May 30, 2020

Farewell, our beloved asshole

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Our little asshole left us today.  For a breed that averages 12 to 15 years, the not quite 7 years he spent on this earth didn't seem nearly enough... and we were totally unprepared for his early departure.  I guess he drew the short straw in life.

I met Kuma for the first time a little over 5 years ago.  I told Hello Kitty that I wanted to visit her dog and play with his paw paw... and she let me.  From day 1, I wasted no time to squeeze his toe beans...  He obviously wasn't thrilled.

He might have been named Kuma, which is 熊 (bear) in Japanese, but apparently he immediately acquired the nickname 姑媽.  From then on the list of nicknames just kept getting longer, and I can think of at least 30 of them...  Among the most frequently used were Asshole, 契弟, and KDK.

In fact, he used to tilt his head whenever we called him KDK... and he would increase the angle of tilt if we repeated the call.

As a bichon frise, he was naturally a low energy dog.  We found out how lazy he was on our first hike together, when he refused to walk in the middle of the trail on Lamma Island... and I had to carry him pretty much the rest of the way.   This was also the day when I tried to feed him some durian gelato and he spurned my offer by walking away.

About a month later, I had a chance to try some durian pudding whose flavor was on the mild side.  I decided to try giving him the last bits of it, and this time he happily gobbled it up.  From this day on, Kuma was part of Team Durian - and would go on to enjoy durian ice cream, durian cookies, durian mooncakes, frozen durian purée...  Hello Kitty was none too pleased...  Incidentally, this picture of him smiling and wagging his tail after the durian pudding is one of my favorites.

From the start, he was Hello Kitty's dog, so I was never his 'dad'.  Instead, I was his "Bro", and he was my "Bro Bro".  Over time, both Hello Kitty and her mom would be jealous of my status as Kuma's favorite human - a status I attained perhaps partly due to the fact that I have never combed his fur... an activity he really hated.  (He would run and hide under the sofa every time he heard the words for "combing".)  He used to come and snuggle up against me - both on the sofa and in bed - and he did that more often with me than with Hello Kitty.  Sometimes when my feet are curled up on the couch, he would come and lay his head on my foot.  I dunno why he liked doing that, but my heart melted a little every time.

The other benefit of being his favorite human is that I would often get his "fuk flower" (our term for his, you know, asshole) shoved in my face and he comes onto the bed and turned to lick Hello Kitty.

We used to love calling him 'asshole' because, well, he was one.  It had a lot to do with his picky eating habits.  When I first met him, Kuma was happily eating his Orijen Six Fish kibbles.  We used to feed him once a day in the morning, and he was so excited about his breakfast that he would sometimes jump around while waiting for his bowl.  In fact, there were days when he was so happy that he would literally spin around.

But suddenly one day he stopped loving his kibbles.  He ate it very reluctantly, only because there wasn't anything else to eat.  We found out later that Orijen had changed the formula and somehow added blueberries - something our asshole hated.  We ended up switching brands, and there were only 2 or 3 brands that he would willingly eat - and we had to rotate them since he would get bored of one brand after a while.  There were days when he hated his kibble so much that he refused to eat all day... and ended up throwing up bile - usually on the sofa.  He did it out of spite, to show us how much he hated his food.  Asshole.

But he loved just about any kind of human food... and we indulged him.  For some reason he loved plain old steamed rice, and lots of green veggies like choy sum (菜心).  It was so strange to find a dog eating veggies so happily.  He loved strawberries, too, even if sometimes he only got the calyx.  He's gotten beef steak, lamb chops, and even White Castle sliders on his birthday, and lots of other stuff in between.  He stuck his tongue down many jars reaching for jam, and licked the last drops from a few Champagne and wine bottles.

His favorite spot for most of the day was underneath the sofa.  Specifically, the spot right below me while I'm sitting on it.  Hello Kitty referred to it as his "man cave".  Every once in a while, he would rip a silent yet deadly one, and I would have to get off the couch to escape.  Hello Kitty called it the "methane cuddle", but she almost never got to enjoy those.  I considered it a small price to pay for being his favorite human.

His other favorite spot was his 'bro' - a bed he had since he was a puppy.  He would often sleep on it when he wanted some alone time away from us, or before joining us on our bed at night.  He had actually outgrown his bro a long time ago, but he loved his bro so much that we couldn't bear to replace it.

I blame Hello Kitty for letting him sleep in the bed ever since his puppy days, because he would cry and whine all night until we let him in the room and on the bed.  Once on the bed, he has a habit - as many dogs do - of digging for that imaginary bone.  Hence the nickname "Dig Dig Bear"... Then before I climb into bed, he would occupy my spot - often sleeping horizontally, just next to my pillow.  I sometimes would have to find a way to squeeze myself into bed next to him, because I loathed to move him while sleeping.  That's my love for asshole.  And he would alternate between snuggling with either Hello Kitty and I, often sticking to our thighs or legs.  And yes, he was the world's biggest "lightbulb"...

In spite of his assholeness, which outsiders rarely got to witness, we loved him more than anything.  He was the friendliest of dogs, and didn't have a mean bone in his body.  He met everyone - two- or four-legged, whether at home or outside, familiar or not - by going up to them and, after a sniff or two, trying to greet them by licking.  He never bit anyone, and rarely even barked other than saying "hello".  He was, if I may say so, pretty cute... and got plenty of attention whenever we let him out of the apartment.  He loved all the attention, and he was good at kissing ass.  He was well-loved by people who have met him.

He was Grandma Fishball's favorite grandchild, and she would take him on walks during the day when Hello Kitty and I were busy at work.  She also spoiled him by feeding him plenty of human food, and our 包包熊 loved the soft bread from grandma - but refused to eat any of the crust.

Kuma's troubles surfaced in early March, although in reality they would have started earlier.  We came home from dinner one night to find that he had thrown up on the sofa, and just as we were cleaning it up, he threw up again on our bed.  I had given him a small piece of Dominique Ansel's signature DKA, and perhaps the level of butter was too much for him.  He's been an asshole over the last few years when it came to eating his kibbles, and it wasn't unusual to see him leave his bowl untouched, so we didn't think much of it when he didn't eat.  He threw up again the next morning, and that's when we realized a visit to the vet was in order.  The vet noted a drastic weight loss, and he was given some meds to stop the vomiting, but he didn't eat for the next couple of days.  We knew that this was getting serious, and took him back to the vet for an extensive blood test.  This time the results showed that he had pancreatitis, and he was sent to the hospital for observation.  Hello Kitty and I were bewildered, because the last blood test 6 months ago was just about perfect.

For the first time in my life, I experienced the anxiety that a parent feels when his/her child falls seriously ill.  He continued to refuse to eat for the next couple of days while in the hospital, and we failed to entice him even with his favorite treats.  His weight was down 20% from 6 months ago, and Hello Kitty and I were at a loss.  We knew we needed to get him to eat so that his body could fight, but even the doctors didn't know what to do.  We were in despair.

After 3 agonizing nights in the hospital, we got word that he finally started eating, and that we would be able to bring him home.  He would need to be on a low-fat diet for the rest of his life, and we started him on prescription dog food.  He would never be allowed to have durian again.  The first 2 days was worrying because he refused to eat anything we gave him... until we discovered that all he wanted were some fresh whiskered velvet shrimp (赤米蝦) and veggies.  Thankfully, he soon developed a voracious appetite and started to eat more than we've ever seen him eat.  His energy level went back to the good old days, and we were very relieved - for the most part.

Out of all his toys, his favorite is by far the small and squeaky tennis ball that Hello Kitty refers to as his 'kryptonite'.  He doesn't get to play with the ball often, but on the rare occasion that it comes out of the cabinet, all his attention is focused on it and nothing else in the world matters.  And the reason why we don't let him play with it often?  The minute he gets his hands on the ball, he starts to strip the felt from it... so that the ball is pretty much destroyed within 2 days.  He's an asshole like that, and that's why he doesn't get it often.

We wanted to cheer him up since we know he wasn't feeling well, so we gave him his kryptonite.  This time, he doesn't strip the felt, and instead wants to play fetch.  As we were working from home due to the Covid-19 pandemic, we were lucky to be able to spend more time with him while he recovered.  On some days, I must have tossed the ball at least 60 to 80 times a day.  He never seemed to tire of playing with it.  In fact, from the time he woke up to when he finally got into bed with us, nothing much else was on his mind.

For the next two months, he was running around, jumping up and down the sofa and our bed, and generally seemed about 80% of his old self.  He got access to the kryptonite every day.  Ever the optimist, I held out hope that he would eventually make a full recovery and be around us for another few years.  But his blood tests continued to show trouble with his pancreas, and deep down we worried about his health.  When his regular vet sounded an alarm and suggested we do a full ultrasound - as opposed to the limited ultrasound done at the hospital focusing only on his pancreas - Hello Kitty began to fear the worst.

Then the phone call came.  Kuma was diagnosed with liver cancer, and it was terminal.  It had spread to his lymph nodes, and the vet couldn't say how much longer he would be with us.  We were absolutely crushed.

From that day on, we were focused on making sure he was happy.  We debated about canceling dinners so that we could spend more time with him.  Anything he wanted to eat was on offer.

But his condition deteriorated quickly, and about 10 days after the fateful phone call, he started losing his appetite again.  We knew he had to be in pain, and we noticed that his mouth was changing color.  None of his favorite foods seemed appetizing to him, and I realized the problem wasn't his appetite but his inability to chew solid food.  He drank plenty of water, but barely touched anything else.  Yogurt with honey worked for the first day but not beyond.  Puréeing his favorite strawberries didn't work, perhaps because of the acidity - a similar problem with yogurt.  Congee got only a few licks from him.

We were at our wits' end, because this meant he wasn't going to get better, and we needed to release him from his pain sooner rather than later.  I found myself crying in the shower, praying to God to transfer his pain to me.  I knew we only had very little time left, and all I wanted was for him not to suffer or feel any pain.  We called the vet and scheduled an appointment.  And we told family and friends that they should come him ASAP.

I cried tears of joy when I saw that he was willing to lick the sweet sauce of a baked barbecued pork bun (酥皮焗叉燒包) from Tim Ho Wan (添好運).  I knew he couldn't chew the pork, so I removed it and tore the bun into tiny pieces and hand fed him. He ended up eating about half a bun without the meat.  It was the first solid food - or anything with energy value - that he had eaten in almost two days.  That was two nights ago.

Yesterday morning, I saw him walk up to his water bowl for a drink, and expected that he would simply stare at his food bowl and walk away.  Instead, I saw him lick a few crumbs that had fallen outside.  A light bulb went off in my head, and I grabbed one of his favorite freeze dried treats - which were actually dog food with high fat content - and crushed it into powder.  My heart leapt when I saw him lick it up.  He was hungry.  I crushed more of the treats, and he licked the bowl clean again.  He would eventually take in 7 pieces, which was more than what he had eaten in the last 3 days.  More tears of joy roll down my cheeks.

Friends and family came to see him.  When Winnie the Chew arrived yesterday and the door bell rang, Kuma went to the door for the first time in days, and actually greeted her with his bark.  He went up to her and wanted to lick her, wagging his helicopter tail at the same time.  This was the most energetic I had seen him in days, and it would be the last apperance of Bark Bark 豬.  I would ask each subsequent visitor to ring the door bell when they arrived, but Kuma was done with barking.

My Favorite Cousin came to hang out and see Kuma, and I decided to offer her one of the last remaining Honolulu Cookies brought back by a friend.  Amazingly, Kuma decided to come sit by her, and looked up as if to say: "What about me?"  I asked My Favorite Cousin to crush the pineapple-flavored butter cookie, and Kuma licked the plate clean.  I told my friend who gave us the cookies that this would probably be one of the last things Kuma would eat.  There was one last cookie left - a plain butter cookie half-covered in chocolate.  Ever the picky asshole, Kuma showed zero interest in this one...

More friends and family arrived last night, including an older bichon who happens to be Kuma's goddess.  We were grateful that so many people love our asshole, and as the evening wound down we took Kuma down for his last walk.  He didn't seem to have much strength left, and we made do by snapping a few pics of the three of us.  While we have had taken many walks together - jokingly referring to it as 狗拖住狗拖住狗 - and we have thousands of pictures and videos of Kuma, we hardly have any pictures of the three of us together.

On his last day, we weren't able to get him to eat any crushed treats.  The heavens opened up as if to weep for him, and we decided to enjoy the last few quiet hours together doing nothing but stay in and be with him.  On the advice of a friend, Hello Kitty hit our local Mickey D's and got a strawberry sundae for Kuma.  My heart melted when he eagerly lapped it up.  On his last day, his appetite came back and he enjoyed a delicious treat... for 4 minutes straight.

Hours later, Hello Kitty was just finishing the sous vide chicken thigh we were to have for dinner tomorrow when she decided to take a tiny little bit to Kuma.  He took it, and decided to follow her to the kitchen.  For the next three and a half minutes, his tail would be wagging while Hello Kitty fed him tiny piece after piece, until he finished almost an entire chunk of chicken thigh - all except the skin.  The two of us could not have hoped for a better last day for Bro Bro.  He was obviously hungry, and decided to fill up his tank for his upcoming journey.

The dreaded time came, and I carried Bro Bro to the vet in the bag we carry him in after his bath.  He didn't want to lie down on the cold, steel operating table at the clinic, so we let him stay on top of the bag.  We spent a few minutes hugging him and telling him how much we loved him, and as he left us, all I could do was hold on to one of his legs and repeat "You're the best dog!" over and over while tears poured down.  I squeezed his toe beans one last time, and I kept thinking of this comic strip from Hey Buddy Comics...

We came home with an empty bag.  There would never be barking before we open the door.  Kuma would never come out to greet us while we took off our shoes.  We would never hear the pitter patter of his feet as we wake up in the morning.  And I will miss those silent but deadly methane cuddles, and having his fuk flower in my face.

We wish we had more time with Bro Bro - for me, five years was simply not enough.  But we are blessed to have had him with us.  The thousands of pictures of videos captured a small fraction of the moments of joy he brought into our lives, and we will be able to relive those moments in the years to come.

Goodbye, Bro Bro.  I hope you ran across the Rainbow Bridge and found all your friends, and I hope you get all the durian you can eat.  You will be in our hearts forever.  You were sent by Harry to heal your mom's pain.  When the time is right, maybe you can send us someone else to love.


Jessie said...

I am so sorry for you and Hello Kitty’s loss. I still feel and remember my dog’s last days and cried regularly for a year and still do occasionally. I hope you can hang on to your happy memories and I am sure he knew how much he was loved. RIP Kuma.

Inna said...

I am almost crying, so heartbreaking. I know how does it feel, to lose the pet, who spent a lot of time on your side. The little sweet Kuma...

Derek said...

Very moving


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