I said those words because I couldn’t let go of Suzie. Subconsciously, I only wanted those words to be for her.
Ever since that day, I grew to understand my relationship with Max and his mannerisms. I understand that he can never be Suzie and that Suzie will never come back. She fulfilled her purpose on Earth and I don’t even know if dogs go to heaven or what happened to her spirit after death, but I would like to believe they do and that when I die, I’ll see her again. I understand that Max needs a lot of love and a lot of patience. I understand Max is trying his best to understand what we ask of him and he isn’t deliberately stubborn. He’s just learning to get used to being domesticated.
Today, I can tell you genuinely and without holding back that I have just as much love for Max as I do for Suzie. I love him like my own child. I am happy to come home to him – to a dog who loves me, wags his tail, and licks my face at my appearance. As I was uploading Max’s photos on facebook and smiled at the album I titled ‘Max in a Million’, I came across Suzie’s album ‘My Furever Friend’ and my heart sunk a little. It sunk because I found myself loving Max so much that I haven’t been thinking of Suzie as much. She’s always there in the corner of my mind but these days, I don’t think of the loss as much. I find myself remembering the era of Suzie and the happy times we shared with her, but I find myself engrossed in the Max era now that I don’t think of what used to be as much. A part of me feels like I’m betraying Suzie but I keep reminding myself that I am not and this is what she would have wanted for us because dogs are amazing like that – they want you to be happy. It’s also the little things like “If I change my profile photo to one of Max and I or even just of myself, then Suzie really becomes a memory”. I know it sounds so silly but I don’t want Suzie to be reduced to just a memory. She’s more than that.
I don’t think I’ll ever fully get over the death of Suzie because she’s my first dog but I believe the grief changes over time. I have gone from angry to accepting and even 5 dogs down the road, I know I will be telling my children about little miss Suzie like how Daddy told us of Frisky. That’s the special ability dogs have – they have a hold on our hearts even though they’re already gone. Then they teach us to love more and more so much so that it expands and allows you to love another dog again.