Saving Sprouts

Many of us go through hard times at some point in life; and as humans, most of us do complain a whole lot. I have food when I am hungry; water when I am thirsty, readily available medical care when I am ill and most importantly, I have friends and family to rely on. Some time ago I came across this phrase ‘I complained that I had no shoes, till I met the man with no feet’. This phrase really hit home and I told myself that not only would I complain less; I would do something for the people and animals who lead lesser lives than me.

Over my four short years of volunteering in animal welfare, I have met many animals who are so much less fortunate than I am. Sprouts is one such dog who has again reminded me of why I want to involve myself in helping animals and the community.

Sprouts must have had lead a very sad life. I could see it in his eyes the moment we made eye contact in the middle of the road. You might start to question what I was doing in the middle of the road, but that was exactly what I wanted to know from Sprouts, too. We were making our way to our Saturday stray feeding area in an industrial estate when we caught sight of this dog standing on the other lane next to the road divider. He seemed rooted to the ground, in the middle of the road; legs too weak to carry him across to safety.

Sprouts, at the road divider

Lucky for us and the dog, there was no traffic at all during that evening period. We slowed down and pulled over, wound our windows down and called out to him, trying to catch his attention. We clapped and whistled - no response. We got out from the car and walked toward him - no response. Not a flinch, not a twitch of a muscle. He just stood there, with his face downcast, still rooted to the same spot in the middle of the road. Maybe no one had ever called out to him; no one had ever approached him with kind intentions. He just did not know how to react. Or maybe he was just too weak to respond.

The reason why we stopped the car in the first place was not because he was standing in the middle of the road. Most dogs who live on the streets are extremely street smart and will swiftly dodge oncoming traffic. Why we stopped for him was because we could see that he was starving; his rib-cage and pelvic bones were jutting out and could be seen from a distance. It was an extremely painful sight, to see an emaciated body standing motionless and alone in the middle of the road. I wondered if dogs could commit suicide.

The first thing we did was to try to feed him. Scooping out some rice, chicken and liver, we placed it on the grass on our side of the road, hoping that he would come over to eat. The food and our coaxing managed to catch his attention, but to our surprise, this gaunt and scrawny dog remained where he was, not moving an inch! I picked out a few pieces of chicken and liver from the food pile and walked slowly and cautiously towards him. At this point, most street dogs would turn and scamper away in fear, but I was indeed taken aback by how he did not move at all. He was like a doggie statue constructed in the middle of the road. I knelt right in front of him, in the middle of the road, and he looked me in the eye; showing me his world of pain and suffering. I placed the food on the road divider, and gently told him to eat some. He did not. He seemed totally uninterested in what I lay before him.

Refusing the food we offered to him on the road divider

It was only when I lifted a piece of liver to his mouth that he started sniffing at it and expressing his desire to eat. He had some difficulty taking hold of the food from my hand, and seemed to struggle to chew and swallow that small piece of liver. I held out another small piece, but he refused it despite my coaxing. All this while, the other volunteers were looking out for cars and traffic as Sprouts and I were glued in the middle of the road. The next thing the dog did, confirmed our speculations that he was too weak to move. He started to walk towards the pavement, but in slow motion which made him look as if he was in pain. 

His skinny frame slowly staggered across the road and when he had to climb up the step onto the grassy pavement, it felt to us that he had no energy left. We quickly crossed the road with more food, hoping that he would continue to eat but he didn’t. We decided to pour him some water lest he was thirsty and to our astonishment, he lapped up the entire bowl in a flash! He just kept drinking and drinking, as if he had never drunk a sip of liquid for an entire week. We stood there watching; our eyes shifting from his body of bones to his weak and lifeless face.

Cutting a sad, lonely figure. Attempting to walk across the road

A living skeleton

His eyes showed nothing but surrender

After drinking the water, he walked slowly to a patch of grass and lay down. It was all too strange for a dog to suddenly lie down in the midst of so many people – it felt like he was trying to say I appreciate your food and water, now leave me to die. He lay on the grass, heaved a deep sigh and waited for death to overcome him. This sight tugged at my heartstrings so badly, I felt like I wanted to cry, but Aunty Fiona has always reminded me to stay calm and logical in such situations and help the dog first. Cry later, she would always say. Not a very kind piece of advice, but Aunty Fiona always reminds me that if you panic or get upset, you can’t make right decisions for the dogs.

Usually when we come across such situations, street dogs are very grateful to be saved but this dog just wanted death to take him away from the hard life he had lived. He was probably an outcast and bullied by other street dogs, never getting to eat – and suffering internally from kidney and liver failure. After what life had thrown at him, he decided that death would just be a better option. I knelt beside him and stroked his head, while HOPE volunteer Justina gave him some Reiki.

He had given up on life; waiting for death to overcome him

We desperately racked our brains to try to help him, but we were at a loss. We had no carrier to put him in, no seat space in the car to lay him on, and most of the veterinary clinics were already closed for the day. This was unplanned and unforeseen; but we felt that we had to do something. We couldn’t just leave him there. Leave him there to sleep and possibly slip into death by the side of the road.

As animal rescue volunteers, we know that each and every life is precious. If it weren’t, we would not be spending almost every night of the week in industrial estates, feeding and caring for the street and factory dogs. We may not be able to save every single dog, but we’d always try. We could not let this dog leave this world, dying a slow and painful death, knowing no one cared for him. It just wasn’t possible. Volunteer Mandy got down to calling her friends, in search of someone who could immediately foster the dog for one night before taking him to the vet the next day. Fortunately, we managed to find a foster who very kindly gave consent. Our volunteer Miao Li had her hands all covered with oil and dirt as she carried this sweet street dog to our car - too weak to even stand up any longer. Sprouts’ weak and limp body lay lifelessly on her lap the entire journey.

The next day, Sunday, volunteers met HOPE Dog Rescue founder, Fiona, at the vet for the dog’s medical appointment. We decided to name him Sprouts. A blood sample was taken from Sprouts after seeing that his gums were almost white from the lack of blood cells in him. The test results confirmed that he had severe tick fever; so severe that his kidney and liver were failing. His PVC (Packed Cell Volume) was a mere 9% when a normal dog’s PVC should be at least 35%. Dr Ang mentioned that even if he should receive two bags of blood, he might only have a 30% chance of survival. Considering that he had blood in his pee as well due to internal bleeding from tick fever, there wasn’t much light left at the end of his tunnel.

A picture of suffering

A sorry sight. What if our paths never crossed?

Eyes that no longer reflect life

When Dr Ang checked him, he dripped blood onto the floor and it smelled really foul

Sprouts was warded immediately, put on drip and started on antibiotic. He was severely dehydrated. However, this morning when we called the vet to to check how he was, they informed us that he had passed away during the wee hours of the morning. It is likely that he would have gone in his sleep, because he looked like he was in a deep slumber - just that his body was cold.

Sprouts may not have had the chance to live a happy life, but in the end, he finally felt the love of a human touch and knew that there is at least some kindness in this world. It has been just two days of our acquaintance, but Sprouts has found a very special place in my heart. Humans have an extraordinary relationship with dogs - closer than with any other animal; street dogs are our passion. Each dog whom we rescue teaches us something; Sprouts has brought to light the need to give hope to dogs whereever we go, and a small glimmer can help bring love and life even in the face of death. I know for sure that Sprouts would be heading for a better place with no suffering, and live eternally in the paradise of sunshine at Rainbow Bridge. At least he is left to lie peacefully in the midst of people who care; people who love.

Saying goodbye is never easy

Goodbye dear Sprouts
I know that Sprouts' story has touched and impacted you as much as it did me. There are many dogs out there just like him; on the edge of life and death and waiting for that last spark of hope and love. There will be some dogs whom we cannot save, and some who might live, but that doesn’t matter. All that matters is that we alleviate their pain, bring them light, love and Hope. It’s a road less travelled, but we travel it anyway, because we must.

Sprouts is Justina's very first experience rescuing a street dog: "He had given up all hopes in life; all he wanted is to leave this place. Poor boy! I hope he had a smooth transition." 

Sprout's medical bill has amounted to a $500/-; $285/- for his overnight stay, drip line, blood tests and antibiotic. The cremation was $215/-. Should you wish to help us financially, please contact us. HOPE Dog Rescue runs a programme called “Aid for Hope” and with your kind support, we will be able to continue with our rescues and help more street animals.

To help a street dog, please email Fiona at pops_snaps@singnet.com.sg. All cheques will go directly to Mount Pleasant Animal Medical Centre.

Thank you for believing in our work.

Written by Jo-Ann