Tuesday, January 29, 2013

From A to Z

Three is too many. I know that. I mean come on, two is pushing it, but for us, three is most definitely too many. C didn't believe that I actually believed this. I have no doubt he thought I was angling for # 3 and this was my way of getting what I wanted in a sneakier fashion.
To clarify, I'm not talking about kids... well, not the human variety anyhow. I am a dog gal. Always have been. I love me some furry, four legged, balls of energy and affection. 
And C has granted me two of this variety over the years. He isn't wasn't a dog man, but he's softened over time.  You still won't find him seeking some cuddle time from one of them on the couch, or talking 'doggie talk' to them while they vie for his attention and crazily aim for a stolen lick or two on his face after they haven't seen him all day.
It still makes him uncomfortable to be licked by any animal, and I know he may secretly find the craziness they add to our lives once in a while a bit... much. Truthfully, it is a bit much sometimes.
But, he loves them. Very much. And when his 'boy' (aka Bentley), waits every night at the base of our staircase, not even attempting a stair or two, Colin always remembers he'll be there. He never asks me to go retrieve our smallest dog with bad knees and a weak heart. He fetches Benny in the dark each and every night and gently carries him to his place at the foot of our bed. Every. Night. He knows how Ben likes to be carried, and some nights I hear their (one-sided) discussions as they ascend the stairs for bedtime. Love.
(Pause here to gush over an everyday task of a really good man)
Ask anyone who knows me, and you'll find it's not a secret that my heart belongs to Cooper. It has since we first looked into each others eyes, almost seven years ago in College Station, Texas. He presses my buttons at times and he is not perfect, but man-oh-man, I would do most anything for that dog. I genuinely prefer his company to the human variety on some days. 
I have had lots of hobbies and interests that have (sadly) taken a back burner during our time here in Qatar. I don't paint like I once did, and how awesome would it be to sit down and actually read a book from cover to cover again (and not of the Dr. Seuss variety)?
Somehow, some things have been put on hold while I spend my days with E.  But one thing that has remained a priority is always attempting to do what I can for animal welfare. No matter where we have lived, I try to give some attention, time and money to helping local animals. Everyone has their 'thing', and this is mine.
Qatar has its problems, like every other country does. It is still very much "developing". It has animal cruelty and neglect, just as other areas do if you look hard enough. Sad situations are everywhere here, though - I am not trying to pick on my home-right-now country. I swear I am not. But when you combine the heat, the unforgiving environment (often difficult for an animal to hide from the elements), the lack of public education about animal rights and humane treatment, together with the nonexistence of any official nonprofit humane society, the case becomes a more difficult one.
There are some amazing efforts being made here to help animals in need. New and state-of-the-art veterinary clinics keep popping up, and places like QAWS (Qatar Animal Welfare Society - runs completely on private donations and volunteers), DID (Dogs in Doha, who work on rescuing, treating and then fostering dogs) and 2nd Chance Rescue (an initiative started by a young Qatari national with a huge heart) have made a significant impact on the lives of so many animals in recent years.
Yet, it still seems to 'rain cats and dogs' here on a regular basis.
Too often when my family is out and about in the city, we see such sad cases on the roadside and in empty desert lots.  My eyes seem to search them out now. I can't help it.
Just ask C - in three years, I have dragged exactly five dogs and one kitten into our lives temporarily. These were the saddest of cases that I just could not walk away from. And, happily, 5 out of 6 of these animals were lucky to make it and find forever loving homes in the end.
Sadly this year, my volunteer time I spent walking rescued dogs at 2nd Chance, although so rewarding, has tapered off, due to my growing belly. But with the holidays approaching, I felt it would be nice to try and do something more before the baby arrives.
This is where the '3' comes in. I wanted us to foster a dog in need until it found a loving home.
So I tried casually floating this by C one day.
And guess what?  It wasn't so bad. He didn't say no right away. He did mention that I was crazy and that we had our hands full already. But he also said if it was something I really wanted to do, he would support me. Well hello, new foster family!
After meeting several dogs in need of a huge break, one in particular stuck with me.
She was super skinny and nervous, and avoided eye contact. Such a gentle disposition despite  everything she must have been through. She had been rescued by a kind man on the outskirts of the city, and thanks to the work of both a rescue group and a local vet, she found her way to us.
So, one night early in November, we picked Zahara up to take her home with us.
She was shaking and curled up in a ball in the back of our SUV on the way home. She wouldn't look at us.
She was terrified when we introduced her to Cooper and Bentley (and had every right to be as they weren't exactly polite to our new guest at first).
Those first days, she slept on a bed in our laundry room, eating lots, but seeming very disinterested in anything around her. On her walks, she kept her head down and stayed tucked close to your side.
With a bit of time, our dogs began to behave a little bit more graciously toward her, and after a solid week of coaxing her with affection and treats, she ventured out of the laundry room for a little look around our house.
After a few weeks, she was like a new dog. Still a bit timid and easily scared, but she started actively looking for affection. She played with Cooper & Bentley and loved attention from E. I spoiled her with everything I could think of, but would you believe it... she fell in love with C! She pined for him when he went to work, cried when he went outside without her. She pulled her leash to walk next to him when we walked and I held the lead. Go figure!
As best as the vet could tell,  Zahara was about four years old, and a purebred Saluki, also know as an 'Arabian Saluki' or 'desert dog'.  Long, lean and graceful. Quiet and intelligent. Saluki's can run like the wind (up to 70 km/hr), sleep lots, tend to bond with one person specifically, and sadly, are often mistreated and dumped in this country. After a Saluki finishes it's racing career, it is all too common to see them dropped in the desert, as they are no longer considered useful. This is the most prevalent dog in these parts, and when you come upon a street mix, or 'Doha Special', you can bet money it probably has some Saluki mixed in there.
As she gained weight, we had her spayed, vaccinated and microchipped. We quickly discovered she gets very car sick very easily.  Yuck!
Thanks to a wonderful friend, we found Zahara a more than awesome forever home with a family that will make sure she is completely spoiled and happy for the rest of her life.
She spent the holidays with us, and early in January, she left us to live with her new family. She won't see out her days in Qatar however, as her new fam are packing her up this spring and relocating back to  Australia. She's going to be an Aussie pup!
She was a fantastic house guest. C really had a soft spot for her, and her calmness and gracefulness made our two dogs look like proper lunatics.
Our limit is two dogs. For sure. But if I ever was tempted, it was with Zahara.
Our two months spent helping her rediscover her spark were more than rewarding. It's funny how when you do something without expecting anything in return, you get the greatest gifts. As a family, we got to watch this animal come alive again... we also got to help make a very small difference in the abandoned and stray animal population here. E still talks about her every night before bed.
A great experience that we will likely do again in the future.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

One Starry Night

Our third Christmas in Doha was a nice surprise. I spent most of November dreading its arrival, having vowed the year before that we wouldn't spend one more holiday in the desert.
I had visions of seeing my breath as the snow crunched beneath my feet on a cold winter's night... again. I wanted flannel jammies and a fireplace... again. I wanted familiar. I wanted festive.
But, I had to face the truth - I had no business flying anywhere  at seven months pregnant, and it was shaping up to be a quiet Christmas here... again. Every time I thought about throwing caution to the wind and flying back to Canada (or some other snowy and cozy destination), I would get this vivid image in my head of our family, sitting stranded in a busy airport due to a snow storm, hours on end, hoping to get a rescheduled flight... been there, done that. No thanks. 
So we buckled down and tried to make the best of the season here... again.

My absolute highlights:

A Starry Night in the Dunes 
We had skipped out on this two years in a row, but this year when we heard of an expat community here organizing a Christmas evening in the Singing Sand Dunes with a bonfire, Christmas Carols sung by the Doha Singers, 'sledding' down the dunes, and Santa himself arriving with gifts for the kids... well, we had to trek out there and be a part of it. Sooo glad we did. 
There were hundreds of expat families and the festive spirit was contagious. The singing floated through the breezy night air and the fire roared. Santa made time to talk to Ella - who had picked him a bouquet of wildflowers before we left the house and had clung to them for over and hour in the car, waiting to see Santa and give her 'gift' to him - and surprisingly, we knew quite a few families there.

In the end, we left happily humming carols and carrying our tired and happy little girl through the dark to our car. I highly recommend this evening next year, for those interested in a bit of Christmas in an unusual and unexpected place. It was a fantastic experience. (And guess what? We saw stars. Not just one or two fighting to be seen through the sandy city air, but a whole sky full. Sometimes seeing something you hadn't realized you had missed can feel so good!).

Doha Christmas Cup
We missed our family. We missed tradition and the smell of holiday food begging us to indulge. So we decided to have a little gathering. 
Hence, the first Annual Doha Christmas Cup was born. 
We were used to gathering with friends and family, playing games, singing songs and sharing memories. So we brought a little of that here this year. An evening filled with great neighbours and friends, lots of food, and many laughs. It felt like home on this night. So much fun. Congrats to the Duggan's of Nova Scotia (now Doha) who did us fellow Nova Scotians proud by taking home the 'trophy'. 

We made some other great memories this holiday as well. E is three now, and boy can a three year old really make Christmas magical. Seeing Santa, opening presents, watching holiday movies, baking cookies... all the good stuff was extra fun this time around. Memories we won't soon forget.

Bob Hope once said when speaking about the holiday season: "When we recall Christmas past, we usually find that the simplest things - not the great occasions - give off the greatest glow of happiness.”
He was right on the money. It was the 'little happinesses' this year that made the biggest differences. 2013 promises to hold big changes for us... and hopefully we stumble upon some 'little happinesses' along the way as well.

Happy New Year, Everyone!