Kukoi was with our family for the last 13 years. She was such pure joy that the family wished that she be humanized, not to be a biped like us with arms for cuddling, but to have a larynx to at least voice her sentiments.
When I was about five, I had a fluffy and chubby puppy for a playmate. So when the family found this skinny little brown creature, it was a dull thought to play with her. During her first week in the house, with her cocked ears and eyes that stood out in her tiny face, she reminded me of the character Gollum in “The Lord of the Rings.” My younger brother often teased and chased her, calling her odd names. The pup with the folded tail cried in fear and hid in corners, emerging only when called for meals.
But within a few months, out of the ugly pup grew a beautiful bitch. The black lining her eyelids became intense and her tan coat brightened up. She was a fierce dog feared by passersby but she knew family members by smell. She loved the attention from relatives she was meeting for the first time. She sat beside them and waited for a pat on her head or a stroke on her back.
Kukoi knew her master, who was Dad, well. Late afternoon on Fridays, she would be by the main entrance to meet Dad with a shrill greeting, her tail wagging gaily. She would sneak into the house and, when no one was looking, climb onto the sofa and leave trails of fur and dust or a smudge of mud.
For her first New Year’s Eve celebration, she found that firecrackers frightened her most. She left us sleepless with her incessant scratching on the door. With Dad around, the nervous Kukoi made her way into the house the next firecracker season, while the other dogs, who were calm, stayed out.
Another item on Kukoi’s fear list was the weekend bath. She would note the basin and the pail of water, inch away, and then make a dash for it when she saw us move toward her. It was too tiresome for us to scour the wide fields in looking for her. So we would outsmart her: We got her before setting up the basin and pail. But soon her instincts became sharper. Even before we made a move toward her, she had run away.
Soon Kukoi’s instinct of bathing right after church was developed, or so we thought. Dad had to keep her in the empty rabbit cage after her morning meal and before we left for church. And so Kukoi missed Sunday services and the chance of lying on the church pew. But she learned to appreciate bathing for a long time. And when the regulation “Aso mo, tali mo” (Tie up your pet dog) was implemented in our barangay, she had to stay indoors.
She had quite a number of puppies, and a few had to be given away. From every litter, we chose the best pup with the fluffy fur. Any pup that stayed with us long enough to establish its sense of our family found its way back to us from its adoptive home.
When I moved to the city, I got myself a black Labrador. But it slipped out through the open gate when it was no more than a year old. It never found its way back.
Then I happened to volunteer as a nanny to a days-old pup. She was female but Jackal became her name. She looked like one of Kukoi’s pups. At night, her cries woke me up: She wanted milk or she was cold and wanted her bedding arranged. I would then warm water for her milk and refill her hot packs. I introduced her to semi-solid food gradually, until she began eating adult food.
Jackal loved her first encounter with water. After the soaping and the rinse, she would run about to dry her coat.
That dogs are just like humans amuses me so much. Many times, my sister and I would find Jackal tucked in our bed, underneath the blanket, when we thought she was out playing with the other neighborhood dogs. One weekend, Jackal went out to wander around the thicket outside for a poop or pee. Moments later, my sister heard her cries and rushed out. Jackal was lying on the ground with four paws up while a mighty dog stood over her, growling. She sounded as though she had been hurt badly but no wound was visible on her.
When we recovered her, Jackal was shivering and wet all over with her own urine. She was unable to eat her supper. It worried me to see her immobile for hours, even until we all went to bed. But the next morning, I was glad to see her up and being naughty again. My sister laughed at the idea that Jackal was so frightened by the other dog that she underwent a regression.
For the occasion of Jackal’s first vaccination, I took her with me on my clinical duty at the university’s animal hospital. I put her in one of the cages at the back of the hospital while I attended to a client’s need. Much later, I was filled with apprehension when I discovered that Jackal had disappeared. I then realized that the cage had a worn-out part through which she slid out. I searched for her, looking out for traces of where she might have gone, but I ended up with hopeless fingers crossed. I was left only with Jackal’s bedding and food dish; I never knew what became of her.
Back at the family home, Kukoi was getting on in years. And last summer when I was preparing to leave for review classes, I knocked down an empty bottle of perfume and it broke on the floor. It was ominous—was it a spirit visiting?—but I was too clumsy to give it meaning. But later, I heard news from home that Kukoi’s decomposing body had been found in the bushes. The death of the family dog brought tears to our eyes.
Memories of the pets I had and the pets who left us because of old age, disease and unexplained circumstances make up stories that make our hearts light. Looking at our photos with them invariably leads to conversations about how much we love them. Speechless dogs may be, but we know the meaning of each bark, gaze, expression, joyous lick on our face or hands, and wag of the tail. They speak, and we understand. They are simply adorable.
Crista M. Iguid, 25, a graduate of Benguet State University, is a newly licensed veterinarian.