Wildlife photographer Roger Caras once said, “Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole.”
The quote certainly rings true for HCA patient Mr Cheng Thiam Chye, whose Jack Russell Terrier, Melissa, passed on suddenly earlier this year. “Melissa was my best friend and family for more than 15 years,” says Mr Cheng, who lives alone. “We enjoyed going on walks every day – the neighbours loved her.”
Mr Cheng lovingly holds an urn containing Melissa’s ashes.
Mr Cheng recalls the day Melissa fell ill after a suspected poisoning from eating bait laced with rat poison. “She started developing uncontrollable spasms and lost control of her bladder and bowels,” he says. “I rushed her to the vet for emergency treatment, but she passed on a week later.”
Mr Cheng was stricken with grief, but he never imagined that Melissa’s unexpected death was merely an ominous prelude to greater turmoil ahead. “I was diagnosed with advanced liver cancer soon after her death,” he shares.
Mr Cheng was referred to HCA shortly after his diagnosis. “He speaks often about Melissa and how much he loves animals,” HCA Nurse Manager Liew Tse Pei says.
Recognising Mr Cheng’s simple wish to be in the company of furry friends, the HCA team made arrangements with SOSD Singapore’s Healing Paws unit for a couple of canine volunteers to visit him at home.
Mr Cheng with Hachi and Sora.
On the day of the visit, the excitement in the air was palpable as Mr Cheng awaited the arrival of the dogs. When Hachi, Sora and their owners showed up at his doorstep, Mr Cheng’s face instantly lit up with joy.
Mr Cheng was all smiles as Hachi, a Shetland Sheepdog, and Sora, a Jack Russell Terrier, pattered around his flat, sniffing curiously at different corners. He remained patient and was quick to reassure the owners when the dogs knocked over a couple of items in their exploration.
Despite Mr Cheng’s waning energy levels, he regaled the volunteers with tales of his travels around Asia in his younger days and caring for the stray animals he encountered along the way.
Conversation flowed easily as Mr Cheng and the volunteers shared about their experiences with caring for their pets and the shenanigans their furry companions often got up to.
Mr Cheng speaks with the volunteers from Healing Paws, which offers animal-assisted therapy.
“Melissa was blessed with good genes – no one could tell how old the elderly lady really was,” Mr Cheng jokes fondly.
Over the past few months, Mr Cheng has gradually come to terms with the double blow of Melissa’s demise and his cancer. Sometimes, life’s curveballs hit where it hurts the most but the reassuring touch of a friend – two-legged and four-legged alike – can bring much comfort.
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