Alden Boon

How My Dog, Clifford, Uplifts and Gets Me Through My Chronic Depression and Generalised Anxiety Disorder: Rajes Balachanther



Rajes Corgi Puppy Pet Anxiety Depression Dog Singapore

Getting Clifford

If I am being honest, the truth is I want to live. I don’t want to die. My suicide attempts are necessarily not a cry for help, or a desperate way of getting attention. There are constant voices in my head telling me to commit suicide, and I am compelled to follow suit. Yet all my suicide attempts had failed. God didn’t want me. When I was lying in the gurney, there was this moment where my thinking switched. ‘Why don’t I start helping myself? Maybe it was time to start depending on myself, not the doctors, not the medications, not my parents. Maybe I was the answer to all this.’

My ex used to have a dog named Clifford, but her parents eventually gave him away. She was the one who got me started on researching the benefits of animal therapy, or how dogs could help with depression. I intended to adopt a dog, but my application was rejected — I was told over the phone I ‘didn’t have the personality’ the adoption agency’s members were looking for. I was dejected. I was scrolling through social media when suddenly a photo of a corgi puppy appeared, and he was for sale. I thought it was a sign from God (of course, I know now that the social media platforms are tracking our online searches with cookies). Throwing caution to the wind, I immediately made a deposit. I bought the corgi, who eventually would become my Clifford, sight unseen. But I didn’t get him for me; he was meant as a birthday gift for my ex.

Rajes Corgi Puppy Pet Anxiety Depression Dog Singapore

As Clifford was only a month old, and regulations state that dogs can only be imported into Singapore when they are about two months old, his arrival was not scheduled until a month later. All this time, I waited with bated breath. It was one of the few times in my life that I looked forward to something. Excitement occupied my mind, yet there was also apprehension, as I was afraid of dogs.

Caring for a puppy is akin to caring for a baby. Like all corgis, Clifford was a hyperactive being, running around the house with reckless abandon. He was curious about everything: from the legs of a chair to water puddles. He had — still has — a predilection for cheese and curry. But come night-time, he wouldn’t stop whining and whimpering. He urinated everywhere and made a mess of things. He kept us up at night. I became very grumpy because I couldn’t get any sleep. This went on for almost four months. I even began to have a bit of buyer’s remorse. For the most part, it was my parents and girlfriend who took care of him — I largely avoided his company as I was afraid of getting bitten.

We brought him to the vet when we noticed that he wasn’t walking properly. The latter said that because his legs didn’t develop properly, he would have a disability — most likely hip dysplasia — later in life. Hearing the word ‘disability’ hurt me a lot. That was the same harsh word my ex-manager used to get others to ostracise me. It was like I was cursed: even my dog ended up having a fate like mine. I fell back into the pattern of not eating.

Very soon, Clifford began aping my behaviour. He began showing little interest in the things he once liked. From a hyperactive corgi, he became dull. It wasn’t the Clifford that we knew. The vet said that he didn’t observe anything wrong, and guessed that perhaps he was still adapting to his environment. But instinctively we knew something was up. Desperate, we sought the help of an animal communicator in India. The whole thing felt dubious. All we had to do was write his name, date of birth, and send over photos of Clifford to her. We asked a few questions, such as how he was feeling, and if he liked his new home, but left out the mention of his odd behaviours. The animal communicator’s reply, which came a few days later, stumped me. She wrote that Clifford had stopped eating because there was a person in the house who was not eating. He didn’t want the person to feel alone, so that’s why he took it upon himself to do so. I was incredulous. That a dog, who had only known me for four months, and whose welfare I had hitherto neglected, would make such a selfless sacrifice and choose to be sad just so I wouldn’t feel lonely, astounded me. Not even my own parents showed that level of empathy to me. That became the turning point in our relationship. I decided I was going to live for him, and be there for him the way he had been for me.

Of course, unless you have experienced it for yourself, pet psychics may sound like hocus-pocus. Once, Clifford sensed the onset of my panic attack. The first time it happened, he was only about six months old. I was alone in my room, door shut, when I began experiencing a panic attack. Perhaps my gasps stirred the vibrations in the air, perhaps he’s telepathic, I don’t know, but Clifford, who was idling in the living room, suddenly began scratching at my door and wanted me to let him in. He just knew I was in need of support. He sat by me and waited patiently till my panic attack passed. He was not a trained service dog, nor did we condition him to do this. This wasn’t a fluke: it happened numerous times, and till this day, whenever I am about to have a panic attack, he comes springing into action like a hero. He reaches out his paws, mounts my legs and hugs me to let me know he is here for me. Other than a few basic commands such as ‘sit’ and ‘high five’, I’ve never bothered teaching him other tricks: he already has a superpower.

Rajes Corgi Puppy Pet Anxiety Depression Dog Singapore

Having Clifford gave me a newfound responsibility. On days when I just wanted to wallow in my own sadness, I still had to bring him out for walks. In a way, these routines forced me out of my depressive state. When walking him, I myself am breathing in fresh air, the smell of grass, and feeling the warmth of sunlight on my skin. I get a cardio cum resistance workout from having to physically carry him — when he gets stubborn and refuses to go home — and exercising releases endorphins. One of his favourite places is Lazarus Island. With no roads and few people around, I let him go off leash. He runs wild and free, just frolicking and discovering the world. Seeing him happy makes me happy, and this time the happiness comes without the aid of medications.

Don’t get me wrong. Clifford has not cured my depression and anxiety, if even the two disorders have a cure. I still get relapses. I still get negative thoughts, but they are more manageable now. Even now, when I bring up my childhood traumas to my parents, when I try to explain to them how their apathy has caused me lifelong mental health issues, they would claim that they do not remember what they did, or that the incidents are the product of my overimaginative mind. But because I have Clifford, who provides an orb of protection, I no longer take their comments to heart.

As pet owners, one of our curses is that we will outlive our four-legged companions. I cannot imagine the day that Clifford is no longer with me. I have given thought to getting a female companion for Clifford, so I can have Clifford-babies to be with me for years. It’s a very selfish thought, I know. I guess like the movie ‘A Dog’s Purpose’, even if he is not physically here with me, I hope that he will reincarnate and come back to me as another dog. Another selfish thought. But if he on some level understands the human language, then I’ll say this to Clifford: ‘I’m so grateful to have you. God chose you to be in my life. I bought you without meeting you; you just came to me and changed my life. Thank you so much.’

Him being him, I’m sure he’d just reply with a sass: ‘Yes, you are very lucky to have me.’

Rajes Corgi Puppy Pet Anxiety Depression Dog Singapore

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Alden Boon
Alden Boon is a Quarter-finalist in PAGE International Screenwriting Awards. When he's not busy writing, he pretends he is Gandalf.