Where dogs go to die

"Our invitation stands, Ouie ☺️" reads the FB message from C.

It was sent 6:52 a.m., on a Saturday in January. I had just got out of bed, fed Stitch (my almost 15-year old pug), changed his underpads, fed Wraith (a black-as-a-panther 4-year old cat I picked up along Lanuza in Pasig) and Almond (a 9-year old "failed foster" from The Peninsula Manila’s Trap-Neuter-Release program I initiated when I was still working with them).

The entire morning process with my furry family includes refreshing their drinking bowls, scooping up the cats' poop from their litter boxes, putting the clumps of litter in a trash bag along with Stitch’s wet and/or soiled underpads, cleaning up the mess, spraying with disinfectant and odor-neutralizing home mixes, sweeping and mopping up when necessary. On work days, this would include to and fro treks to the kitchen boiling water for coffee and preparing a basic breakfast of either toast with peanut butter/cheese and milk or leftovers while refilling my pillbox for the meds I have to take during the day till night.

A good hour as a pet parent. Add 30 minutes for a shower and dressing up for work as a responsible citizen.

Thankfully, Saturday mornings allow me to be more leisurely.

This isn't one of those Saturday mornings.

Three days prior, C told me through FB Messenger (today's messaging medium of choice for most) that a mutual friend, M, shared with him and his wife K about my plans for Stitch.

Early January, after much thought, prayer and several mental rehearsals going through all the stages of grief as outlined by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, I had decided to put Stitch to sleep early February.

Stitch is my pug. I adopted him when he was still 6 months old after his breeder's driver left him at the vet after an eye injury left his right eye wounded and infected, making it as large as a tennis ball. Boy was he ugly when I first saw him.

"Oh, it’s a pug." So that’s how a pug looks like. Back then, my visual vocabulary of dogs only included shepherds, collies, and milllion mutations of mongrels.

He was pugly.

And smelly.

And a waxy film of heaven-knew-how many weeks of no baths on his fawn coat.

"The owner told the driver to leave him here and they won’t be coming back for him," Dr. Ford, my friend the vet, told me. "Do you want him?"

I picked up the smelly pup that was panting in fear. He sounded like a small diesel engine. I pulled him closer so I could look at his face. Two tiny paws found my neck and held me tight.

Then my heart melted. "Yes, I want him."

Ugly or not. He needed me.

Little did I know. I needed him more.

"We will need a few more weeks to continue medicating his infected eye until the swelling recedes. We recommend not to remove the eye despite it being blind by now. At least aesthetically, he will not look so kawawa."

Three weeks later, I was back, paid for his medical bills and off we went together.

Stitch through the years

The next 14 and a half years saw me go through different jobs, different residences, different relationships. Only one thing was constant.

Stitch.

So much so that my passwords have his name or nicknames on them. Even my IG, Twitter and FB accounts allude to him.

So much so that even friends, after not seeing each other for a while, our conversations would eventually lead them to asking me, "How is Stitch?"

"Oh, we just welcomed a newly rescued cat into our house".... or "I think he had just taught Dudley (the rescued orange marmalade tabby) how to greet everyone he meets the way a pug does."

When my dad passed away in 2009, he sat with us, wearing his Dr. Dog neckerchief. He also acted as welcoming committee.

Those Stitch stories will have to wait. Maybe a novel, or a net-novel if there is such a thing. Geez I have 14 years of Stitch adventures as far north as Ilocos to share.

The decision to put Stitch to sleep was not easy to make. I had held it off for so long. In the hopes that things would get better for the home set-up we share. Hoping my finances would get better so I can afford a daytime sitter while I am off "saving the world from itself." (My way of telling myself that my work somehow helps mankind.)

But what if while I was off saving the world, he dies alone? I didn’t want this to happen. It is just the saddest thing for Stitch to die alone. By himself. The cats wouldn’t know what was happening.

I would rather Stitch be surrounded by people who love him, with my arms around him, my voice telling him how he had been and always is such a good boy, telling him I love him so much and I would not forget him.

That TRULY he is the best dog in the world.

But before that happens, he will have his PERFECT DAY. A day of a long drive in the car, him eating forbidden chocolate, bacon, chicken liver, etc. A trip to his favorite places.

The 15 years brought a slow decline as Stitch aged. My, he grew old so fast.

I was prepared for that. I knew it on the year we both turned 44 by my estimates. I knew then that his aging would accelerate and his health will decline.

Pugs got the worst from the canine genetic lottery: prone to heart conditions, breathing problems, heat stroke and hip dysplasia.

When his hind paws began to weaken because of hip dysplasia, I assisted him by building a wheelchair. When my rickety construction began to fall apart, I had one bought from the US. It helped him move around.

When old age made him incontinent and the home we shared smelly, for me it was the smell of someone loving someone no matter what.

Stitch has helped me go through the pain of seeing a parent's health decline after a stroke. My mother was bedridden and needed round-the-clock care. Caregivers we hired and then later on my sister took care of her. That was how I was introduced to underpads and adult diapers and the scent of an elderly bedridden parent being loved.

Elderly, incontinent, disabled, smelly. Who else would love and care for him and have the patience that I have? And not mind the mess and the smell? Our current neighbors already complained some months ago.

That was foremost on my mind when C and K invited us to their home through FB messenger three days prior.

“HI OUIE. We were talking w/ M last night and he told us what he knows of your plans with stitch. As importantly, he said Stitch’s decline and his being alone all day is not a good combination. Would you like to stay with us till you go on leave? You and Stitch can have our extra room. That way Stitch won’t be alone during the day. Our helper says she will clean him as needed, as will I when I get home before you. At least he’ll be comfy and clean before you go on leave. Please consider.”

I told myself that if C asks again, it means they are serious. It means they are prepared for a smelly mess experience. It means they have the most generous loving hearts in the world.

It means we found a place where a smelly, stinky, old loving dog will go to die.

I will say yes.

That Saturday’s message confirmed it.

I had just filed for a week-long leave so that Stitch and I will be together during his last few days. One week of him having dry nappies after he wets them on his bed that he cannot move from. One week of him being given water whenever he is thirsty not just after being fed. One week of him being comfortable and being loved.

Days of loving.

C and K have just added one more week for those days of loving.

Perfect days. Not just one.

That Saturday. Stitch and I visited C and K’s place, met their dogs and prepared for our hospice stay.

The next day, me and my senior citizen pug lodged at C and K’s house.

Then almost 15 years old, estimates for small breeds like pugs have given Stitch’s age as 89.

Older than both my mom and dad when they died.

More than a year ago, I created the hashtag #StitchLivesForever in IG and FB so that when the day comes, I can easily go back to precious moments as far as our digital history together can reach. It also marks when I started to get myself ready.

Ready by putting together out-of-town trips to favorite places, have a farewell meet with family and friends who have known him.

Above screenshot from @StonedbyJules in IG. Her handpainted portrait of Stitch on river stone was a thoughtful Christmas present commissioned by C. It helped me emotionally prepare for the decision. The stone is now one of my most precious mementos of Stitch.

He was more ready than I am.

In December 2017, I noticed from my place’s online webcam which I can view remotely, Stitch wasn’t dragging himself from his bed anymore to get a drink from his water bowl. Hence, he would be so thirsty when I reach home.

Hence, he developed bed sores. Being open wounds, these sores are painful. Add to old Stitch’s inability to control his bladder, the sores were prone to infection. The ointments Dr. Ford prescribed seemed to help dry them. But I knew Stitch was in pain. He was sad. He was miserable everytime I left home for work.

During his last days I received requests to see him. Some never met him previously but have been touched by my posts about him. I told them where we would be at certain days so our paths could cross if their schedules allow. C and K were very gracious and generous and offered their place to receive them.

On some days, I felt Stitch needed another car ride and brought him outside. One ride to Legaspi Sunday Market and a subsequent visit to my sister at the house where we grew up followed by a visit to my father’s columbarium compartment at the nearby monastery and another to BGC High Street gave memorable days meeting lovely friends and a final goodbye to family.

Though 14 and a half years together with Stitch may seem long, it is not enough for me. But it was the right thing to do to say goodbye to him and send him off.

February 2, 2018.

We were surrounded by our best friends and the last thing he heard from me was, “You are my good boy.”

I love you forever.

Where do dogs go to die? For a dog like Stitch, he went into our hearts, into our memories.

Where Stitch will live forever.

Thank you so much, C and K, for making Stitch’s last two weeks on earth very special and memorable. It will be a happy reunion at the Rainbow Bridge. You have one more loving angel waiting for you on the other side.