My first ever puppy died horribly.
I would have never predicted it. I’d been having him for just two weeks, and he was barely two months old. I was stupid and inexperienced, and I didn’t have access to a vet. So I watched him – throwing up, having loose stools, not eating, losing half of his weight in three days, having bloody stools, the end. It was like watching the Reaper working, in s-l-o-w motion.
I never thought, too, that losing a puppy would feel that bad. Hell, it was just a puppy! And only an “anjing kampung” (mutt). I didn’t even buy him. He was given to me. But that was what happened. I mourned Bhisma for weeks, like losing a child. And, when I finally decided to get another one, I became paranoid.
Sometimes we cannot predict just how much we can love. Or what we can love that much.
I named my current puppy: AMBA, after a princess in Mahabharata, the one that would reincarnate and become Srikandi. My wish was that she would become a loyal dog, just like the princess who has kept her promise of revenge. (Of course, thousands of years of companionship has proven that dogs are indeed loyal creatures, human’s best friend)
Since adopting Amba, a slim black puppy, I developed a new hobby: scrolling up and down Instagram, following some hashtags from the world of pet dogs. I’ve come to know terminologies like mongrels and mutts. Both are used for dogs of uncertain breeds, the result of mixing so many breeds together through natural breeding (the opposite of mongrels are pure breeds). Both are used to describe “anjing kampung”. There are so many phenotypes of our local dogs, it’s certain that many of them come from a lot of mixing around.
I’ve come to know also that there are people who deliberately choose mongrels over pure breed dogs. They usually adopt their dogs from a shelter, or the street, or abandoned homes. It’s a cause they champion with pride: as true dog lovers, why not adopting the dogs that really need a home instead of paying for some expensive pure breeds? They say even dogs love us humans regardless of our breed. Among the hashtags that they usually use are #mongrelsareawesome, #mongrelsoftheday, #muttskickbutts, #vivaanjinglokal, #supportlocaldogs, #saveourstreetdogs, #adoptdontshop, #adoptdontbuy, etc.
I started to post Amba’s pics with those hashtags. Yea, it feels good to show around, just like those fashionable pure breed owners. Having a dog is a lifestyle. Even those mongrels owners like to groom their fur babies with clothes, hats, bandanas, super cute collars, and so on, though I find it hard to do, as Amba seldom stays still long enough.
But, honestly, in a world where well-groomed pure breed imported dogs are highly prized, Amba may not look like much. She could be just another stray dog rummaging the trash bin on your street. The only difference is that I keep her fur shiny and clean, and smells good from routine baths with a dog shampoo. The baths are also important to keep away fleas and ticks. Still, I have to make a conscious and consistent effort to assure myself that Amba is a beauty.
I wonder if anyone else feels this way. Wanting a dog, preferably a cute pure breed, but cannot afford the money or the time, and so having to go with what is available. It sometimes comes – all due respect – with an inferior syndrome. Sometimes it’s hard for us humans to love, just because. More often than not, we love for granted. Even subconsciously.
The first day I brought her home, Amba had a bad skin problem. She had bald spots and was scratching all the time. She also had ticks, fleas, and worms. It wasn’t a smooth start, crankily I though if I bought a pup from a pet shop, it would never be a sick one. People could sue the shop if that happened. But I took her home, and I had no choice but to care for her.
After much research, and because there were no dog medicines, I decided to use human ointment with the same ingredients. It took a whole month to heal her. By then, she was already behind schedule for vaccinations. I live and work on an island so I have to bring her across the sea to see a vet. Amba MUST be vaccinated. Bhisma died from a disease that could have been prevented with vaccinations. I don’t want to go through that hell ever again.
When the local people heard about how I care for Amba, they usually laughed. They laughed at Amba’s shampoo, at her vaccinations, at her food (I never give her leftovers), and so on. The funny thing is when they see that Amba growing bigger than her siblings and her fur looking shinier, they adore her. When they see that Amba can sit, roll, and give a handshake, they say she’s very clever.
Which confuses me. Er…, if I didn’t care for her, she certainly wouldn’t look like that or be that clever. As Caesar Millan, the dog whisperer, said: “There are actually no stupid dogs. It’s the owner’s problem.” Yes, these are people who kick and lash their dogs when they are naughty or rambunctious.
Not that I’m a perfect owner. One day Amba jumped happily, and she bit my nose. Hard. It hurt so badly that, without thinking, I swung my hand and hit her snout repeatedly until she shrieked.
After that, I felt like the biggest jerk in the world. Why? Because moments later, as if she’d forgotten all about it, she snuggled into my lap, licked my hand and tried to make me pet her.
Like the saying goes: For you, your dog maybe just a dog, but for your dog, you are her whole world.
Can we say the same about the way we love?
I wish Amba live happily ever after.
Putri Widi Saraswati is a feminism and writing enthusiast. She’s not a big fan of how people impose their concept of morality on others today. Unfortunately, she’s a doctor – the one profession that morality cannot let go.