Speaking up for my best friend

Sally [Foreground] with [L to R] Pearly,
Ruby holding Kenneth, and Peggy

“Has the dog eaten yet?” that was the first question dad usually asked when he came home from work.  

We often teased dad about how he puts the pet before us because our dog is loved as a family member.  

His rationale for that habitual question was that we know how to get snacks but the dog depended on us for his food so dad always wanted to know if we had fed the dog.

As far back as I can remember we always had pet dogs. When we were staying in Larkin Gardens, we had Sally, a shaggy, light-coloured, mild-mannered mongrel.  

After she had a litter of six puppies, we gave away all but kept only one male pup which we named, Ringo. 

When mum and dad went on a job transfer, Ringo moved to Masai with us.  

He adjusted well to living in the Health Sub-Center’s Government quarters, roaming freely in a common compound that was also home to our parents’ colleagues and families.  

Ringo was one smart dog which always answered to his name and fondly remembered for fighting off a pack of rogue dogs that had snuck into the compound to destroy our guinea pigs.

When Ringo went to “dog heaven” at the grand old age of 13, we buried him behind our house and lovingly marked his grave with a wooden cross.  

It was uncanny that while we were still mourning his loss, a stray came to us that looked almost exactly like Ringo. So the most natural thing for us to do was to adopt him and we named him, Fido. 

Peggy with Candy at
Larkin Gardens, Johor Baru
Our list of family pet dogs after Fido included Rexy, Ginger, Mac, Candy, Pepper, Gino and Jojo.  

While Ringo and Fido had the doggy brains to behave themselves in the fenceless compound for Government quarters, all our latter dogs were kept behind closed gates when we moved back to live in Johor Baru.  

We made sure that our dog was never a nuisance in a multi-racial neighbourhood so he was forbidden to wander beyond the gates and trained to obey orders to go inside his kennel whenever the gates were opened. 

While dad used to bathe and groom the dog, my brother Kenneth, gradually took over the task.  

Kenneth and I have a special bond with all our pets as we played with and trained each dog that came into our lives.  

If the dog was sick, we also shared the job to clean up any vomit or poop that was dropped in unlikely places. 

My brother, Kenneth, playing
"dress-up" with Candy

Dogs are also creatures of habit and each dog has its favourite spots in the compound to use as toilet.  

So we have a routine of picking up its poop and putting it in a bag before throwing away in the dustbin.  

Foul smells from accumulated piles of poop can be quite offensive and we clean up regularly to avoid the pong wafting across to neighbouring homes. 

My brother and I had our “training” by cleaning up daily after our grandparents’ pets Rajan and Bonzo when we lived with them in No. 154 Jalan Ngee Heng.  

The large compound around their bungalow and badminton court gave the dogs ample choices for toilets but they always chose to do it at two favourite corners of the court.  

Ah Kong or grandpa devised a poo-pan for our job and to have some fun out of this smelly daily duty, we played our version of golf by putt-ing the poo into the pan.

Walking along village roads in the UK recently, I came across interesting signs that read, “Clean Up or Pay Up” with illustration of a pooch and its poop.  

While the English love their pets, they are also serious about keeping their environment clean for others. So those signs were a good reminder to pick up the dog’s droppings wherever it may decide to answer Nature’s call. 

Sign seen in Oxfordshire UK

Pet lovers here must also clean up after pets in public places and not foul up common places around the neighbourhood.  

You will agree that it is a nuisance to accidentally step on some turd because not only was it difficult to remove from shoes, its stinking smell would just linger on. 

As we made every effort to ensure that our dog was not a nuisance to our neighbours, the neighbours however, give much stress to our dog, particularly during festive seasons. 

On the eve of each festive day – be it Chinese New Year, Hari Raya or Deepavali – I will stay up until after midnight, not because I wanted to usher in that festival but because I needed to be with my dog when the neighbours set off explosive fireworks.  

If the explosions sounded loud to our ears, blasts are magnified in the sharper hearing of our canine friends and it just drives them wild with distress. 

I don’t have to be Dr Dolittle to understand doggy language but those agitated barks can be translated as great annoyance and anxiety.  

Not only dogs but babies, toddlers and people with weak hearts should be spared the misery of such sudden sharp shocks at every festive season.  

So while our pet dogs are our best friends and 24-hour guards to homes and families in the neighbourhood, let’s have some consideration for them and think of ways to celebrate creatively but without fireworks. 

A version of this article was published in The New Straits Times, Johor Streets in November 2009

Info Update:
This is Jojo, chewing on a snack [February 2007]

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