Loving Lala

We met Lala one hot, lazy Sunday afternoon. When she arrived with my friend’s sister, Gin, I was up in the room doing some paperwork, and Richard had just cooked shakoy (it is called bicho-bicho here) for a handful of friends and kids who were hanging out by the lanai in the garden with him.

We went to the front gate to welcome her. A golden retriever, she was beautiful and yellow as butter, with a sad face and royal stance. And she smelled good, like she was newly shampooed. But she did not want to enter the gate, much less the house, and was hanging on to Gin who in turn was holding back tears, dog food in hand. Goodbyes are never easy. All of seven years old now, Lala was with their family for 2 1/2 years.

Gin’s sister, Grace, was the one giving Lala to us. After Lala gave birth, she started shedding a lot and Grace and Gin’s mother developed an allergy to all her hair. Because they live in a condo it was a natural, albeit painful decision, to let Lala go. As the story goes she was given to another family before us, one that promised to love and take care of her, but she was eventually abandoned. One day, like a scene straight out of a movie, Gin heard her barking while she was walking by some establishment in Ortigas. She saw a dog that looked like Lala tied to a post beside a garbage can. The dog got all excited to see her; if not for the fact that she was anchored to a post, everything about her was already running towards Gin. Gin was hesitant; she thought she was just missing Lala so much that this yellow dog barking at her excitedly had started looking and sounding like Lala. Upon closer inspection, she was sure it was Lala because of a very distinct birthmark — a big flat mole in her tongue. Turns out someone had given Lala to the security guard on duty there and Gin had to “buy” her from the security guard for P2,500. Gin tearfully brought her back home.

When Gin finally said goodbye to Lala in our front yard, I assured her that she would be in good hands. My husband, daughter and brother love dogs. Lala looked very, very sad to see Gin go but she brightened up a bit when we brought her to the back where the garden is and the kids started playing with her. She knew how to fetch, and the kids would throw little balls and she would retrieve them. On hindsight, I could not have been happier that she arrived on the day that she did — when there were lots of people to welcome her. Given her history, Lala needs some serious loving.

The next few days were hard on her, it was easy to see that. Our other dogs Helen, Coke and Gaston, are full of boundless energy and they “play” with everything they see — people, boxes, plants, garden hedges. Lala was always sedate; she ate quietly, after which she would retreat to her corner of the lanai. She slept a lot (obvious sign of depression, right?), and her eyes… they looked so sad, like she was forever wondering where the sun went.

Well, I don’t like sad; I always want to fix sad people, and sad things. Of course I wanted to fix Sad Lala. So I made an effort. Richard said Lala most likely had abandonment issues and that she was still adjusting to the new environment, and to us as her new friends. What should I do? Talk to her, spend time with her, he said. So that is what I did. Every day I would go see her as she sat in her little corner, staring into space. If I was reading a book, she would just sit beside me quietly. I let her be, I allowed her to have her moment. Whenever I called she would listen, and I noticed that she liked being touched. It made her relax. So I would touch her head and the length of her back many times over. Sometimes I would use my feet. She would whimper like a baby, stay beside me and never leave my side.

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Pretty soon she would bark excitedly whenever she would see me. Lala now smiles at me! Yes, she smiles! I never understood when people would say their dogs smile at them but I do now. And for the first time in my life I honestly feel that a dog likes me, and I her. It is a very nice feeling, actually: warm and pure. When I leave the house I say goodbye to her; when I arrive I say my hellos as well. She is a member of the family. My foremost concern now is to erase whatever she remembers of that sad episode of her life that eventually found her tied to that lamp post in Ortigas. She is cherished in our home; I hope that makes up for all that she had to go through.

Whatever happened to me? I do not remember the day I started being fond of dogs. It must have started with Gaston. Lala is actually an answered prayer; I just realized that about two weeks ago when Richard and I were having a little midnight snack. All our dogs are either black or brown, I would always tell him. We might as well have a yellow dog. Before we had Simba and Polo, both were the color of sunshine and buttered sugar but they have passed on already.

And then, very quietly on a Sunday, Lala comes into our life. She is the yellow dog I almost forgot I had wished for. I am really loving Lala now. It is a very nice feeling, actually.

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