Photo courtesy of FLICKR.COM
by SARAH HANASHIRO
Growing up with a pet, especially one that welcomes its family with exuberance and love, may be one of the most heartwarming relationships a person can develop.
My experience with this truth begins when I was 11 years-old. The Japanese slang word, Chibi, used to describe someone or something as small and cute, holds much more meaning to me than its dictionary definition. My uncle’s dog, a chihuahua and Corgi mix, was fittingly given the name “Chibi.”
I’ve heard the story a hundred times–my uncle’s neighbor’s dog gave birth to seven puppies and he was giving them away. My uncle, blank-faced and infatuated by the litter, looked down into the box and saw that one of the puppies was different than all of the others; he was a muddy gray color, divergent from his golden-brown brothers and sisters.
Chibi wasn’t chosen from the litter based solely on his “cuteness” factor; in fact, my family often describes him as the “ugly duckling” of the bunch. However, during a brief moment of eye contact that he shared with my uncle, Chibi emitted a distinct feeling of friendliness which locked him into the hearts of my family forever.
Although I can write endlessly about Chibi’s unique characteristics and personality quirks, from his human-like tendencies to his recognition of my poor intonation when I practiced the violin, I wanted to touch upon the overall impact that Chibi’s life has left on me.
A few years ago, my grandparents temporarily moved to Okinawa, Japan, to take care of my great-grandmother during the last years of her long and prosperous life. While they were away, Chibi lived at home with my family and me. However, as my great-grandmother’s health began to deteriorate, so did Chibi’s.
It is difficult as it is taking care of another living creature, but the physical and emotional toll that his diminishing health had on my family was an experience extremely foreign to me. First it was his sight; his pupils lost the deep, black color and began graying. Then it was his legs; he quit running and took his time to get from place to place. This ultimately led to the weakening of his muscles, and his later immobility.
After over two years of caring for a dog who could barely see and could no longer walk or sit up by himself, I remember disliking the responsibility of taking care of Chibi for a period of time. Having to change his ‘pee-pad,’ sitting next to him as I held him in a position so that he could eat and drink was a hassle.
Though Chibi was no longer in prime health, I realized that his mood did not change. He still barked and wagged his tail when someone would come in to the house, even though he was physically unable to greet me at the door. He still complained when I started playing my poor rendition of J.S. Bach on the violin, and he was still my most honest family member. He expressed his gratitude and love for my family and me, despite his age and health. I had just failed to realize this sooner because I was so focused on the task of taking care of him instead of understanding why I was doing it in the first place.
I will never forget the day Chibi passed. I was watching television in the living room, Chibi’s bed facing the screen because my mother was convinced that he loved watching the Disney Channel. I had just sat him up to eat lunch and drink water 20 minutes before, so he seemed content and comfortable. My mom walked in the room and started to say his name because he would usually respond, but this time he didn’t. No bark. No tail wag. Nothing. Distressed, my mom picked Chibi up, and his head drooped down, face expressionless. And after 18 years, having outlived all of his brothers and sisters, Chibi’s life came to an end.
At that moment, my entire family broke down crying. Even my dad and brother, who I’ve rarely ever seen cry, broke into tears. To this day, it is difficult to think about that day without tearing up. However, instead of dwelling on the Chibi’s death, I wish to celebrate his life.
I have been fortunate enough to build a relationship with a dog that had such a positive attitude, even in his later years. Chibi taught me the importance of taking care of family, and how valuable unconditional love leads to a long and prosperous life.