I love animals. As a child I had all sorts of pets and today I still get more excited when I see a puppy than a new Chanel lip colour.
Rabbits, cats, fish, stick insects, sea monkeys… my childhood home was just a few hamsters short of a petting zoo. You name it, I’ve petted, stroked and cuddled it (even if my father did the cleaning up). I particularly like dogs and follow the mantra that a home without a dog is really just a house.
Sadly my expat abode will never be a home. I’ve come to the conclusion that expat life with a dog is not for me.
A few years ago while living in Switzerland I gave into my husband’s pleas to get a dog. We agreed it would be a good idea to get one before our firstborn arrived so he would be properly trained and I wouldn’t have to deal with puppy training and nappies all at once.
Travelling a lot as a couple we understood that we’d have to forego some holidays abroad. I knew that the hair shedding would be awful. We also did our research on good breeds for families and behavioural training.
After a long drive to a well respected breeders in France we returned home delighted with our new canine family member. We called him ‘Asahi’, Japanese for ‘morning light’, and he was just that. A little bundle of furry sunshine. A fabulously happy, friendly, patient, loving and child-friendly Golden Retriever.
A poorly pup
While we’d done our homework, I didn’t properly factor in how, when my husband left for work every morning, I wouldn’t be able to leave home without my new four legged best friend. I felt guilty leaving the house for longer than a couple of hours.
I walked him religiously five times a day, for up to ten kilometers, come rain or shine. Whether I was feeling great or vomiting up my morning sickness every twenty minutes, I walked him as much as he needed, if not more.
Switzerland is very dog friendly and I took him to luxury hotel restaurants, private parties and events. He came with us to Ikea, on skiing holidays and weekend breaks. He was a blessing and a curse – I was never lonely with him, but I couldn’t leave the house to make friends because of him.
Then Asahi grew very sick. From day one he never really seemed to be able to digest his food properly, but his situation had deteriorated. After several tests we discovered he had a stubborn parasite. Despite special raw dog food (which, incidentally, cost more than my veggie burgers), despite weekly visits to the vets and other experts all over the country, he grew weaker and weaker. At his worst, I couldn’t leave the house for anything longer than 20 minutes for fear he might not be alive when I got back.
One weekend, my husband, Jose, had booked a fancy hotel for a friend’s wedding in Spain but I had to cancel. While Jose was complaining about Champagne hangovers, I was sobbing on the phone that Asahi might not make it through to the next morning.
Dogs and babies
And then, while pregnant, I got sick. I’d caught Asahi’s parasite and I freaked out. I asked the vet and my gynaecologist for their professional opinions. I trawled through social networking sites and forums for advice. After lengthy discussions, I decided it was OK to keep Asahi as long as I was not at serious risk of miscarriage. Our unborn baby was our priority and if he was ever put in danger, our four legged baby would have to be the one to go.
A few months after our (human) baby, Sebastian, was born that time arrived. He was now at serious risk of catching Asahi’s parasite. Even for a hormonal new mother, it broke my heart. I refused to dump Asahi at the nearest rescue centre as many suggested. Another family would no doubt adopt him and face the same issues as us. It wasn’t fair on them, but the truth is I was more concerned that my beloved Asahi would end up wandering depressed from one home to the next.
So we drove over four hours to return him to his place of birth in France. Dogs really pick up on emotions so my husband and I put on a brave, happy face as we waved goodbye to him, pretending all was well. As we watched him run to play with his brothers and sisters, we began to cry and continued pretty much all the way back home, alone with our two legged baby.
Canine lessons learned
Nevermind all the mess, both physical and emotional, I’m still grateful for having Asahi in our lives. I’d like to think he has now recovered physically and has settled with his biological family. I know that having a dog in one’s life can be an immense blessing, but as I’ve learned the hard way, it’s important to put the animal first and really think about all the costs, not just financial, involved.
There are some fantastic animal relocation services and concierges who make expat life with pets so much simpler. Dogs are as welcome as paying guests in most luxury hotels nowadays. Dog walking start ups like Borrow My Doggy in the UK are on the rise. New York’s JFK airport even has its own 24/7 animal terminal.
Despite one year of mopping up after Asahi, and the equivalent of a Hermes handbag in vets fees, my husband and I loved him dearly. He was worth the money. But I still feel guilty and the emotional cost is something I just can’t afford nowadays. I’d love a pet, but it just wouldn’t be fair. Expat living – it’s a dog’s life.