5 Reasons I Cherish 2014: Part I

There is a lesson in every up and down.

On January 1, 2014, I was a struggling writer striving to carve a niche in the overwhelmingly saturated world of blogging

On December 31, 2014, I will remain a struggling writer striving to carve a niche in the overwhelmingly saturated world of blogging

Wait, did those two sentences read the same?

Yep — and this is not a ‘copy and paste’ error.

In all honesty, nothing has changed on the surface — except the tense!

I have no tangible proof of success. My blogging metrics are so bad I celebrated by baking a cake when my blog was liked by 100 readers after nearly two years of existence. And the only person who reads my Word-a-Day blog is a close friend.

2014 was clearly not my ‘breakthrough year’. But was it forgettable?
NO.

Despite my consistent anonymity, 2014 is the second most unforgettable year of my life (the first being 2008, when I married my nutty husband!). Following are five (primary) reasons why 2014 has been very kind to me:

  • I adopted my first pet, Oreo
  • I befriended a multitude of enterprising entrepreneurs on social media
  • I began co-hosting a Google Plus Hangout-on-Air, #GetBizy with Kit and Jim
  • I moved to a new home
  • I began calling myself a writer (YAY me!)

Each of the aforementioned experiences has imparted an invaluable lesson that has empowered me to embrace my fears, take creative risks, give without expectations, cherish simple pleasures and enjoy the craziness of life.

Over the next five days, I shall elaborate on one reason per day. Initially, I had planned on creating a very long word blog post, but then concluded that my ramblings might prove more effective if they are doled out in installments. I hope you find my messages entertaining, engaging and/or empowering.

Lesson 1: Furry Friends Are Forever

“Why does watching a dog be a dog fill one with happiness?” Jonathan Safran Foer (author, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close)

Dogs? Uh-Oh

Two years ago, during a leisurely stroll through a park in Alaska — in what was a very memorable trip — I spotted a leashed dog that was wagging its tail furiously and trotting towards us. Instantly, I grabbed my husband in a death grip and began choking back tears. Despite my hubby’s rolling eyes and repeated assurances that the dog was not going to tear away from its owner and bite me, I climbed over a fence that abutted the parking lot and ran towards my car. Meanwhile, my giggling husband petted the dog and ambled to our car to console his silly wife who had cynophobia.

Fast forward to 2014.

Much to my husband’s amusement, I nuzzle huge dogs at my pup’s vet and run across the road to pet random dogs with wagging tails. I play aggressively with Oreo — my black-and-white Bassador — and hate leaving him alone even for an hour. I make fun of my mom and sister for being fearful about dogs (mean me! ;) )

So how did the woman with a ghastly fear of dogs suddenly transform into a crazy lady who coos at every other dog? To appreciate my story of ‘rebirth’, you have to first know why I was supremely scared of dogs in the past.

I hail from India, a country that houses several stray dogs on its roads. These creatures spend their lives in deplorable conditions; they eat out of trash cans, sleep in the dirtiest alleys and are pooh-poohed by everyone.

It’s no surprise the poor dogs are aggressive and — well — very scary!

I have experienced some hair-raising moments with street dogs — including one near-fatal chase — which petrified me into believing that all dogs are ‘bad’ or ‘frightening’. I did not realize that, much like humans, nature and nurture can collaborate to impact the personality of canines too.

I credit one benevolent Basset Hound, a pretty Pit Bull and a very close friend for opening my eyes and making me more tolerant of our faithful, four-legged pals.

My husband’s cousin has the sweetest dog on the planet. A beautiful Bassett Hound, Ginger loves getting behind-the-ear massages and cuddling with humans. When my cousin-in-law moved to the States in early 2014, I got to spend a lot of time with this gentle giant. With every interaction, I felt my heart thawing and my smile widening. Ginger helped me recognize that dogs can be an incomparable source of comfort.

Ginger: The Dog Who Made Me Fall in Love with Dogs

Around the same time, I got closer to Katherine Kotaw — an imaginative storyteller, a creative personal brand strategist, a lovely human being and a pit-bull advocate.

As our online relationship morphed into an enchanting friendship, her passion for dogs transferred to me too. She is the proud owner of the sweetest pit-bull, Ivy, and is on a personal mission to rebrand these (unfairly) tainted breeds. As Kat masterfully weaved her ardor towards dogs into her witty stories of personal branding, she made me realize that our four legged munchkins really don’t ask for much. All they seek is a dollop of love, oodles of laughter and a ton of turkey (well, at least my pup demands chicken and turkey in return for his loyalty :P)

Ginger’s innocence and Kat’s instincts made up my mind. Around May 2014, I turned to my animal-loving husband and uttered six magical words that he had been longing to hear, “I am ready for a dog”

The Pit-bull With a Heart of Gold

We were both clear about adopting a rescue dog because these ignored darlings needed someone to shower affection on them.

Wasting no time, we began scouting various rescue foundations, but nothing seemed to click. Then my eyes fell on a gorgeous pit-bull — Fiona — at The Buddy Foundation in Arlington Heights.

As she inched cautiously towards us in the ‘visiting room’, I remained transfixed. She was breathtaking. And when she licked my face, tears of joy sprang to my eyes. It was love at first sight, and I was ready to fork out any amount of money to adopt her. I also couldn’t wait to inform Kat and experience her glee through the interweb!

But unlike the lucky Shrek, I wasn’t meant to live happily ever after with Fiona.

Her handler told us that although this adorable pit-bull is very sweet to humans, she displays aggressive behavior towards other dogs because of some unsettling circumstances in her past.

I could see what he meant when we took her for a walk.

The girl who happily chomped on grass and bounced on the sidewalk went stiff at the sight of a dog. Her back arched and she refused to move.

Since I had never owned pets before, my husband thought it best to not adopt Fiona at this time. HE was afraid that she would not get along with the dogs in our neighborhood — two of whom lived next door — and that I wouldn’t be able to take care of her!

I was heartbroken, but understood his perspective, and let go of the leash with a bowed head and red-rimmed eyes. Although I couldn’t unite with Fiona, her kind demeanor reaffirmed my decision to parent a dog. I hope she has been enfolded into a loving household because this princess deserves no less than the best parents in the world!

Time For a Black-and-White Snack

Are you talking about me? Woof Woof

A long, dreary month later, my husband was browsing the Chicagoland Dog Rescue website when his eyes fell on a 2 month old black male pup with an elegant white stripe that traveled from his forehead to his nose. I could hear my husband’s loud heart-beats pulsate with extreme fervor for this black-and-white canine.

However, I wasn’t very sure about this cutie because of an ugly misunderstanding: black dogs are very aggressive. My husband — who has no patience for stereotypes — spent hours trying to convince me to just take a look at Drako, the pup’s listed name on the site. If I didn’t like him, we shall continue our search and forget about him.

Sighing loudly, I bowed to his heartfelt pleas and accompanied him to PetCo on a crisp summer morning. He had already made an appointment, and so we walked directly towards a tiny dog that was lying under the chair.

As we advanced, Drako opened his dazzling almond-shaped eyes and lifted his head off the ground. My lips began to stretch on their own accord, but since I was still mad at my husband for ‘forcing’ me to visit the puppy, I quickly pursed them and shrugged my shoulders as he caressed Drako. (Hey…it’s fun making the husband squirm, eh? :P )

Am I the cutest or what?

However, my impatient heart didn’t like these mind games and urged me to take this ‘canine snack’ into my arms. I never understood the expression ‘heart is overflowing with love’ until that moment. As I cradled and coddled Drako for almost thirty minutes, all my complaints were swallowed by the mist of unconditional love.

I just knew that we were bringing this guy home, but was nonetheless apprehensive because of a previous home assessment trip that didn’t go well. (We had almost settled on another dog, but the foster parent felt that my home was too dirty *rolling my eyes*)

The day of the home inspection, Drako licked my nose as soon as he crossed our threshold. It was all I could do not to snatch him from the foster mum. But since no one likes to give a dog to a senile woman, I showed incredible restraint by just smooching him!

Thankfully, these foster parents were extremely considerate and felt that we were the perfect match for Drako.

The adoption papers were signed on June 17. Drako was mine to cherish forever.
Is that a piece of turkey I see?

But the name had to go because it reminded me of Dracula! Amid rippling giggles and loud groans, we listed — and rejected — five names. (I am just glad my pup doesn’t have an identity crisis!)

Then my cousin-in-law suggested Oreo, which was also endorsed by our neighborhood kids, who fell head over heels in love with the short-legged, hyperactive pup

Oreo, it was.

I cannot exaggerate Oreo’s importance in my life. Between shredding paper towels, pouncing excitedly on strangers, clamping my hand between his sharp teeth and generally driving me crazy, my cookie teaches me to love, laugh, lighten up, let go and live! (I created an Inspired by Oreo series in July as part of a Facebook Blogging Challenge to honor my pup’s warm, witty and whimsical personality.)

It’s impossible to recall a time without Oreo. This exasperating love-bug hasn’t just encamped himself in my soul. He has stolen my heart so completely that staying away from him for even an hour throws me into a deep hole of depression. Simply put, I feel empty without him. His colorful food bowls, scattered chew toys (read: slippers and remote control :P), playful barks, umpteen treats (read: human food :P), dancing tail and uber-delightful face define my days!

Mommy’s Mr. Handsome

How can someone so exasperating also be immensely endearing? How can someone who drives me nuts with his diva-like behavior also have me roaring in laughter at his silly antics? How can someone as trying as this pup also be extremely tender?

Indeed, Oreo has a very unique personality. He hates to be cuddled, but will slowly sidle towards you whenever HE misses your touch. He loves being left alone, but also wants to play HIS version of Fetch with you at HIS convenience and on HIS terms (meaning he will grab anything you throw, but will not give it back. You have to pry it out of his mouth!). HIS MAJESTY turns his nose up at those unappetizing kibbles while gleefully devouring baked chicken that his mommy HAS to make every day!

Fabulous, Onerous, Relentless, Boisterous, Gregarious and Peerless. That’s my Oreo for you. Quite a package, eh?

And I wouldn’t trade him for anything or anyone in this world! Within a span of six months, this dearie has blessed me with a lifetime of memories and has stolen many a heart with his (deceptively) innocent face and hilarious pranks.

Are you done writing? Can you play with me, please?

Should I talk about the time when my dad sang a lullaby as my pup slept on his lap? Or should I describe how Oreo followed my ten-year old niece like a devoted fan when she visited me last month? Maybe I should tell you about how my cookie pushes his butt against my legs whenever he is biting on a chew toy. Or how he enjoys sleeping on your feet, lying under the warm sun on a cold day, licking your plate, pushing his whole body out of the car window, cocking his head, sleeping with his arms and legs splayed, flopping on his back as my hubby rubs his belly or begging to take him with you EVERYWHERE

You know what’s the best part? My journey with Oreo has just begun. I can’t wait to see him grow and blossom into a handsome dog whose childlike demeanor brings smiles to anyone who crosses his path.

Love you, Cookie!
Thank you, dearest, for embracing me into your life and opening my mind, heart and soul to the wonders of parenting a pet! You have converted a prejudiced woman into a passionate pet-owner with your ingenuousness, impishness and intuitiveness.

Stereotypes are extremely dangerous, for they prevent you from accepting the multitude of joys in our lives. There is beauty everywhere — unfortunately, our bias shrouds this splendor, inducing despair and disgust. I am extremely grateful to my husband for not supporting my prejudice against black dogs, instead dragging me to Petco and bringing our Oreo home.

Has my fear of dogs vanished? Not really. I still feel squeamish when a dog barks constantly or growls threateningly. But I am certainly not going to lump or label all canines as good or bad, instead assessing and appreciating each canine without any preconceptions

Because furry friends are forever!

Uh oh — Oreo is stirring awake. Time to give a big smooch (against his wishes!) and bake him some delicious Chicken!

I love you, my Cookie

I promise that my future installments are going to be much shorter. Oreo has been my greatest blessing of 2014, and hence I just had to pen an EXTENDED paean! Tomorrow, you shall learn how 2014 reinforced the importance of relationships.

Meanwhile, why don’t you tell me what is your fondest memory of this year? Thank you!