When Sakura arrived in China last November from Seattle, she thought she knew what was in front her. For one, she was going to teach English to native Chinese children, ranging in ages from three to 14, to give them a boost with their school exams.
She also knew she’d struggle with the native language, Mandarin. Before her plane touched down in China, she only knew a few sentences, which would be woefully inadequate. And third, she knew she’d be enjoying scrumptious noodles! (The Jiangsu province, within Changshu, where she now lives is known worldwide for their delicious noodles).
What she didn’t expect, however, was falling in love with a tiny little puppy. A puppy so tiny she could curl up into the palm of Sakura’s hand; a puppy Sakura discovered roaming the streets of a restaurant- and shop-packed plaza.
A Lifelong Dream Fulfilled
Sakura’s move to China marked the achievement of a lifelong ambition. She has always wanted to live in Asia; this move is something she’s been working towards since graduating college in May 2017. Her research and numerous applications eventually landed her a gig with an organization called English First, securing her a teaching position for one year.
“I love living here so far, it’s fantastic,” she said. “The area I live in is very well maintained; it’s very clean. People ride around on scooters and electric bicycles; the trees are painted white and the food is amazing.”
Pampered Pets vs Stray Dogs
While Sakura’s neighborhood is very clean, she noticed one thing immediately: there are a lot of stray dogs roaming the streets. She seems them every day, dogs of all sizes, exploring freely.
“I see a lot of pet shops here, with dogs in cages that are too small for them to really move around comfortably,” she said. In an ironic twist, "it seems that strays may have it easier since they have the freedom to move.”
There are pets in Sakura’s area of China, but unlike the stray dogs roaming the streets, these pets are extremely pampered. Small purse dogs abound; there are very few medium or large dogs that people call their pets, likely because houses and apartments are small, and well, small dogs fit small spaces. The pets that people do have get the full-nine pet treatment: serious grooming, sweaters, body harnesses, you name it.
Lil Bat Finds a Home
Sakura was sitting down in a plaza (pictured below) to eat a snack when she noticed a stray dog that stood out among the others. She was a tiny thing, following at the heels of a local shop owner who was stacking chairs. Occasionally, the shop owner—clearly annoyed—would turn around to yell at the small black puppy with the white chin and white paws. No passersby attempted to pet the dog, and cats lazily strolled by, largely ignoring the tiny puppy. It looked to be just a few weeks old. Its breed, or mix of breeds, remains a mystery.
“I reached out to her, but she was very skittish at first,” Sakura said. “I even tried to share my snack with her, but she wouldn’t take it. But then she sort of hopped onto her back two legs while my hand was petting her chest and put them on my arm, like she wanted me to pick her up.”
Perhaps it was that moment that Sakura was hooked. She scooped the puppy into her arms and pondered what she should do. It didn’t take long to decide: she was bringing the little furry guy home.
“I’m so glad I did because it began to pour rain,” she reflected. “It dropped below freezing that night and snowed the next day.”
And so, she took the tiny puppy home and named her Lil Bat. And up until Lil Bat's first vet appointment recently, Sakura thought her new furry pal was a boy. She was surprised to learn that Lil Bat is actually a little girl.
Making a Life Together
In the few weeks Sakura has had Lil Bat in her care, the puppy has grown by at least a third. Her teeth are starting to come in, and Sakura has begun to teach her basic commands. Like most dogs, she loves to eat—but finding puppy milk in China has proven difficult. So, Sakura is feeding Lil Bat three scoops a day of puppy pedigree food, which is far easier to find.
In the meantime, Lil Bat has discovered total joy in chewing slippers, snacking on Sakura’s hair, and snuggling with her new mom—oh, the joys of puppyhood!
The two of them are finding their groove. Lil Bat enjoys accompanying Sakura on outings in the community. She rides along in a backpack, and is adjusting to a new leash (read: she hates the leash so far; it’s a work in progress).
The next hurdle: eventually bringing Lil Bat home to the United States. That means another load of paperwork, a 14-hour flight and plenty of other adjustments. But—baby steps.
One thing at a time. . . starting with that leash.