Canine friends give so much of themselves for their ‘masters’, truly unconditional love and loyalty, asking nothing in return except a pat on the head or an affectionate belly rub
By Thaddeus C. Hinunangan, M.D.
Our childhood was defined by our pets, and we had a lot. In Tacloban, we had doves on the roof, ducks waddling on the artificial pond in front of the house, five dogs, all “askal” (a slang word for asong kalye, pertaining to a native species of dogs), two cats, a turtle, hens with their chicks pecking at the Bermuda grass, and a couple of white mice. My two brothers were fond of them, and the pets liked them back. Tyrone, four years younger than I, was in charge of feeding the doves. Ted, the youngest, was the friendliest to the canines and the cats.
Back in the nineties where cell phones and gadgets were not all the rage, the three of us would just spend all day chasing the chickens. The white mice were once part of a science project who multiplied far beyond our control. The dogs guarded the house, and in the time when our subdivision was the target of thieves, our house was the safest. Our dogs would ferociously bark when they see a stranger walk past our gate.
Then there was Cindy, a Japanese spitz that our late mother bought for a hefty sum. She had snow-white fur, fluffy and silky. Cindy was such a diva with a temperament, she would bark at me, vomit her food when it was not to her liking, to the point where she would eat luncheon meat while me and my brothers ate sardines because Cindy couldn’t stand fish.
When my family migrated to the States, of course Cindy was taken aback that there were less people doting over her. My grandmother and I who were left in the country were not big fans of her. She lived mostly indoors, sitting pretty on the carpet while the five other dogs (which were not allowed inside) guarded the house.
Through time things changed. The pond in front of the house was filled and converted into a carport. Gone were the ducks and the chickens as the yard shrunk. The turtle, white mice, and cats eventually were gone. The doves remained, they flew to nearby houses and plazas looking for food, but amazingly found their way home every night. The brave askals had also gone one of them poisoned by a dart, others have simply died of old age.
During the time our grandmother got sick with breast cancer, Cindy was enjoying ripe old age. She had cataracts now of both eyes, her fur not quite as shiny. Whenever I called out “Cindy!” she would turn, but found difficulty finding the source of the sound. It was now Gavin, my nephew, and Tyrone’s son who played with her.
Cindy died at eight years old, just as expected for her species. After her, we didn’t get another pet until after typhoon Yolanda. Dogs are indeed amazing, our next-door neighbor had a dog they set free when they went back to Mindanao to flee Tacloban a month after the storm. When we came back to Tacloban to fix the roof, we saw the dog, all skin and bones, still returning to our ruined house and guarding it at night.
Someone gave us a puppy of mixed local and Rottweiler breed. We named him Gibbs, he was a fast growing puppy with brown and black coloring. He grew quite large and people were afraid of him. His bark was quite loud. His tail would wag as soon as I approached, and jumping up and down, would push me with his big paws in greeting. During medical school up to the time I left Manila, it was Gibbs who guarded our house.
He was low maintenance. When we sold the car, the carport became his barracks. Our next-door neighbors fed him when our caretakers Rulito and Roland couldn’t. Even when I was gone for months even years at a time, Gibbs would recognize me when I get home. Barking excitedly and raising his paws again.
A year into my residency, a distraught Roland called me— Gibbs was sick. Either he was bitten by a snake, was poisoned, or had an infected would. A picture was sent of Gibbs laying flat on the floor. On Facebook messenger the three of us brothers were chatting. They thought Gibbs was dead already, and said we should get a new one. Gibbs wasn’t fully vaccinated with papers as I was very busy in medical school at the time.
As I called Roland, he said Gibbs was still hanging on. Although could not bring himself to eat, he drank some milk that our caretaker prepared. I decided to send money to bring Gibbs to an animal hospital. What an inopportune time for a costly emergency, I thought, I just have paid the rent and bills and was cash strapped. But still, Gibbs our loyal dog had guarded our home for the past four years, never demanding anything except a pat on his head or an affectionate belly rub.
Roland wrapped him in one of my old polos and carried him to the animal hospital where an intravenous line was started and medications were given. Gibbs was young, I thought, if he makes it through the night, he is going to recover.
He didn’t. At 2 a.m., Roland told me that Gibbs died. It broke my heart because I always thought Gibbs would still be our dog when I returned home from specialty training. They buried him in our yard, very near the mango tree, in a spot where I also buried our loyal pet Cindy.
I remembered when Gibbs was still a puppy, Roland misspelled his name as “Gives”, and I thought it was actually quite appropriate because that was what Gibbs did. He gave us himself fully, with unconditional loyalty and love for his masters, even when in the end we could not pat him in the head one last time. Thank you Gibbs! I hope you see Cindy in doggie heaven, hugs from me.
May 2018 Health and Lifestyle