20 June 2011


Martin with brother Nole. 

Remember Mitzie? She had a son. His name is Martin. He looks exactly like her—cotton-haired, short-muzzled, marble-eyed, caramel-colored, soft-pawed. Which is to say he looks nothing like his hideous dad, a dog named Brutus, who is owned by my cousins Fred and Eugene, is neither Spitz nor Shih Tzu, and looks as ugly, and is as ill-mannered, as his name.

While Martin, fortunately, took after his mother in terms of looks and cuteness, he didn't exactly charm people. He certainly didn't charm me. Coming home on late nights I often turned the key to the gate of our house and heard Martin waiting on the other side—not cooing as one might herald the arrival of a master, like Mitzie did, but barking at me as though he was about to rip my head off. Or, if he wasn't being mean, he was being annoying. Like whenever he positioned himself to sleep in front of a screen door—the entrance door—so that I couldn't go in without forcing him to move, or that I couldn't go out without hitting his head or his leg, upon which he always let out a sharp, ear-piercing yelp.

"Get out of the way," I yelled at him. The son, ultimately, of his father, Martin acted like he couldn't care less. So in a move that I'm sure PETA would have frowned at, I rolled out the garden hose, connected it to the spigot, put a finger through the other end, and sprayed water, nasty man that I was, at Martin, who retreated drippingly to a dry safe corner, or under the van.

Then last year we lost the house to a fire, which ripped through everything and had us—two families, ten people in all, plus two dogs (Mitzie died four months earlier)—squeeze into a rented three-bedroom apartment one block off the rubble. Displaced from his comfort zone, Martin did not act uncomfortably. Something else happened. He behaved courageously, heroically, realizing perhaps that his family extended to include us, in the same way that we'd always thought ours included all pets. He stopped barking at me, for one, and, like his mother, became prone to humping my Pumas or Happy Feet—in addition to my father's Cole Haans, my siblings' Hush Puppies and Havaianas, my mother's sandals bought from Trinoma—as a form of warm welcome. He ran to catch roaches in the apartment, or the rats that sometimes appeared to chew the wires of my brother Francis' salvaged CPU. He moved away to give and respect space, taking little quiet dog steps to the open kitchen area upon the arrival of occasional guests. When last Christmas a cousin from California came with his hair-dyed, big-earringed, wetly lip-sticked, Prada-handbagged fiancée, Brutus went on to sniff the lady's legs while Martin played to perfection the part of a dog with manners, a dog with refinement.

As a reward, Francis began to take him out to walk in the evenings and enjoy the cool-breezed freedom of Manila suburbia. Such that Martin, the formerly insufferable beast, became Martin, the giddy, utterly lovable tongue-wagger.

I'm forced to hold on to moments like this now that Martin has been reduced to a stumbling mass of hair—no thanks to something called canine distemper. The last few weeks, he's been on IV, with an anti-bite mask wrapped around his mouth. He's also had to deal with an inordinate amount of eye discharge, which has led to futile attempts at wiping it off against the nearest solid surface, and which has basically rendered him blind: a dog walking pathetically into walls, mirrors, the legs of chairs. There's also, as I mentioned, the 'stumbling' part. He's fighting, brave little boy, he's fighting, but he can't lift at least one of his legs—can't lift it long or high enough to keep him from losing balance, like a disabled person whose grip on the stick constantly falters.

So I think to myself, come back, Martin, come back to your old self, jump up and down and bark at me if you have to.

But his breathing is increasingly labored; his life fading. Yesterday, my younger brother Josemaria sent me a text message that read, "Papa is asking if it's okay with you that we euthanize Martin." That sent me into a pretty horrible state; all of a sudden, there was a lump in my throat that made its way out through my eyes and on to a piece of Starbucks tissue. (Well, it wasn't that poignant. I actually sobbed like a wittle girl.) I responded immediately by saying I'd spend as much of my measly income to keep the dog alive. But it isn't the money, my brother replied. The neurological damage is permanent. Like in Alzheimer's or Parkinson's. Martin's completely disoriented, he no longer has any idea what's going on, he doesn't even respond to his name anymore. And it will be like that for as long as he lives. He's not going to get better. There is nothing, in other words, that we can do to save him.

Today, Father's Day, seeing Martin walk limply into a pool of his own pee (incontinence is one of the symptoms of the disease) and bump his head against something every five seconds, I've decided to change my mind. I guess there was a part of me concerned about where my convictions lay, but there was a bigger part: a wavering spirit, a reluctance to admit that the lives of dogs are just so short. Too short: no sooner did I let my guard down to love and admire Martin than this happens. It's awful, the high-pitched whimpers, the sound of him weeping. The quavering legs, the eyes that no longer open. Martin is all but gone, as difficult as it is to accept. He is family all the same, and it is with nothing but love that I say it's time, finally, to put the dog to sleep.

P.S.: Martin got the injection today, 20th of June. I'm sure he'll send our love to Mitzie.


  1. Dammit, Migs, you made me tear up! I'm so sorry to learn about Martin's illness, and my sympathies to you and your family about the decision you had to make. But I love how Martin seems to be smirking in the first pic, and so at rest in the last one. Hugs!

    P.S. Damn good writing, as always. (I seem to be cussing a lot today...dammit!)

  2. Damn, Liz! That was a quick reply. Thank you for your kind words and thoughts. But don't worry about tearing up; I'm still sobbing, and I'm afraid it's uncontrollable sobbing.

    How are you? When are you going back to blogging? Hope it's soon!

  3. Thank you Kuya! Always eloquent. But on the first pic, Martin is on the right. :)

  4. Sorry to hear that, Migs. You have a way with inviting us into your world. Only a few paragraphs & yet I feel for Martin, that brave, fuzzy little soul. Remember, all dogs go to heaven.

  5. Thanks, Mack. I know you have a brave, fuzzy little dog yourself - Snowy? Winter? - so cherish all the joys he provides. Appreciate your words about my work, too!

  6. You write so movingly, and from your heart. Weeping like a wittle girl. Migs I'm so sorry for your loss. RIP Martin. I'm glad he's going to be reunited with his mom. Hugs to you.

  7. I stumbled upon your blog while I was reading through Carlos Celdran's tweets. I ended up not reading what you wrote on being a pro-life but instead when i saw you have written this about your dog, it simply drew me to read it.

    Tomorrow, my dog Oscar and I will be driven up to Baguio and he will be adopted by a good friend of mine and his wife. He will be my gift to them. Oscar just turned a year old and has grown too big for my apartment. For almost a year I took care of him - worms, puppy sickness, immunization shots, groomed him once a week and brushed his luscious thick fur everyday, had long walks along the bay, and would talk to him like I do a friend - it was like taking care of a human child who's also my best friend. I even have a foot-tall pile of his fur he's shed through the months that I'm thinking of making into a hair sculpture or something.

    It feels so sad to lose a furry friend, that I can totally agree upon. But I guess the difference with your loss to mine is that while yours is permanent, mine would simply give me more reason to go up to Baguio a bit more often. I have been talking and hugging the little rascal more the past few days. I dread it when tomorrow comes.

    Thank you for writing about Martin.

  8. Hi H: Yes, "like a wittle girl"! Glad you caught that - but not surprised that you did. You have such a writer's reader's eye.

    Hi Palma: Thanks for reading. I'm so sorry to hear about Oscar. But think of it this way: he'll still be in good hands, and now in better weather. And you'll get to visit Baguio more often, which is one of my favorite places in the Philippines indeed.

    Visited your site, by the way. You make lovely art. :)

  9. I appreciate the kind words. I wish I could write more but my mind is becoming more and more 'visual' as the months and years progress. Maybe soon, in order for me to express myself, I will just draw everything I want to say. And that part of my brain that spews out written words will wither and dry up. :-)

  10. Hi Palma: Thanks so much for visiting again! I won't encourage you if you decide to give up writing, but what I do feel is that visual art is in itself a sort of language. In that respect, you're as eloquent as anyone out there. So I hope you keep doing what you're doing!

  11. Hey... I stumbled upon your blog and I can't help but leave a comment. I also lost a dog more than a year ago to distemper. Seeing her go through that sickness is the most heartbreaking thing I've ever witnessed. She also reached a point that she cannot get up and had to relieve herself on her bed due to incontinence. I also made the same decision as you did. I still cry once in a while when I remember her, but I think we did the right thing :)