Fenix, Not Phoenix

All of us have gone through an event in our lives that has changed our outlook on the world around us completely, here is mine:

There are millions of dogs throughout the world who are either just starting out in life or have lived happily, for a number of years, with their families. Just like people, every dog has their own story to tell, including mine. Unfortunately, dogs like most animals, cannot actually speak. So, instead of telling his story, I’ll tell you my story with him since day one. But, before I can do that, I should provide some back-story as to how he came to be.

Birth of Puppy, Fenix

Long story short, mommy-dog and daddy-dog loved each other and decided to have a family. At the time of my dog coming into the world, mommy-dog was unable to do things on her own so we had to help. What actually ended up happening is my female dog did not have a functioning uterus, and the puppies were ready to come out but she was unable to do things herself. We took her to the emergency veterinary clinic, and they performed an emergency cesarean section on her to get the puppies out safely. The x-ray showed about six puppies, but the ultrasound showed eleven, and the veterinarian told us that none of them seemed viable. I told him not to worry about the puppies, I just wanted the mother to be taken care of. A few hours later, the surgery was over, and I received some good news; there were three puppies who made it out alive! I went to go see the mother when she woke up from the procedure. She was awake, but I could tell that she was exhausted. I kissed her goodnight and went to look at the puppies. They were in a bin, covered with blankets, being incubated with warm air blowing through an opening, all snuggled up next to each other. The vet told me that he wanted to keep everyone overnight, so I agreed to come back the next day.

Early the next morning, the second I opened my eyes, I called the vet to see how everyone was doing. Unfortunately, over the night, two of the three puppies had passed away, but one was thriving and doing really well. The only problem the vet had was getting the mother to eat. I told them I was on my way and that I would try and feed her myself. The vet agreed, and I was on my way. When I got there, I saw the nurse bring in the mother alone with some food. She was so excited to see me that she wouldn’t sit still. The puppies made her blow up like a balloon, but after the birth, she was practically skin and bones. After the nurse left, I fed the mother and played with her for a little while before the nurse came back in the room. She brought the puppy with her and showed me how to feed him. She also mentioned to me that the mother was unable to produce milk, so she will never be able to feed him by herself. I was given instructions on food preparation and how often, as well as how much, to feed the puppy. The nurse also mentioned to me that I should not be discouraged if the puppy suddenly dies because it was not properly cared for by the mother; that definitely motivated me.

Taking on the responsibility of raising a puppy who was born a week early

After leaving the hospital, I took them both to the pet store with me so that I could buy the formula needed to feed the puppy. I also bought him a new bed, along with a few extra blankets because he had trouble retaining body heat. We walked down the aisle of toys, and the mother picked up a toy that had fallen off the shelf, she brought it to me, and I noticed it was broken. The toy she picked was a blue star that played twinkle-twinkle-little-star when you pressed the button in the middle. I got her the one that was still hanging on the shelf that actually played the music and didn’t sound like something you would hear out of a horror movie. When the music started playing, she instantly grabbed it and carried it throughout the store, happy as ever. We finally made it to the checkout register, and I paid for all our items, and we were on our way home. The mother, who I should mention is named Zorra, was very excited to be back home in her own bed. She was nowhere to be found the rest of that afternoon, she was too busy with her new toy.

Meanwhile, the puppy had to be fed. I prepared the first batch of milk for him to drink following the instructions from the vet. He drank everything so quickly that it was coming out of his nostrils. He was born a week early, so his nose and ears hadn’t completely formed yet; he looked more like a hamster than he did a dog. The handout I was given said to feed him every two hours the first two weeks, move to four hours, the next two weeks, then every 6 hours, then every eight hours, and at this point getting him to start eating mushy food, which will later turn into solid food. Even though it was not the most enjoyable part of raising this puppy, it certainly was the most memorable; I had to teach him how to go potty! So after every feeding, I had to use a warm cloth to stimulate his reaction to relieve himself. After the first three weeks, he started to do it on his own, which was a great sign.

Providing for a puppy is not easy

The next few months were ridiculous, considering I had to adjust to the new puppy's feeding schedule. Every few hours, day and night, he had to be fed. So, as the provider, I had to get out of bed, warm up the milk, and feed him, and then put him back to bed. Around his third week, his eyes were already open, and he started to gain his hearing ability. At three and four weeks, he started climbing out of bed and walking around in the middle of the night. Once he discovered he could whine and bark, that was it, we knew he was healthy and will survive. Soon, it was time to get him to eat like a big dog. I started mashing his food in a blender with the milk that he was fed before. He never ate his food, he inhaled it! When he finally started eating solid food, he would eat eight cups of food a day! The mom and dad ate 7 cups combined all day. Sure enough, he always had somewhere to put that food.

When he was old enough, I started taking him on adventures to new places like the forest and a farm near our house. There, he learned how to swim, chase ducks and chickens, and even how to get dirty the right way, all while having fun doing it all. He was a spunky little dog who was always ready for adventures. I thought I was doing the right thing by taking care of him the way I was. At our next vet visit, he weighed fifteen pounds; this is a very low weight for this age. I was told he was supposed to be at least double the weight. The vet thought he had some health related issues since he was born a week early. He advised me to keep him indoors as much as possible. I left thinking that it is a little inhumane to keep a puppy cooped up inside all day, they’re dogs after all and need to burn off as much energy as possible, especially growing puppies.

Fenix began learning new skills

While I should have probably listened to the vet, I decided to trust my own instincts instead. I would take my puppy, which was now named Fenix, yes, spelled that exact way, out for walks early in the morning and later in the evening, just to get out of the house. During the day, we played many cognitive games that helped improve his skills. We played the muffin tin game where there was food and treats scattered throughout the crevices, and there were tennis balls covering it all up. The whole object of this game was to find all the food, the trick was that not every opening had something in it. This way, Fenix was able to learn how to differentiate between rewards for correct behavior and mistakes he made. We also played hide and seek, except instead of either of us hiding, I would hide his favorite toy or a treat, and it was his job to find it. This exercise helped him understand the world better in terms of exploring. He learned about the different textures he had to walk on, the many ways he had to maneuver to get where he needed to go. For example, ducking under a couch or bed, or jumping on and of steps inside the house and outside. All these activities mixed playtime with learning.

Learning can be fun yet adventurous, and Fenix agrees!

The days turned into weeks of adventures and learning new things and exploring new places. After about 3 months of familiarizing himself with the world, Fenix started to become more independent. Instead of always cuddling up to me on the couch, he would play with his own toys on the ground and find entertainment in anything that moved. When he learned that he did not have to spend every waking moment with me, he had no trouble making new friends. As a puppy, socialization is very important. Around this time of the year, it's summer, and the weather is perfect to spend outside practically all day. We went to the beach and festivals around town. The more people he met, the more noises he experienced, the more smells, the more exercise, the better. We would spend hours outside, either around the company of others or each other. He would be exhausted when we got home for the night, but was always ready to go the next day. Fenix and I would do different activities every day that permitted it. He would go into hardware stores with me when needed. We would have lunch together at restaurants that had outdoor areas for dogs. We even went shoe shopping together to department stores that allowed dogs inside. He would go everywhere with me, making his life eventful and exciting.

Growing up means learning how to be a model citizen to other dogs

As he got older, he needed to start working on his manners more since he was becoming a really big dog. He was only about fifteen pounds at the time, but I knew that before I knew it, he would be closer to fifty pounds. So, as usual, we would embark on our adventures every day, but this time, it was different. Fenix was no longer allowed to jump on people who came up to him to pet him. He was not allowed to bark or pull on his leash. He was to be patient when we waited to cross the street and when we would wait in line to pay for something at the stores we visited. The hardest part for him was waiting to get something from my plate when we went to lunch together; he was no longer allowed to beg for what he wanted anymore. He was not allowed to jump into pools of mud on rainy days; he had to avoid getting dirty, after all, he was expected to act like a model citizen. Just like any other child, he did not enjoy these new rules, and, as expected, he preferred to act out.

Over the next couple of weeks, Fenix practiced his manners and got better with more practice. He learned how to be gentle with individuals that were closer to his height. He managed to figure out how to share his toys with his mother and father. Also, as weird as it might sound, he also learned how to open the door for himself when he was ready to come inside from a potty break; maybe someday he will learn how to close the door behind himself too. The only skill he has yet to master is going down the basement stairs by himself. Has no problem climbing up and down stairs everywhere else in the world, but the steps going down to the basement of his home were always untouchable in his eyes. Fenix is definitely a dog all his own, he’s eccentric and not like any other one I’ve ever met, but he sure did have a special place in my heart.

New veterinarian and health update

Over the next few months, he turned out to be a very happy, healthy dog. What the vet suggested about not going outside seemed like an absurdity, especially since Fenix had no apparent issues each time we would spend time outside. We switched veterinarians, and Fenix’s new vet agreed that he should not be deprived of any outdoor time. This was his first year of life, so there were many things that I was learning about him. An odd misfortune is that when he has an allergic reaction, he would develop a rash underneath his left armpit, and nowhere else on his body. His breed is American Boxer, and just like many Boxers, he is prone to allergies. Luckily for him, he did not break out in hives like many do. I quickly found out that he was allergic to fragrances and Chenille fabric. In order to avoid any further allergic reactions, my air fresheners were all changed to wax melting devices. Also, his Chenille blanket was thrown away, and he was given a fleece in place of it. I’m not entirely sure, but I think he prefers the soft fleece instead.

Fenix's 1st Birthday - August 4th

At this point, it’s been about a year and Fenix’s first birthday is around the corner! Since this was a special occasion, I took him somewhere he hasn’t been to before. The date was August 4th, so a perfect summer day. For his first birthday, Fenix got to swim at the park, run through the forest and get muddy and dusty. Since he was filthy, he went swimming again. When it was lunch time, I took him to an outdoor fast food place and bought him a plain hot dog. He got the hot dog in a bun and a side of bacon from the waitress. After lunch, we walked around town window shopping, while also playing some fetch every so often when we came across a grassy, open space. When it was starting to get late, we went to another outdoor eatery, and he got a plain cheeseburger, and again, he got free bacon from the server. For dessert, he had ice cream for the first time, and he couldn’t get enough of it! He ate the ice cream so quickly that I thought he would get a brain freeze, although, he seemed to be completely unaffected. All in all, it was a great first birthday.

And, Fenix continues to grow older, bigger, and healthier

When we returned home from our day of fun, Fenix fell asleep before he even got to his bed. Even though it was his first birthday, that doesn’t mean that he was done growing. At this point, he was already around forty pounds, and I thought he was going to be a small male. At this point, he is two years and six months old, and he is seventy-two pounds. According to the Boxer breed, they continue to grow until about three years of age, so, as a proud parent, I am actually wondering how big he will end up being when he finally stops growing. If he somehow manages to do the impossible and shrink in size, or grow to be a giant dog, if he changes from brown to purple and green, or red and yellow, or if one of his ears is floppy and the other is not; no matter how he turns out to look in the end, it will not change the way I feel about him.

(Photos courtesy of author and pexels.com)