Let me preface this by telling you how I grew up in Manila, where the poverty levels are so painfully high that at times it felt like there was a silent caste system with the poorest of the poor akin to India’s untouchables. Skin and bones and covered in sores, they would sit at the side of the road and approach cars when they stopped for a red light, rapping on windows for change or spare food. I remember vividly how, as a child, I had to avert my gaze, embarrassed that I had little to give.
If you can picture that, you’ll better understand the way the great majority of my home nation’s residents see animals – for dogs and cats sit lower on the totem pole than anyone with two legs.
So it was not uncommon for a litter of kittens to be put in a bag and thrown against a wall or dumped in a river, or for the leg of an askal (stray dog) to be broken for drunken sport. I even recall an ex-boyfriend who told me how he and his father had once blow-torched the fur off a deceased family dog and eaten the remains for dinner.
But while most of the country had poverty to blame for the mistreatment of animals, my grandparents did not.
They lived in a gated subdivision, owned a decent-sized home, and had time for hobbies like bottling homemade jams and jellies. To be fair, their transgressions are nowhere near the atrocities described above, but they still turn my stomach in knots when I think back.
My age was in the single digits when they invited me to help them choose a puppy from a local breeder’s litter of Dachshunds. I remember the joy I felt sitting on the pavement surrounded by what felt like a dozen excitable pups, and how I picked one little wiggler from the pack. She covered my face in kisses, and my grandparents took her home and named her Princess.
But a princess she was not to be. Within a few weeks of her arrival, my grandfather broke his leg in a terrible car accident, and while he recuperated at the hospital, my grandmother and the house help (very common in the Philippines, even for the middle class) locked Princess in the master bathroom as she had yet to be potty trained … and kept her there for months.
They fed her, but nobody took her for regular walks, and the pup never learned where to do her business and put on pound after pound. She became anxious and never learned not to bite. My parents took us to visit grandpa in the hospital, and everyone forgot about the little dog they had fawned over months earlier.
Eventually, my grandfather came home, but somehow he decided it was already too late for Princess to learn anything. So, to make a long and sad story short, she spent the rest of her life in a little green cage just outside their garage.
Every time my family came to visit, I would look into the cage and see her sad, soulful eyes staring back. I would look at her paws and see how her claws had grown and were sticking through the bars at the bottom.
I wanted to puke. I wanted to cry, seeing how the little puppy I had handpicked years ago had fallen into this life. They fed her leftovers that were rice-dense, so she gained even more weight. On the scant instances that she was let out of the cage, she waddled when she walked. To this day I can’t look at friends’ Dachshunds without feeling some kind of sadness, some kind of guilt.
Years later, Princess passed away and my grandfather got a Labrador who was uncreatively named Prince. In retrospect, it boggles my mind how he named his animals after royalty but treated them like serfs.
At this point, gramps had started cultivating a little plot of land a few blocks away from his home. There were banana and guava plants, and he had a treehouse and a rabbit hutch (which is the subject of another tale filled with woe and, well, inbreeding and mutation that I’ll not delve into here), and when Prince came home he had a houseboy build a doghouse with a fenced area around it.
While my grandparents snoozed in their comfy double beds and air conditioning, Prince sat in the tropical heat by his lonesome. On our infrequent visits, we would stop by the lot and hear him whining to himself.
But Prince had it better than Princess – my grandfather learned to walk him on a leash and eventually he went to live with another relative who had kids and hopefully was adored and lived happily ever after.
There is no moral to this story. It’s just a series of sad snapshots from what often feels to me like another life, now that I’ve been in California for almost a decade. I’ve been editing Dogster for almost three years now, and every day on the job I am grateful, even when readers get into brawls in the comment sections of our stories, because it’s nice to be in the thick of a community that gives a damn.
I sometimes dream that I’m back there, begging my grandfather to give Princess to my family, promising to take care of her and feed her on a schedule and walk her and everything. But then I remember how my father is asthmatic and dogs were out of the question at the time (or so I heard, over and over, when I asked for one repeatedly growing up), so it never could have been so for Princess and I. I am not a religious person, but I secretly hope she’s in a better place.
When I told one of my younger brothers that I wanted to share this story, he had an anecdote of his own to add. One summer he spent a few weeks living with my grandparents, and he vividly remembered a morning where my grandfather noticed that Princess had chewed up the garden hose. To punish her, he removed his belt (!) and whipped her with it. There really are no words.
Animals are still fourth-class citizens in my homeland, but over the past few years, an organization called CARA (Compassion and Responsibility for Animals) has started leading the charge on raising awareness about adoption and abuse. I’ve been supporting them in my small way by sponsoring a borderline-feral little tripod cat named Puff who has been deemed unadoptable. I know the mess of animal abuse in the Philippines is too large for any one organization to fix, but still, CARA gives me hope that better things are happening across the Pacific.
Dogster readers: Cheer me up by telling me about the animal organizations you champion. I know you’ve got ’em. Thanks for reading.
Images By Nigel Sussman
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