It was my oldest daughter who prodded me into getting another pet dog. I think it was sometime in 2001. And pretty soon, we had this hyperactive male dalmatian wreaking havoc in our yard. My daughter named him "Buster". I would have called him "Bozo" or "Charlie" as he was more of a clown to me than a dog. But I started believing that I had this unlucky streak in naming dogs. You see, my mother used to give us local puppies (askals, or asong kalye in Filipino, literally street dog) before we got Buster. I did the naming of these puppies back then. And all eventually died. So I let my daughter choose a name for the new dog. The dalmatian was simply too expensive to satisfy my anti-superstition quirks.
About a year later, we acquired this female labrador puppy. My daughter named her "Lassie". I would have called her "Sadie" (from that Beatles song) or "Bonnie" (from Bonnie Abbzug in Edward Abbey's Monkey Wrench Gang). But the name Lassie stuck. And years later, with our neighbors complaining of the stench in our front porch, I would be walking Lassie and Buster around this neglected park early in the morning and late in the evening, rain or shine, trying to get them to empty their bladders and intestines before bringing them home. Like Buster, Lassie was brimming with canine energy. She used to do these crazy sprints, running after Buster in the yard and throwing her 55 to 60-pound body in the air, her prim brown coat shining in the morning light, as Buster jumps over her.
I was anxious the first time we left Lassie with this guy and his stud labrador. She was supposed to stay there for three nights. But when my father and my brother came back the following day, the guy asked me to bring Lassie home. My dog kept him awake the whole night. Guess she was not really used to being away from us. After one of her unsuccessful pregnancies, I remember bringing Lassie to this pet clinic somewhere in Quezon City to have her womb x-rayed. Earlier, our lady veterinarian suspected that some of Lassie's dead puppies were still inside her body, decomposing there and slowly poisoning her system. So we waited in line at the clinic, Lassie calmly sitting through her fever, and with all those folks occasionally glancing in our direction, perhaps wondering what a dog was doing in a clinic reserved for people.
I still can't understand why Buster and Lassie ended up with me when I transferred to my parents' place. I thought my oldest daughter would either insist on having the dogs with her or in visiting them regularly at my parents' house. It was more because of the second prospect that I agreed to take the two dogs with me. Anyway, I thought, my daughters would still have one labrador left with them to take care of. Not having the good sense to bring along with me some pictures from the family albums, Lassie would soon become my only link to those precious moments with my daughter when we were all playing in the yard, walking in the neighborhood, or strolling around the campus. Moments that are now slowly fading into the distant past. Desperately longing for the presence of another being in my room, or finding my mind too restless to think of anything else, I would sometimes let the yellow labrador in and just run my hand through her thin coat.
Arriving at the office today, I got a call from my mother informing me that Lassie had died. My immediate reaction was to ask about my parents' plans for burying her body. But I saw my mind then already racing to recall all those times during the past few weeks when Lassie would come running towards the gate as soon as she hears the softest clink of my keys. Or those mornings when she would have this dour look behind the wire fence as she waits for me to get my ride to the office. I now regret failing to give her the regular weekend bath last Saturday. Had a meeting the whole afternoon today. All the time, I kept thinking about how I'm going to tell my daughter about Lassie's death. Both of us lost a good friend.