“My Silver Linings Playbook”
Silver linings are often in the company of stormy clouds. Yet, a change in perspective and some introspective searching, often reveals the potential for beneficent outcomes in many of life’s setbacks
I recently ended up in hospital for two rounds of debridement surgery on my right hand and thigh – a result of trying to stop a dog fight.
I successfully broke it up, but ended up being mauled badly in the process. I was left with eight deep puncture wounds on my right hand and thigh, including one on my palm which had been bitten clean through from one end to the other.
At the start of the year, my family adopted Simba, a six-year-old crossbred Chow Chow, from a local animal shelter. Simba was a big boy with a beautiful mane befitting his namesake lion. He was rescued from factory grounds, so it’s anybody’s guess what he must have been through during his early years trying to survive on the streets.
What we did know though, is that Simba had triggers that indicated deep-rooted insecurity, fear, and trust issues. So in spite of his adorable face and loving nature, he kept getting rehomed because of his tendency to snap at people.
The previous family that adopted Simba had him for five months before finally giving up on him. During his time with them, he briefly injured two members of the household. Simba had snapped at the family’s helper when she touched him while he was sleeping. A couple of months later, he bit the mother when she tried to carry and comfort him during a thunderstorm.
My husband and I are experienced doglovers, so in spite of Simba’s bite history, we were prepared to do whatever it took to try to make it work. The shelter staff arranged for their dog trainer to visit our home together with Simba so that he would be properly assimilated into the family, along with our Belgian Malinois, a retired military working dog.
At home, everyone was extra mindful about Simba’s triggers and gave him the space he needed to settle in. He started warming up and would come to me often for long tummy rubs. I thought we were getting along pretty well and was starting to see a future for us as a family.
NO ONE SAW WHAT WAS COMING NEXT
The shelter staff had told us that Simba got along with other dogs, but no one could’ve predicted how the home environment would bring out Simba’s (undiscovered) territorial side.
That fateful Sunday afternoon, I was going downstairs with my Malinois. Halfway down, Simba, who had been lounging in the living room, suddenly dashed up the stairs and attacked him without warning.
Instinctively, I reacted – Malinois are a large breed, trained as attack dogs because of their inherently strong bite. I knew I had to stop the fight before it escalated into a scenario which would leave either one or both animals badly injured (or dead).
There was no time to hesitate. I reached out and pulled Simba away. In that instant, he turned on me instead. His strong jaws clamped down hard on my right hand, refusing to let go.
Simba held onto my hand for what seemed like an eternity as I screamed for help. Blood started to pool on the ground, even as blinding pain shot up my arm. My young kids stood transfixed watching from the living room downstairs, eyes and mouths agape, frozen in shock. No one dared to move a muscle.
I cannot begin to describe the pain and terror that flooded my entire being in those moments. A part of me was clamped between the jaws of an angry animal – I imagine that’s what a prey would feel like as it fears for its life when attacked by a predator.
I fought hard against the primal urge to attempt to yank my hand out of the animal’s jaws (that would lead to more lacerations and tearing). It was all I could do to maintain just enough composure to think and function.
I shouted for help. It came in the form of my mum-in-law and a bag – she shuffled over from the kitchen and swung it against Simba’s body, trying to distract him. It took a few tries before he finally let go of me, but as soon as he did, he lunged again, repeatedly sinking his teeth into my right thigh.
Fortunately, he wasn’t able to get a tight grip because of the wider surface area. This time, I managed to tear away and run upstairs to safety.
Simba’s rage ended as abruptly as it had started. He calmly trotted back down the steps, strolled into the kitchen, and sat down to rest. It was as though nothing out of the ordinary had happened.
The kids called my husband (who was out), and he instructed them to call an ambulance while he rushed home.
A SLOW RECOVERY
I spent the next month going in and out of the hospital, where I was warded for two rounds of surgeries to clean out multiple punctures and repair the damage inside my wounds. I was miserable and in constant pain. It also didn’t help that I had to spend the entire Lunar New Year holiday season staying in the ward, unable to walk or move.
With my master right hand badly injured, I was incapable of performing even basic functions like washing my face or tying my hair, much less hold a pen or type. The fact that it was during the public holidays made things much worse – most of the hospital departments were closed, so my second surgery had to be performed in the cold ER operating theatre (that’s a story for another day).
The whole experience was traumatic and painful – it’s something that I’d never ever forget for the rest of my life. Physically and mentally, the healing was slow and I felt extremely conflicted in the days that followed.
But I was determined not to let one bad incident change my relationship with all dogs.
I grew up with dogs and had never known fear with them in any situation – but something had changed inside me. I could not help but feel afraid of Simba. And much as I was fighting it, a part of me had inadvertently started growing more wary of animals.
Yet, I didn’t want to fear Simba, and I definitely didn’t want to harbour any ill feelings towards him. But how could I not, after everything that I’d had to go through?
THE POWER OF MEDITATION
In those times of internal struggle and rumination, I turned back to my meditation practice to find grounding. Meditation brings the brainwave pattern into an alpha state that promotes healing. Whenever I feel overwhelmed or out of balance, I find calm and a sense of heightened awareness through meditation.
It didn’t take long for me to find the new perspective I needed for the freedom to let go of any negative sensations I might’ve had about Simba. It happened as I sat on my mat one day, practicing a simple breathwork exercise that I had picked up from Kundalini Yoga and Meditation teacher, Rie Komiya, who teaches at The Yoga School.
LOOKING FOR THE SILVER LINING
I started to look for the silver linings surrounding my circumstances. It dawned upon me then, that even though I was suffering, some positive things had emerged out of this unfortunate event.
Remember when I shared earlier that “help came in the form of my mum-in-law and a bag”? Well, the truth is, we had been estranged for years. In fact, we no longer even acknowledged each other although we stayed in the same house.
Just a year ago, things between us had deteriorated so badly that it reached breaking point. And yet, despite our differences, it was my mum-in-law who came to my rescue when Simba attacked me. Things would’ve turned out a lot worse had it not been for her stepping in.
After my discharge from the hospital some three weeks after the incident, I was sitting contemplatively in the kitchen one afternoon, when she walked in. Rather kindly, she asked me how I was feeling, and expressed concern. Awkwardly, I muttered my gratitude. It was then that she surprised me with a quick squeeze on my hand as she said, “Oh Can, I still love you, you know that right?”
Some people come into your life for a reason, and some come into your life for a season.
I think I’ve figured it out finally. My family and I had wished for Simba to be a part of us, to share our home. But I see now that it wasn’t meant to be.
Simba came into our lives for a reason – it sounds ironic, but thanks to him, broken relationships were mended.
He has since been returned safely to the animal shelter, where he’s undergoing behavioural training as he waits to be adopted into a new home. I made it a point to be there with Simba the day he was brought back. I could feel my heart thumping wildly inside my chest as I approached him for the first time since the incident. I could not stop reliving the attack in my head.
After sniffing me for a few seconds, Simba relaxed at my feet – I understood that as his way of telling me that we were cool. I plucked up the courage to pat him and gingerly sat down by his side. Softly, I spoke to Simba and stroked his mane. I was still afraid, but I needed to make my peace with him. And I did.
Perhaps, the universe agrees with my new train of thought, because the shelter trainer made an interesting comment just the other day. “If it wasn’t for your family, we would never have known that Simba doesn’t get along with other animals,” she said. “He’s lucky that instead of euthanising him immediately, you chose to understand the challenges he had to face as a street dog, and gave him a second chance by bringing him back here to be re-homed.
“If this had happened with another family, Simba would probably have been put down by now. But with a better understanding of what makes him tick, today we have a higher chance of finding him a better match. Simba will thrive in a home without kids nor other animals living in the same house.”
The way I see it, maybe I too, was meant to be a piece of the puzzle in Simba’s life – hopefully, I was the second last one, and the next adopter who comes along will be the final puzzle piece that completes the beautiful picture of him with his forever family.