WHEN we decided to have a dog, the children were six and 10 years old, which seemed like a good time to introduce them to the ups and downs of pet ownership.
When they were younger, we had had another dog, a very frisky yellow labrador that was not a great match for young children living in the confined space of a Quezon City cul-de-sac townhouse with a shared driveway with four other families, not all of who appreciated the puppy running up and down the shared concrete playground. There were no homeowners’ association rules because there was no homeowners’ association. But we heard of complaints through the ever reliable news channel, aka the yaya network, and we decided not to burden neighborly relations by keeping the dog in our area only.
Then we needed to replace the broken and worn out tiles of our ground floor living/dining area. And our chosen material turned out to be hell for puppy paws, our poor Dagul (so-named by his breeder because, although he was the youngest of the litter, was not in fact the runt) kept slipping and was miserable and eventually just made up his own mind not to come into the house because he couldn’t even stay standing, let alone cross the small area. So he alternated between an enclosed and grilled-off patio between garage and front door, and an actual cage which, although we made sure to be more than quadruple his size for much room to maneuver, was still at the end of the day, a confining cage.
It was not a responsible pet ownership situation and it was only a matter of time before we noticed signs of senility in Dagul. It became harder and harder to care for him and when we received the news that we would be moving abroad again and that our apartment was a carpeted flat on the fourth floor of an old building with a rickety elevator that took ages to arrive, we knew we would not be able to handle taking him down to toilet as quickly as he needed to. On top of the dreaded winter weather, frequent business trips for The Man and a busy school schedule, there was the matter of needing to take the public bus and walk the rest of the way to school and the reverse route to come home, and it was obvious bringing Dagul along halfway across the world would not have been a wise choice as he would have entailed a lot of work. The vets confirmed that they weren’t sure he would have been able to handle relocation and the changes in season. So he stayed behind with the in-laws who helped him live out his last years in a sprawling farm in the countryside.
And so our dog was really no longer ours, just as he wasn’t anyone else’s anymore. Before he passed we had taken in a new puppy in another country, one we had moved to after one year in one of the carpeted apartments. The circumstances were different, the boys, by then were a good five years older and better able to care for the puppy. They had a short walk to school one street away, which immediately translated to less stressful mornings and afternoons without a long-ish commute. And most importantly, not only did The Man travel much less frequently for work, he himself walked two short blocks to the office and could just as easily come back for lunch and right after work for the many walks the puppy required. It was an ideal arrangement not just for us but for the dog and, with much regret, all apologies to the now-old Dagul who soon passed away in Laguna, our new dog became much more of a family member than Dagul ever was.
Two-and-some years passed and it was time for a new country, and by then we knew we could not leave Rusty behind. That was how much he was a part of our unit. Three-and-some years later in his second country and it was time for yet another move back to the Philippines. The Man and his dog went ahead, because the dog had to travel on The Man’s employment and transfer of house contents contract. That’s how much we had to juggle moving and leaving and living arrangements.
So that was us, a multi-move but one-dog family. Or so we thought. During the pandemic, and rather on a whim, as the dog was getting groomed, The Man spotted a cat and expressed a desire to have it. I in turn expressed surprise, saying I didn’t think he wanted a cat, despite knowing he had always grown up with cats at home. He said “I don’t want just any cat. I want <<THAT>> cat.”
Well I should’ve remembered that getting Dagul and getting Rusty both also happened on a whim. Except that with Rusty, wanting a dog of his breed “on a whim” actually meant waiting til we moved up in the waitlist and his mother was due to give birth to a litter and our names were still there and by then we had already been thoroughly interviewed and screened for our readiness to take on this particular kind of dog. Which means to say that the wait was about eleven months long.
But when we were called to visit the month-old puppies and when we were called again at three months to say Rusty was ready for pick-up, it still felt sudden and it still felt like there wasn’t much time to prepare. It felt like things continued to happen on a whim, perhaps just not ours.
So that’s how he came to us. Suddenly. And that’s how he went home on that one grooming day during the pandemic with a cat friend. (I never say brother or sister in these cases because I don’t consider myself the pets’ parent. I am their human.) And that’s how we — yes, suddenly — found giant senior dog and little bossy cat to become inseparable companions. And two days before Rusty turned twelve, that’s also how suddenly he became sick and passed in the early morning the day before his birthday.
I don’t even have a memory for where the cat was in all those hours that the dog was sick and weakening. He must’ve already sensed something was wrong. He definitely made himself scarce. But when he emerged the following morning, he was suddenly much more reserved, depressed even. I would have scoffed at cat depression earlier, but seeing it now convinced me this was true. And so a sudden decision was made that the cat would be needing a companion. But not being ready for a new dog, we decided on another cat.
We had thought we’d be sitting out a few months after Rusty’s passing to wait for a particular kitten to grow old enough to leave his mother. But suddenly, there it was again, a different kitten that was ready, now. And seemed right. And so that very same day when we first saw her, we became a two-cat family.
Life with two cats was fun. Challenging in its own way, too, but not terribly so. Friends started calling me a crazy cat lady and while I agree with the “crazy” bit, I didn’t think I qualified as a cat lady yet. For one thing, we made sure not to have our lives revolve around the felines. We had naively thought we should be able to easily train them as we did our dog. They would shuttle between Baguio and Manila as often as we did. But soon the older one was showing signs of not just depression but stress expressed as aggression (and spiteful peeing in our bed). Two vets both said it might still be part of his grieving over losing the dog. Or it might just be the many changes each time they traveled. And so to ease the stress, we made the difficult decision to let them stay in Baguio with The Younger Boy even as The Man, The Older Boy and I spent progressively more time in Manila.
It became quiet in Manila without the distraction of the cats. I felt wistful every time I saw photos of them lounging around in Baguio where I also wanted to be. But we were getting used to coasting on without them. And then. Yes, suddenly. A message came, two cats were needing to be rehomed and would we adopt them? Would we! But wait. No more sudden decisions. Things were different now, while The Boys were adults and more than capable of being in charge of the cats while the parents did what the parents needed to do, did we really need to complicate our set up?
Apparently, we all thought we did. And so we are now a four-cat family. We don’t want to expose either pair to the other. So for now the two in Baguio are still blissfully unaware of the two in Manila. And the newcomers have no clue that one day two old timers might come invade “their” space. We don’t know what sort of arrangement we will have when one of either pair also suddenly dies. Or when one family member moves away. No decisions need to be taken at the moment so no decisions have been drawn up. But just because our dog decided to die, and perhaps because all of us are still separately and together grieving his loss, we have, suddenly, become a crazy cat family after all.