Brusco is a bulldog, or more precisely, a French bulldog, the type that invites cuddling, which he thoroughly enjoys and reciprocates by slobbering all over you. As bulldogs go, he snorts a lot so he sometimes ends up looking like he’s making tsismis, gossiping in your ear about all that’s been going on in the last few days with his humans. To entertain the kids at home, I’d occasionally interrupt Brusco and go, “And then?” or “Really?” and it’d look like he was picking up, continuing with his story.
He’s a human whisperer, I’d explain to the kids, adding, “Hey, Brusco said you’ve not been feeding him,” or “Hey, Brusco says you haven’t been eating your vegetables.”
I’m using Brusco’s real name but will change that of his main human, who we will call Gil. Gil loves Brusco, to a fault, even had his face tattooed on his chest, next to his girlfriend’s. Gil says he paid P20,000 for Brusco, complete with papers, so I guess the tattoo was a way of saying he’s worth every peso and centavo.
Brusco came from one of the many puppy mills that’s been sprouting all over our urban centers. It’s too easy to register kennels in the Philippines, Brusco’s in a rundown district in Quezon City, the owners raising dogs like farmers do chickens, in tiny cages. Breed and sell, breed and sell. The pups do have papers.
Now, Gil is from a middle-class family with unstable finances and so when he first got Brusco I wondered why he wanted such a high-maintenance dog. Gil would complain that Brusco wouldn’t eat leftovers; it just had to be dog food, more expensive than human food. Bulldogs also have a harder time regulating their body heat, so Brusco’s humans were constantly fretting about his panting, wondering if he was going into a heat stroke, so he got to use the air-conditioned room together with the kids.
When Gil’s partner got pregnant last year, an unplanned one, I began to hear talk about selling Brusco. Which was when I realized that for low- and middle-income families in the Philippines, a pedigreed dog is much like an expensive phone or electronic gadget. You pay through your nose, but the idea is that you can always sell or pawn it whenever there’s a financial emergency, which happens every other month.
As far as I know, you can’t pawn a dog in the Philippines so when you do need the money, you sell it. Gil’s 8-year-old stepdaughter was the one who told me Brusco was on Sulit, the online shopping place, offered for a measly P10,000. Her eyes misted every time she’d talk about Brusco, or about someone calling in to inquire.
Gil would occasionally have a garage sale, another practice that’s becoming popular in urban areas in the Philippines. Every time they had one, I knew the family was having financial difficulties. The garage sale would offer all kinds of stuff: clothes, bags, pots and pans and plates. For several weekends in a row last year, I’d see a sign, below one that read “Protected by CCTV Cameras” (which of course didn’t really exist), “French Bulldog For Sale: May Papeles (With papers).”
People would ask to look at Brusco, but no one seemed serious. I could imagine people looking at Brusco snorting and slobbering, and then at his child human looking ever so sad.
I’d drop by to see Brusco, picking him up and asking, “Tell me, Brusco, did someone try to buy you today?” And he’d pant and snort, as though saying, “Close call today.” I’d hug him and go, “Lucky Brusco. You’re so small you’d be too expensive as pulutan,” referring to potential customers whose fancy for dogs is based more on culinary rather than companionship considerations.
In time Gil became more worried about covering expenses. His stepdaughter was also increasingly worried that she’d come home one day from school and find Brusco gone.
So I did the unthinkable. I offered to be the first canine pawnbroker in the Philippines, on condition that Brusco was not to be sold to anyone else, and that he would stay with his child human.
The new baby arrived and Gil sent me a text message asking if I could suggest a name. Nine months and you don’t have a name yet, I text-scolded back, adding: You should name the baby after Brusco for helping to pay the hospital bills. But I quickly withdrew the suggestion, knowing how baby-naming can become a joke, a bad joke, in the Philippines.
During a recent visit, as Brusco gossiped into my ear, Gil told me about a near-disaster involving the dog. Someone had called on their land line saying that he was working for an ad agency, that they needed a canine model, and that Brusco was ideal with his simpatico face. The caller said they’d pay P7,500 for a photo shoot and proposed a meeting at some mall.
Gil was thrilled at the prospect of a windfall, and potential stardom for Brusco. I could imagine Brusco protesting as he was being bathed, powdered and prettied up. Filipino-style, Gil got his barkada together and they piled into a taxi, with Brusco. They got to the mall, and waited. And waited.
The ad-agency people never showed up and so Gil and his barkada took Brusco home, hopes for Hollywood dashed. Over beer, they tried to analyze what had happened, and they concluded that it couldn’t have been a practical joke. It had to be an attempted scam, with the con artists probably backing off when they saw Brusco’s entourage.
Who knows what would have happened if indeed it was a con plan? Were they after the dog? Or were they going to rob Gil? (They wouldn’t have gotten too much.)
Then the question: How did the con artists hear of Brusco?
Ah, Gil and his barkada concluded it had to be the Internet ad, which ran for weeks. Looks like the hazards of online buying and selling are now becoming more complicated. The Internet is full of offers for shoddy products, as well as dangerous meet-ups where you’re supposed to pick up something you bought. We’ll never know if the Brusco incident is another scam modus operandi, but do be aware that when you put up an ad with contact information, you open new possibilities for budol-budol and dugo-dugo type gangs who use smooth talk and a lot of psychology to get your confidence, and then spring the most unpleasant surprises. Bow-wow gangs, anyone?
All this is a true story, about a dog’s life and the dog-eat-dog world that is Manila. Ask Brusco.