Thursday, September 2, 2010

Nanay and Me - David Nugent

David Nugent's LABRADORS
Amber, Neqwa, Anya and Nanay
Nanay and me
By David Nugent
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 20:47:00 08/29/2009
Filed Under: Animals

WE CALL her nanay (“Mother”), the dog. We call her that even though her name is really Kolya. She’s a black, mid-tall and happily fat female Labrador, with soft paws and a rather kindly looking face. She looks and feels – especially when you squeeze her for a hug – just like a teddy bear.

She’s all the more remarkable to me, especially since I didn’t really want her in the first place. It wasn’t because I don’t love dogs. In fact, my relationships with four-legged canines seem to have run on a much more even keel than any of my prior ones with human bipeds. It’s just that when Nanay appeared in my life last January, my existing household of three female Labradors already seemed complete.

But it wasn’t complete, as it turned out. Life and the universe are decidedly of their own mind about directing our individual destinies, and it is now clear to me mine was directed to allow just one more bitch in my life. Albeit a happy bitch who likes to slobber everywhere.

My friend and I had chanced upon Nanay when it seemed she needed some serious TLC. My plan then was to get her cleaned up and into a good home as quickly as possible. There were a couple of other Labradors friends of mine had needed to find homes for, so for a few frantic days, my friend Elizabeth and I immersed ourselves in a rapid search to locate adoptive homes for a large yellow male Labrador and his best friend, a diminutive but fiercely protective female. And also for this ol‘ girl Kolya, who we quickly started calling “Nanay,” because as it turned out, she was the mother of a Lab that I already owned.

I thought my house of dogs – the doghouse, really – was full to the brim of Labrador life. I’d been the proud parent of Neqwa (her full real name is a little politically incorrect, and let’s just leave it at that) for nearly four years. With her is her best friend, one-and-a-half-old Anya, and their eight-year-old Ate Amber, who had developed into her own version of an alpha dog. You could say my life was already full of dogs.

But we couldn’t find the right home for Nanay. So since January, my life has become an increasingly rambunctious and funny one, finally completed when I landed the fourth happy bitch in my life.

Walking four Labs

Living with four Labradors is anything but boring. Take walking around the village, for example. Now, it’s one thing to walk just one Labrador. As many Lab owners will probably attest, walking a Labrador is not an exercise for the sedentary.

Going and going and going some more – preferably if there’s maniacal running in the offing, and even more desirable than that, if there’s a cat or a bird worth chasing. Which in my village, means encountering one every 10 paces. Which also means that morning and evening walks often are an exercise in: frustration (dog sees cat, frees herself from leash and runs away), humor (a maid will see all four dogs and tear down the street screaming, thinking that the girls are after her throat when all they want is to lick her to Hades) and even relief (completion of every harrowing walk).

Wrong leash

When I was in California last January, I thought I had lucked upon the perfect purchase: a single leash that branches out into two leashes – the concept being that I could walk all four dogs at once. But alas, if anyone has every tried tethering two Labradors to a hand, for a grand sum of four, and then attempted a jog, after the four rambunctious bitches have spotted a cat, then one will see what a ruefully wrong purchase I had made. Especially since my four girls weigh collectively somewhere around 140-plus kilos.

It’s no joke – Labradors aren’t just like little kids – they are little kids, with quirky and endearing personalities that ensure daily life is full of hair, mess and laughter.

Nanay, it turns out, is the coolest dog I’ve ever known. It’s a coolness that comes with experience, I think. Perhaps it’s because she’s given birth a couple times, perhaps it’s because she has been around that proverbial block in life, perhaps it’s because she’s just thrilled nowadays to have so many yellow toys – we discovered her penchant for anything yellow within minutes after arriving at my house – but she’s become the cool chick just happy to sit by my side. She’ll sit and kind of tilt her head, and for a moment, I’ll look at her and wonder what deep thought she’s sinking into. She’ll stare into space and her eye will turn and her tail will swing so far from left to right you’d think she was trying to levitate herself.

If you believe, as I do, that dogs have feelings and memories, it’s easy to see what’s happening. She remembers her pain. She remembers some sadness. And then she looks at the people she’s with now, and she lets it go. I’ve learned that there is no better teacher for living in the moment than a dog.

And while I love each of my four girls to death, sometimes it seems my three pre-Nanay girls are sometimes just too city-slick sophisticated for their own good.

Amber, who was raised by me since she was just three months old, has a predilection for aged cheddar cheese. She could be asleep, but if someone opens some cheese a kilometer away, she’d know. But that √©lan is tempered by the fact that every once in a while, she’d freak me out by eating her own excrement.

Neqwa, on the other hand, loves ice-cold water, strawberries, and a good Scooby-doo movie. Meanwhile, Anya, formerly the puppy and now the largest of the four, has developed a coy strategy of waiting after everyone has left the dining table, and when the coast is clear, graciously taking it upon herself to clean all the plates. She’s particularly keen whenever there is Filipino food. Or pasta.


Nanay is a wholly different dog. Unlike most Labradors – well, my three, at least – she doesn’t sit in the kitchen salivating amid the aroma of cooking food. She doesn’t care for the fresh Nylabone out of the cellophane that her more worldly and suave co-conspirators prefer. It matters little to her whether her bed is the soft seat of a leather sofa or a freshly laundered comforter dropped on the floor. Her happiness, I’ve realized, is due entirely to one measure alone. It comes from her proximity to those that she loves, and the joy of that moment.

It’s a pretty amazing thing, to realize that happiness can be derived from mere closeness, but as I sit and type and look down on the ol‘ girl – her head resting on my feet, tag wagging when she subconsciously realizes that I’m looking at her – it seems to me that just being next or near to the source of her love is about as joyful an experience as anyone could have.

Nanay teaches me lots of other lessons every day, and all of them have little to do with being a dog per se. Most of the lessons are the same lessons we learn from every one of us. It’s true – I’m as guilty as the next of assigning feelings, motives and intentions to my four-legged family members, as I know so many other dog-lovers do. And if you saw the movie “Marley and Me” last year, you’d know what I mean.

And it is true – dogs just get it. They get us. And they can and do continue to teach even the most jaded of us the most amazing lessons in life. About acceptance and tolerance and companionship. About love. About what’s important and about what’s certainly not. And I’m just grateful to be able to learn from them. Having a dog – or rather, learning from your dog – is a little piece of heaven.

Milan Kundera could not have said it any better: “Dogs are our link to paradise. They don’t know evil or jealousy or discontent. To sit with a dog [on a hillside] on a glorious afternoon is to be back in Eden, where doing nothing was not boring, it was peace.”


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