Monday, September 14, 2009

Jiggy

Jiggy was small and underfed when he came to live with us at 3 months old. I remember taking him to school in a laundy basket. (He wet himself silly.) While all the other dogs were busy sniffing each other out and exploring our Behavior Psych classroom, he stayed crouched beneath my arm chair. He was one of the few mixed breeds there and was certainly the puniest. I figured he was scared and insecure, but I was wrong. When a large pure breed came over and stared challengingly at him, he stared right back, gave a low growl, and, had the other dog not been led away, would have come out to fight. I was proud of him.

My family had never had a dog. We didn't have a fence around our house so we kept him on a leash in our small porch. From this spot, each day, he would keep an eye on passers-by and bark at -- or bite, on 14 occasions -- those he deemed suspicious. From this spot, too, his ears would prick at the sound of my father's car, or my mother's voice, or our footsteps, and he would wag his tail in welcome when any of us arrived home. As a guard dog, he was Secret Service-caliber. As a part of our family, he was well-loved.

My mother and I called him "Dong," a term of endearment usually reserved for humans. He liked coming inside the house, especially when he heard the tinkle of dinner plates, and he would affectionately put his head on our laps in a shameless attempt to get food. He often succeeded. When my father wasn't watching, he would climb up the couch and sleep among the throw pillows. He knew when he had done something wrong, though, and his head would stay down, his eyes downcast, when he got scolded for some mischief or other.

Jiggy was more than a dog. When I had a lot of things on my mind, I would go outside and sit beside him, stroking his fur as I talked to him in a low voice. He rarely gave a sign that he understood what I was saying, but he was always there. When I was living away from home, I would often get my mother to put the phone by his ear, so I could ask him how he was and tell him to be a good boy.

Since Jiggy's arrival in early 1999, we've had other pets come and go, and I often lamented the fact that none of them had gone in a normal way. Chico, our brown spitz, succumbed to the Parvo virus when he was less than a year old. Dindo, our adopted cat whom we realized was a female only years after we had named her after a basketball player, was put in a sack by a neighbor (who didn't know she was ours) and disposed with the garbage. Kinkin, another adopted cat, was accidentally run over by my father's car. Our two colasisi somehow escaped from their birdcage, and one was found dead on the ground the next day. We never got to say goodbye to any of them properly, and I hoped it would be different with Jiggy and our other dog Jack.

Last month, Jiggy caught pneumonia, and it was painful to see him cough and retch. We thought that that would be the end of him, but it wasn't. Under my mother's care, he was slowly nursed back to health. Things were never the same though. He was old and it showed. He walked slower and barked less. His eyes, already opaque with cataracts, looked tired.

Still, I hoped he wouldn't go anytime soon. My mother was the one who took care of him, but he was my dog, and I loved him. I hoped he would be around to see me get married.

Two days ago, his legs began to give way, and he found it difficult to walk without slipping or falling over. He lost interest in food. Yesterday, when my mother let him get inside the house, he quietly sat beside her as she watched TV. Then, according to her, he visited his favorite sleeping spots, lying down for a short while in one before heading off to the next. Then he let himself be led outside. At dinner last night, he refused to touch his food. He barely swallowed the milk we gave him. He just lay quietly on our porch and looked unseeingly straight ahead. After stroking him and holding his paw for half an hour, I said good night.

I still didn't get to say goodbye.

When I was a kid, I used to wish I had a brother, someone who would protect me and beat up anyone who hurt me, someone who always made sure I was okay.

My dog shared ten beautiful years of his life with us. He made us laugh, and he guarded us with his life. I now realize I did have a brother. His name was Jiggy. He was ten.