Towards the end of my backpacking trip in Asia, I ended up living in Kunming, China with my friend Sars—the same one who hug-attacked me for playing Fergalicious. After months of hoofing it alone and surviving odious personalities and unwanted sexual encounters it was nice to finally have a friend again. Shortly after our arrival, we met Carl.
Carl lived alone, and always bemoaned this fact when she had to hop on her pink Barbie scooter and return to her lonely abode. To make up for it, she decided to get a dog. In China, you do this by going to the “dog market,” which, despite it’s joyous name, is much like a canine concentration camp—if it were in America it would be part of an illegal underground puppy mill. But in China, it’s where you go to buy a dog.
Aisle after aisle held every imaginable dog breed in tiny plastic boxes. Five minutes of that and I was ready to sell my soul to PETA and run from cage to cage, setting them all free.
Carl opted for a small golden retriever puppy, to match her own warm and fluffy personality. She tucked it under her arm and scooted all the way back to her apartment with a smile on her face.
“I’m going to name her Arbour, like in a garden!”
For a week, the ball of fluff known as Arbour was Carl’s constant companion.
“I’m not alone!” Carl sang.
Two weeks later, Arbour was sick. By week three she had died.
All we could do was shake our fists at the sky and scream, “Why!”
Everywhere we went we were teased by dogs that seemed to mock us with their life and vitality. Kunming’s population of golden retrievers seemed to have exploded.
“That’s what Arbour would look like. If she weren’t DEAD.”
On most every street corner there was a man selling puppies out of a tiny wire cage on the back of his scooter. I’d whimper sympathetically at the puppies and glare hatefully at the seller. Visions of freeing them danced through my mind.
“It’s not stealing,” I would tell Sars, “it’s rescuing!”
One afternoon I was sitting in our apartment, blowdrying my body to stay warm, when I heard a frantic pounding at the door. I flung the it open and there Sars stood, holding a matted scruff of fur in her arms.
“It’s not stealing, it’s rescuing!”
I stared at the shivering little cross-eyed puppy in her arms as she detailed his rescue—how she’d seen him scampering through a flooded parking garage and chased him down, how the security guard said he’d been wandering around for days, how she’d tucked him insider her coat and fled the scene.
We decided to name him “Usnavi,” after a character from “In the Heights,” though this was inevitably shortened to Snavs. Carl wouldn’t participate in the naming ceremony and just watched from the edges, a pained look in her eyes.
We didn’t have the first clue how to care for Snavs– so we improvised. There was an old aquarium in the living room so we dumped out the sand and plastic coral and made him a bed of old towels.
But first we washed all the China and street rot off of the poor beast.
For the first few days he was too traumatized to reveal his true nature, but the more he accepted that we weren’t going to abandon him, the more he decided to share his personality with us. Snavs had a fondness for the finer things in life… like screeching through the night and standing at your feet, looking you straight in the eye as he peed on your foot. His favorite game was to pop a squat just out of reach and wait for me to jump, yell, and wave my hands as he fled the room mid-crap, scattering little puppy shit-pellets in his wake.
Snavs was afraid of everything—If I were to sneeze, he’d fall off the couch, land on the hardwood floor, then yelp until I comforted him. If we took him on a walk and he accidentally slipped off the curb he’d screech and limp around in circles like a maimed sea turtle. His lopsided, scruffy little face always seemed to be turned in accusation: “How could you let this happen to me?”
But none of this mattered, because Sars was in love. At least, for the first 6 weeks. By week 7 she had grown tired of his nightly yelping.
“Can’t I just put him on the balcony?”
But it was too cold out there.
“If only we could give him sleeping pills,” I said.
A hush fell as we looked at each other, an evil plan now in the works. Sars went to the kitchen for a piece of salted tofu.
“Here Snavvy Baby, I have something for you…”
He devoured it greedily then went back to biting our feet and looking for something to pee on.
“Are you thirsty, Snavs?”
Sars placed a small bowl on the floor and poured an inch or two of Dali beer. He happily lapped it up as we looked at each other in satisfaction, waiting for a drunk little Snavs to pass out and give us a restful night of sleep. But if anything, he was more hyper than before.
Eventually, I abandoned Sars and went to sleep with a pillow over my head. When I woke the next morning, everything was quiet. Too quiet.
I trudged to her room and saw her sitting in front of his kennel, eyes heavy with guilt.
“He won’t wake up…”
We tried everything to lure him out… Treats… Old Banana Peel… and his most favorite thing ever: Dirty Toilet Paper. But he wouldn’t budge.
“I killed him!” Sars wailed, “I actually killed him!”
“Maybe he’s hungover. Beer can’t kill a dog.”
Sars didn’t say anything.
“Sars? It was only beer… right?”
She buried her face in her hands.
“I killed him! I killed him with Nyquil!”
I couldn’t believe it.
“Humans do it all the time!” She tried to defend herself.
“Snavs isn’t a human!”
Her face was in her hands again.
“I killed the only puppy I ever had…”
We googled the effect of Nyquil on small dogs and were given a timetable to watch for symptoms of poisoning. None of the symptoms arose, but he still refused to wake up. We had no choice but to call Carl, our resident expert on dying Chinese dogs.
“Yeah…” she said numbly, “thats what Arbour did for about four days. Then she died a horrible, bloody, shit-trailing death.”
We decided to seek a second opinion and zoomed off to the vet—which, like everything you experience as a foreigner– seemed complicated, awkward, and traumatizing. After shoving our way through a crowd of people holding sick dogs we set Snavs on a dirty table covered in Newspaper. A blood test was performed and we heard the two words no dog owner ever wants to hear:
Of course, Sars had to translate this for me. I googled it and read that 91% of dogs die within five days.
“Oh my gosh, Nyquil causes Parvo!”
They offered him an IV, but he came back to life just enough to be impossible and unruly. The vet techs produced long strips of torn plastic from their coats and tied him down to the table. It was the only way.
He struggled so much that they had to tie a strip around his defiant little snout.
After his IV, Snavs revived for half an hour before returning to his coma. They told us to come back the next day with another handful of cash and for the next few days Sars spent 2 hours watching mystery liquids drip into his little veins.
After 5 days, he was still alive.
One week later, he had completely recovered. If possible, his behavior had actually worsened as he bit and scratched with a new zeal for life. He even gained the strength to climb the stairs in the apartment, just so he could leave steaming piles of puppy shite outside our other roommate’s door before crying and yelping to be helped back down.
Still… we needed him. Because despite the darkness and uncertainty of a life that so often didn’t go according to plan, he was our very own little miracle.
Have you ever taken in a pet against your better judgment? What’s the most surprising way that a seeming annoyance or misfortune turned out to be a miracle? Has anyone else ever given a dog beer (I hope not)?
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