The Truth About Humans And Dogs.


And so the week of trial is over, and it is official – we are in love with Toby and Tootsie and they are here to stay!

One of my favourite experiences is sitting, half-asleep, in our landing at 8 am, the soft glow of a thawing morning streaming softly through our window; a small crack letting in the cool breeze and the sound of cooing pigeons.  Toby and Tootsie are both curled up in their beds, two balls of fur with eyes, their bodies quietly rising and falling as they lay asleep. It is the perfect picture of serene bliss, and this is what having two dogs look like all the time.

If only.

In order for us to get to 8 am, let us go back to a little time I’d like to call 6.15 am.

Toby and Tootsie are up and barking at our front door and I check my phone and wonder what’s caused this commotion before their regular morning walk at 7 am.

I lazily get out of bed, the 2.30 am bedtime from an evening shift the night before still weighing heavily on my eyelids. I brush my teeth and slowly blink the sleep out of my eyes, and put on my dog walking uniform – tracksuit bottoms and a heavy jacket, both more functional than fashionable, and then I brace myself… and I open the door.

Toby and Tootsie greet me with the same enthusiasm of thirteen-year-old Beliebers at a Justin Bieber  meet and greet. (Except that I am not Justin Bieber, of course. I am far more handsome. Hah!)

Their tails are wagging, their mouths are open in an almost-smile, panting excitedly while their eager paws punch me repeatedly in my not-yet-hardened crown jewels. (See? Exactly like Beliebers!)

I go down and I get their leashes and in my semi-asleep state I thought to myself, ‘Maybe I can grab some coffee from our nearby cafe.’ I saunter over to get my wallet and remember: it is 6.15 am on a Saturday. Nothing is open, you idiot.

It is a fatal thirty seconds as the kids are pawing desperately at the door now. I bend down to leash them but I am too slow – the reason for their anxiousness to leave suddenly becomes apparent. It is not that I am Justin Bieber. It is because they needed to pee.

image3 (1)

A sudden yellow mini-lake appears rapidly under Tootsie, who pees like she’s trying to sink Noah’s Ark. In relief, she steps into her own pee and starts pacing around the living room, her paws distributing the Lake into Smaller Yellow Ponds. I tell her off but it is too late; I rush the leashes and I walk both of them out. Toby immediately proceeds to pee on our front step, while looking back at me with a face that perpetually says ‘Sorry’.

I lock the door in a huff and Tootsie’s footpeerints  follow mine into the brisk morning air. A skulk around the nearby park/toilet and the kids relieve themselves fully. I have the pleasure of picking up after Tootsie, and Toby does a phantom poop like he always does.

Fifteen minutes in the cold is all we can stand, and we rush home. We cross The Yellow Lake, and Tootsie had the audacity to sniff it like she was Sherlock Holmes trying to solve The Curious Case of the Yellow Puddle. (Hint: It was you, Sherlock.)

Four rounds of paper towels barely began to absorb any of the Flood, in fact all it seemed to do was to spread it around, and it is then that I suddenly began to lose my cool.

This is bullshit! I think. In a moment of weakness I think that perhaps having dogs were a bad idea after all. I surveyed the mess that was everywhere, I felt the stickiness under my feet suggesting that I too, am distributing pee everywhere, and I looked at our floor tiles that were once white, now stained with the dirt of a wet outside world, and I am tired and certainly not happy.

image2 (1)

I look at Tootsie, almost expecting an apology but all she does is look at me quizzically. Toby is collateral damage to my seething rage and I tell them firmly to stay as I find the mop and begin to clean up the mess. I mutter under my breath as I vacuum up the dirt and grass, and I passively aggressively clear out the dishwasher and empty the sink of dirty dishes from last night, unleashing all my wrath on innocent plates and Tupperwares.

All this while, part of my anger transfers silently upstairs to Karen, who is curled up in bed, and a glimmer of blame crosses my mind ‘This. Was. Your. Idea.’ How had we gone from a nice spotless house where everything was in place to this?

But my anger passes quickly, and soon the floor is dried and somewhat clean, and there is a slight sense of order in the house again. I come to my senses and realise that the dogs were just doing what dogs do, and the combination of excitement and a full bladder led to this accident.  I sit down with Toby and Tootsie, their unblinking stares trying to guess my next move, and my hands run all over their fur bodies lovingly, and then I proceed to feed them and play with them for about half an hour.

So fed, and tired from a morning’s activity, we all retire to the landing, which brings us again to my favourite time of day, 8 am.

After awhile, I crawl into bed next to a sleeping Karen, oblivious to all the sound and fury that preceded 8 am. I check my heart and there is no resentment, and I inch my body close to her, and she instinctively wraps her arm around me for a hug without rousing.

I wrote in my last post that I certainly never had pets growing up, and so this whole experience is new to me. There is going to be a definite period of adjustment and getting used to new routines and the wonderful chaos of living with pets. Don’t get me wrong – I do love Toby and Tootsie, both of them with distinct personalities, both of them unconditional in their love for us, both of them unfair victims of my misguided anger as I begin to slowly shed my selfishness.

At lunch today I recounted the chaos of 615 to Karen and we had a good laugh about it. I feel that there are times when Karen has felt somewhat guilty when Team Toto get into trouble, and has tried to defend them or placate me. That could not go on, and so I said to her I had come to a conclusion that morning – the decision to adopt the dogs was ours, and not hers alone, and I did not want to carry on any resentment from this point on about caring for our dogs.


A friend once said fatherhood changed him –  a part of his brain suddenly came alive and he began to see the world in a different light, almost anew. Certainly the presence of team Toto has altered our lives – I know I am certainly more present while I am at home now, and part of me actually struggles to comprehend this unconditional love that is being poured out on me by these two creatures I didn’t know ten days ago.

There is a new sense of purpose in our lives – I know certainly my conversations with friends and patients are richer for being able to talk about these two sillies. Ironically, in loving these two animals, it has made us more human. We have something else to live for. There will be many more 6.15 ams, as well as 8 ams, and – for better, or for worse – we are here for each other now.

Of Furry Pets and First-Time Parenting.


So if you haven’t yet met them already, say hello to Toby and Tootsie, our two new additions to the Cheok family. They are poodle crosses and rescue pets from the Second Chance Animal Rescue in Campbellfield. We were told that their previous owner was an elderly lady who unfortunately could not look after them any more.

Tootsie is the larger of the two, she is about 3 years old with an almost homogenous charcoal grey coat while Toby is 2 and a mixture of white, dirty grey and a smattering of brown behind his ears.

Both are vivid personalities in their own right – Tootsie is calm and clever, a great fetcher of the ball, while Toby loves to chase his tail. Tootsie is the more dominant of the two, and Toby totally takes his cues from her. She would be the first to any ball or toy that we throw, and Toby would join gamefully along but he would just be mimicking Tootsie without ever getting the toy.

Whenever we go out for walks, Tootsie would be bravely and independently exploring the Great Outdoors, sniffing at anything of interest, while Toby pretends to know what he’s doing and sniffs at whatever Tootsie was sniffing at. Oh yeah, this plant, oh yeah. Yup, I was totally about to sniff that first, Tootsie, he would agree. Whenever we get Toby to take the lead, he would take a few pretend confident steps forward – Yup, gonna lead the way now – and then three steps later he would stop and look up behind him as if to say – Erm, Tootsie, you wanna take over? – inevitably.


They are both highly curious and intelligent, assessing the world with their noses, their ears cocking to the slightest suggestion of a car passing on the outside, their extra sensory perception overloading into darting runs and excited yelps every time an unseen dog passes the front of our house. I’d like to say Tootsie looks after Toby, but we think she is actually a bit of a bully, which is evident when it comes to mealtimes or sharing a bed.

They are a bundle of crazy energy – bounding happily to see us on returning, be it from the outside world or our closed bedroom door, with all the enthusiasm and relief of a human person seeing a loved one return from the dead.

Thank Dog I thought we had lost you, donteverdothatagain you hear me, ohweloveyousomuch, ohthankDogthankDogthankDog,” their little bodies seem to say as they almost knock us over and lick us to an actual salivary death.

They are extremely happy little creatures, and always eager to play, which is why I am confused by my own tiredness and even, dare I say it, sadness, yesterday. Safe to say, in both a pleasant and unpleasant way, our lives have been turned upside down.

Karen had to go away for a few hours for work yesterday, and man, what an anxious few hours it was for me, terrified I would somehow break Toby and Tootsie on my own (or that they would break every thing). It was rather incapacitating, and it was curious how stifled I started feeling in my own home.  I felt such a wave of relief when she finally returned home, and that now the responsibility could be shared.

Thank God youre home, looktheyrestillalive, I gave them treats I hope thats okay, Toby peed again but its okay I wiped it up, ohIlove yousomuch, thank God youre home, thankGodthankGodthankGod,” my thirty-five year old self seemed to say as I almost knock her over and lick her to an actual salivary death.


I never quite grew up around pets – having Dad in a wheelchair and the three kids meant that there was little space else for any other creatures in our Malaysian home. From memory, we probably had a few fishes that unfortunately lasted all of one week before ‘doing the backstroke’ because we overfed them (when I open and close my mouth, that is the Universal language for “feed me”, silly fishies!) and I think I caught some fleas from a dog we had when I was being raised by my aunt in Penang for the first three years of my life.

So my pet parenting score to date:
1. Dead fishes. 2. Fleas.  (NB: Both were well fed).

Which is why yesterday and today was so hard – this was a glimpse into what the next 10 to 15 years would look like – mopping up their fluorescent pee from the floor six times already (but who’s keeping count?), picking up their poop by hand with inverted plastic bags, walking them twice a day and spending all this money on accessories for the food, treats and toys et cetera.  Sure, you’re happy to do it when it’s your own but it still takes a lot of getting used to, and it is a far leap for a guy whose only concern was what movie to watch this week and where to feed his own face next.


Greater than that, however, is the loss of independence – we now have these two little lives whose entire worlds are now in our hands and whose lives are intertwined with ours now – and so every trip out is tinged with the guilt of abandonment of the dogs (no matter how brief), exacerbated by Toby’s whimper designed by Mother Nature to reverberate at the same note that would break human hearts. Karen is so much better at being the firm parent and drawing boundaries while, me, well, let’s just say I am not only Good Cop, I am like Best Cop Ever. I hope they don’t grow up with Border(Collie)line Personality Disorders.

Haha! No, I am learning to be firm, too.

Of course there is the great trade-off of unconditional love – the eager pounding of tiny paws against wooden floors to greet you at the door after a long day at work, loving you just because you’re you (and not how you look like, what a wicked sense of humour you have or how much money is in your bank) and being smothered with enough licks to cover every stamp ever created in human history. Even that, however, is tampered by a sense of guilt when I cannot match their boundless energy and that look of disappointed boredom in their eyes when they have resigned to the fact that Daddy’s tired, or sad, today.


I think this is a small glimpse into parenthood – some of us are in love with actually being a parent, while a few of us, well, a few of us are just in love with the idea of being a parent.

We all expect that parenting would be an easy thing, that we would take to it like a duck to water, and that somehow if we don’t, that makes us bad human beings.

We love the idea of being a parent – that we would bond to our child immediately, that our infant would sleep through the night effortlessly,  that they would take to our breasts (and by our, I mean, Kare… oh, never mind.) with such ease and effortless grace that other mothers would marvel from afar and give their little nods of approval.

Our children are going to grow up without throwing tantrums, never fall sick, be considerate and selfless in their interactions with other children and always say “Please” and “Thank You”. Our Naughty Corners would be gathering cobwebs and their curiosity will result in a developed mind rather than househould accidents and four-hour waits in the Emergency Department.

But like everything else in life, reality far outstrips idealism, and we end up guilty, anxious and defeated when we fall short of society’s or even our own standards of raising a child. I can only imagine the fear of some first-time parents, especially the mothers, who are afraid of breaking their seemingly fragile baby, whose ears and feet attend worriedly to every cry, whose anxious and guilt-ridden hearts prevent them from leaving their homes, turning their sanctuaries slowly into self-imposed prisons.

Parenting is actually a skill that needs to be learnt and – as I am reminding myself now – we need to be kind and patient not only to our children (human or otherwise), but also to ourselves. There is so much to figure out – we are both learning how to live with each other and love each other. We do not immediately become amazing parents overnight and neither do well-behaved children suddenly appear.

It is the borrowed wisdom of family and friends and the internet, the boundaries that we set as the adults in the relationship and the sacrifices and lifestyle adjustments that we make which ultimately feed into this blossoming relationship between us and the ones we are entrusted with.

So yes, a few nervous first steps and mis-steps as fur parents to both Toby and Tootsie for Karen and myself. We are looking forward to the journey ahead with a mixture of excitement and trepidation – it will be fun, it will be difficult and we hope, ultimately fulfilling. May God grant us patience, wisdom and an endless supply of absorbent towels and antibacterial wipes as we learn to be good parents to the both of them, and in the process, learn more about ourselves.