Once in a while, a film captures my attention that I want to share with my transnational audience. Other times, life itself beckons and my attention is captured in a real-life slow motion scene.
One such scene is my reflection on a profound love that Third Culture Kids (TCKs) can gain from having a pet, yet may not have the luxury to experience it.
Most of what I’ll share applies to pets in general, but I’ll be sharing from my heart about my first dog, my dear Papi.
TCKs often don’t have the luxury of growing up with a pet. Beyond budget, space and time for pets, most global nomads have additional factors to consider: the frequency of relocations, the risk of not having stable or predictable pet health care, and the possibility of summer-long absences to add to the list of out-of-town holiday trips.
We live in a world that doesn’t yet truly accommodate to the human-pet bond. People who aren’t able-bodied with furry helpers and those who simply want to bring their furry friends out often have a restricted selection of public places to choose from. TCKs have shared with me that only certain airports have “restrooms” for pets of passengers traveling with them.
When I finally became a homeowner, free from pet rules for renters, and I knew my son was ready, we began the search for a dog. After various visits at shelters and with pet owners, one visit felt right. It was the visit that led me to my first dog ever: a black and white Bichon Frise and Collie mutt resembling a childhood TV favorite. We adopted him from a man who hated that he had to give him away due to moving.
We named him Papirazzi, because he would follow us everywhere. Eventually, “Papi” just stuck.
Having a dog was new for this Adult TCK, as I had never had a pet before. Having Papi brought new horizons internally while on the outside, I stayed in one location. I got to experience a taste of what people who grow up in one place can have.
In his puppy years, Papi would chew on a few items belonging to my son when we were both out of the house. Fortunately, we only had to reinforce his potty-training. My son and I often played chase with Papi. He would dart around the house with so much vigor. Outside, Papi would chase birds in the backyard, at parks and on the beach.
Having Papi brought new horizons internally while on the outside, I stayed in one location.
Papi became my son’s best friend and a member of our family. As Papi got a little older, he would escape from our back yard to roam around the neighborhood. My son and I would try different tricks to bring Papi back in the house or simply pick him up after he was done with his adventures.
Papi would come on rides to pick up my son, from primary school all the way up to when he took college entrance exams. I would bring him to dog-friendly restaurants in a nearby city. We brought Papi on an out-of-state trip once with the family, where we discovered he loved being around snow.
As a first-time dog mom, I know I made mistakes like initially keeping Papi off beds. Over time, however, the bond between my son and Papi helped the family expand where Papi was welcomed. This expansion is only symbolic of what Papi eventually taught me.
Three moments demonstrated to me how dogs deserve dignity, respect and reverence for the way they each showcase their instincts through their unique personalities:
1) The moment Papi’s herding instincts kicked in in our own backyard.
My son and I watched Papi become himself while running repetitively in a figure-eights. He was trying to round up squirrels. It was as if the sun rose on his personality, which emerged even more. We had become a bit worried about Papi’s escapes. It turns out he was just growing into his instinctive purpose. It also explained how he enjoyed some of his interactions with the family.
2) The moment I first witnessed Papi showing adamance at staying outside when I was ready to go back in the house.
Papi was just soaking up the sun on our wooden deck in our backyard. I was worried about something I had to do or someplace I had to go. Papi sat straight up with his head held higher and demonstrated he would not move even if I tried to make him. He would later do the same during our multiple car rides together.
In his older years, when he could no longer jump to the back of the car, he would display his adamance on bike trailer rides. When he was not ready to end what he was enjoying, he would simply stay to soak up the moment some more. It was not Papi being stubborn. He was showing dignity and the right to make choices for himself.
3) The moment Papi stopped asking for permission to enter my mother’s room the week she was dying.
Over the years, Papi always looked up for permission before entering my mom’s room. We were making sure his or our other dog’s fur didn’t end up on the floor or floating in the air. My mom’s post-stroke health required full 24-hour caregiving, including tube-feeding and diaper changes. She was also uninsured after my parents retired from the Foreign Service.
Papi respected my mom’s needs, especially after she went into home hospice for over a year. During the week before my mom took her last breath, however, Papi instinctively entered my mom’s room without asking for permission. He stayed under her hospital bed until the day she passed away. It was as if Papi was in vigil through her transition.
I didn’t know how deeply I had fallen in love with Papi as a family member but the love is much deeper than I expected it to be. I write this from a place of grieving Papi because as of this writing, we had to put him to sleep four days ago to release him from physical suffering and maintain his dignity.
He seemed to hold on as long as he could or until the remaining family member, mainly I, was ready.
It was one of the hardest things I have had to do.
The way Papi lived his life taught me profound lessons as a TCK.
Come back tomorrow for Part 2 on those lessons.