When You Gotta Bark

Snoopy. Gibo. Blackie. Ajaj. 3 alive; 1 dead. 

They’re all “my” dogs back in the Philippines. “My” (in quotation marks) as I’m ashamed to claim to be their owner. Never was I their owner in care. I bought one, received 2, inherited 1. To all, I didn’t actually provide much hands-on attention.

“Snoopy, come!” That’s all I did. When she smelled good, I cuddled her. When she smelled like petrified mud, I gave her space. Compared to the “through thick and thin, in sickness and in health” pact between “my” four dogs and the people who helped us, ours was more practical, if not parasitic.

Snoopy is a Labrador. Gibo is a Bolognese. Blackie is a mongrel. And Ajaj was a mix breed between a pug and a French bulldog? 

Added to my list are Timberton, Marverick (deceased) and Theodore. The first is a Cavalier King Charles spaniel, the other two are corgis. In paper, the first one is mine; the other two, my wife’s. In care, as is expected in married life, it’s conjugal — although lightning would strike me if I take credit for the good-for-humans good life our dogs are having (My wife spends a fortune on them that somehow I wish I could also bark and wiggle my tail.).

Compared to “my” first four, I’m more involved in taking care of Timber and Theo. Thanks to my training in high school helping the yaya (nanny) care for my nieces, I can stand the smell of dog poop and piss. I walk them every night — because I have no choice, or else I’d cozy up with the couch for sleep — bring them to pee before taking them to our bedroom to sleep in their own beds, and even put shirts on them at night so they won’t turn into popsicles at low temperature. And whenever I wake up early (which is always), I’d usher their sleepy butts out to the living room so they could pee and poop in their special corner. At times when I get off the bed finding three of the Ten Commandments (Thou Shall Feed Them, Thou Shall Add Probiotics, and Thou Shall Not Add A lot of Water Into Their Food) plastered on their dog bowls, I’d include in my morning prayer that these rascals poop before I bang the main door closed for work. 

From Blackie to Snoopy 

Growing up, I always loved the idea of having dogs. Operative word: “idea”. Perhaps because I always saw an animal in the mirror, I wanted some company. Guess my brother didn’t meet the criteria as at that time, he took on the shape of a human. So when we got our first dog, Blackie (who we “inherited” from a family that stayed on our property), it was a step to getting there. Almost but not quite though as getting near Blackie was a suicide mission. 

Ajaj when I received him from my dear friend, Jaja

A year later, a good friend gave me Ajaj, named in honour of the giver (but with name spelled in reverse to avoid copyright issues). He was a cutie with eyes big and wide. He loved to bark and sounded symptomatic of coronavirus. 

Then came Gibo, given by an aunt and named after a strong presidential contender at that time. My father was actually after a guard dog. And Gibo served its purpose, although he could have easily been poisoned as he ate almost anything thrown in his direction. Why on earth the name Gibo? I’d have to wait for my late father to appear in my dream with an explanation.

Sadly, a few years later, Ajaj left us. His vegetarian buffet on the grassland the night prior accidentally included a frog. His gallivanting in the dark of the night may have made him mistake the Olympic long-jumper for a giant shiitake mushroom that he swallowed it raw — head to toe. The next morning, the helper found Ajaj lying belly-up, his feet pointing to where he’s headed: the pearly gates of heaven. It was painful to learn about it while I was doing grad school abroad. Seriously. Especially that he was given by a dear friend.

Snub Snoopy while a pup

Already professionals with competing waistlines, me and my brother decided to get a big dog. We thought it was silly for us to be tagging along a small dog. It made us visualise an elephant with a squirrel holding on to its tail. So a Labrador it was. Snoopy came. And after a week with us, my memory of my childhood came back: “Geez! Snoopy’s a boy!” But our Snoopy’s a girl! Oh well. Let it be. It won’t matter anyway when mating season starts (ca$hing, ca$hing!). 

Mama’s sidekick, Gloria, took care of Snoopy when she was still a pup. When Snoopy grew a stronger built and learned to ram into Gloria for fun, Gloria entrusted the custodian rights to Niko, a reliable help, who’s taught Snoopy many tricks and, in the process, turned her into a horticulturist — what with her attempts to pull out mama’s plants in the garden whenever Niko lets her freely run around.

Before Hong Kong, Snoopy was closer to being “my” dog. She’d bark whenever I honked the horn for the helper to open the gate. She’d rush to me when I got off the car. And every morning before I went to work, she’d be ready on the ground for me to pat her on the head. But that was all I ever did. Fed her? No. Bathed her? No. Walked her? Hmm When she was still a pup, yes; but when she grew strong enough to drag a teenager with her leash, I left the calculated risk with Niko. Relocating to Hong Kong somehow made me miss Snoopy. Second to our helper, she was the only one who listened to my commands. 

Hello, Hong Kong! 

A week before Trinny and I got married, we decided to get a dog. Our preference: a small one that doesn’t bark or one that rarely makes any noise. Hong Kong has small spaces and the last thing that you’d like to happen is having your neighbours turn rabid on you.

Timber during his first night in our old apartment

We went to a pet shop and saw a rose among the thorns. That dog is Timberton. He was 7 months and had been in the pet shop for more than 2 months. He was skinny and was quite small for his age and breed. In short, no one liked him. But the moment he met us, he sprang from the arms of the pet shop staff towards us. “It’s a sign! He is really ours!” I told Trinny. The next day, we got Timber. This, after Trinny excitedly skipped sleep to do her research on Timber’s breed on YouTube and the attendant responsibilities. Never mind if on the same day, we realised that practically all dogs in pet shops actually have the habit of warming up to prospective buyers. Dang, instincts!

Our apartment owner didn’t like us to have a dog. Not having any pet was a fuzzy additional verbal provision to our tenancy agreement. She’s an old lady who was nice but didn’t sound it. So when we got Timber, we kept mum about him. But as they say of secrets, you can only hide it for long. A week later, karma would have it. We forgot to bring our respective keys to the apartment. Timber was left inside! “My poor dog! What if he’s hungry now? What if he’s crying because he misses us?” This was Trinny’s reaction.

Helpless, we phoned in the apartment owner for the master key. She arrived an hour later. We were afraid she’d find out, especially that Timber would bark whenever he heard us outside the door. I cooked up a plan. We bought her fruits to thank her for her effort. It was really more a bribe to deflect decibels from Timber’s sounds away from her hearing. I had Trinny talk to her in a loud voice from the moment she arrived until she punched the key into the door knob to open it. When the door was opened, like a whale forcing himself in a can of sardines, I hurriedly slid through the door then closed it. Timber barked! To make it appear it wasn’t a dog, I coughed then pretended to sing “My Way” in a duet with Timber’s barking — either I sang or “the end is near”. Maybe she noticed. But it didn’t matter anymore as we were also moving to a bigger apartment few days later. 

In the new apartment. 

A few days before our wedding, we moved to a bigger and better apartment. But even with the larger space for Timber to run around, Trinny, who’s more an animal lover than me, felt sorry for him. She thought he was lonely and was always quiet, afraid he’d snap with the only dog he saw being that in the mirror in the living room. “Duh! Wasn’t that what we wanted?” I thought to myself. But I agreed. I also felt we needed to enliven the apartment more. And really, a second dog would make Timber have more fun. Gradually at that point, I was thinking not like a dog owner but more like a father concerned about the welfare of his son! 

Our dear boy, Marverick

So we bought Marverick, a corgi. This turned out a tragedy caused by irresponsible breeding. A week after Timber found a brother in Marverick, Marverick got sick. We had to go with the most painful decision to have him euthanized as he was diagnosed with parvovirus. This was the “most humane” approach, the vet said, instead of having him endure the pain from his system being wrecked by the virus. While Trinny was open to it, the vet didn’t raise our hopes high that spending HK$25,000 on a week’s hospitalisation for Marverick would restore him to good health. For the first time, I cried over an animal. Marverick was the sweetest. It was an expensive process on the whole, both psycho-emotionally and financially, from the vet consultation and services to the cremation. And up to this day, it still pinches my heart whenever I remember how Marverick cried like a little boy asking for help as the lethal medicine was injected into his system and my wife in tears while holding him in her arms. 

It took me and Trinny some time before we decided to get another dog. We were both very afraid that the next dog would have the same fate as Marverick. At least 1 year was the coping period we initially gave ourselves. But the apartment being too quiet with just one dog made us reconsider our decision. We bit the bullet and got Theodore around 2 months later. 

Theo at 2.5 months

Theodore was just 2.5 months old when we got him from another pet shop. He was small and very cute, like a cub that blinds you from how he’d eventually grow an appetite of a lion. Perhaps because he was still completing his vaccination, we had to endorse Theo back to the pet shop for their care twice. He vomited and had soft poo the first and second time we took him home. Traumatised by what happened to our first corgi, we had to let the pet shop owner improve Theo’s immunity and resistance. The third time Theodore returned home with us, he already gained weight and was up and about. 

Now Timber is 1 year and 4 months. Theo is 7 months. Timber weighs close to 8 kilos, while Theo nears 11. They’re so adorable that whenever I’m at work, I’d look forward to coming home for they’d be the first to greet me at the door. 

Dogs like kids. 

As Trinny and I don’t have kids yet, having dogs helps us not only develop the extent to which we could eventually become responsible “parents” but also adjust to our respective ways of child- errr dog-rearing. We’ve learned the art of compromise — where if I complain about Trinny spending too much money on the dogs, I’d get threatened to pay the electric bill. For lack of a better description, it’s a good practice to having babies with respect to how me and my wife make decisions on the health and well-being of our dogs. Needless to say, having Timber and Theo further strengthens our relationship and enables us to know more of each other and our priorities, beyond being couples concerned only about our own needs. 

I always tell my wife that our dogs are very lucky to have her. How can they not be? Trinny spends almost HK$6,000 a month on dog food and treats alone! This is a tremendous expense for me who has the habit of converting $ to PhP then thinking of basic items that we could buy with the amount. But my wife has been very generous; all expenses involving the dogs she never bugs me for. Sometimes I feel pathetic that I deliberately shy away from footing online orders for dog food and treats. But I tell my wife: “You take care of the dogs. I take care of you.” Fair enough, ey?

Timber and Theo enjoying their new ride from their mama at Whiskers N Paws

Trinny’s concept of care for the dogs revolves around how a mother would want to give the best to her children. I tend to agree with her on her rationale behind providing good food to the dogs though: 1. If we can afford to feed ourselves good food, why can’t we share it with our dogs who bring so much life and colour to our married life? 2. Why skimp on good nutrition for dogs when we know that if they get sick, medical bills would cost us more? This is somehow quite far from how I was accustomed to feeding our dogs back in the Philippines where they dare not eat ahead of us, but one that I’m certainly seeing the benefits of. I’m just grateful that as my wife shops on Amazon for dog food, she buys sugar-free chocolates for her diabetic bulldog of a husband.

(L-R) Max, Timber and Theo at Timber’s 1st birthday

Having Timber and Theo in our life has also expanded our network of friends. We now hang out more often with other people, particularly with a couple who owns the blood brother of Theo, Max. (Trinny bumped into Max’s parents online by coincidence.) At night when we walk Timber and Theo out, we get to meet other dog owners as well and enjoy casual talks with them. And because of Timber and Theo, my wife and I have added common topics to our daily conversations. These include our dogs’ activities for the day, where to eat with them, the trips we want to take them on, and their individual traits, as if they were our human children. 

Whether I feel guilty that I have not been as much a responsible owner of Snoopy, Gibo, Blackie and Ajaj, I reflect on how I value dogs now and cringe at how I failed back home as a dog owner. It could be the convenience of home that made me complacent, or the utter fact that I never really thought having a dog would have a tremendous positive impact on my life as now that I am as involved in caring for Timber and Theo. 

When an opportunity presents itself and you can afford it, get a dog. Having one somehow provides depth to life, especially when you’re a married couple. It brings the relationship to a different level and tests out not only how you could eventually become parents but more your propensity to keep a family of different personalities, needs and temperaments together. Dogs may be pets, but once you have them, your concept evolves to embracing them as a source of what we all aim for: quality of life. 

Snoopy. Gibo. Blackie. Ajaj. Marverick. Timber. Theo. 7 in all. 2 dead. All alive in my heart. 

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