Tuesday, November 25, 2008

How It All Began

My sister and I grew up near downtown San Francisco, a very urban environment. We mostly lived in apartment buildings. Yards were unheard of, parks very rare. We never did what a lot of other kids did--we never learned to ride a bike or to roller skate, never played ball outside or hung out on a swing set. There simply wasn't anywhere to do so. And we certainly never had any interaction with dogs.

None of my close friends, from elementary all the way up to high school, had a dog. Where we lived, we rarely even saw one. I remember once, when we had just moved to a new apartment that had a small side run, I think I was about 8 or 9, my father casually remarked that the side run would be a good place for a dog. I remember looking at my sister, making a face, and both of us saying with disdain, "We don't want a dog."

I also remember asking myself the question, "What do I want to be when I grow up?" throughout my school years. It alternated a dozen times, depending on what phase I was in. Teacher (doesn't every young girl want to become a teacher at some point in her life?), interior designer, florist, auto mechanic. I wasn't really interested in any of these things, I just thought they sounded cool.

I think even at a young age, despite the hipper-sounding occupations I would toss around, I kind of realized that I wouldn't end up with a spectacular job or even one that was particularly interesting. I think by the time I was in 7th grade, I pretty much knew I was going to be an accountant.

Why accounting? I can still clearly remember my rationale. I distinctly remember thinking, "There's nothing I feel passionate about. There's nothing I really want to be." And what was left for somebody who wasn't really interested in anything but still wanted a highly stable, secure, and good paying job? Accounting, of course. Certified Public Accounting to be specific. Talk about precocious.

So I aced all my classes (not because I was particularly smart, but because I was super nerdy and studious), except for that stupid B I always got in gym, received a scholarship to UC Berkeley, graduated with high honors from the Haas School of Business, and started my public accounting career in a high-rise building in downtown San Francisco.

But somewhere along the line, something changed. One day, during my sophomore year if I remember correctly (I am horrible with any reference to dates), my parents came home, without any prior warning or discussion, with 2 german shepherd puppies. We lived in a pretty shady part of Oakland at the time, and my parents' intention was for the pups to become guard dogs for the house. I didn't think much about that at the time, not really knowing anything at all about dogs, but I fell in love immediately. How can you not fall in love with 3 month old puppies?

My sister named the tan one Samson because she had just been reading the story of Samson and Delilah for school. Samson, they biblical figure, had special powers that stemmed from his hair (at least according to my memory of a movie I once watched on TV as a kid loosely based on the story), and Sammy the dog had a white patch of hair on his head and the very tip of his tail. I named the black one Jasper because I was reading a regency novel by Georgette Heyer at the time and the hero's name was Jasper.

I remember Samson used to fall asleep curled up on my lap. And tucking both little pups in a big cardboard box filled with blankets for bedtime. And the incessant puppy barking that would invariably happen every morning while I was still asleep.

But what did any of us know about dogs? Nothing. Literally. I knew so little that the thought of learning more never even crossed my mind until many many years later. And I am sure that Jassy & Sammy suffered because of our ignorance. I loved them, more than anything in my life, and took care of them as best as I knew how, but they undoubtedly were deprived of many happy opportunities because we just didn't know better.

As I mentioned, they came into my life when I was a sophomore in college. I never would have comprehended the impact they would have on my life eventually. At the time, and for several years after, my path continued in the same vein as before--with the exception that I now had 2 dogs that I loved dearly.

But very slowly, they began to influence the path I was taking. Whereas before, I didn't mind working 60 hour weeks because I had nowhere better to be, now I would rather be with the dogs. Before, my climb up the corporate ladder was just the natural order. Now, I couldn't care less. I gradually decreased my work hours.

During the off season in the public accounting world, there is very little work to be done. It wasn't uncommon to be sitting at your desk for 8 hours with nothing to do. I opted to stay at home instead during those periods and just didn't get paid. But after a while, the company thought it awkward for me not to be in the office "just in case" one of the clients I had worked on called. I wasn't high up enough for many clients to call and request to speak with me. I felt it was a waste of time to go work every day just to sit there for 8 hours for the 1 or 2 phone calls I might get a week, if that. I'd rather stay home and not get paid. So I quit.

I was about 24 when Tyler and I decided to buy a house together. I was still living at home (it's an Asian thing) and Tyler was renting a house with roommates. A big part of my decision to buy a house was because of Jasper and Samson. They were purely outside dogs at my parents' house, my mother of the opinion that dogs were dirty (another common Asian thing). When my parents weren't home, I would sometimes sneak them upstairs inside the house--and got in trouble for it plenty of times because of the tell-tale dog hair and scratches in the wax of the hardwood floor. Even though they started out as my parents' dogs, they really became mine in every sense that counted.

I wanted the dogs to have a home. A real home, where they could live inside and be part of the family for once in their lives. We picked Antioch, despite its less than convenient location, because it was cheap but had newer homes with large yards. I remember visiting house after house and the first thing we would always look at was the backyard. If the backyard wasn't adequate, the house was out of the question. If the backyard was adequate, we were willing to be very flexible on the rest of the house.

Thank god we saw the house we did eventually get. It is perfect for us and the dogs in every way and we feel a huge debt of gratitude to the owners of the first 2 houses we bid on for rejecting our offer. I think Jasper and Samson were about 7 years old by this time.

I got a new job in Walnut Creek with a very small accounting firm. The position was lower, the pay was less, but the hours were flexible and the people easy to work with so I was content. Over the next couple of years, as the dogs aged, I decreased my hours even more, at least during the off season. When they were each diagnosed with cancer, Sammy with hemangiosarcoma, Jassy lymphoma, I quit my job altogether to spend every remaining minute I could with them.

Sammy died first, on December 10, 2004. Jassy died on May 31, 2005.

To think that I would never be able to touch them again was almost incomprehensible to me. To say that my heart was broken would be an understatement. They were my life and I had never ever hurt so much before. The single thing that got me beyond the intense pain in my heart was a promise I had made many years ago.

Jasper was diagnosed with epilepsy when he was 2. His seizures were few because of his medication, but they were intense and life-threatening. He ended up at the emergency vet every time. During those nights, when he stayed at the hospital, the thought of losing him was unbearable and I would break down and cry. But it wasn't only during those nights.

Almost every night during my entire life with them, as I lay in bed about to fall asleep, I would clasp my hands together and thank God (and I'm not a particularly religious person) for having brought them into my life. And because the concept of death was not new to me, the possibility always present whenever Jassy had a seizure, I would think about a time when I would no longer have them in my life. I would wonder, how could I possibly bear it? The pain was overwhelming just thinking about it, how could I possibly bear it when it actually happened?

I can't remember exactly when my love for Jasper and Samson became love of all dogs. It was early on. I would get excited whenever I saw any dog and for a time, volunteered at the shelter. I remember wishing I could help in some bigger, more involved capacity. I remember wishing I could foster. But Jassy and Sammy were not well-socialized to other dogs (just one of the several mistakes we made) so it wasn't an option then.

That was it. At some point, I figured out that that was how I was going to bear the pain of losing them. Take something tragic and heartbreaking, something so utterly final, and turn it into a beginning, the birth of a new purpose, an inspiration. I realized years before Jassy and Sammy died that only way losing them would not totally devastate me would be if it opened the door for me to help other dogs. Because in that way, it wouldn't be all bad. Good would come of it. And even if it started out being senseless, in the end, I could give at least some kind of meaning to it.

The very next day after Jasper died, I took in my first foster dog sight unseen. It was the manifestation, finally, of a purpose that had never faltered in my heart even after years. Having a new dog to focus on not only defused the heaviness of losing Jasper and Samson, it ended up making feel closer to them than I think I would have had we not welcomed a new dog into our home. I felt that the new dog, and it didn't really matter who that dog was, continued the bond I shared with Jassy and Sammy. He was my link to them. By caring for him, providing him with a haven, I was remembering Jasper and Samson, paying tribute to them in the truest way. That I love dogs so much now was directly borne out of the love I had for them.

And also, I feel a responsibility to right the wrongs I made in caring for them. There were just so many things I didn't know. And yes, times when I neglected them when I shouldn't have during the earlier years when I was still overly self-absorbed. There is a sense of obligation. In helping these dogs, I am also making reparations.

It's been over 3 years since we started fostering. We've made a difference in the lives of many dogs, and I feel more fulfilled than I would have imagined ever being back when I was a kid wondering what I wanted to be when I grew up. Never in my wildest dreams back then could I have imagined that I was capable of such passion. And it all started with the seeds that Jasper and Samson planted in the garden of my heart. And it continues to bloom with every new dog.


queenie said...

Thank you so much for sharing your memories of Samson; he was such a beautiful dog. Thank you also for making the world, and Samson's life, better each day. We are lucky to share our lives with our animals and I'm so glad he got to spend his life with you. Take care and know I'll love up my Boujou a bit more b/c of Samson - thank you! ~ Rebecca

Wild Dingo said...

oh boy do i know what you mean by "rather be with my dogs than at work!" I'm still trying to figure out a way to do something in a doggie related job. right now...if all i do is web sites for doggie places, that would be fine by me!