MY best buddy died on the 13th of this month. He was in my arms when I said goodbye.
Today is his birthday. Had he lived, he would have celebrated his grand 13th birthday.
Most people consider 13 to be an unlucky number.
However, spending all those years with my buddy, my Rottweiler, have been by far the best years of my life!
Vai came into my life at a time when I was at the lowest.
Even though I was a disabled activist I still found it hard to fight away the bouts of depression when I was at home.
To put it in a nutshell, I was very angry with the world, in most cases, for choosing to be blind towards the needs of disabled persons.
In my activism work, I was even shouted at by some people – even a pastor, would you believe?
All I did was to campaign relentlessly for disability rights such as the inclusion of ramps, wheelchair-friendly toilets, jobs for the handicapped, etc, so that people with disabilities can have a higher quality of life wherever they are.
I just couldn’t see why some people simply couldn’t understand that.
I would spend long hours in my room and stare at the walls. At such times, I frankly saw no reason to wake up in the mornings.
That all wonderfully changed with Vai.
I got him against my family’s wishes. They thought I could never keep a dog because I was in a wheelchair. It turned out to be the best “stupidest mistake” that I had ever made in my life.
Vai, at eight weeks old, was the exact challenge that I needed to overcome my depression. He became the “morning reason” I needed.
My wheelchair was no longer an excuse. I had to feed him, bathe him and clean up after him. Whenever, I did these things, it was just Vai and I.
I had to learn to trust him; and he me.
As far as I know, he is our country’s first service dog. I trained him to be one with my late grandmother as my assistant.
He learnt to pick up all sorts of things for me from the ground: my mobile phone, car keys and even open the door. He also taught me to laugh and have fun.
He would snatch my watch away and then insist I put up a chase. At other times, the cheeky fellow would bring me a dead lizard or a live cockroach as a “gift.”
His antics helped me to gradually focus away from my disability and my problems and onto him. As far as he was concerned, it’s people in wheelchairs who are normal.
Vai gave me the courage to go out for walks with him in the park. He was an excellent bodyguard both at home and in my car.
Once he even saved me from a bunch of road bullies. Some boys walked threateningly to my vehicle – until Vai decided to stand up in the backseat to show himself.
He was chief actor in my service dog movie sponsored by the Rotarians. The video made a profound impression on local councils that assumed that Rottweilers were killers.
After watching it, they decided to scrap the ban on the breed.
If Vai, as a local ambassador for Rotties could talk, this would be his message: “There are NO bad Rottweilers; only UNTRAINED OWNERS!”
Vai, together with his partner (an Alsatian I got a month after) inspired me to set up a service canine training programme called Bivai Special Dogs. It was launched by Datin Paduka Marina Mahathir in 2001.
The Rottie has touched the lives of many disabled people who came in contact with him. Many readers of this column have also been inspired by his adventures featured here.
More lately, Vai was instrumental (he is really founder) in setting up Petpositive, a national animal-assisted therapy (AAT) society of which I serve as president.
We hope to have an AAT centre in our country soon to carry out Vai’s legacy. Not just with dogs but all types of pets to comfort disabled and elderly people.
Some people tell me they never want to have dogs because of the fact that they will die one day.
With Vai, he leaves behind only wonderful memories. I can’t imagine living without the marvellous years he so generously gave me. It was all my privilege to have shared my life with such an angel of a dog.
I sobbed like a child as he slipped away in the late evening. All I could say was thank you Vai for making my years with you the happiest that I had ever known.
Vai was euthanized at Segar Veterinary Hospital in Kuala Lumpur where he has been receiving treatment since a young dog. He was diagnosed with cancer.
He was under the care of Dr K Sumithra Nair until his final breath. There was no charge for his treatment.