Sumiko Tan: Lost and found

-- ST ILLUSTRATION: ADAM LEE
-- ST ILLUSTRATION: ADAM LEE

Every time a new dog enters my life, it's the start of a special relationship, even if it's short-lived

It was Monday, a public holiday, dusk was falling and I had just switched on my computer to do some work.

I heard my mother shout my name.

Gosh, what was the matter, I wondered, making my way downstairs. I hoped she hadn't fallen or something.

She was still shouting for me, and this time I heard the word "dog".

When I went outside, my heart sank.

Not again.

My mother was patting a little dog that looked like a shih tzu. It had white and black colouring, a round head and big, beseeching eyes. It was looking around curiously and wagging its tail. It didn't mind being touched.

My mother said that the gas cylinder delivery man had just left the house. When he opened the gate, the dog trotted in. He thought it was our dog.

It wasn't. It was lost.

I think it just had a bath, my mother said. Maybe it ran out after that.

It didn't have a collar.

We looked for clues.

It was a she, we found, which was good news because our two dogs - who were in the house and oblivious to the drama outside - are male. Same-sex dogs tend to not get along.

Her coat was clean and the hair on her face and ears looked freshly cut, which meant she was well looked after. Her feet were stained though. Maybe she had walked a long way, I said.

Her nose was wet, which indicated she was in good health, and her tongue was pink. We thought she might be hungry, so brought out some kibbles. She ate a few pellets, then lost interest.

H joined us, and we decided to give her a name: Monday.

What are we going to do with the dog, he asked.

I sighed.

As you know, I love dogs and, frankly, prefer their company to humans. But over the years, I've had enough experiences with lost and abandoned canines to realise that this was going to be the start of yet another bitter-sweet encounter.

Growing up, the house I lived in didn't have a proper gate, and all manner of stray and lost dogs would appear at our doorstep. There was Santa, a big, floppy mongrel that dropped in one Christmas Day, hence her name. She was an old, sweet- natured dog with thinning fur and stained teeth. We decided to keep her and she died a few years later, leaving me very sad.

There was Latka, whom we found in an abandoned plot of land. He was a goofy-faced dog and we named him after the Andy Kaufman character in the sitcom Taxi. He died after a few years.

One night, I came home and was scared out of my wits to see a giant boxer in the kitchen. He had a huge scrunchy face and droopy, drooling jowls. My mother said he just strolled in. But he was a friendly dog and I knew I could grow to love him. But the next morning, he walked out and we never saw him again.

Another time, a poodle dropped by and stayed with us for a week until the owner contacted us after we placed a Found ad in The Straits Times.

There were other dogs - Benjie, a rescued terrier I had to put down because he was mentally unstable; Cookie, another terrier who wouldn't come out of a drain despite me and my mother spending weeks trying to lure him out with food. He also disappeared one day.

Pepper was a hyper-active Jack Russell we found tied to a lamp-post. We had to send him to the SPCA because he bit my dogs. Latte was a schnauzer who dropped by twice. His owners, who lived two streets away, came to look for him the first time. The second time we delivered him home.

I have also known the agony of losing a dog. One beloved dog walked out when she was well into middle age. Another two dogs were lost for a few days before we found them - one tied to a lamp-post nearby and another at the SPCA.

Then there were Pom Pom and Bunny, rescue dogs we brought home and who later died, leaving me heart-broken.

Every time a new dog enters my life, it's the start of a new relationship. I fall in love with it and worry about it. I'm lucky to find such happiness with them, but when they go missing or die - and their lives are short - it's too devastating.

I've reached the stage where I'm happy with just my current two and don't want to invest my emotions on any other dog.

And then came Monday with her cute little face and waggly tail. What were we to do with her?

H and I decided to take her around the neighbourhood. Perhaps she would know her way home. We leashed her and set off.

The walk started promisingly enough. She seemed to know where she was going. She stopped at the gate of two houses and started barking. We rang the doorbell but the owners said that wasn't their dog. After 15 minutes of her sniffing and stopping to pee about a dozen times, we concluded she had no idea where she was heading.

We decided to keep her for the night. Problem was, how would our two dogs react? We've watched enough Cesar Milan to know we should introduce the dogs outside the house in neutral territory. I took hold of Monday's leash while H went to get our chihuahua and bichon. The meeting was a disaster. Our dogs hated the sight of her and a fight nearly broke out.

With great reluctance, we took Monday to the SPCA that night. She sat meekly in the car. I made the man at the counter promise that on no account were they to put her down, and that if the owner didn't come forward, to call us.

I was wretched leaving her there, all alone in a cage, in the dark, with dozens of other poor abandoned animals. I didn't sleep well.

When I checked the next day, no one had claimed her.

On Wednesday afternoon, H called with good news. Monday had been claimed after the SPCA placed an ad in The Straits Times. In fact, her owner lived just a few doors from us on the opposite side of the street and had come by when I was at work to thank us. The dog's real name was Joey.

I felt a surge of pure relief and happiness when I heard she had been reunited with her owner. That evening, when H was walking our dogs, they met Monday/Joey. This time, the dogs didn't fight.

I'm glad this story has a happy ending because I know so many lost-and-found stories don't, and it's upsetting to think about those cases.

I can't wait to catch a glimpse of Monday again. It almost feels like I have a new friend in the neighbourhood, and if you're a dog lover, you'll know what I mean.

sumiko@sph.com.sg

Follow Sumiko Tan on Twitter @STsumikotan