For the past five years or so, the text messages I usually receive from my sister or brothers in the province are simple updates about the family. Then I would call them on the phone to get more detailed information. And to hear their live and animated voices. I feel am always comfortable using the phone and hearing them, us, talk and exchange news about our families, at such great length unmindful of the phone call cost.
(This piece was first posted in our blog on February 22, 2005. We are republishing the edited article for its enduring message.)
But last week, I received a different text message, yet still an update, nay, an unfortunate event in the family, at least to my brother. Our eldest sister texted: “brod bitten by dog.” This is a new item, then. So I called back and clarified the news. It was our mother who called and informed my sister of the incident. My brother (next to me) was about to feed the dogs (yes, they have two dogs living at the back house) when one of them bit my brother’s palm.
No, I did not ask why the dog bit him. I just surmised that it could have been the dog's over eagerness to have his fill, he could have "mistakenly" grasped my brother’s hand. Anyway, the only assurance was that the dog had a regular doze of anti-rabbies. A precautionary measure or customary practice or ritual in our place, however one may view it, he was brought to and “healed” by Pecto, the town’s one and only. He treat bite victims of snake and dog thought to be life-threatening, lethal or poisonous. He extracts, literally, sucks, the venom to the victim’s relief and assurance that he is out of danger! But just the same, the poor brother is having his injections.
The last time I was at our mother’s house, I really feared the dogs. They seemed so unfriendly and fearless they growled at the mere sight of me even at a distance. You do not need to find the notice of “have dog, will bite”; which other owners would display in the front porch to instill fear on intruders and strangers. The dogs are my other (second youngest) brother’s pets, who also have his stock of game fighting cocks, layers (hens) and turkey.
But at one phase in my life, I once saw a different scenario: when a dog became a helpless victim to man. A nasty, thought- provoking experience to a child seeing men kill dog never left me.
One day, neighbors butchered a dog because they will be having a drinking spree. And what could be a good finger food but a dog meat! So, one man volunteered his dog. They tied the helpless animal and started hitting the head with a hardwood. When it stopped barking and howling they tied the hind legs of the half-conscious animal up a pole and started peeling the skin off its body.
I watched the men expertly removed the skin even as the dog cringed in pain and agony. I asked myself, how many dogs have they butchered so far? I do not know how the poor thing gasped its last breath, whether it died because it was devoid of its skin or what, because I could not take it any longer. My sudden interest at witnessing these rite of passage, an initiation and baptism of sort, completely vanished, washed down with fear and revolting stomach. I gritted my teeth as I saw the animal writhed in pain as if begging for dear life. I left silently, unnoticed, bringing along the silent but enduring pain in my heart.
Hours later, I saw the men again, now gathered in the neighbor’s backyard. They were done cooking the meat into different dishes. The air smelled good of azucena, the local term for dog meat now processed and cooked. [Azucena: azu, aso, dog. cena, dinner, meal, food.] Azucena is also a local name of a fragrant flower that blooms in May in our town. One man was strumming a guitar, another was singing, while another was serving the bottle of gin cuatro cantos on small glasses. From time to time, they would shout in unison, their camaraderie sealed with the scent and taste of dog’s meat.
After the drinking session, they left the neighbor’s backyard, murmuring garbled words I could not comprehend. Were they planning the next obnoxious, grizzly gathering or simply so inebriated they could not straighten their tongue to speak a discernable human word?
My next dog incident happened in Antipolo many years later. My sister-in-law brought home a lovable puppy one day. The kids just loved the newest member of the family we had a doghouse built. The dog was named Bingo, always, the too common name a dog could have. Bingo grew to be taller and bigger than we expected. His bark was terrifying to strangers and passers by but us family members were comfortable with his presence.
Yet one guy was not, we suspected. The volunteer postman was so scared about Bingo who would jump higher than the fence yet within the frontyard. Yes, mails to our place were delivered, not by a regular, government-employed postman, but a “volunteer.” We would chipped-in a peso or two each time he would drop mails! He must have been annoyed and threatened by Bingo the volunteer guy would leave ascerbic remarks as he walks away.
One afternoon, we found a very sick Bingo. He would not stand, would not eat and simply stared at us with drooping eyes, sort of. Gone was his energy. Later in the day, Bingo was dead. We only surmised that the dog may have eaten something that poisoned him. And we did not feed our dog poison to die just like that.
Bingo shared two years of happy moments with the family and will now remain safe in our memory.