The upsets of the pandemic have taken a toll on all of us, but Liew Pei Yi, a music teacher in Subang Jaya, was also presented with a devastating diagnosis of ovarian cancer. She was diagnosed in May 2021 and almost immediately whisked into hospital for tests, operations, and chemo.
When you're not well, a warm furry hug means the world and luckily for Pei Yi, Summer, her five-year-old dog has been with her every step of the way.
Regular readers will remember Summer as the little fluffball rescue who, at two months old, was so timid that she hid from her new family. But as she learned that she would be treated with kindness, she developed some confidence and bonded with her 'mum' and her parents.
When the first MCO hit, this bond deepened.
So, having come through so much together, Pei Yi now found herself leaning on her pet.
"Dogs are like kids," Pei Yi observes. "They are naughty sometimes and wild at others because they pick up on moods. When I'm not well, she's quiet.
"When I was sick and there was MCO, I was low on immunity and couldn't even step out on the porch, so we had to stay in. She was really good, so kind."
Does Summer know about the cancer? "I can tell from the way Summer looks at me that she knows," Pei Yi says. "Mind you, I tell her about it too. I share everything I'm going through with her."
Sometimes, Pei Yi and Summer just sit and cuddle. But the dog also plays a more active role in managing this difficult time.
"I had just come through my third chemo," Pei Yi shares, "when Summer invited me to play. I was feeling sick, but I thought, never mind, I'll play. I was surprised because I began to feel better. I realised that I needed to laugh. The game helped distract me and that helped.
"Summer is active at night, so we play fetch in the evenings when it's cool. Or we play search when I hide the toy around the house, and she hunts it out. She gets very excited! We both enjoy ourselves."
Understandably, Pei Yi sometimes sinks into dark thoughts. At those times, Summer comes to the rescue.
"When I think of giving up, she's there, leaning against me, keeping me company and giving me strength," Pei Yi says quietly. "She keeps me going." Then, adding with a self-deprecating giggle, "I actually cried and told her I'll stay strong, stay alive, for her. Very dramatic!"
Aside from the medical help, Pei Yi also goes to therapy sessions. As she's a music teacher and an artist herself, unsurprisingly, she picked music therapy. And Summer is right there with her.
"Sessions include a mix of gongs, singing, and chanting," Pei Yi explains. "I thought she'd be frightened of the noise but she likes it. It turns out that Summer is quite musical."
As Pei Yi is now recovering, Summer is also helping out with the home business, the dehydrated dog treats that are sold under SnaxSisters over Instagram.
"We're making all natural, pork bak kwa for Chinese New Year" Pei Yi giggles. "I mean, you can't have a family dinner and leave the dogs out, can you? But instead of roasting, I thought dehydrated is better for dogs."
"Summer is my official taster. It needs to have her endorsement or I won't sell it. She's very picky, but thankfully, this was an instant hit with her."
Aside from getting back into business, Pei Yi is considering getting back into her old activities.
"Summer is motivation for me to get up and do things," she admits. "I used to be a stay-at-home person. But with Summer, I have to bring her out.
"Before the pandemic, the Insta account helped because Summer and I made friends. We went out to meet people we had met online, preparing food together and even going hiking. I'm not that type at all, but I do it for her. That was before MCO. I plan to go again once my wound is 100% recovered."
As for the upcoming Chinese New Year, Pei Yi and Summer have it all scoped out.
"We're celebrating," Pei Yi giggles. "We'll go out maybe to the temple if they're open, and then we'll eat bak kwa together."
When you're sick, plan for both your needs
Pets are wonderful, and while Summer is great comfort to her mum, there are practical issues to consider when there is illness in the home. While you will hopefully never need it, here are some general issues to think about.
Pets have practical needs that include daily exercise, feeding, and cleaning up after. If you're going in for surgery, chemo or other procedure that will leave you too weak to do this, plan for a friend or pet-sitter to come round. Or send your pet to a friend, relative or pet hotel for a few days.
Tip: A quality pet hotel will know of a good pet transport to deliver your pet afterwards so you need not step out when you have low immunity.
If you are recovering from various procedures, you may also want to hire a dog-walker or recruit friends and family from time to time. Rather then burden one person with the task, there are free support management apps like lotsahelpinghands.com and carecalendar.org.
Finally, while pets are amazing, do remember they are individuals and they don't all react the same way all the time. Generally speaking, an older pet who knows you is more likely to be in tune with your feelings. A younger one or new one, may be a bit blur sotong sometimes.
Just keep hugging and lean in.
Bailey is four months old, healthy, vaccinated, and neutered. This mixed-breed boy is very lovable, chubby and a foodie boy. He loves to have fun and will make a loving pet. Interested adopters, please call SPCA Penang (04-281 6559), Jalan Jeti Jelutong, 11600 Jelutong, Penang and visit https://spca-penang.net