I looked for love in the wrong places… When all this time, love has been beside me: Dollar, my brother, my best friend forever.
He was born in Bataan. His mom Rabbit, a half-Aspin, half-Dalmatian mix, was restless that day and tried to squeeze under the phone table. I took her out to the garage and Ma propped her up a heart-shaped pillow and some rags. Her firstborn had a harelip and didn’t survive the day. The 2nd one, whose coat was mostly white, was our boy. Ma called him ‘Dollar,’ maybe out of her penchant for giving US-sounding names (I’m ‘Florida’ after all) or she remembered the dog from Richie Rich, dunno which. Weeks later there was Dollar, about the size of my palm, sleeping near my ear every siesta time.
By my HS grad in 2000, we’ve already given away our other pets, including my then-favorite Ken, his dad. Dollar was the 13th dog we had in our own house (I used to live with my Inang and titas till ’96). He came with us to Manila when I went to college. Until my 2nd summer in UP, we used to be driven to and from Bataan by Uncle Ferd each vacation. He loved riding the car.
I can’t tell you how much he loved to eat. Once, a neighbor thought he was pregnant ‘coz his body was as big as a barrel. He’s a medium-sized dog but Ma spoiled him with food, thus he grew bigger. And he loved sweets just like me. His midnight snack was Oreo (when DoubleStuf was released, we drooled!). I remember a recitation in Psych 101 where I cited him as example — that when he hears plastic being unwrapped he expected food. My voice was suddenly shaky when I related this to class maybe ‘coz I missed playing with him but had to go to school to study. I guess I never grew up.
Part of why I became pescatarian is this: Ma ordered the new Pizza Hut steak pizza; I was giving bits to Dollar but Ma accused me of being selfish. The next day I shunned meat from my diet so she’d have problems preparing food for me. I hate being accused of something and I was easily angered, what with my teen hormones and all. Sometimes I even hit my boy ‘coz he’s makulit. He’s strong as a horse and would drag me when we walked. Ma also had her fights with him. Like when he’d try to bite her when she’s giving him a bath or picking ticks off of him. Looking back now, both of us feel sorry for losing our patience when we could’ve acted differently. Then I’d tell Ma that he won’t dwell on the bad things — dogs are a very forgiving bunch — ‘coz we had many good memories together.
For his 7th bday, we went to the Quezon Memorial Circle. We used the underpass and he’s happy as a bee! He loved using the stairs. In Bataan we had a 2-storey house where he’d go up and down the steps. We also had a balcony where I’d put him on the marble so he could watch the happenings down the street and in neighboring yards. He loved the outside world. Every New Year’s Eve, while other dogs scrambled in fear to hide from the noise, we’d open the gate and watch firecrackers go up in the sky and fountains spew sparks like volcanoes. He’s a very curious boy. He used to lead Bark Squad, a team that consisted of me and my cousins RJ and Ren whose sole purpose is to be his bodyguards when he walked and pooped.
He wasn’t keen of strangers. And just like Ma, he was moody. In the same way he loved mayo (like me!), he hated having other people around when he’s eating. He scared off kids and almost bit them. Even my friend had a traumatic experience with him. Now I remember why we used to tie him to the gate whenever we had visitors. Since he had the powers of Houdini and Hercules, Ma got a heavy chain (a ship’s chain to be precise) and a Master padlock to do the job.
The worst part of losing him is having to eat without him. Every meal was special to him. When I lost my job and was home all the time, I got to join the Food1 Grand Prix. He was always the victor, finishing 1st. He’d even trash talk (bark at) Ma so he’d have most of her food! And he’d go vicious on cats outside begging for scraps. Funny, he’s a healthier eater than me, as I’m very picky. He’d eat tofu, togi, ampalaya, eggplant — stuff I dislike. Ma’s better pleased with him ‘coz he ate meat like her. Ma served him different types of food, including takeouts! In Bataan where we had a bigger dining area, he ate on the table with us.
More than anything, he loved walking. Ma worked out a plan where I only walk him every other day. Imagine your pet having to hold his poo for 2 days. But he had such strong resolve he adjusted to our sked, just so he’d get to be put on a leash and stroll in the village. He’s popular for his walks, given the fact he’s ridiculously good-looking. People called out his name or asked about his breed and whatnot. Even the lady in the Alpinc laundry shop knew him because he used to come with me when I dropped off clothes or back when he was younger, when I dropped off comforters he peed on, haha. One time when I was out of town, he left home in search for me. Ma was so worried she asked the village kids to help find my boy. One kid pointed Ma to the main street — Dollar was in Alpinc. Another time when I wasn’t home again, he went to Philcoa. He missed me; there was even a period when he’d collapse when he saw me leave. (We brought him to UP Vet Med and it turned out he had low WBC count.) When Dollar or I got sick, Ma also got sick — with worry.
Dollar’s our baby. But we need him more than he needed us. On the 1st day we had to face without him, going near the refrigerator meant a stab to our heart. It’s been part of our routine that we replenish his bowl at the foot of the ref with ice-cold water, then call him so we could drink together. I feel thankful now that I was retrenched ‘coz I got to devote the last 3 months to him. He saved me from depression by bringing me to my feet. But he was always careful not to rouse me from sleep (I’d have a bad mood if anyone woke me up abruptly). Each day he’d walk to the side of my bed and try to see if I was awake. If I’m not, either he’d go out of my room and come back later or sleep on the floor near me; before, he used to jump on my bed but aging prevented that. If he saw my eyes opening, he’d nudge my hand with his wet nose to greet me good morning.
Being human though, I had my bad days. Sometimes when he waited for me to get up, he’d chase an itch on his body with his teeth. The sound he made annoyed me; I’d throw tiny pillows on him. Last July 9 was such a day. My left shoulder hurt and I was testy so I threw a pillow at him. Then Ma informed me he was sick; still, I was a brat that day. I walked him — the past week we learned not to use a leash anymore because we liked it better, found it more relaxing — then I surfed the net, slept in the aftie and was angry at Ma. When night came, that’s when we realized his condition was serious. He could hardly get up. But knowing Ma would be mad if he peed inside, he mustered up his strength to go out of the house to pee. The next day, he was diagnosed with renal failure. Everything happened so fast. We force fed and gave him medicine at lunch. We hung out in front of the house in the aftie like we always used to, with him lying on his back cushioned between my legs. By dinner it was obvious; he wanted us to let him go — he himself tried to fight but knew it was the end.
At 7:22pm, he left for dog heaven. It was really peaceful. We were in the sofa, he was nestled in my arms while Ma was beside us, when he smiled and wagged his tail. No dying breath, nothing like that; it’s as if he went to sleep. And I don’t know how it was possible, but moments before that, he stared into my eyes and this is what I understood from him: “Take care of mom and yourself Teten. Don’t waste your time hurting — let love fill your heart.” My heart suddenly felt lighter. Like it made room for Dollar by ridding itself of all the emotional bullcrap in my life. It’s hard to describe in words but this is the closest I can get. Dollar, thank you for everything. All those 14 and a half years, you made us happy and gave meaning to our lives. We will never forget you. WE LOVE YOU DOLLAR. Walk on…