A dog comes to you and lives with you in your own house,
do not therefore own her, as you do not own the rain, or the
trees, or the laws which pertain to them.
-Mary Oliver, Her Grave
IN August 2021, my dog bit me.
The skinny black asPin with patchy skin whom I adopted after she was rescued from the Taal Volcano eruption by an animal welfare group, whom I fed, fattened up, brought to the vet, and shared my bed with—in the heat of a serious fight with her older “sister,” Kikay, Frankie sank her two sharp canines into my inner ankle and tore the flesh open.
It was the worst dog bite I had ever had in my life, and I’ve had a few, including that time a neighbor’s Rottweiler chomped on my thigh after I tried to protect my own dog from him on a walk. It was the apex of irresponsible dog ownership—a kid entered the gate, and left it wide open for the Rottie to come bounding towards us. That’s why I have very, very little sympathy for dog owners who post on social media about lost dogs who managed to escape because a stupid human was negligent, proceeding to wail and lament the lost animal and swear that “mahal na mahal namin si Brownie.” Idiots. But I digress.
Was I in pain? Oh yes. My trusty househelp Dang had left for the weekend off a mere hour before the dog fight happened, so I didn’t have anyone to help control the squabble, and I inadvertently stepped into the line of fire before I screamed from a sharp stab of pain, and managed to separate the two. In fact, I checked on some nicks on the older dog’s ear before I realized I was bleeding—badly.
One trip to the Emergency Room and a tetanus shot later, I was home, bandaged, and limping in agony, using my late mother’s rubber-footed cane, which I had wisely set aside for my own old age, or for mishaps like this. The thin skin and concentration of nerves and blood vessels in the ankle bone area made every little move excruciating. Immediate consequences were a canceled dive trip, swelling, rabies shots—including some extra injections INTO THE WOUND, dear Lord—and no yoga classes for the next two weeks, at least.
Did I feel any anger at or disappointment in my dog at all? No. Absolutely, unequivocally not.
In fact, the experience was a lesson in patience, which I have to say I passed with flying colors. Before the day ended, Frankie had jumped on the bed and penitently (I like to think) snuggled against me. “Don’t do that to Mommy, ever again,” I told her gently, and I could have sworn her beautiful brown eyes said “yes.”
I think the lesson went beyond understanding that animals operate on instinct, and not taking the attack personally. Frankie was not mad at me; in the heat of the moment, she was lashing out at everything in her way, and was in self-defense attack mode. Much as I like to believe my furkids came out of my uterus, I know they think differently, being of a different (more enlightened?) species.
Much as I like to believe my furkids came out of my uterus, I know they think differently, being of a different (more enlightened?) species
I was frankly surprised that I didn’t succumb to self-pity, despite being exhausted by the effort of hopping around. The fact is, things happen, and it would have been both unproductive to throw plates at Frankie and demand why she did this to me, her mother and benefactor. I mean, how could she?!! I realized immediately that I could not have such expectations, even if I am pretty sure my dog loves me.
Dog people often say that we sometimes (okay, often) prefer the company of our pets to that of humans, and it isn’t hard to understand why. Dogs are uncomplicated, honest, and straightforward. They’re easy to please, easy to understand, and have very basic needs. Compare that to the many, many layers and convolutions of human interaction—the unsaid words, suppressed emotions, hidden agendas, and outright hypocrisy and judgment—and you see how people can certainly be a lot more exhausting. After all, I think we can agree that humankind is responsible for both the most brilliant and the most senseless events throughout history. The discovery of fire? Check. The Holocaust? Check that, too.
I need only to look at my babies in this situation to learn some interesting life lessons. We already know how canines are gurus for living in the moment, finding joy, showing love, and understanding that a nap can solve any crisis. Kikay, my cranky senior dog, liked to growl at Frankie a lot, showing little patience and pushing the generally submissive junior to the edge. When Frankie didn’t back down this time, Kikay ended up yelping, her tail between her legs, a couple of bloody scratches on her ear.
Lessons: Don’t dish it if you can’t take it. Be nice, be patient, and respect the space of others, or you could be on the receiving end of some painful retribution. Also, if you’d had your time, be gracious and realize that you can’t be top dog forever. She remains cranky—but she also growls less nowadays.
Frankie bore the brunt of my screaming because she was disrespectful of both her ate Kikay and of me, the (supposed) alpha. She spent the rest of the day hiding under the bed in fear, and I’m positive she knew she had done something wrong. When she peeked out, I made it clear the bed was off limits until I said so—and she hid again. By the time I invited her back up, her head was bowed and she was extra obedient and submissive. At least the dog had the humility to take her place at the bottom of the totem pole when she knew she had messed up.
As for Kiko, my only male dog and middle child did what most every Filipino male caught in a scrimmage between two women would do—he simply walked away and didn’t want any part of it. Still, also the man of the house, he accompanied me to the bathroom when I hopped into the shower to put my wound under running water for a few minutes, as is advised for dog bites, and did not leave my side while I dressed my wound.
Kiko, my only male dog, did what most every Filipino male caught in a scrimmage between two women would do—he simply walked away
Even today, when I announce that it’s my sleeping time to the three dogs on the bed, I flap the cover, and the three dart off immediately to their specific spots—well, except Kikay, who sometimes exercises her senior citizen privilege and makes lambing, waiting for me to roll her gently to her side of the bed. The folded bedcover is the boundary they don’t cross the entire night. On this bed, everybody knows his or her place, because it is essential to getting a good night’s sleep.
Most important, though, was the aftermath. After a couple of days of tiptoeing around each other, the former enemies, Kikay and Frankie, were soon sniffing each other again. Next thing I knew, I was catching the two sleeping beside each other on the bed, paws touching, butt to butt, fur against fur. They also seem to have learned something, as there has been no other serious altercation in last four months. Kiko, meanwhile, would inspect the huddle, pretending to be in charge—then proceed to his special place right beside me, sharing my pillow. (Mama’s boy, I know.)
A couple of days after bloody conflict, everything is sweetness and light, cuddles, sharing, and love all around. All is forgiven. Imagine what kind of a world this would be if we could get even just that part right.
Here’s to peace on earth for 2022 and beyond.