We first spotted Button when video clips of her following commands in Hokkien started making the rounds on Facebook early this year. As we watched the pooch respond to commands like ‘zay’ (Hokkien for ‘sit’) and ‘hwa chiu’ (Hokkien for ‘hold hand’), we were intrigued. Who was this Miniature Schnauzer with a goofy smirk that seemed to understand a Chinese dialect? It led us to the Facebook account of one @HokkienButton.

As it turns out, Button hasn’t been merely taught a handful of commands in the dialect. Her paw-rent, Fiona Foo, 48, the founder-volunteer of animal welfare group Hope Dog Rescue, communicates fully in Hokkien with the (approximately) seven-year-old pup. Although impressive, what makes Button even more special is her amazing transformation from a socially awkward abandoned stray to therapy dog within just one year.

When Fiona met Button in May last year, the experienced dog fosterer had no intention of finding a “sibling” for her beloved almost 17-year-old Miniature Schnauzer Popsicle. Most of the foster cases she took on were short-term. “I typically take in dogs that are very sick or ailing, so they usually die peacefully in my home within days or weeks,” shares Fiona.

Although Button was wandering around an HDB estate in the northern part of Singapore when she was found, Fiona describes the pooch as “coming down from the mountains” when they first met. The man who discovered her walked around the area for the following two days in hopes someone was searching for her, but no one seemed to be looking. Hence, he contacted Hope Dog Rescue and Button came under the care of Fiona.

The first couple of days in her fosterer’s home, Button humped her new housemate, Popsicle, repeatedly, leading Fiona to believe her new ward was a former home breeding dog. On the second day, Fiona noticed that blood was dripping from Button’s genitals and she wasn’t eating or drinking. From her experience as an animal volunteer, Fiona suspected Button had pyometra (infection of the uterus) and rushed her to the vet who said the pooch would have died if surgery and treatment had been delayed by a day or two.

In addition to her health conditions, Button also had several odd behaviours. “She’s scared to eat from a bowl, which took almost a year to overcome. Even now, she still prefers eating off the floor or from my hand. She also didn’t know how to drink water from a bowl—she licked water off the floor. When she first came to me, she was severely dehydrated so I had to syringe-feed her water every three hours for two months. Eventually, she learnt to drink from plates and we gradually transitioned to bowls,” shares Fiona. “She also used to be afraid of almost everything: Loud noises, sudden movements, other dogs, skateboards, bicycles zooming by, and food and water bowls. When I raise my hand, she cowers and blinks like she’s going to be whacked. Popsicle sometime tries to play with her, but she has no social skills and doesn’t know what to do.”

To read more on Button's amazing transformation, flip to Unbreakable Bonds (pg 46) of our Aug/Sept 2017 issue!