Trista di Genova / The Wild East
Now, two months after adopting a rescue animal, I tend to agree wholeheartedly with my Auntie’s cryptic statement: Dogs make far better companions than people !
Funny — at first it was such a relief that my new companion never complained about a litany of things that make life enjoyable: loud music, erratic sleeping and work schedules, smoking and drinking, or any vices at all. Never an outburst about late-night telephone calls or the character of my visitors. All of these things Baker took in stride. He was always, perfectly nonjudgmental!
My new dog Baker never rushed me, never nagged me to hurry up, leave NOW so we could be ‘on time’, like human companions invariably do. He’s totally flexible in that regard! Pets adapt to us, and that is a wonderful thing.
Baker has turned out to be the perfect gentleman, the perfect dinner companion, the perfect dog, the best friend I never even imagined to have. He immediately mastered how to ride in a doggy backpack on the MRT, how to run alongside a bicycle or scooter, how to behave respectfully in any given situation. He was at first fearful, but with a little direction even the most fearful dogs can become ‘calm and submissive’, as Cesar Millan discusses in his Dog Whisperer series on Nat Geo Wild.
As soon as I adopted Baker I watched back-to-back episodes of this show non-stop for two weeks straight, all nine seasons, even whilst sleeping! Thank God for YouTube and the Internet; we can learn anything and troubleshoot any problems as they arise, right now.
And I strongly recommend all dog owners do this intensive research on dog training and psychology, so as to become a good ‘pack leader’ (another Cesar concept!). To me, ‘being a good pack leader’ basically means being a responsible, thoughtful and caring individual. Like having a child, taking care of somebody other than ourselves makes us a better person, because it gets us outside of always thinking only of ourselves.
In a world where ‘rugged individualism’ seems to be the most efficient MO to get ahead in life, taking care of others, paradoxically, opens the door to experiencing a wider range of humanity, and allows us to become more humane, sentient human beings.
They don’t call it the humane society for nothing !
HOW WE MET
I never expected or planned to get a pet, especially after living with a crazy cat-lady for 6 months. By the time I managed to escape the place, there were 20 cats in her tiny apartment. After such a traumatic experience with OPP (Other People’s Pets) I vowed NEVER to have one. Besides, they’d cramp my style, I thought, traveling so much as I do. I refused to allow my life to revolve around keeping a pet, as I’d seen friends react to pet ownership. Also much like a child, having a pet is a lifetime commitment — in this case about 15 years or so, the pet’s average lifespan. But this time I’m ready and welcoming the challenge.
A couple years ago, one of my classmates at Taipei Medical University, Noris. an international student from Jordan, brought to class what looked like a MINI-DOBERMAN. How hilarious is that! I thought, what a concept! I didn’t know that breed even existed.
I told her, “I’m sorry Noris, but I think I love your dog more than I love you!” It was the only breed of dog I’d ever want, that is, IF I ever had to have a pet.
As an interesting historical footnote, ‘Min Pins’ aren’t descended from Dobermans. They’re actually the Dobermans’ ancestor, a cross between a Pinscher, dachshund and Italian greyhound. Mini pinschers were considered excellent guard dogs and useful on farms as ratters, but they were bred to be larger. Et puis voila, the Doberman. Mini Pinschers have been growing in popularity in the U.S., but are still relatively unknown in Formosa.
But who would expect a ‘King of the Toy Dogs’ as Baker’s breed is known, to wind up on the streets, a stray dog in need of rescue?
So one day in mid-November, I was surprised to see a picture of Baker on The Sanctuary’‘s (庇護所 ) FB page, with a comment by Taiwan’s own dog whisperer Sean McCormack, saying that Baker was the ‘best dog he’d ever seen’. What a recommendation that is! Sean must have rescued and worked with thousands of pooches, and has even been described as ‘The Mother Teresa to all dogs’!
Immediately I told the Sanctuary I was interested in fostering Baker, and they sent the application to fill out. But then a few days later my Mama G died, and I had to go to the U.S. for a few weeks. When I came back, I thought for sure someone must have adopted him! I sent a message to the Sanctuary anyway to see if Baker was still available, and amazingly, he was.
Later I learned there’d been a family who’d considered adopting him together with another male, but decided instead on a male/female pair.
At the time, it felt like Baker was meant to be my doggie. And the more I learned about Baker’s near-mythical story, the stronger that impression became.
Baker was rescued from a temple — a ‘temple dog’ — on the north coast of Taiwan, 貝殼廟 ‘Bèiké miào‘; hence his name, Baker. Rescuers found he had one lame rear hindleg, due to a plastic bag that got stuck there, cutting off circulation. But the Sanctuary said since he was young, about a year old, he should recover. As it turned out, I needed a ‘low energy’ dog, anyway ! One that shared my needs of half-hour daily exercise. He even compliments my mostly vegetarian diet, taking the meat portion that invariably comes with Taiwanese meals, finishing off any bones and licking the bowl clean… thus less dish-washing needed!
Baker came to me a very special, soulful dog. His nature is gentle, Sean said, and he’s a ‘sweet, sweet boy,’ as Sanctuary worker Kate described him. He ‘waves’ at you to engage with him, and often would rather have a moment to share affection than eat food. Extraordinary ! He’s better-behaved than most children, more mature than a lot of my friends, and better-tempered than my estranged husband. Strangers constantly remark that he’s 乖乖, guāiguāi, and often when I turn around there is someone who’s dropped down on their knees to lavish him with love. Often people don’t even bother asking if he bites! In my neighborhood, he’s more even more famous and instantly recognizable than I am.
Since he’s still an adolescent and very intelligent, he learns tricks very fast, often within the first or second try. In the first few weeks he and I developed a little routine of an Andalusian horse, or the Hackney horse his breed is said to resemble. He can sit, lay, rear up on his hind legs, take a bow, speak, stay, spin around, and walks perfectly well on a lead. Now he can give a kiss, too. The greatest challenges were that it took him a while to respond to his (new to him) name, and to come when called. These were my greatest concerns for a while, since losing him like his previous owners was perhaps the greatest risk.
Dr. Josefu Deyama, who spent a year in a monastery in Thailand and bred dogs for many years, says Baker is like his ‘spiritual brother’ from the monastery, and that he learns something every time he spends time with Baker.
Me too, I have learned so many valuable lessons from my canine teacher, lessons that also apply to people. One of the most important ones is never to act in frustration or anger, only with love and patience. Discipline must come from a calm place within us. Cesar Millan talks about this, and stresses the importance of ‘rules, boundaries and limitations’, hand in hand with the principles of ‘exercise, discipline and affection’ — in that order.
Having a dog makes us grow as a person. We must be — or become – worthy of trust and respect. Adopting a new ‘little friend’ teaches us to always act calmly, responsibly, to stay centered enough to care for something besides ourselves. It provides an interesting and constant challenge, to have to figure out how we can always keep them by our side, safe, happy and healthy.
A dog like Baker is the poster boy of rescue animals ! He wins hearts wherever we go, gives comfort to some, even helps ‘rehabilitate’ humans who fear dogs.
From this experience, now I strongly recommend adopting a rescue animal, or even fostering one short-term if you are able to. Think twice about buying a pet from the pet stores, which are nothing but puppy mills!
So why not adopt a pet? It saves a life ! And it’ll keep you warm on those cold winter nights, and warm your heart every morning to be awakened by a cold and wet, friendly nose!
If you have experience in rescue animals you’d like to share, please feel free to leave your comments below.
PS: You can see videos of Baker on my YouTube channel, dignenovafilm, if you’d like to subscribe.
Support The Sanctuary, or Animals Taiwan with a donation, it really helps! Cash donations go directly towards medical costs at YangMing Veterinary Hospital in Tienmu (1-6 Tienmu East Rd).
Sanctuary donation info 捐款方式： 莊育蘅 Yu-Heng Chuang (Vivian Chuang) Bank code: 822 (中國信託商業銀行 CTBC Bank Co., Ltd.) 東湖分行 Acct. No:587540139721 Swift code: CTCBTWTP Or