our dearest tonto boy

it’s been 2 weeks since you were gone and your daddy and mommy are still emotional wrecks, sobering now and then whenever we think about you. and we think about you all the time!


let me tell you a bit of the story of tonto.


2 fumbling adults want to experience the joys of having a dog

around 7 years ago, waishuen and i wanted to get a dog. both of us have always been terrified of dogs since childhood. growing up, i lived in a neighbourhood where most folks just let their dogs run free and i was chased a lot back then. the adults would always tell you not to run when chased by dogs but i always said to the adults, “try not to run if a tiger is chasing after you”.

anyway, life is about experiences and we have heard so much about the joys of having a dog, man’s best friend etc, we figured the way to free our fear of dogs and understand the utter joys of a canine companion is to…. get one ourselves.

so we began looking around. we thought of getting a pug as that squiggly face always does it every time. but then we realised we can’t get a puppy as we are both working, so no one can take care of him/her when we were not around. as we went along, we came across the idea of adopting from animal shelters.

i recall we were in a mall having an adoption drive when we met a kind volunteer called nancy. nancy told us there is just this dog called coco who was then with “save a stray”, an animal shelter run by jacqueline tsang.

one thing led to another and jacqueline assured us that coco, with his sweet gentle disposition, is the best dog for us first timers. “but i must warn you,” she said, “i would bring coco to your place but if he doesn’t like it, i’m sorry then.”

fortunately he was okay with us.


the first time we met tonto

the first night we got him, we were all terrified of each other. that was also the only night he slept alone downstairs in the hall while we tucked into bed. after that night, every night he slept in our room.

slowly we began bonding via walks, feeding him, and slowly petting him. when we first got him, he would gobble up all his food. understandable as in a shelter, if you were to eat slowly, you’ll have nothing left to eat.

initially when we first got him, he would sleep on the floor, lying on a thick towel. then we got him a little bed. he loved it so much he didn’t even want to go for his evening walk! for 2 consecutive nights! then one cold raining night, we offered our bed to him. and the rest is history.

now it’s like we are sharing his bed with him. whenever i get up in the middle of the night to pee, he would quickly claim my spot of the bed as his. i don’t know whether he likes the warmth, the smell or just telling me, “hey, this is my spot”.

sometimes he’ll sleep on the floor, then in the middle of the night, asked me to move my legs, so that he could climb on to our bed. he would do it so by gently nudging my legs with his head. as i’m a light sleeper, i would fold my legs when i got his message and he would jump up on to our bed, laying himself between waishuen’s and my legs. he loved to lean his back against waishuen’s thighs. either that or use her legs as a pillow. as you can see, he’s so attached to us in so many ways.


tonto’s life before us

coco, we later renamed to tonto, had a difficult childhood. we got him at 9 months old, very skinny and with scars here and there. he was a golden retriever + mongrel mix. he was abandoned at a vet when he had a car accident as the previous owner wasn’t keen on spending money to save him. 2 vet surgeons were there, one was about to euthanise him but the latter, dr jenny, performed the surgery pro bono.

after the surgery, dr jenny passed tonto to jacqueline. he had a shorter right leg and thus walked in a way to compensate this. in the shelter, the other dogs would bully him for his condition, hence his scars.

heard from jacqueline, she found an adopter in ipoh (about 200km from here KL), drove him there, but fetched him back few days later as that owner ill-treated him.

as you can see by now, he had a difficult childhood but fortunate enough to be blessed by these angels.


tonto begins life with us

when we first had tonto, we realised he was very quiet. we thought he was dumb. in fact, our neighbours was surprised to know that we got a dog as he was so quiet. when he barked for the first time in our house, were so happy!

shortly after we got him, we enrolled in a dog obedience training class. sufficient practises later, tonto learned to respond to commands like “come”, “sit”, “stay” and “wait”. in an effort to teach him discipline, we won’t let him eat from his bowl until we give him the “go” command. and what a disciplined boy he is! throughout the rest of his life with us, he would wait for the “go” command, though rather impatiently! if you waited too long to give the command, he’ll excitedly bark at you. and if you aren’t looking… he’ll quietly sneak up to his bowl…

initially tonto bonded better with me as i walked him the most every day. he’s a very clean boy, only does his business out of the house so we make it a point to walk him 3-4 times a day. one night when waishuen was walking him, a neighbour’s dog called patches managed to get himself off leash and came to attack tonto. waishuen and tonto fought patches until a neighbour intervened to separate the dogs. when both of them got home, both were panting heavily, but rather than attend to himself, tonto licked waishuen’s wounds on her leg first, then only attended to himself. immediately both of them developed an iron clad bond!


tonto the food gourmet

over the years, we take delight in making all sorts of food for him and for us. he loves to eat and although initially he would gobble up everything, over time he became a gourmand, only eating the best of the best. take durian for example, tonto loves durian. initially he would eat any type of durian but after tasting the stronger fragrant “musang king” variety, he wouldn’t settle for any less again!

even apples. at first, any apples would do. then waishuen bought some organic apples. these are really fragrant. from that day onwards, only organic apples would do!

over the years, there is nothing we wouldn’t hesitate to feed him, as long as it’s safe for him. so no grapes, chocolates for him, but otherwise, it’s all fair game. sometimes when we take a long distance drive, we’ll get some mcdonald’s takeaway as snacks. 6 pieces of nuggets would be shared between all 3 of us. sometimes we get the 3 piece kentucky fried chicken dinner plate to complement our dinner. our boy here gets the biggest chunk of breast meat, minus the skin though. we always joked, daddy eats the skin, boy boy eats the meat. we like baking quail and he always gets one whole bird. in short, whenever we cooked, we always prepared one share for him.

though we can’t bring him anywhere we would like, this being a country where dogs are considered “unclean” by the majority, we try to buy him whatever we eat. we have bought him sushi, jerkies, cheesecakes. often times we make our own too, like our own version of biltong (south african dried meat), mooncakes (he loves the crust), liver biscuits … i even made a food dehydrator to make his snacks – biltong, pig’s ears…

but as a carnivore, he never refuses his meats, so we fed him kibbles in the mornings and our home made dinners, consisting of beef cubes, tripes, livers, eggs, sweet potatoes, blended broccolis, rice, nutritional yeast and cod liver’s oil. every month we’ll make a huge batch and freeze everything up. i’ll cook the meats and use the broth to cook the rice. i’ll always keep half a bowl of broth as “daddy’s soup” for our boy.

waishuen though, being cantonese, boils excellent chinese style soups almost every week. she’ll boil a big pot, taking hours to do so, then freeze some portions for mid-week. we’ll drink some and some will be complement tondo’s dinner. so guess who drank the most of excellent cantonese soups?


playful, naughty and a sweet temperament

the first time we sent tonto for boarding as we flew overseas, the pet shop that was recommended (they don’t cage their “customers”) didn’t want to accept him as he was deemed “too big”. after assessing him, they were impressed by his calm quiet nature. they took him in after that and have been his go-to hotel whenever we need to be away. we also sent him there for his monthly grooming, trimming of fur, nails and a pampering bath. thank you kuan pet saloon for all that you have done for tonto.

over the years, we love to play hide-and-seek with him. the thing is we could hide at almost the same spots and he sometimes still have a hard time finding us. i like to sneak up on him too as he gives the cutest response when he’s surprised like that.

the happiest we see him when he’s back in my hometown, in my dad’s house which has a huge compound. so when he’s there, he runs like nobody’s business. looking at him there, you wouldn’t for a moment think that he had an accident before. he loved to sunbathe and taunt us to chase after him.

the first time he got off his leash, i was so worried for him. i ran after him, but he ran faster. i was worried he will get hit by a car or attacked by other dogs. i was fat and unfit back then. i ran so much i remembered my core muscles hurt so much after that. after he got tired of running, or he had his fill of fun, he just waited there for me to carry him home.

once we had a filipino maid, lydia, staying at our place for 2 weeks. one day when she was walking him mid day where we were out at work, he got off leash and got her panicked as she knew how much he meant to us. he ran all over the place and she was so worried. after looking around the whole neighbourhood for him, she was surprised to see him sitting calmly in front of our house. guess tonto loved tormenting his human friends!

later on over the years, whenever he got off leash, he didn’t run like a mad dog anymore. he would just stroll around, turning around to take a look at this fumbling human (again!) but after a few minutes, would just sit and wait to be leashed again.

kids love him and he loves kids too. it seemed that anyone can pet him, especially kids, and any kid can bring him for a walk. i remember a friend’s daughter asked me whether he can exchange his little sister for tonto! kids and dogs… what a combination.


tonto’s friends

we don’t know much about tonto’s friends at the shelter but in our townhouse neighbourhood, tonto sure has his friends and enemies.

shaggy stays just across the street. both of them used to want to kill each other but over the years, became good friends. shaggy would sometimes come over to look for tonto, while tonto after his walks, would sometimes want to go over to shaggy’s house to look for his friend. from enemies to best friends, just in front of our eyes.

attila has always been very fond of tonto but our boy is quite arrogant around her. sometimes he wouldn’t even acknowledge her presence, and just walk pass her. playing hard to get?

tonto is fond of umi too, except that she’s much larger than him, so both seemed like a complete mismatch. umi’s owner lim helped us a lot whenever we were out of town. gratitude to you, lim.

patches and his sister. patches is the aggressive one who attacked tonto before, but the flip side is that mommy and tonto bonded very quickly after that. their relationship has been totally transformed since that incident. whenever patches passes by our house, tonto will bark like crazy (seems like he reserves his barks for patches), likewise when we pass by patches house.


tonto’s worldly possessions

whenever we travel, we try to get something for him too. over the years, he has a backpack from hong kong (our friend ck was surprised we wanted to go to a pet shop, on our first trip to hong kong!). a basketball singlet from thailand, a raincoat from singapore and 2 hoodies from thailand.

he also has his kong toys which we love to hide his food and teddy bears.

he also has a travel pack whenever we go out of town consisting of a travel food container, backpack with his stuffs like hair brush etc.

all in all, he travels in more style than me.


the daily grind

he adapted to our daily routine and would begin the day at 530am. i’ll wake up first, make coffee then proceeds to walk him. sometimes he’s lazy and would prefer to laze around on the bed a little while more. after breakfast he’ll relaxed a bit while i leave for work and waishuen will walk him again ~730 before she leaves for work.

then he’s alone till we get back. i usually reach home around 630pm and there’s this face peering over the staircase looking for me. he’ll be so happy to see me! (and likewise). we’ll hug and kiss (every day for 6.5 years. only one day he didn’t do that, he was probably lazing upstairs), then i’ll walk him out. after cooking dinner and having his fill, he’ll have another walk ~9pm before calling it a day.

this has been our routine for the last 7 months since i changed job. before that there were slight differences in routine and he adapted to them with nary a complain.

whenever he sees the opportunity, he’ll park himself in front of us, back facing us and turning his head around, telling us “massage me”. and we have always complied. he just loves his massages and never tire of it.

we talk to him daily, we tell him what are our plans, what are we going to do.

on weekends, he’ll wait till at most 630 and start to wake us up. it’s true that the best alarm clock is furry, has 4 legs and doesn’t come with a snooze button. over the past few months, he seems to think that weekend morning wakes are reserved for mummy as daddy walked him during weekdays.

from our daily grind, i guess we did take him for granted. in our minds, he would always be there. as he has been such an integral part of our daily routine, and his inexhaustible energy, passion, have brightened our days. thus his all too sudden passing has been just too much for us to take.



the fateful event

mid last december, he had a limp on his right leg. over the years, sometimes he has a slight limp too but always managed to shake it off. this time it was different, it lasted a day. the next day we brought him to a vet but he was fine again. at the vet, it was discovered that the right leg’s muscle is under developed compared to his left leg, meaning over the years, he has been using more of his left leg to bear his weight. it was also there that the vet discovered a growth beside his penis.

when we had tonto, were told he was spayed, so this growth could be a tumour, hence the decision to have this surgery.

this surgery was supposed to be easy. check in friday morning, discharge on saturday afternoon.

the day i brought him for surgery, we didn’t feed him breakfast as instructed by the vet. he didn’t even complain. remember, he is quite a glutton but still didn’t complain about missing breakfast. when i brought him to the vet, he was so happy and keen to go. i could still remember he was happy about it, but in reality i was bringing him out for a last trip.

i had a company annual dinner that night so was occupied. it was also my birthday that day and we planed to celebrate when he’s discharged. so waishuen went over to the vet to check his condition. seemed fine.

next day we were told it was his embedded testicles inside him. either way, removing them is better as the chances of developing testicular cancer is high here. the surgeon managed to remove one testicle but as the other was attached to his prostrate, it was too delicate a procedure, so he left it at that and stitched him up. a ballon and tube was inserted in his urethra to flow out urine and was scheduled to be removed on sunday afternoon. we were told we could take him back on monday.

he didn’t eat the kibbles he was given. we thought it’s the after effects of the surgery or the food wasn’t good enough. so we brought him some food. he ate a little, then puked some.

i still remember when he saw us, he wanted to get out of the cage, and i asked him to stay there, and he quietly complied. who would have knew i just condemned him to his fate?

on sunday, he looked weaker than the previous day. he still didn’t eat much. waishuen boiled some soup for him. he had nary a sip. the surgery was scheduled for the afternoon. we asked to be informed of the progress of the surgery. we didn’t receive a call at all, and all calls were unanswered as the front desk office was closed.

monday morning…. 8am… waishuen called me and our world just crashed down.

the surgery was completed last sunday afternoon. tonto woke up around midnight, but still okay. monday morning, he woke up shivering. abdomen swollen and passed away just like that.

the surgeon was supposed to explain what happened but didn’t. we suspect urine leaked into his abdomen and this is fatal for anyone.



just like that, we lost our baby.

such a deep bond, forged over the years, abruptly severed just like that.

and i have been engulfed in a huge sense of guilt ever since. the series of decisions, could have made a difference, but ultimately led him to his passing.

if we didn’t go for this procedure, he could live on for a few more years, at the very least.

now we only have his memory to cling on… and take comfort in the fact that we gave him the best we could for his too short 6.5 years with us.




our dearest tonto boy

i hope you forgive your daddy and mommy for making this terrible mistake for sending you for this surgery. we only had the best intention in mind. it never occurred in our minds such a tragedy could befall you.

you have been the world to us and we mourn for you deeply.

you are our first dog, and you are our son. you have been the best! nothing can ever change that.

till we meet again.

run free boy, run free.

your daddy and mommy


gratitudes and appreciation to dr jenny, jacqueline tsang of save-a-stray, dr bun, kuan pet saloon and everyone else i failed to mention, who have done so much for tonto.