During my entire childhood and teenage years, there was always a dog present. If one was diseased, grandma would get another one. Back then poverty was severe, and theft happened occasionally. They were all function-oriented guard dogs rather than pets. Due to their duty role, I didn’t remember to play with them often and didn’t build up strong bonds with most of them, except for the one I called “Little Dot.” She had a white and black patched coat. Little Dot arrived at our house as a newborn and couldn’t take any dry food. At that time, I was about 13 years old, and I helped grandma with household chores, so I was in charge of cooking for a while. I was equipped with all the skills to take care of Little Dot. I would mill soybeans to make soymilk or cook bone soup to compensate for the milk from her mother that Little Dot couldn’t have. In the beginning, she wouldn’t want to take any milk out of fear of the new environment or the loss of her mother and siblings. I would put her on my lap, pat her, and cuddle her to calm down this trembling little one. When she became less scared, I fed her the soymilk one teaspoon after another.
As time passed, the trust she had in me and my affection for her soared. We were strongly bonded in a way that I had never experienced before. Every day I came home from school, she would come to me and gently bite the hem of my pants, her way of showing excitement. She would then follow me everywhere. My grandma joked that she was my security guard. When I went to a boarding high school that only allowed us to go home once a month, time with Little Dot became so limited. I missed her so much, but there was no phone or video calls back then. All I wished was that every month could pass by in a blink so I could go home to be with my beloved grandparents and Little Dot.
In my second year of high school, my grandparents had to go to the city where my parents and uncles lived to treat grandma’s sickness. Although we asked our neighbor to provide food for Little Dot, she more or less became a homeless dog. At that time, every family was busy earning a living. Meanwhile, I became the only family member who remained in our hometown. On the one hand, my heart worried for Little Dot, but I had no choice than to leave her at home while I was in school; on the other hand, I also felt abandoned. In some way, we shared the same fate.
Every month in school became extremely long and eventually unbearable. When the end of the month came, I would rush home and hopefully find Little Dot safe. Over these months, she became haggard but was always excited to see me, the same was true for me. We were different species but felt those moments when we truly shared one beating heart; we understood and depended deeply on each other. One time I went home and saw her limping around; her left hind leg was severely hurt. My heart was broken, and tears ran down my face like a creek. I can’t remember how many times back then and even now, I wished I could have the capability to meet her basic needs of a secure home, never missing meals, and companionship.
When the winter break came, I was so happy because I could stay with her for one whole month, and my grandparents would come home in February. If she could stay one more month on her own safely after winter break, she would be safe and have a home. During that break, I remembered I cooked a lot of meat for her out of love and to compensate for my guilt over my absence when she needed me the most. On those cold and dark winter nights in my grandparents’ empty, quiet, and remote countryside house, I felt so unsafe and scared and would put a knife next to my bed. Little Dot’s presence was such a great comfort and source of safety to me. We were like two wounded children who leaned on each other for love, warmth, and a sense of security. Because of these shared moments, she became an indispensable part of me.
In February, my grandparents came back. I was so delighted that both Little Dot’s and my homeless life had ended. Life went back to normal. I still came home every month but with a much lighter heart. Then it came to that one monthly break, I went home and didn’t see Little Dot running toward me. When I passed the pigpen door, I saw her little face looking at me strangely. At that time, I was in a hurry to put down my heavy backpack to return to play with her later, so I didn’t stop for her. Just as I went to my room, I heard a sharp and painful howl from her. I rushed out and saw my grandma walking toward me. She stopped me and told me Little Dot was gone forever: A few days ago, a stray dog suspected of rabies came to our village, and none of the dogs in the village had ever gotten the vaccine. So, the officers decided to kill all of the dogs. The cruel and unjustified death she experienced, her last howl, her last sight of me, the previously shared hard time with me, and the imagined scene of her bloody death deeply traumatized me. That day I experienced for the first time how a heart can be crushed into thousands of pieces. I had no courage to hear any detail of her death nor dared to go with grandpa to bury her. Today, I still don’t have the courage to ask where she was buried.
The most profound feeling of helplessness and desperation that I could not protect my loved one haunted me heavily. For all these years, even now, while typing, the tears run down my cheeks, and I wished I could have protected her and offered her the safe, stable, and happy life that I could now afford. She was the one who went through these most difficult times with me. I wish everything would have been different. It has been more than 15 years since her death, but she never fades away in my memory. The shared love is still clear and intense.
About 12 years after her death, I didn’t have the courage to get another dog or, in a way, I couldn’t face the pain and guilt I still had for Little Dot. Until 2019, my ex and I went to a local shelter and saw a few adorable puppies. I wanted to hug them; the staff told me they were already adopted. Then we saw a staff member carrying one puppy passing by us; I asked her if this little one was adopted. It wasn’t. Facing the opportunity, I then fell into a mental struggle and couldn’t make the decision. My ex made the decision to adopt the little one, which we named Potato due to the color of her coat. Like her name, Potato is very cute, smart, affectionate, and playful.
Every morning, she would wake up around 7 am and stand in front of my bed, looking at me. If I didn’t wake up for a while, she would start to make noise until I got up. I would begin my day with a short yoga practice; she would sometimes do her “downward facing dog,” naturally and professionally, then sit there waiting for me. After breakfast, I would take her for a walk. Every day the same path twice (morning and night), and her excitement and passion never faded. Whenever I came home, even if I just went out to get the mail, she would welcome me with her wagging tail, trying to jump all over me, like we had been apart for ten years. I used to think if we, human beings, can have the same never-fading excitement and passion toward work and the people we love, there would be much less disappointment, heartbrokenness, breakup, or divorce. Life would have much more satisfaction, joy, and love.
Sometimes I worked long hours and didn’t play with her; she would come to me and use her paw to scratch my leg gently. I would touch her head and play with her for a little bit, then she would be pleased again. Sometimes, I would lie down on the yoga mat to rest or read a paper; she would lie next to me, sleeping or just looking at me. These quiet little moments were so peaceful and beautiful. During the pandemic, all my lectures switched to being online. While I was lecturing, she would lie down next to my chair and never make any noise. Every time I went to pick her up from doggie daycare, her excited little face and her running toward me made me feel so loved and needed by another being. No matter how difficult that day was, my heart was tender and filled with a surging love for her. Her unconditional love and trust slowly healed my trauma and taught me how to face the pain and regret for the loss of Little Dot in a less heavy way.
Potato has never been a replacement or compensation for Little Dot. They both are very special and bonded with me in quite different ways. Little Dot went through all the tough times with me, and we only had each other. The bonding was similar to that among comrades in wartime, and her death in that cruel way was heart-wrenching. Potato came at a time when I had the capability to offer her a secure and loving environment. She was this sweet, loving, and dear one that shared many happy moments with me. The relationship with her was healing in a wonderful way. Now for very personal reasons, I don’t have Potato anymore. She is still deeply loved by me. I missed her badly, but not sadly. I knew I did the right thing. She is the sweetheart deeply loved by her current owner. Sometimes loss is such a tragic event that measures love by the deepest and never-ending regret for people alive; sometimes loss is a voluntary choice for a better ending out of respect and care. This is the other thing my two dear fur babies taught me beyond their unconditional love.
Animals/pets are such a wonderful blessing to the world. I want to conclude this blog by quoting the beautiful words from the new book by Prof. Sara Seager at MIT, The Smallest Lights in the Universe: A Memoir:
Unlike people, they are easy for me to read. Their needs are finite, physical as often as emotional, and I know how to meet them. Animals don’t get puzzled or angry when I say the wrong thing. They have short memories. They don’t cast judgments or see weakness in difference. They don’t take my energy and concentration; they give those precious things to me. Animals are blind to everything but love. Animals forgive.
Her Nexx Chapter invites you to join our free Community where women from around the world are connecting with each other’s stories, exploring different experiences, and transforming ideas.
The Future of Connection for Women