Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Erue a framea animam meam et de manu canis unicam meam

I wanted to name her DatDamDawg, but was overruled by the kids who named her Power Cat. She’s a Dalmatian puppy and is about 4 months old now. We take her for a walk twice a day, since these Croatian canines are an active sort. Power Cat loves to play and rather than walk her on a leash, I’d let her loose and let her run free because she looks like she’s having a lot of fun doing that. But that’ll have to end soon as she’s growing up into this muscular, killer-dog type creature. When she first arrived and I let her loose, even little old ladies found it cute that she would jump up on them and play with them, but now she’s about the size of an adult askal and is growing into a size that could devour small children so I stay close. Soon she’ll have to be on a leash on our walks.

I never had a pet growing up. Wait, I did have scorpions and spiders, and a duck (more later) and if a pet is some non-human you take care of, then I did have pets. Just not mammalian ones. And my relationship to them wouldn’t win me an award from the Humane Society. I’m not one of those pet owners who consider them a part of the family. Don’t get me wrong; I take good care of my pets. They’re not mistreated or ill-housed or ill-fed. It’s just that they’re animals and I’m the big-shot human master and I treated them more as toys than anything else.

When I was 10 I had a pet duck. My grandmother gave my siblings and me ducklings she bought from the palengke, still in their downs. Mine was a tiny yellow-and-brown one. It was loyal and followed me around everywhere I went. In fact all of them followed us around which was quite endearing. I fed her commercial poultry feed and augmented her diet with lizards and insects I caught. I loved it when I caught a lizard or a grasshopper, and I would throw them in the midst of those ducks. They’d fight for it, one taking it in its beak and running off like a rugby player, while the others tried to grab it, the morsel changing hands—beaks--several times till none of it was left. Eventually, the other ducks died from various causes, and mine alone survived. I’d come home from school and head straight for my duck, and feed her and play with her. I’d let her out of her cage and she’d follow me around. I loved that duck.

One day, my grandmother saw her and said, “Your duck has grown so big. Let’s cook her for dinner.”

“Ok.” I said. She was delicious.

We did have dogs growing up, but I didn't consider them my pets. They were just dogs who happened to live with us—animals I observed and sometimes played with. I harnessed a rather huge one to my kiddie tricycle once and had it pull me all over the street like a horse. Our dogs in the old house in Caloocan provided me with endless entertainment, especially when they’d wrestle with each other. I pretended they were fighting lions or something. Two of our dogs—a mother and son team--were also adept at killing cats. They worked together: the son distracting the cat they cornered while the mother grabbed it by the spine and shake the living daylights out of it, severing the spinal cord. The cat is then finished off with a bite to the head or neck. They never ate it though. They just left it there dead. The cats who hung out in our backyard and provided sport for the dogs did eat rats they caught. I saw one eating a rat once and it looked like one of those Discovery Channel documentaries of lions eating gazelles. It was food chain in our backyard and I’d spend hours observing the circle of life, feeling no empathy towards whomever bought it that day. I found it funny that sometimes a cat would get the better of our cat-killing dogs, jumping on their faces and scratching, before making their escape. Other than that, I felt nothing for those creatures. They weren’t mine.

With Power Cat, it seems different, but not by much. Being our first mammalian pet, I feel a bit more responsibility. I want her and her premises clean. I sometimes feel her boredom when she couldn’t get out of the backyard and on to the street. I always check when she still has water. I feel a little bit of empathy, in short. Outside, I let her play and explore. I let her play with the street dogs, not worrying too much about fleas and ticks and mange. She’s having fun and that’s what matters. It occurred to me that that’s how I raise my own kids. My kids can play with whomever they want, and I don't choose their playmates. That was the way I grew up. In fact I’d rather play with the kids in the barong-barongs because they were more fun. We’d catch beetles and cook and eat them. We’d play in mudholes. We’d climb trees.

When we moved to a new neighborhood, I pointed out some kids to my girls. “See those dirty kids? They’re your new playmates.” Not that I’m teaching them not to have some sort of standards. I do. Once, when my youngest daughter was four, she invited some kids over to watch some Disney cartoons on DVD, on the condition that they take a bath first. “They stink,” she said. They also gave my girls lice. But I don't keep them from playing with them, so lice is almost an every-summer event, and I have to buy some pediculicide before school starts. So I’m not too worried about Power Cat having fleas. There’s always flea-and-tick powder to take care of that. She had her shots so she’s safe from distemper and rabies.

Eventually, Power Cat has to go. She’ll get too big for the backyard and would have to move to a bigger place and my brother’s place in Tanay has that. We’ll say goodbye, but we won’t get too worked up over it. After all, she’s just a dog. My aunt’s Shih tzu just got busy with a Maltese and they’re expecting puppies. We’ll get one, she said. I’m naming it WhoDatDawg.

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