I wake up to something moist and cool pressed against my calf. I look down, and dark liquid brown eyes stare right back at me, his black muzzle nestled closely to my calf. Smiling, I say, “Hey boy”. Woodee’s tail wags furiously, and he does an old man bark that sounds like a deep and low growl, “oww woow owww’, letting me know he’s ready for his morning walk.
Woodee came to us unexpectedly. When my husband suggested getting a puppy, I gave a resounding “No.” As a mother of two young children, with a husband traveling throughout the week, I questioned whether a dog would be appropriate for us as a family. And even though I am an animal lover, it would be the first time that I would be a dog owner, responsible for both him, and my family. With constant supervision necessary between the dog and the kids, I worried if the dog would be too aggressive, or affect the dynamics of the family in any way.
Then, for some odd reason, I started researching local shelters for a dog that might be suitable for us. I knew that, if at all, I would adopt a dog, never buy one. I find the multi-million dollar business of puppy farm mills to be a blatant exploitation of our animal friends, where the mother dogs are subjected to deplorable conditions, and excessive inbreeding, resulting in unhealthy and unsound puppies. I came across several dogs in shelters, only to find they had food aggression or were not suitable for young children. That is when I saw the Facebook advertisement of Woodee by SOSD (Save Our Street Dogs), a local organization that helps rehabilitate and rehome street dogs in Singapore. Woodee had a sparkle in his eyes that seemed to reflect a very happy-go-lucky nature. I decided to visit him one day, and he proved to be as gentle, yet spirited, as he seemed in the picture. We decided on a two-week home-stay trial, to evaluate that Woodee and our family were suitable for each other.
Though it took all of us a few days to adjust to the new member in the house, Woodee proved to be much more than just that. He has made, and continues to make, a positive impact on each of us, far more than we expected.
Woodee has a wisdom that deepens my spirituality every time we go for a walk or to the dog park. He is only 9 months old (the equivalent of a 3-year-old human child) but has a maturity rarely seen in dogs that age. In the beginning, when he would stop bluntly during his walks, I would try unsuccessfully to tug and pull and coax him to continue. Now I know better; I can sense that he is stopping to think, absorb the world around him, and understand the thousands of smells we humans simply do not pick up. All I have to do is wait a few minutes, and he happily returns to the walk, tail up-and-wagging, almost as if he is saying, “Thanks for waiting!”
After Woodee came to live with us, my husband, not a fan of outdoor activities, said for the first time on a Saturday morning, “Let’s go to the Botanic Gardens!” My jaw nearly dropped to the floor. The hour-long walk gives our family a chance to bond; it takes us back to our roots in nature, and gives us a sense of togetherness.
As for my helper, Ana, Woodee makes her go on walks two to three times a day! She has also been sprightlier around the house since Woodee’s arrival, and the outdoor walks get her away from the daily mundane routine. Woodee always seems to be present; even when he is snoring away in a corner, Ana and I feel like he is right behind us.
My younger baby, Hasan, at 11 months of age, is just pure unconditional love for Woodee. They both have big, bright puppy eyes, and were best friends from day one. Woodee is ever-so-gentle with my little one, always using soft jaws, and never aggressive. My heart simply swells with joy watching these two play. Hasan’s stubby fingers make small patted circles around Woodee’s black muzzle, and Woodee patiently lies back, taking it all in. Hasan also shares his seaweed crackers with Woodee, and it is wonderful to see how strong their bond is.
The most pleasantly surprising impact of Woodee has been on my two-year-old, Esa. Woodee’s presence has had a developmental effect on Esa, who trains Woodee with commands like “Sit”, “Stay” and “Come.” This is developing skills in Esa that are not always practiced at home or in school. For Woodee, the training gives him mental exercise, which is essential for a dog to be sound and happy.
As for me, the lessons I have gotten from Woodee are endless. Not only does he teach me to be patient, and to celebrate little successes along the way, but also what the world looks like through his eyes. Who knew bubbles could be so scary?! Woodee has taught me how important it is to be true to myself. He is excellent at reading me, as all dogs are at reading their owners. While I can trick my children into thinking me the authority even when I feel weak, Woodee never buys it! He teaches me that tired as my body may be, my mind must be calm and assertive. Unexpectedly, I have realized a friendship unparalleled in the human world, and I am learning more from him than he will ever know.
At the end of the day, Woodee has simply been a blessing on our family. As the famous dog-whisperer, Cesar Millan, says, “You don’t get the dog you want, you get the dog you need.”
Maybe I wanted a dog that could rollerblade down Clarke Quay for an hour without stopping (and this will happen one day, I’m sure!), but what I got was a dog that I needed; needed to teach me to live in the moment, lower my perfectionist standards for those around me and to celebrate the little things in life.
Most importantly, Woodee has taught me to be happy, and thankful for what I have.
Saba Rathore is a graduate of Rutgers University and holds a Master of Education in the English-language Arts. She lives in Singapore with her husband and two sons and dog.