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Pinoy Kasi

Last of the litter

If you love animals, you must watch this documentary on Netflix, “Life in the Doghouse,” about a couple who converted their home into a rescue center and arranged, through the years, for the adoption of 11,000 dogs.

The documentary shows how irresponsible pet ownership isn’t just a problem of developing countries and how difficult it is to get these animals adopted, given how arbitrary people can be when looking for a dog. Black ones, for example, are less likely to be adopted, as are those with disabilities and injuries from abuse.

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I watched the docu with a dachshund, realizing she could have ended up like one of the dogs in the film, but here she was, sitting in the lap (mine) of luxury. She goes nearly everywhere the family does, from malls to beaches, and is a head-turner, catching people’s attention with her sleek coat and the poise of a groomed poodle, but without the frills.

An uncle of mine needed a companion dog—preferably, because of a family tradition, a dachshund. After a long search, I found a dog breeder who showed me two puppies. I picked out one for my uncle.

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Right after, I had an overseas trip and, while away, received a Viber message from my son, complete with photos. He had taken the remaining dachshund in the litter, pleading that he be allowed to keep the puppy.

Oh no, I thought, the last of the litter no one wanted.

When I returned, I sighed, realizing the puppy was in worse shape than in the photos. But she had that something, a spark, best proven by the way she had charmed her way into the heart of Dr. Tissot, our 11-year-old “aspin” (asong Pinoy), whose Ph.D. is in grumpiness and who was 10 times the size of our tiny puppy.

One look at its bloated belly and I knew the puppy had worms. One whiff and I knew she had an ear infection. A few days later, she developed signs of parvo, a deadly disease, despite claims from the breeder that she had full vaccinations. That meant two weeks of intensive care, including sleepless nights when I wondered if she’d make it.

She recovered. Looks can be deceiving; this runt of the litter was strong. Maybe her name helped. My son wanted her named Peachie, but I argued that it would always be mispronounced as bitchy, and so we agreed on Qi Qi, two Chinese words pronounced chi-chi, meaning seven qi—qi being the primordial life force of health.

Flashback some 20 years back when, one day, in a depressed mood, I dropped by a pet shop to buy some dog food. I heard whining from behind the shop and followed the sound to find a dachshund, all alone in a cage.

The shop assistant told me he was the last of the litter. “Ang kulit,” he said, in a tone that hinted that was why no one wanted him.

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The shop assistant let me have the pup for a song, but when I got home I realized why people say you shouldn’t shop when you’re depressed. My father had declared: No more new dogs or cats, so Fritz was a refugee we had to hide in our housekeeper’s room.

A few weeks later, I mentioned the refugee dog to my sister, who lives in Canada. Without hesitation, she said, “Ship him over. We need a dog.”

Our housekeeper and I brought him one early morning to the airport, checked him in and sniffled all through our trip back home.

Fritz adapted quickly to Canada and grew to be a head-turner like Qi Qi, thriving on an overdose of love from my nephew and niece and brother-in-law. He had two surgeries for a bad back, common with dachshunds, but was otherwise healthy throughout his 18 years—a long, long dog life.

Qi Qi and Fritz prove that the fittest, the ones that survive, aren’t necessarily the biggest, brightest or most good-looking. As fate would have it, some end up with better lives than the others in their litter.

Some of us were probably “the last of the litter,” too, not as much of an achiever, or as sociable or as physically attractive. But we catch people’s attention with our soulful eyes, or a smile, or our spark of simplicity and goodness. Like unpolished gems, the last of the litter just need time to be better appreciated.

I love meeting couples who got together late in life, both the last of the litter, one the world to the other and the two of them telling the world: Your loss, our gain.

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