THANK YOU, MISSY

Philippine Daily Inquirer - - LIFESTYLE - By Cheche V. Moral @mis­syrabul

When the four­teen years which Na­ture per­mits

Are clos­ing in asthma, or tu­mour, or fits,

And the vet’s un­spo­ken pre­scrip­tion runs

To lethal cham­bers or loaded guns,

Then you will find—it’s your own af­fair,

But… you’ve given your heart to a dog to tear.

When the body that lived at your sin­gle will,

With its whim­per of wel­come, is stilled (how still!).

When the spirit that an­swered your ev­ery mood

Is gone—wher­ever it goes— for good,

You will dis­cover how much you care

And will give your heart to a dog to tear.— From “The Power of the Dog,” by Rud­yard Ki­pling

Grief is a quick­sand—the more you flail and strug­gle, the quicker it swal­lows you into its depths. It has been a month since my beloved pug, Missy, died. She was 14. I had her for a third of my life.

It has been stag­ger­ing, the enor­mity of the void left by a crea­ture so tiny. I was un­moored. It hit me in ways even my can­cer di­ag­no­sis last year didn’t.

No day has passed, since she suc­cumbed quite sud­denly to pneu­mo­nia on Nov. 8, that I haven’t wept. Some days are worse than oth­ers.

It wasn’t love at first sight when I met Missy’s wrinkly face 14 years ago. She was only four months old and no big­ger than a city ro­dent.

The lit­tle thing squirmed through­out the drive home to Makati from Katipunan, where the breeder turned her over, that De­cem­ber evening in 2004. She stank so bad I held her lit­er­ally at arm’s length through­out the ride. Her sharp, still untrimmed nails left scratches and welts on my arms.

I was re­luc­tant to have an- other pet. I had ex­pe­ri­enced the loss of a dog; I still re­mem­bered the ex­quis­ite pain of learn­ing my pup was run over by a car while I was in school. I cried for days.

Gift

But Missy—named af­ter the badass Amer­i­can rap­per Missy El­liott—was a gen­er­ous and well-mean­ing birth­day gift that I couldn’t refuse.

When the vet said I should re­turn her to the breeder be­cause they didn’t dis­close her se­vere eye in­fec­tion, which meant she was sure to go blind on her left eye, I re­fused.

I’ve had her for only two days then, but I was be­sot­ted.

How­ever, I was un­pre­pared. I had not had a dog since I was 14 I had for­got­ten what it was like.

On her first night home, I fed her sev­eral serv­ings of kib­bles, quickly re­fill­ing each time she pol­ished the con­tents of her bowl. Wow, I thought, she’s so hun­gry the breeder must not have fed her!

She had the runs that night.

I would soon dis­cover her ap­petite was so enor­mous she was never sated, how­ever much I fed her. I didn’t know then that pugs were no­to­ri­ous for their love of food. For her, ev­ery­thing was a treat, so it was easy to give her meds.

Fat and spoiled

And I was putty in her lit­tle paws.

I’d tell peo­ple that if I had a child, she’d be fat and spoiled. Missy was both—strangers of­ten asked if she was preg­nant.

I called her my sous chef, who was al­ways next to the stove or hot oven, grunt­ing and snort­ing, when­ever I was mak­ing some­thing—and I was al­ways mak­ing some­thing. She had to be put on a weight-loss diet when she de­vel­oped arthri­tis and hip dys­pla­sia.

She en­joyed dress­ing up. She would au­to­mat­i­cally raise her paws when­ever I’d slip a tee over her head.

As she grew older, and cli­mate change be­came more real, the clothes were ditched en­tire- ly. We switched to scarves and neck­laces. For four years un­til she died, she wore a USB neck­lace with her info and pho­tos saved on it—her low-rent ver­sion of a mi­crochip, we liked to joke.

I now tie her scarves around the neck of her urn. At night, I carry her urn and lay it next to my pil­low where she used to sleep.

Am I crazy? I asked a grief coach friend. She as­sured me it was all right, if it was help­ing me cope. It is—she’s there when I wake up.

(In the week af­ter she died, I’d also lis­ten to her recorded snores on loop.)

Al­pha

Missy was so used to so­cial­iz­ing with hu­mans I of­ten won­dered if she thought she was hu­man—or that we were dogs and she was our al­pha. She was am­biva­lent to­ward other dogs.

She sulked in the be­gin­ning when Spike, who’s six months younger, was adopted shortly be­fore she turned three years old. But she learned to be tol­er­ant of him, even al­low­ing him to snug­gle at times. He fol­lowed her around, de­fer­ring to her lead at all times.

We took her on va­ca­tions—to Bo­ra­cay, Palawan— be­fore brachy­cephalic breeds were banned by air­lines. She so loved the wa­ter, just not her bath wa­ter; she would sud­denly van­ish when­ever she sensed me prep­ping her bath im­ple­ments.

It was rou­tine to take her out on week­ends, long be­fore pets were wel­comed at restau­rants.

In­vari­ably, her fa­vorite was Ital­ianni’s in Boni­fa­cio High Street, where she once had her birth­day party—she’d pull you to­ward the resto even if we had al­ready eaten some­where else. (We took her urn there on the day of her cre­ma­tion.)

Al­ways well-be­haved, she re­ceived pats and praises from the wait staff and strangers wher­ever we went.

But the runt had so much mis­chief in her lit­tle body. Once she nearly died af­ter find­ing a pack of tablea cho­co­late and went to town with it. I got her to the vet just in time.

Once she had dif­fi­culty poop­ing, a long white thing was com­ing out her, I thought it was her in­testines! She ran­sacked the bath­room and ate a good part of a roll of tis­sue.

Hu­mans will dis­ap­point you, but dogs won’t, even when they’re be­ing “bad.”

Spike

When Missy died, Spike whim­pered for days, search­ing for her all over the house. He was asleep when we took her to the vet; she never came home again.

We brought him to her fu­neral and cre­ma­tion at Pet Val­ley Park and Cre­ma­tory in Silang, Cavite. He barked non­stop when I moved his face close to her body so that he could sniff her—I read that it was im­por­tant, so the sur­viv­ing dog knows where their buddy went.

Now 13 and also af­flicted with arthri­tis and has dif­fi­culty stand­ing, he stood up and wanted to get closer to the al­tar where they laid out his best bud so beau­ti­fully.

It’s dif­fi­cult to come home to a house where there’s no one there to wel­come you with joy­ful ex­cite­ment. While sweet, gen­tle Spike will sleep through com­ings and go­ings, you al­ways got a ticker tape pa­rade from Missy, whether you’ve been away five min­utes or five days.

The grief from the loss of a pet is some­thing not many will fully un­der­stand. They’re not “just a pet” that you can re­place once they’re gone. The heartache from los­ing them is di­rectly pro­por­tional to the im­mea­sur­able love and joy they give you in their short life.

Slowly, I’m com­ing to ac­cept that her time to rest has come. She gave me 14 years full of hugs and licks and kisses.

My greedy, or­phaned heart is learn­ing to hush its dis­con­so­late wail­ing, to be grat­i­fied by the mem­o­ries—and heav­ens, are there enough to last me a life­time!

Thank you, Missy, baby bug. You live on in Mommy’s heart.

On her 14th birth­day in Au­gust

Missy less than three weeks be­fore she died

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