There are certain life events, or milestones which we often relate the rest of experiences and memories back to. Graduation, marriage, kids.
For many people, this may now be COVID; everything now divided into before and after. For some, this division is a drastic representation of devastating loss to families and livelihoods. For others, it’s reminiscing the times when they didn’t have to think about the very real danger they posed to others if they chose not to wear a mask to Tesco.
And for me personally, it’s more to do with a significant change in life priorities. I am grateful I still have a job (at the time of writing) and I am extremely fortunate to be in a country which has had zero community transmissions for nearly 3 months. However, my lifestyle and career choices were made on the basis of being able to fly between countries and take annual visits home to see friends and family. Once the embassies sent daily recommendations from March to leave Vietnam as soon as possible or else be prepared to stay within the country for “an indefinite period of time,” our first instincts told us that we needed to leave. We did not know how well Vietnam was going to contain the virus, and on the other side of this, whole buildings were being locked down with mandatory testing and tracing and government quarantine. Although we both knew that physically we would be ok if this were to happen to us, whether we could cope emotionally and mentally with everything that would entail was another issue.
Adopting a Pandemic Dog
Our mental health was the lowest it had ever been. Even today, it is still taking some very conscious self-care techniques, exercise programming and in my case, counselling, to be able to combat the overwhelming feeling of “I cannot cope”. Going back to school with masks and social distancing and the pressure to help students “catch-up” was particularly tough. These emotions have been intensified by the combination of feelings of guilt for how we are struggling to deal emotionally even though we are so fortunate to be still earning money and to be at a next to zero risk of actually catching COVID.
We chose to stay.
But this decision came with two possible conditions. The first was a sure thing – we would move from our 25th-floor apartment (with a stunning sunset river view which is all fine until you realise the 25th floor is NOT where you want to be during a pandemic lockdown, nor do you want to be sharing lifts with hundreds of people), to a house. The second was more of a thrilling possibility. Floating around in conversation like an intangible “thing” we both wanted to grasp but neither of us were sure we wanted to fully keep hold of. A four-legged “thing” that we would be committing to for the next 10+ years.
How did we end up justifying it? Well, the logic was infallible. We didn’t have a dog, because we lived in an apartment. If we moved to a house, why on earth would we not have a dog? This is our “short” answer to why we chose to adopt a dog in Vietnam, during a pandemic.
A Pandemic Changes Your Life Priorities
But what it was really about was those changes in life priorities that teaching online, being locked down in an apartment for 8 weeks together and being “stuck” 6500 miles away from home had brought about. Before COVID we were living for our holidays. Every 4-6 weeks would bring an exciting trip to a different country – we spent our Spring break camping in the Grampians in Australia, and touring the Great Ocean Road. I had proposed to my fiancé on a tropical island over a long weekend in November, which was only 40-minute plane ride away from the city.
It was incredible.
Weekend socialising opportunities are also excellent here – alcohol is cheap and food is incredible. But during school time we were also spending many hours watching Netflix in the evening, wishing the days away (working abroad is still exactly that after all – working) and researching for the next adventure. After COVID we craved the stability of a comfortable and happy home-life. Where we would look forward to coming home in the week and our life wasn’t so much about waiting to finish work, or waiting to come back to work. The beautiful house with a shared pool in a compound was part of that, but even before moving we knew there would still be something missing.
And this is where Adi came in.
I had been relentlessly bombarding my fiancé with photos of rescue puppies every three days for the entire duration of our two-year (so far) stint in Saigon. There is an abundance of rescue pups here ready for adoption, sometimes having been saved from the dog meat trade, and you are very much spoilt for choice. We would dance back and forth in a weird conversational fencing match, whereby as soon as one of us started talking more seriously about potentially making this a reality, the other would back off defensively and remind the other that “we love holidays too much” or question “how would we take it to our next job/country?” But when I showed her pictures of Adi, something changed. Maybe it was COVID, or lockdown fever, or just that Adi was different to all those other dogs.
Adi was being fostered by a lovely woman called Veronica, who rescues many dogs in Saigon. She had been up for adoption for over 6 months due to being too shy to attract much interest. She is a beautiful, 15-month old, brindle-coloured cross between a Phu Quoc Ridgeback and perhaps a Staffy, and was found in October chained outside a shop in the city with a skin infection, fur loss and a high fever.
Once lockdown was over, we arranged to meet Adi every weekend for 2 months. She let us stroke her only once during that time.
I know how it looks. There are countless stories of people adopting or buying puppies during lockdown because they were bored, and now being stuck with the reality of dog-parent responsibility. But we thought about every single detail extensively. We did the sums and the research and decided that we could afford to fly her back to the UK or our next international teaching destination. There are some countries this would now preclude due to difficulties and pet restrictions, but we decided it would be worth it. Doggy day care and boarding is available in the city and again, we could cut the budget elsewhere instead.
Yes, we would have to consider holidays more carefully as she would be difficult for someone to look after, but after the COVID pandemic I realised how much pressure I had been feeling to book these “perfect” trips to try and help us completely switch off from our enjoyable but quite high-pressured work environment. Switching off needed to start the moment we arrive home. And on top of this, there is a significant amount of research that shows how dogs help with depression and anxiety. Having been previous dog owners, we already knew this to be true.
After 3 days she decided she was ok living with us, and 3 weeks in she’s now the queen of the house. We have some serious obedience training to do. I’ll be honest – Adi is a bit of a psycho. She won’t let anyone else touch her, she brings us leaves, chases mosquitos, has a taste for cow poo and barks at the rain hitting the window. But we adore her for it.
We adopted Adi because we wanted to stop wishing the time away, and instead start to savour the minutes and seconds of each day.
We regularly pitch the story of a little rescue dog who hadn’t been adopted in many months and needed a permanent home. But actually, we needed her much more than she needed us. If someone was to tell me tomorrow that COVID has disappeared and the borders are open with quarantine a distant memory, would we regret the decision?
Let’s just say, that I’m pretty sure during the pandemic lockdown there was a period of 3 weeks where neither myself nor my fiancé smiled once. Now, we smile and laugh more frequently than we even did before the COVID pandemic. Adi will be part of our family wherever we end up teaching next.
Rebecca has lived in Vietnam with her fiancé since 2018. They both work at the International School Ho Chi Minh City.