The early years

When Bangsiri first came home with me as a foster baby in 2008, I was terrified that something bad would happen to her. Even so, I made some big mistakes during that time—I let her go off leash in the park more than once and stopped only after a really close call. She ran to the edge of the street one morning to bark at a city employee who was raking leaves, and wouldn’t stop until I caught up with her and picked her up.

During our first spring and summer together, I think I overexercised her too. She’d often stop walking after only a few steps, and I think now that her knees must have hurt. Or was she out of breath because her tiny heart wasn’t working properly?

When she first left the shelter, I decided I wasn’t going to let her sleep in my bed because I didn’t want her to get attached. Of course, we both got attached anyway. She was never fully housetrained, but when she taught herself to use a pee pad (most of the time) I decided to let her sleep with me. I worried about her every time I left for work, and I wished we didn’t have to spend so much time apart.

Most days, in the beginning, we’d make two trips to the park. If I was in a hurry in the morning, we might go to the roof instead of the park. (We had a nice rooftop garden where she could run around.) On weekends, when I had more time and energy, we’d go to other parks in the neighborhood. But if I was very tired, I’d put her in her pouch and walk to a coffee shop before walking her home through the park or the grassy area near City Hall.

Weeks went by, and Bangsiri developed a cough that wouldn’t go away. I gave her many rounds of antibiotics but they didn’t seem to help, and then our local vet X-rayed her and found that her heart was enlarged. Even though I liked the vet, the weeks of guesswork sent me into a panic. I decided to bring her to a different vet for an independent evaluation.

The trip to the second vet clinic in Seoul was a wake-up call for me when it came to Bangsiri’s dental health, but left me very confused about her heart health and the root cause of her cough. No one could ever tell me for sure if the cough and the heart problem were related. She was eventually diagnosed with mitral valve insufficiency—a condition she was probably predisposed to at birth.

Was it just a coincidence that she came to live with me at the age when dogs with this problem tend to start showing symptoms? Or is there something I could have done differently?

(A vet I really trusted, a cardiologist we found several years later, seemed to think it was a coincidence. He also suggested near the end that her cough was unrelated to her heart problem. Still, I can’t help thinking back to that time and remembering that the two issues were discovered together. And that neither one was detected on the day she left the shelter in February or at her pre-spay checkup in March.)

I have so many happy memories of my angel Bangsiri. The coffee shops and restaurants where we used to sit together, the parks and streams where we used to take walks, the bus and subway rides we used to enjoy together, the way strangers used to smile when they saw her in her cute carrying pouch . . .

Those were wonderful times.

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