I open the bedroom door with trepidation, preparing myself for the worst. Peering cautiously around the doorframe I see her sitting patiently on the floor, tail gently wagging, a slight drool of excitement emanating from her thick, pink tongue. I notice the picture, previously leaning against the wall, now knocked over but luckily still intact. Relief washes over me as I make my way gently towards her, no sudden movements. Her dark eyes fixate on my sleep-crumpled face and I swear she is smiling as she slowly stands, stretches and proceeds to release a steady stream of urine onto the wooden floor boards. And so commences another day of Hanoi puppy parenthood.
Marmalade has now been part of the family for a total of seven nights. That makes it one week of living my lifelong dream of owning a puppy and one week of running around after 22 pounds of slobbery, stinky, hair-shedding, paper-chewing, golden retriever mess.
Recently, Marmalade and I ventured out to the nearby park for some serious puppy socialising which, according to Ceaser Milan, dog whisperer and my new guru, is essential puppy protocol. My neighbour, veteran dog owner and all round canine expert, fills me in on the comings and goings of the park. “It’s not just about the socialising and exercise, it’s also about showing off your dog,” she says. This becomes apparent as we are approached by a woman and her two daughters. “What is she?” she demands, her daughters gleefully descending on Marmalade who is chewing her way through the wire fence. “A golden retriever,” I reply, watching her abandon the fence in favour of rolling in the mud. The woman nods in approval, looking at the rolling muddy mess, “very nice, very nice dog”.
A few months ago, in my pre-puppy days, I met a college-aged girl walking her Siberian Husky. His name was Lam she informed me, short for Lamborghini. As I glanced around at the other dog owners assembled in the park, I realised that buying a dog in Hanoi is much like buying a new car, only the car won’t chew your furniture. I had entered the world of the designer dog, where the big and fluffy take the bone.
First up we have the Chihuahuas and Miniature Pinchers; like a reliable Hyundai, the pups are compact, convenient and low maintenance. These dogs enter into the dog world with minimal fuss and money required.
Then there are the Poodles, energetic, dependable and the most common canine to roam the grassy slopes. These breeds are the high-end Hondas of dogs. They show a certain level of prestige and status with the right touch of fun.
Moving up, we have the mid-size breeds. Labradors, Golden Retrievers and Huskies. These fluffy, playful mounds of happiness are like a nice Mercedes. Dignified and classy, but with plenty of torque, they attract all the right attention.
For the macho types there are the shepherds and pit-bulls. Nice-looking dogs with a quality build and unparalleled strength, these are the equivalent of the Hummer. Unnecessarily large and powerful, they are tough, they are alpha and they want to make sure everyone knows it.
Finally we have the rare and expensive breeds, the Rolls Royce of the Hanoi dog scene. “I saw a Tibetan Mastiff once,” says my neighbour, “rumour has it they go for over a million dollars in China so imagine how much they cost here.” This breed is all about show and the high price tag ensures they are always top dog.
As I sit here finishing this column, my phone rings and my husband’s frantic voice comes through from where he’s walking Marmalade. “She’s eating plastic, what do I do?” After some fumbling on the other end of the phone, the line goes dead. A few minutes later he calls back. “Crisis averted, I got it out”, he says proudly. “Oh no, wait a sec, Marmalade, no, stop that, gotta go.” Shaking my head as I hang up the phone, the status associated with Hanoi’s dog scene makes me laugh. In the end a dog is a dog, no matter the breed they are always going to wee on the floor.