By By Pablo A. Tariman
WHEN PETS DIE
posted 18-Nov-2018  ·  
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Pianist Marcelita Kabayao teaching music to her pet dog.

Death notices on FB is a common sight.

Friends and acquaintances my age move on almost every other week and the list keeps on increasing.

Last week, three media colleagues said goodbye, a popular singer-friend also passed away but in the past few weeks, my attention was caught by FB posts about pets whose life cycle had ended.

You could see how close these pets are to their keepers the way they grieved not just on FB. I presume they were doubly devastated in real life.

Indeed, there was a time in my life when I turned to pets and never treated them as animals.

Many summers ago, a friend from the volcano country (now a Legazpi City councilor) gave me a pet dog and looked at him as my emotional confidante.

Named Jumbo, he was perfect company before my marriage. Every morning with or without hangover, we would run together in the black beach of San Roque in Legazpi City; later he was a favorite playmate of my first daughter.

Soon after, a son of a house boarder got bitten and my family had to do something drastic and inhuman to placate an aggrieved boarder.

My pet was shoved in a sack for disposal (I admitted he didn’t have anti-rabies injections) and as he was put away, I carried my daughter as far away from the scene as possible. I told her the family pet would be away for a vacation.

My daughter and I could hear Jumbo wailing and struggling inside the sack. I felt stabs of pain inside me. I looked at the sack with something struggling inside it until I heard no more sound.

For the first time, I felt an act of betrayal.

There are friends and friends and as the years wore on, you decide you can only keep a few you are comfortable with.

I have since then found new friends in the city and after getting rid of a private guilt, I acquired another pet.

My daughter who taught in Ateneo said she was given a dog by a student on her birthday and would I be interested to have it? There was no space for animals in this house where we used to live but I made space in our storage room.

We named the second pet in the family Bogart. I resisted naming him after a composer even as a violinist-pianist couple friend from Iloilo named their favorite cat after the Russian composer, Khachaturian.

The second pet’s presence in the house changed my lifestyle. I would always be ready with a doggie bag every time I find myself in restaurants. It didn’t matter whether it was a friend’s treat or a presscon. Which led curious eyes to wonder if I had inherited Lolit Solis’s (yes, the movie scribe) penchant for doggie bags (actually for two-legged “pets”, they suspect).

Meanwhile, I struggled to keep the house clean and in order as I cope with the dog’s running around, toppling bookcases and staining bed sheets.

Out of compassion, I gave him freedom to roam around the BLISS housing compound where he found his first lover. But that freedom had its price. Neighbors found his presence irritating and soon some scheming kids laced poison on stray bones.

One day as I was rushing to finish a souvenir program for a concert that would take place the following day, my dog emerged in the living room -- weak and limping. He gently rested on the floor, took a last look at me with his pleading eyes and breathed his last.

For the first time, I shed a tear for an animal.

The next day during the graduation recital of a young pianist, I sought comfort in his rendition of a Beethoven sonata. Like it or not, music can edify your grief, even dissect it for what it is.

Cecile Licad once yelled at me, “Pablo, I know you are very impatient with the tempo of the Mozart Fantasy. The seeming silence in between phrases signify something. The Mozart piece is about grief with dignity.”

I couldn’t tell her that when my second dog died, I didn’t wail or scream. I just let a tear fall perhaps the same way a tear would fall in the left cheek of Dr. Joven Cuanang (formerly of St. Luke’s Medical Center) every time he hears Bach Suites for unaccompanied cello.

I must say that in my life time, I got my share of unalloyed friendship and fierce loyalty from people I didn’t expect to play the part of a brother’s keeper.

After the book-launching of a book on a celebrated pianist, Ms. Close Relative (CR) told the musician-of- the-hour she was hosting dinner strictly for close family members. In deference, I begged off from the circle. But the pianist insisted, “Pablo, you are not going anywhere. You are not just a friend to us. You are family already. If you don’t go, I don’t go as well.”

Ms. CR had no choice but to suffer my presence.

It is in the memory of Jumbo and Bogart that I hold my real friends dear, they who don’t asking anything in return for precious favors done in the past.

Now you understand why I like to lump pets and friends in one category.

They are always there when you needed them and not asking anything in return.

On the other hand, I am hounded by guilt when I can’t do anything for my friends.

I die a thousand deaths when I see my film-maker friend going through chemotherapy and me totally helpless to do anything. My pianist-friend dedicated Liszt’s religious pieces to her in her Philadelphia recital. But I am sure she had other sources of strength and loyalty from her own family. Even more so when I saw a framed picture of her pet dog in her living room.

My film-maker friends taught me a lesson that you can be famous and comfortable without losing your humanity.

But then again, it is amazing that animals teach you how to be humane, to be more open and loving on your own terms.

But a cliché is often asked: why do some humans bring out the worst (some say the animal) in you?

Either way, you pass through this life with a little wisdom that -- perhaps -- it pays to keep just a few friends and perhaps raise a pet or two at some stages of your unpredictable life.     They make up for what you don’t have -- and will never have -- in your lifetime.


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