Get ready, it is gonna be a long read.
It all started in Central Park in January this year.
Kee Wee and I were in the US for holidays in January. We started our trip in NYC then we went on to Savannah, Charleston and then back to NYC to end our holidays.
And on the first day of our trip, we woke up super early (I love jetlag) and we had breakfast at The Library Hotel (which is only my favourite-est hotel in the world) and then we headed to the Metropolitan Museum of Art for our first stop in NYC on this trip. And it was here, at the American Wing Cafe, where we stopped for some soup and coffee, that Kee Wee saw 2 huskies play with each other in Central Park. They leapt, jumped and played with each other as their owner read his book and for Kee Wee, it was love at first sight. He could not take his eyes off them.
I wish I could say he fell in love with me at first sight. OH WELL.
Then as fate would have it, in March, he saw a comment on SOSD’s (Save Our Street Dogs) facebook about 11 huskies available for adoption, at VFA (Voices for Animals). And that was the beginning of our journey with Austin.
These 11 huskies have been rescued by Derrick, the owner of VFA, and we are not completely sure of their living conditions before they were rescued. All we knew was that they were neglected and kept in a small space and that the owner had no time to care for all 11 of them.
I have never had huskies before so I was just mildly curious. I have not had big dogs before too. All we had were toy dogs. Kee Wee, on the other hand, had his heart set on a husky and all the better if we could rescue one. We were definitely not thinking of going to a pet shop to shop for one. We have read enough about puppy mills and were not keen on ‘buying’ one. Kee Wee waited patiently till Derrick said that the huskies were ready to be adopted. We had to fill in the adoption papers (listed on VFA’s facebook) and then wait till Derrick shortlisted the adoptees.
And it seemed like a long wait to Kee Wee. Everyday he would go to VFA’s facebook and smile at the 11 of them. And he would tell me – why hasn’t Derrick replied me? Why? Do you think all the dogs are adopted? And this went on for a week.
To me, I believe in fate. If any of those 11 huskies are meant to be ours, it will be. If not, maybe they went to better owners. I hope all of them are loved and cared for, that is all I want for them.
And the reply from Derrick came. And SOMEONE WAS OVER THE MOON.
We were informed to go to Turf City the next weekend to view the dogs and to be interviewed by Derrick and his team. All week, once again, he could not stop thinking of them and looked at VFA’s facebook again and again, every night before bed. I was starting to get worried. Worried that he would be devastated if we did not pass the interview. I truly believed we can give any of them a good life but you never know, there could be many many others out there who can too. Our priority was also having another dog that Jingle could love and adapt to. If you know Jingle, she has no friends. And she is spoilt rotten. So that was our concern too.
The day came and we went to Turf City. I was pretty nervous. He was damn excited. We arrived in time and introduced ourselves and waited for our turn to view the dogs. Kee Wee was so excited he had to pee. And so I was alone at the adoption centre. Derrick said I could go to the window of the air-conditioned room that the 11 of them were in and view them.
One of them immediately came to the window, stood up and sniffed me. That was Spirit.
And it was game over for me too.
We waited till it was our turn to be interviewed and to our surprise, Derrick asked which husky we were interested in and we said ‘ if we can, we would like Spirit’. And Derrick laughed ‘ really? why? He is the most whiney! ‘ And there was a spilt second when I felt doubt. But I pushed it aside. I mean, how whiney can he be right?
And yes, HE TURNED OUT TO BE VERRRY WHINEY.
Derrick wanted us to bring him back with us that Saturday itself but we were totally unprepared. I thought even if we could adopt one of the huskies, we would not be able to have him so soon. We agreed to come back the next day.
Before we left the shelter, Kee Wee brought Austin around for a walk and we noticed that he has a little limp in his hind legs. He possibly did not have much walks or space to run before. He was also hesitant and very distant around us. But that was all very expected of him.
We came back to the shelter, on Sunday (29th of March) and Derrick opened the door and brought Spirit. We decided early on that if we had a boy, he would be named Austin (after one of our favourite cities, Austin in Texas) and if we had a girl, she would be named Madison.
Austin it is, then.
He was very different from the day before. He bounced around the room, sprinted from the door to the sofa, jumped up and licked Derrick (we think it is to say THANK YOU) and then licked Kee Wee, as if to say HELLO! He was visibly happy and we brought him for a walk again around the compound outside. We could hear the rest of the huskies howling for him as he passed them by and I felt an immerse sadness. All 11 of them together for 2-3 years and now all are separated forever. We can only hope all of them went to good homes.
The howls were frightfully sad yet there was hope in the air. We were worried that Austin might not like being in the car but when we opened the door, he did not look back once and jumped in fast.
I guess he was desperate for a change. He did not howl either. He did not even look at them. The other dogs knew he was leaving. The howls, they made my hairs stand. And that gave me a glimpse of how his early years have made him indifferent. Even though he did not know us yet, he was willing to take his chance.
I could not stop staring at him. He immediately went to the side of the backseat and sat there comfortably. And he fell asleep.
We were also worried about introducing him to Jingle.
We came home to my mum’s place and brought Jingle and Austin to the park for a walk to let them know each other. And it turned out well. She accepts him and I think he respects her. He is 3 and she is 13. His nature is also much milder than hers so I think that helped. He weighs 16 kg then.
From the start, we noticed that he keeps to himself and does not make any sounds. And he is always hungry. We started him off with the same brand of dry food that VFA gave all the huskies. He came home on a Sunday. By Tuesday he was having diarrhoea.
And that was the start of the longest 2 months in our lives.
Since he was new to us and we did not get the chance to be with him when he was a puppy, everything about him was a test. Everything about him was an intense battle of trial and error. We brought him to a clinic that opens late that Tuesday because our usual one was not open that night. And we could not wait anymore. The vet said it could be partly due to stress. And we blamed ourselves for that. We were eager to know if he had prior skin diseases so we brought him to the groomers on Monday for a full shave. If I could turn back time, we would wait.
In a way, I wanted to give him a new beginning and let his hair grow out all over again, this time with proper nutrition, love and baths. But yes, we would probably wait it out for a fortnight first before doing that.
The vet said to give him rice with chicken to ease his tummy and when we returned home on Tuesday, that was what we fed him. The look on his face as he chomped down his dinner was pure bliss. And we thought that was the end of the diarrhoea. It was only the beginning.
We fed him his medication and all was okay for a week. The rice, chicken and dry food diet continued. Whenever his medication ended, his diarrhoea starts.
Austin sleeps with us in our bedroom. When he has diarrhoea, he gets up and paces the room and huffs and puffs very very loudly. He goes to Kee Wee and cries too. And Kee Wee will jump up, yanks the bedroom door open, tugs on his top and leash Austin. We will take the lift and bring Austin down to the grass patches outside of the condo.
This can go on for days. His diarrhoea happens mostly at night, the worst was 10 times in a day. Trips to our vet became routine. We hold our breath before we sleep every night.
To tell you the truth, those few weeks took a toil on our marriage. The anxiety, the fear, the lack of sleep, the sweat and tears that we had, escalated. It did not help that Austin looked hungry all the time. Family members would ask – is he okay? why is he so hungry? Can I give him some food?
It became a serious case of trial and error.
Pork and rice – diarrhoea
Fish and rice – diarrhoea
Beef and rice – diarrhoea
Beef with kibble – diarrhoea sometimes
We started him on antibiotics and steroids for 6 days and his diarrhoea stopped. We were so fearful. Everyday I wrote down every single meal, every single walk, every single pee, every single poop in my calendar, in my iphone. I just took a look at it – the whole of April, May, June is filled with notes about Austin. I seldom use my calender. I can remember most of my appointments etc but for this, I needed help.
It was all we could talk about. Why would he have diarrhoea today again? What the hell changed? What did he lick from the floor? What did he sneakily eat again? What did you do?
To add to the stress, he was very aggressive towards other dogs. He was very quiet at the shelter and at home. The minute he goes out, his whole body is on high alert, he barks non stop and at the top of his lungs at EVERY SINGLE DOG. Big or small, no matter. He goes at them with all his strength. At times I am astounded by how angry he is. At how much energy he has in him.
It is like he is so angry at the world. And we ask ourselves every night – what are we doing wrong? what have we done wrong? we are trying to do a good thing here, why does it seem like we are being punished?
I was fearful of bringing him out alone. I have had dogs since 6 years old and here I was, resenting Austin. I hated myself for resenting him. But so much of our lives have changed. We no longer talked to each other about other stuff. It was Austin all the time, everyday, constantly on our minds when we meet each other. I would text Kee Wee – ‘looks okay now, just pooped in garden. Oh no, he is having diarrhoea again.’ And I knew it would be another sleepless night of waking up countless times, to bring him down to poop.
The steroids helped. But we knew that was just a temporary measure. His own immunity has to be built and dammit, we have got to know what is going on. His diarrhoea was so bad, blood and water was all that came out.
I noticed that his stool was also grainy from his dry food. It was as if everything he ate was coming out. There was nothing absorbed. And we decided to visit Dr Danert Loh at the clinic one day to ask him about this. I was fearful about Dr Loh because he criticised me before for how fat my previous dog was. We googled Austin’s symptoms and we feared he could have EPI (EPI occurs when the part of the pancreas that produces digestive enzymes no longer functions properly. As a result, the dog can’t digest its food. That’s why an EPI dog will literally starve to death without proper treatment).
After a series of thorough questions and an indepth assessment about his diarrhoea in the last few weeks, here was what Dr Loh told us to do:
- start him on smaller meals. He eats more meals a day but little each time. Cut the portions down. His stomach has issues digesting so lets help him that way
- he also gave him digestive enzymes to help his stomach along
- he gave him probiotics too
He also shared that vegetables like brocolli and cabbage are excellent for digestion.
When we walked out of the clinic that day, it was like we turned a corner. I could feel it. That was on June 4th.
Here are the changes we made after:
- We started him on small portions of Wellness Simple Limited Ingredient Dry Food. It is made of salmon and potato. It has high quality salmon as the first ingredient and that comforted us. It contains no gluten, wheat and grains. It has no fillers or artificial additives. It is formulated with limited ingredients for food sensitivities. And that was the start of his (knock on wood right now!) recovery.
- We gave him the digestive enzymes and probiotics every day
- We bought whole salmon from NTUC Finest. We give him steamed salmon fillets, brocolli, pumpkin and a hard boiled egg (separated into 2 meals per day) daily.
- We started giving him blueberries, carrot, raw cabbages, raw broccoli little by little.
- We cut out rice and we have never given him anything that is fried and we do not give him food when we eat.
It turned out that he is severely allergic to rice. Who knew? He stole rice from Jingle’s bowl one night and he had diarrhoea after midnight. So we knew. That was the only difference in his diet. But the digestive enzymes and probiotics gradually helped him along. Even when he has diarrhoea, it would stop.
We had completely no idea what he ate for the first 3 years of his life. So it took us a long time to get to where we are now.
Kee Wee also trained him along the way. He is extremely food motivated so that works out well in this aspect. He knows sit, down, wait and leave it (I think this takes immense discipline as it requires him staring at a blueberry, for example, and only reaches out for it when Kee Wee gives him the command). His face when he does this is priceless.
His favourite food is apple. There is nothing he loves more. He loves broccoli, cabbage, carrots, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, brussel sprouts but nothing he loves more than apples. My mum calls him Mr Vegetable.
He was also very quiet and sleepy when he first came to us. He slept everywhere and for long periods at a time. He was very difficult to rouse and it was like he was always tired. We hear nothing from him too. The only sound he makes is when he puffs and huffs when he has diarrhoea.
It has been 8 months since the day at Turf City. I will not lie and say it is easy. Because it sure as hell is not. It is damn difficult, tiring and I am convinced all the morning walks have made me 10 shades darker and it is all Kee Wee’s fault when I get dark spots on my hands and face.
Today, he is very alert – you cannot sneak an apple past him without him stalking you across the hall.
Austin weighs 24 kg the last we carried him on the scales.
But seeing how happy and settled Austin is today, makes me so happy. Today he walks nicely with us to the park (we could NEVER bring him to the park before, he goes berserk when he sees other dogs) and sniffs other dogs to say hi. Today he poops regularly 3 times a day – you don’t know how happy that makes us feel. We have brought him to VFA’s adoption drives twice and people gasp when they see how fluffy he is. He sleeps with Jingle every weekend. They are not entirely best pals but it will do.
He is slowly learning how to be photographed and is always in our Omgoing shots too. He is still an early birdie (he goes to bed the earliest) and howls every morning when he gets up. He races around the house happily when we chase him. He scares Jingle everytime when he does that. She goes – wtf? are you mad?
He howls like he is being murdered every single time he has a shower on Saturdays. He will howl and whine for an hour as we dry him. I am not sure why. I think he is scared of water and has bad memories of shower times.
And Kee Wee? To be honest, I was not completely sure that he would know how to take care of Austin this well and be this committed. Today, after seeing him for the past 8 months with Austin, he is the best father any dog can have. He showers him without fail every week, he brings him for long walks every night, he washes his bed often, he cleans the house double well now that there is hair everywhere and he makes sure he is properly fed. He practises exercise, discipline and affection with him.
And these days when Kee Wee and I speak about them, we smile and tell each other about the antics the dogs get up to, when he is at work. And it was all worth it.