圖文/Story & Picture ─ 謝明杰/ Hsieh Ming-Jai
Astrologers got it right when they say beneath that cold facade, Aquarius is a warm and passionate soul. I am a man of nostalgia, especially for those who fought beside me through thick and thin. Back when I was living in a shoe-box sized apartment and had only NT$50 in my pocket, all I could afford was a NT$39 lunch box which I shared with Civet Cat who thoroughly enjoyed it. One year, our New Year’s “banquet” was a pot of porridge and some minced meat but he was just as content. In the past decade, he stuck with me and kept me company when I struggled. He encouraged me every step of the way and never took credit when things went well. To me, he is not just an animal, but a son that I adore and pamper. When my life took a turn for the better, I made sure Civet Cat lived as comfortably as humans. He now has his own bowl, sunglasses, bed, helmet, even his own personal vet and groomer. I will never forget the support he shown me when I hit rock bottom. Without him, I wouldn’t be here today.
On a frigid raining November day in 2003, as when I was about to open my door to go home, I spotted a little wet dog shivering in a narrow alley across the street. At that time I was living in an apartment up in the hillside of Neihu. I have a natural affinity towards animals so I called him over. Although he has never met me before, he quickly scurried across the street and wagged his tail as I petted his head. When I saw he was collarless, I said to myself, “I will keep you if you come home with me on your own.” God knew that I could barely keep myself alive but this little fellow still came straight into my apartment. This was the first time I discovered we had a special bond. At that time, I was still learning how to hold myself accountable to the commitments I have made, even if it meant keeping a promise to a dog or delivering on pledge I never uttered out loud. I quickly made arrangement for his stay. First I took him to the groomer and the vet to scan for a chip and that’s how I found out he was registered to someone. As much as I liked him, there was no way I could steal someone else’s dog.
It turned out he belonged to a middle-aged man in his 50’s. As soon I mentioned about the dog, he cut me off and said, “that dog knows no loyalty. He is always roaming around outside. If you want him, he is yours!” But in my heart I rebutted the man thinking the level of a dog’s loyalty is a reflection how is he is treated by the owner. Without giving a second thought, I accepted his offer and left my number with him. A week later, a young girl called claiming to be the dog’s real owner. It turns out the dog was her’s which she named him “Bao Bao” (English translation: baby). The man was her brother-in-law. She had to leave the dog with him because she was living in a university dorm. Unfortunately, the man didn’t like dogs so he just let Bao Bao wonder around like a feral dog who never knew when and where is the next meal would come from.
This girl was a dog-lover and all she wanted was to find Bao Bao a loving home and that’s why she called me to make sure I was fully committed. I reassured her that once I decide to have a dog, I would love it with all my heart or else I would never have one. Till this day, I kept that promise. For ten years, I have showered Civet with love. I haven’t never heard back from that girl again. I imagine she is now all grown up and maybe even has a family of her own. I wonder if she still remembers her rueful voice when she implored me to take care of her baby.
Bap Bao came to my life when he was only 8-months old. The vet said he was one of those rare tricolor border collies with a panda-like face, and a white patch on the chest. With a strip of white hair between his round dark eyes, he looks just like a Formosan Masked Civet and that’s how he got his new name, Civet cat.
Civet is an highly intelligent dog. He spent his first week silently observing his new environment and me. He never barked. He was so quiet that I wondered if he was mute. After a week, he began to display every “wild behavior” that a puppy has. He went through the garbage can, gnawed on the slippers, and destroyed furniture. The house needed a major clean-up each I came home but to me, it was nothing I couldn’t tolerate.
At that time, I was doing everything I could to salvage my dying business. I was under tremendous stress and all I wanted to do when I came home was to relax. But although Civet caused trouble everyday, I never had the heart to scold him whenever he flashes his signature innocent puppy look. No matter how exhausted, I am always happy to take him out on walks after I clean up the house. In fact, it was him that walks me because he decides where we went. I get plenty of exercise each time we go out. Civet is curious about everything and wants to sniff everywhere. He would drag me to a tree and just when I thought he finally found the spot to relief himself, he would refuse to lift his leg. He extends his outside time by going to the bathroom seven or eight times when three times would have done the job. Till now, we haven’t gone on a walk that was under 3 kilometers.
Before I met him, my life was in shamble. He appeared when I was facing the darkest hours of my life. I was beaten by life and squashed by my own mistakes. I became cynical and scornful that I complained about everything and blamed anyone but me. I was pushed to the brim and was a hairline away from exploding. But Civet opened my heart which I have locked up and thrown away the key. He changed the way I view the world. Without him, I would not be here today. I often talk to him because I know he understands and responds.
They say animals listens to people who still keep their inner child alive. My unfamiliarity of the secular world made me a failure in my job, but Civet rekindled my inner child and helped me to draw strength from within. He helped me understand that even when I am abandoned by my friends and family, I could always count on him.
Civet never wants to go home after spending a day playing outside. Because he understands the concept of cross-walks, he always refuses to move when we get closer to the cross-walks because he knows it meant it was time to head home. The only way to get him moving again is if I decide to change direction. When my life went from bad to worse, I had no choice but to file bankruptcy and move to a smaller apartment near the Dadaocheng Pier. Whenever he snuck out, I would get so worried but he always came home by scratching on the door. I became less concerned when I realized he knew his way home. After observing him from a distance, I discovered that this fellow knows how to read light signals. Moreover, he is quite skilled at weaving in and out of the busy traffic so he can go have fun at the piers across the street.
I talked to him even more after I found how intelligent he was. He always listens with his head tilted to the side. I never spank him, except for the three times he peed on the bed. He loves to have the wind blow on his face. At that time, my mode of transportation was a hipster motorcycle with no place for him to stand. This meant in order to take him out for a ride, he had to plant his front paws on the gas tank with his hind legs firmly on my legs. Needless to say, he grabbed attention each time he was on the road. We were pulled over by the police several times, but instead of their usual harsh manner, the policemen were simply curious about Civet and often joked about giving him a ticket for not wearing a helmet. After a while, I decided to buy Civet his very own protective glasses and helmet and he is now looking more suave than ever.
It took Civet no time to recognize the different sounds of the engine. Now when we are about to make a turn, he knows to tilt his body to the opposite direction in order to maintain his balance. He also leans his body forward when we are about to take off so he wouldn’t slide backward. Needless to say, all this requires a high degree of understanding and chemistry between the rider and the dog. All those years when we had no one else but each other, we discovered each other’s strength and become more and more interdependent than ever. On one outing in July, Civet ran next to me as I cycled from the Dadaocheng Pier to Shezi Island. He pounded the pavement until he got blisters on his paws. But despite of the pain, he refused to be carried and insisted on walking home by himself.
Civet moved several times with me. Even though the neighbors hardly know me, they are all too familiar with him because of our daily walks. His cheerful disposition and sharp wits make him absolutely magnetic to anyone that meets him, which means many people end up sharing their food with him. The folks at the roast pork restaurant near by and the lamb hot pot place down the street often helped me to save money by preparing a feast for him. The fact is, he eats quite well at home but it seems he hasn’t shrugged off the habit he developed during his street days because he still begs strangers for food. Of course most people cave in when they see his round beautiful dark eyes or when he put his head on their laps. I truly believe he has the ability the stir up the most merciful side of any human souls.
I wonder why would this dog choose to stay with me when I was down on my luck? Even when I was penniless, we managed to create lots of fond memories. In my days of suffering, Civet have me hope, encouragement, and the motivation to carry on. My love for him became stronger and now we are inseparable.
Now at a ripe old age of 10, he is slowing losing his panda look as the colors begin to fade. But now, his eyes are full of the wisdom and strength that weren’t there when he was a puppy. The decade before my 40th birthday was the most difficult period of my life. But with his companionship, it was also the time when I witnessed countless of miracles. How can I not share all these goodness with him? Last July, he was diagnosed with the “old men” disease — enlarged prostrate which blocked his urinary tract. I had to rush him to the emergency room in the middle of the night. The doctors said they have never seen another dog with a stronger will to live. He has since recovered but he has also lost so much weight in the process. Under my top-notch VIP-quality care, Civet has bounced back to health and is now a rambunctious and energetic 10 year-old dog.
The friends who visit my house often always melt to pieces when they see Civet. He never fails to impress new friends by rubbing up against them. Even the friends who were afraid of dogs are now “cured” of their phobia because of him.
When I first met him 10 years ago, I was impatient with everyone except with him. Until this day I have maintained that gentleness. My girlfriend Yi-ting always praises me for having congenial personality. But all credits belong to Civet. Because he loves me so unconditionally, I am able amplify that love and share with everyone I meet. How often will anyone meet a dog that changes their personality and life for the better? There is no other way to love him except wholeheartedly. As a human, my world revolves around social gatherings and work. But in his world, I am all that he has. I am everything to him and in return, he has dedicated his life to me.
Although there were times he had me worried sick for leaving the house, I have never reprimanded him. After all, my worries for him pale in comparison with what all the positive energy he has injected into my life. From Civet’s eyes, I see purity and the tenderness. Unfortunately, not many people can see clearly the goodness in animals. You know what is the biggest difference between humans and animals? Animals will always be animals but sometimes, humans can be so inhumane.
There are too few animals in the world that are treated kindly by humans. Humans are not only sabotaging the Earth, we are also mistreating the animals. Because of humans, so many animals live under constant fears. This is not at all the kind of behavior humans, or as some say, the smartest creature of all, should have. If we can’t respect or show love to other lives, then how can we sustain ourselves? We must learn to have more appreciation for animals and we must offer them more attention and protection because their souls have stay just as pure as God had intended.
Whenever you look into eyes of an animals, you will hear them say, “I love you.” But only if you are willing to look with more than just your eyes.