Wheel Power

Published: Thursday February 5, 2015 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Thursday February 5, 2015 MYT 6:41:42 PM

Service dog’s close brush with death

Zhar underwent emergency surgery to remove a foreign object which he had inadvertently swallowed.

By the time you read this article, all – thankfully – will be well again. The thought of nearly losing one of my most cherished friends, still sends a shiver down my spine.

Dobeace Zhar, my chief service and therapy canine for more than four years, almost lost his life. It was on the operating table of a well-known veterinary hospital near my home in Petaling Jaya, Selangor.

My Doberman had been suffering from stomach upsets and vomiting for almost a week.

Prompt physical examination, blood tests, X-rays and medication from the hospital failed to solve the mysterious problem.

And for a while, it seemed as if Zhar was actually getting better.

However, the situation suddenly deteriorated a fortnight ago. Fortunately, Zhar had already been admitted to hospital for a gastroscopy.

But the main veterinary surgeon, assisted by others, encountered complications halfway through the procedure.

She rang me up to request permission to conduct an emergency operation on Zhar. She told me that if Zhar did not have the operation there and then, he would not pull through. There was no time to lose or argue.

I felt weak all over.

I remember telling the vet: “I know you must have done hundreds of surgeries on dogs and cats. But please remember, Zhar isn’t just an animal on the operating table to me – he’s my son!”

I felt the vet understood me fully.

How else could I have described what my Doberman meant to me as a wheelchair user?

That morning, despite being sick and weak from a night of vomiting, the first thing Zhar did was to retrieve my 1.5-litre bottle of drinking water. It was something I didn’t even ask him to do.

Within seconds, he pounced on a cockroach and killed it to prevent it from getting to me. The Doberman knew how much I detested cockroaches.


Being one of the best breeds of service dogs, Zhar knew his role and stayed focused on his mission.

As my chief assistance dog, Zhar helps me with a variety of everyday tasks which the able-bodied have no difficulties in doing. These include retrieving virtually anything from the floor, under the table or bed, and in the bathroom.

Zhar makes me feel like a magician. All I have to do is to “speak” to the objects and they will come “flying” towards my wheelchair, secured in Zhar’s mouth. The items include my wheelchair footrests, shoes, combs, keys and tissue boxes.

Zhar, amazingly, survived the surgery. A foreign object which he had inadvertently swallowed was killing him. It was removed from his intestine.

As I am writing this, Zhar is back home, recuperating.

He is making remarkable progress, and has been placed on a special diet that is gentle on his intestines.

Our roles are now reversed. It has been unbelievably therapeutic for me, nursing an angel back to health.

I want to thank Zhar’s veterinary surgeon and my Facebook friends for being part of this happy ending.

The surgeon had two patients to deal with – Zhar and me.

She realised that I was not an ordinary client but one who heavily relied on my dog for daily living. Her bedside manner was excellent. She listened without interruptions to everything I had to say, including my feelings and anxieties about Zhar’s condition, treatment, prognosis and recovery.

Sadly, I know of some doctors who do not give us half the attention.

They say Facebook friends are mostly fake. That’s not all true.

I had put out a hashtag, “#pray4Zhar”, and was deeply touched by scores of friends who were sincerely interested in Zhar’s progress.

Even though I hadn’t met many of them, they were there for us during the critical moments until Zhar got better.

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