Diary 06: Saffron

Dear Saffron,

I first laid eyes on you when a kind-hearted soul posted a photo of you online asking for help. Your eyes gazed dolefully into the camera; your body was captured during a series of shivers; and your tail was drooping between your hind legs, momentarily obscuring the huge tumour that was festering near your derriere; your lips were drum-tight as if you were suppressing any whines of weaknesses. All these little details were originally intended to keep away any visitors. It didn’t work. You looked more in pain than ever. My heart went out to you then and there. I was prepared to take on this humongous task knowing full well that taking it on means entering a one-way street with no shortcuts, or u-turns.

When I first saw you personally, I nearly wept. That night was blasted with chilly winds and icy drizzles; no stars were in sight. The sky was crowded with heavy clouds that glowed almost orange in the inky backdrop. Thunder was rumbling in the distance and streaks of lightning lit up the sky every now and then. You were lying in front of The Curry Pot, under the green-striped marquee with your head placed right between your legs to keep yourself warm. Your wound was laid right open for the frenzied droplets to attack; you literally winced with every drop that touched your tender flesh. When I shone my torch to examine your tumour, I wasn’t prepared to see that huge opening that gaped right near it. Maggots festooned and feasted there; drips of bodily fluids that reek of decay were falling gently from it; fleas and ticks were all over it; blood could be seen pooled around in places where you’ve been.

Dave went back and brought along some Gardenia for you. Oh, how you feasted on it! Seemed as if it’s the most delicious meal that you’ve ever eaten! You were hesitant at first, taking piece by piece from our hands, gazing a few seconds at us, and devouring each piece up after that. You must be famished… I asked myself that question over and over again: “How much suffering can a dog go through in its short life?”  As if on cue, you whined and pawed at the last piece in my hands. I glanced at your skeletal frame and silently willed it to grow bigger after each piece of bread was demolished. After you finished eating, you gazed up at us beseechingly. Your doe-like eyes, filled with hope, shot through my heart.The debate between the angel and the demon ended as soon as the stench of rotten flesh from your wound started to float towards my nostrils.

When we went back to our place for the night, we started coming up with what we stupidly dubbed as the “Save Smelly Mission”. Here’s the thing about you – you only come out at night. No one has ever seen you during the day. We did, however, managed to find out that you haunt the Saffron cafe every day at 10.20 pm as the owner will provide you with kitchen scraps as dinner. This was a major leap forward in our mission, and we decided to rope in some help for starters. Y and Jordan were definitely in the loop, the former being a dog-lover and the latter being a strong dude, as part of our rescue squad because there is no way that both of us would be able to get a wounded, adult dog with the potential to bite us into the vet’s alone.

Initial rounds of “Save Smelly Sessions” sort of kicked our inexperienced butts; we’ve considered options from shooting a tranquillity dart at you or drugging you with sleeping meds (only to find out that pharmacies and pet shops don’t sell that shit to normal human beings) to Googling “how to make a dog-catch pole”. In the end, we chose to go down the Hansel and Gretel route by waiting in Saffron Cafe for you at 10 pm and lure you with yummy tandoori chicken stuffed with sleeping pills from a small clinic into a cage.

August 23, 2017, 9.45 pm found me, Dave, and Jordan waiting for Y and you. We sat right outside of Saffron Cafe, slurping up delicious mango masaala and banana milkshakes with ice-cream on swirly straws. The night’s still young, we were generally crap-talking when I got a call from Y. Guess what? You were found lying on a pile of soft white sand right off the road. I heaved a sigh of relief and slapped a pile of ringgits on the counter. It felt good. Yes, we were on the first “Save Smelly Mission”, and we felt good.

When we went to your side, Y had already fed you with half of the tandoori chicken. You lifted your head up and looked at us while chewing on a bone slicked with spices and sauces. He beckoned us to come forward and handed each of us a pair of thick red gloves to prevent any unfortunate incidents, mostly bites. Dave and Jordan readied the cage while I slipped a sleeping pill into Y’s hands, which he proceeded to stuff it in another piece of chicken. I don’t know if it’s the deftness of his actions, or it’s the rumbling of your stomach, but you gobbled it down in a heartbeat. Y and Dave started laying a path of chicken, and you went according to what we planned. Within minutes you were lying in the cage staring at each of our faces, clearly bewildered with the turn of events. The guys loaded you up into Dave’s X-Trail, while I silently rejoiced at the swiftness of the mission. At 10.15 pm, three of us rode in the car, with the windows all rolled down and you whimpering at the back, to Y’s place.

We soon learned quickly, at 11 pm, that capturing you was never the major issue. Getting you settled in for the night, however, was. We originally placed you along with the cage on the porch of Y’s house, only to have you moan, whine, and paw the bars in deafening tones. We tried to create a “soothing environment” for you by draping a blanket over the cage, but that didn’t work as well. Y tried to calm you down by spraying a bottle of “Quiet Moments” on the bars, which unfortunately, agitated you even more instead of having the desired calming effect as “according to the claims made by the lady in the shop”. There was no way that we could leave you there, you’d wake all Y’s housemates up. It was another hurdle that we had to face, and at 11 in the night, no one’s brains were working right.

It was Y who came up with the brainchild of placing you in the deserted house two doors down. After a flurry of phone calls, the approval was obtained. With clashes and squeals of “argh, that’s my toe”, we managed to bundle you across. You were pacing nervously around the cage, trying to claw your way out. We tried leaving you there, and your whines started again, this time louder than ever. You were like a caged bird; you’ve had the internalised behaviour to roam freely, and being confined was something that you weren’t happy with. As your howls got louder, it dawned on us that in order to have a peaceful night, you’ll have to be given leeway to roam around the porch, so we unlatched the black cage door, locked the black gates, and stepped away. Sure enough, you whined again when you noticed that you weren’t really free. It continued on for 20 minutes before you silenced yourself and started sniffing the ground. I peeped at you, and my sixth sense just registered your aura. I got the feeling that you’re contemplating a breakout. I could practically see your little brain cells bobbing, and your eyes had that calculative streak in them. I wondered, could you really escape from the place in which we humans have somehow secured? Strictly speaking, we are cognitively more advanced than you, so why did I get the impending feeling that you’re up to something; that deep in your muddled mind, you knew something that we didn’t.

Your howls gradually subsided, and we thought you’d finally settled down, so we adjourned at 1 am. I didn’t go to bed peacefully though. My mind kept flashing back to that sneaky look that you gave me throughout the whole night. I could feel some impending doom lashing out at me. Basically, I couldn’t sleep the whole night, fearing the worst. A blinking message at 7 in the morning from Y confirmed my doubts: you escaped from the house and goodness knows where you were. Undeniably, we would have to conduct another “Save Smelly Mission”, same plan, same time. This time it was harder. We were not sure whether you knew your way back to Saffron Cafe, for all we know, you might be wandering around the neighbourhood. The hours of frantic searching in the neighbourhood did not yield any results, and we were disgruntled. We drove around fruitlessly, showing residents and students your photos, and yet none of them had seen you around. Imagine our surprise when we went back to Saffron Cafe and asked the guards there, and found out that they spotted you walking around at 7 am! At that point I was immensely relieved and in awe! You were intelligent enough to find your way home, and had enough sense to not enter any construction sites! The second “S.S Mission” could then be carried out once again.

Night came on the 24th of August, and Dave, Jordan, and I found you chilling out at a flat piece of brick ground near Beauty and The Beast Cafe. You had gotten thinner than ever; your fur was ruffled by the gusts of icy winds; and your wound was seeped with rough sand and soil. We alerted Y and began the Hansel and Gretel plan again. Surprisingly, you fell for it again within minutes when we thought you might be more aware towards us. This time we hooked you onto a leash so that you won’t escape again. You might have hated us for doing that to you. You might have thought: “Why are these humans locking me in a black-coloured trap?” , while we thought: “Why are you resisting a black-coloured salvation?”

25 August, 2017. A trip to the governmental veterinary centre, which kind of sucked. Jordan couldn’t make it, so Dave and I were joined by Y and C. No vets were on duty, so you were tended by an assistant who seemed as if he shouldn’t be responsible for medical care in the first place. Your tumour was sprayed with a bottle of blue herbal liquid and your blood veins were injected with tick prevention. We were then given 10 antibiotic pills and instructions to feed one pill per day to you, and then were asked to leave. The lax of good medical care infuriated me, and I was determined to bring you to a vet in Ipoh. The silver lining was that the medication did not seem to affect your appetite. I decided to phone ISPCA and ask whether they provide veterinary services or not. Well, they instantly declined my appeal to bring you to them on account of a full house, so fine, I found another vet.

26 August 2017. It was drizzling today, no sunshine in sight, nothing to really warm our bloodstream. We loaded you into the car at 9 am and headed off to J’s Veterinary Centre in Ipoh. Only Dave, me, and Y this time. You were really quiet throughout the journey. I was driving, with Y in the passenger seat and Dave in the back, listening to “The Cure” while inhaling in the stench of your wound. I gazed at you via the rear-view mirror repeatedly; you looked so weak and consumed with fatigue. I kept thinking that “If I can’t find the cure, I’ll, I’ll fix you with my love”; that being said, love alone can’t heal all wounds, can it?

We arrived at around 10 am. You were drifting in and out of consciousness, even when we carried you into the vet’s. I thought that this was abnormal. Every dog that I have ever had always freaks out whenever I brought them to the vet’s. When we brought you in, the strong smell of medicine and sicknesses did not even deter you, you kept on dozing. That was when I realised that you were weaker than I thought. You didn’t even have the energy to freak out; the tumour had already sucked every ounce of your strength. As I gazed at the cans of Royal Canin that you could have devoured; the bunches of multicoloured collars and leashes that you could have worn on walks with your owner;  I thought: God really dealt you a rough hand. If only you could experience a healthy lifestyle with a loving owner, things wouldn’t be the same.

Doctor J came out and scooped you into her arms. She placed you onto the cold metal examination counter. The blasts from the air-conditioning and the metal made you shudder with cold, so Y laid a fluffy pink towel on your body, while Dave and I consoled you. I could feel your tremors as I stroked your weather-beaten body, and yet I couldn’t do anything to keep you warm. I could only watch as Dr J came in to draw blood samples from you; and watch as she sent you into the patient ward, where you would be housed during the waiting process for the blood test results.

August 29th, 2017. A sudden phone call from Dr J. Here is the update that I gave to all your supporters.

Update 4: I just got off the phone with the vet. Here is a detailed description of Saffron’s condition. She has three types of blood parasites in her body. Her blood test also indicated the presence of severe anaemia, which means that her red blood cell count is quite low, whereas her white blood cell count is quite high. However, that is still Ok because it means that she is responding to the blood medication for the 1st and 3rd parasite. For the 2nd parasite, the medication made her appetite go down, hence the vet stopped that medication for now. So now, the vet is going to start the chemotherapy for her. Tvt normally takes 4 injections which is RM 100 per jab, but in her case, it would be more if she responds positively. She’ll try the first injection for tvt cure first. If she responds positively to the chemo, it means that her surgery will have a higher success rate, if not, the chemo will have to stop and it will reduce her chances of survival drastically. We hope that she responds positively. If she does, would you guys be able to donate some to help pay for the injections? I’ll get the definitive sum and start another post. Let’s hope that she will survive  Will update as soon as the vet phones again. 

30 August 2017. Since we were struggling, (broke) students and all, Dave decided to phone the ISPCA asking for advice regarding the delicate matter of donations. He was listening on the phone to whoever was talking, very intently, with his brows all furrowed up and a look of incomprehension highlighted in his eyes. He passed the phone to me after a few minutes, mouthing: “explain to her”.

I remembered the lady’s voice – sharp and sour, like the voices that typical Malaysian aunties in their late fourties possess. After I explained your condition to her, she demanded to know who the vet was. Upon deliberation, I told her that it was Dr J. Immediately, after hearing Dr J’s name, she flew into a white-hot rage! Man, the amount of profanities that a human being could articulate, just instantly spouted from this lady’s mouth! She called Dr J a lot of nasty names, saying that she’s basically a gold-digger and whatnot. The weird thing was, after she stopped cursing at Dr J, she targeted me instead. She said that I do not have knowledge, and that I’m stupid for not bringing you to ISPCA (which, if you, my dear readers recall, that I DID phone them, but they did not want to treat Saff)

I tried my utmost best to explain to her in levelled tones, but… I couldn’t. When she said the words: “Rescue what stray? You’re sending her to die if you go to that gold digger. Might as well kill her off, easy”, I blanked out at that instant.

Saff… I didn’t know what to think at this point.. Dr J has proven her expertise; she provides great service. She costs quite an amount, but her service lived up to that amount.. I felt weak; and nauseous… Saff.. did I do something wrong? I saw your face swirling round and round under the hot sun, and I was so confused. Multiple questions keep on penetrating my already grief-stricken mind… A series of reprimands and profanities from the foul-mouthed lady on the line littered the winding streets of my conscience… My ears were full of bells tolling and ringing… I could taste my salty tears pouring down in torrents. My heart was in the middle of the most unspeakable sorrow; I was like a drowning sailor during a shipwreck, with only a lone piece of debris as my anchor. As I bobbed along the torrential waves, I felt my anchor gave way. I cried out. I sank. In the hauntingly beautiful words of Victor Hugo:

The wind blows in gusts; all the foam overwhelms him. He raises his eyes and beholds only the lividness of the clouds. He witnesses, amid his death-pangs, the immense madness of the sea. He is tortured by this madness; he hears noises strange to man, which seem to come from beyond the limits of the earth, and from one knows not what frightful region beyond.
There are birds in the clouds, just as there are angels above human distresses; but what can they do for him? They sing and fly and float, and he, he rattles in the death agony.
He feels himself buried in those two infinities, the ocean and the sky, at one and the same time: the one is a tomb; the other is a shroud.
Nothing on the horizon; nothing in heaven.
He implores the expanse, the waves, the seaweed, the reef; they are deaf. He beseeches the tempest; the imperturbable tempest obeys only the infinite.
Around him darkness, fog, solitude, the stormy and nonsentient tumult, the undefined curling of those wild waters. In him horror and fatigue. Beneath him the depths. Not a point of support. He thinks of the gloomy adventures of the corpse in the limitless shadow. The bottomless cold paralyzes him. His hands contract convulsively; they close, and grasp nothingness. Winds, clouds, whirlwinds, gusts, useless stars! What is to be done? The desperate man gives up; he is weary, he chooses the alternative of death; he resists not; he lets himself go; he abandons his grip; and then he tosses forevermore in the lugubrious dreary depths of engulfment.
Oh, implacable march of human societies! Oh, losses of men and of souls on the way! Ocean into which falls all that the law lets slip! Disastrous absence of help! Oh, moral death!
The sea is the inexorable social night into which the penal laws fling their condemned. The sea is the immensity of wretchedness.
The soul, going down stream in this gulf, may become a corpse. Who shall resuscitate it?

My dearest Dave resuscitated me by disconnecting the call. Both of us looked at each other. Deep down we knew that you had to be brought back. Our finances weren’t able to cope with Dr J’s bills, but then again, we weren’t about to put you through ISPCA.. NOT after the fact that they regarded your life as disposable in such cold tones!

It had to be done. We decided to bring you back and feed you the remaining pills that the government vet had given us on one condition- that was if Dr J diagnosed a survival percentage of 60 and below.

We set off with Y to collect you from the doctor’s at 3 pm. I actually went jittery with nerves when we were led to the animal wards, where you were kept. Would you still remember us? Would you despise us for sending you here? Most importantly, were you safe? Were you comfortable? Were you eating? So many seemingly mundane questions bounced around, and I could only wonder in my mind.

After passing the cats’ ward, we arrived at the dogs’. Right away, I could see you through the transparent glass doors. Dr J had stuffed a cone on you. You seemed… exhausted. When we approached you though, you became elated, tail a-wagging, and you seemed genuinely happy to see us. :’)

My spirits lifted, but then plummeted when Dr J dropped the bombshell, that your chances of survival has decreased to a mere 40 %; and that your appetite weren’t up to par through the initial round of chemotherapy. The goddamn virus fought a heroic battle with your destitute immune soldiers, and they were winning minute-by-minute. As if on cue, you wailed; not a tiny wail of mere distress, but a long wail of excruciating pain. Dr J said you were going through tonnes of pain medications to help you cope with the festering maggots and the disease. She looked as us with a grave expression baked onto her face, and said that it’s unlikely that you’ll survive, and even if you do, you’ll be in physical torture for years.. She gave us the options to either bring you home, or… put you to sleep.

Right then and there, was the inevitable. We had to make a choice- either we bring you back home and prolong your death, or we end it once and for all. It was tough… All of us were manfully choking back our tears. There was the worst outcome, laid bare for us to see. It was a definite moral dilemma. Who were we, to judge your death sentence? We are mere human beings; we’re not God…You could have lived a long life… And yet, it might finally grant you the peace that you so deserved.. Seeing you walking, and breathing living hell would be painful for us to watch, and neither of us were willing to let you suffer any more… So… the most painful decision that I’ve ever made in my short life, was this one. It had to be done. You have to die.. Looking at your sweet face, stroking your caked fur, listening to your howls of pain, we couldn’t let you suffer any more… bv

Dave and Y agreed to the euthanasia..I was the only one left. I looked into your eyes, silently asking for you to give me a sign.. Any sign at all, to help me make this decision. I remembered that I silently mouthed the words for forgiveness and begged you to help me choose, left, or right. You looked up, and your eyes were full of strength and serenity. I realised that you were actually communicating with me through the windows of our souls, and I was flabbergasted. I looked beyond the curtains, and I could see your soul preparing to release itself from your shell.

Thanks, Saff, for helping us, and for forgiving us..

Two needles later, you were gone…

We buried you in a playground.

The wind billowed with the vivacity that reminded me of the first time we saw you. The clouds were starting to gather on the horizon. We pushed our shovels into the hard-packed earth. As we started filling in your grave, with you sleeping forever under there, a sudden playful little breeze sprung up and brushed away my last teardrop.

Thanks Saff.

Night came. I was sad, but glad that you were in no more pain any more.. You stopped suffering and stepped on the rainbow bridge that would lead you into doggy heaven.. You would be resting, under the starry skies, amidst the sounds of innocent laughter. You would have liked that..

Saffron, you were a great dog. We love you.

Writer’s note: I didn’t write right after Saffron’s death. I couldn’t. I mourned for Saff, contemplated arguing with the ISPCA for Saff, and cried for Saff during sleepless nights. She wasn’t our dog in the broadest sense of the word, but she could’ve been, if we had met her earlier… Each of us involved had unknowingly placed a piece of our hearts with Saff when we met her, and to this day we felt like she had carried those pieces with her away.

Now, after a month plus of mourning her loss, we’ve come out again. We haven’t forgotten her. On the contrary. we’ve increased our dedication to saving more unwanted strays.. Dave and I have also been planning the Saffron Animal Shelter, which hopefully, we could launch some time after we graduate – as a commemoration to Saff.

It takes only one dog to touch our lives and change our views towards society. We’ve met some decent people, and some who we don’t want to see for the rest of our lives. We would like to take this opportunity to thank all those beautiful people who were so supportive of us.

Thank you, to the kind owner of the Saffron Cafe, who had provided us with a lot of assistance. Huge thanks to the lovely students of UTAR for helping us look for Saffron while she went missing. Thanks to Dr J for trying her best to save Saff. Thanks are in order to every single person who helped us, and touched us throughout the journey. Thanks to all of you, Saffron felt loved during her last days.

It was a wonderful journey. I am not sorry that I met Saffron.

To end this entry, I would like to dedicate to all of you a beautiful post written by Y after Saffron died.

I have seen lots of puppies and think that they are cute. Well,except when they poop and take turn to lick their own poo.
I was at the vet this evening. After some discussion with two other rescuers and the doctor,we decided to euthanise the dog.
I didnt have much to say to her,the dog after the decision was made. We took turns to bid her good bye. The most i could do was stroking jer head for a few times,told her that suffering is going to end soon.
The doctor injected an overdose of anaesthatics and she felt asleep. The respiratory became slower and soon the heart rate became lower. Her urine started to flow into the pan under the cage. Her muscles were all relaxed. The doctor checked the heart beat with a statoscope. Within a minute,the heart stopped beating. The doctor went and did some paper work.
I looked at her, still out of word. I realize that i have the same reaction for every demise of life. I have no reaction when i looked at the lifeless body of her. My mind was blank and i felt nothing. I didnt know what to feel. Maybe i felt something but i dont know what it is.
We brough her back to our hostel and we burried her with the help of 2 other colleagues. There were 5 of us. We took turn to dig a hole. The shovels travelled hand to hand. We left after we were sure the soil that covers her body was firm and covered entirely.
Now that i look at her photo, torrential thoughts twirling in my mind. Her face was pale,covered with some hardened dirt and probably some scars she got when she was in the street.
Dear Saffron, i never get to see what you look like when you were a puppy. You must be one of those cheeky puppy,wagging your tail with your naive eyes wondering what’s approaching you when you see humans.
Every dog was once a cute puppy. And when life comes to the end,all the life yearns is to be free from suffering, regardless of the appearance. Saffron was trying to teach something to whoever that was involved in her rescue effort and everyone would get something different out of her demise.
Life is what’s happening when you do something with it. Let me just appreciate the photo we took together. The photo we took when both of us are in our prime time. You will be in my heart.

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