Cave canem . . .

I quite like dogs – in fact, I think it would be great to have a dog along (to talk to) when I go out on my daily walk (weather permitting). My parents had a wonderful smooth-haired Jack Russell terrier, Chem – a big buddy of mine in the 1960s and early 70s. Great empathy between us. I only had to look at her and tilt my head, and she knew that it was time for Walkies! and rushed off to find her leash.

And how did she get her name? Do you recall the logo on a certain record label – the dog looking into the trumpet of the gramophone. HMV of course!

So what’s that got to do with our dog? Well she looked just like the HMV dog – or ‘aitch-em-vee’. Chem!

My sister had a beautiful Pembroke Corgi, called Scamp – a real terror towards other dogs, but very friendly towards humans. I remember when he was off the leash one time, he chased another dog, barreling into its side and knocking it over, winded. He stood over his victim, lion-like, with one paw on its belly, but showing no other aggression, just looking triumphant in the process.

I have a number of relatives and friends who seem also to have a great relationship with their pooches.

Take one of my former staff, Sol, for example. She has a Pug called Seth, and it seems (from her Facebook page) that Seth is the apple of her eye.

Then there’s Craig – looks like a Mastiff – who’s Mexico-bound to join Darrell and Vivay over there very soon. Here’s Craig at his despedida!

My cousin Karen from Canada, but who lives in Indiana, has a hound called Bruce. She says he’s not spoiled at all, but from this photo I do wonder.

And finally, my communications friend and former colleague Ruth, has the mischievous-looking Morgan, a Terrier. Morgan lives in Rome, maybe ‘speaks’ Italian, and even has his own Facebook page.

These pooches look fine and friendly, and clearly cherished by their humans. But having lived abroad for so many years, in countries where pets are often not well looked after, and rabies is an issue, I have to say I’ve become somewhat wary of dogs I’ve not been introduced to.

The responsibility of dog ownership
Even in this country I’m afraid to say that there are too many irresponsible dog owners. Either it’s that they fail to clean up after their pooches (dog mess is huge public issue here), or they do not have their dogs under control, or at least don’t appear to have them under control. Let me explain a little more.

If I see a dog, whatever its size, bounding towards me when I’m out on my walk, I generally tend to slow down or even stop, and never make any move that might ‘provoke’ it in any way. And especially if the dog barks or growls. That’s just not acceptable, and in open spaces, dogs should be kept under control – and under most circumstances that means ON THE LEASH!

Some months back, I was out walking close to home, when this large retriever bounded out from a side path, no owner in sight. It stopped in the middle of the path, about 10 m away, ears pricked, challenging me to walk past. When the owner lady arrived, just a little while after, she asked why I’d stopped. So I explained that the dog had shown an ‘interest’ in me and I wasn’t going to take any chances. But it was completely under control, she told me. I explained that never having seen the dog before, I had no idea what it might do. She then suggested I should take my walk elsewhere since all the dog owners exercised their dogs in that area! One man even suggested it was my fault that his dogs (off the leash) bounded up growling and snarling. On another occasion I asked a woman to pull her dog over – it was on one of those damned extending leashes – since it was blocking my way. She said it was no problem, but as I passed and it began to growl at me, she ‘remembered’ her dog apparently didn’t ‘like men with beards or hats’. Heavens knows what rage the double combination in my case stirred up in this pooch.

Canis vs. Felis
So having waxed lyrical on the canine front, I have to admit that I’m actually more of a cat person, and would love the opportunity of having another feline friend one day.

When I moved to Los Baños in July 1991, my wife and two daughters stayed behind in the UK, not joining me until the end of December that year. I spent about three weeks in the institute’s guesthouse before my house was ready for me to move in. It must have been the day before or so when I was exchanging dollars for pesos at the cashier that a noticed one of my communications colleagues, LaRue Pollard, striding somewhat purposefully towards me.

‘Hi Mike’, she said, ‘do you like cats?’ I told her I loved cats. ‘I have just the cat for you!’, she replied.

And Pusa,  a 12 year-old Siamese cat took up residence with me the next day when I moved into my house.

Looking for a home
Pusa (which means ‘cat’ in Tagalog) originally belonged to IRRI economist John Flynn and his family. Sadly John (who I never met) developed cancer, and left IRRI to return to his native Australia, where he died a few months later. Pusa was handed from pillar to post, ending up in the Hargrove household. but he wasn’t happy there – the Hargroves had a houseful of children, two (maybe three) dogs, and a couple of cats. Well, I gather Pusa was accustomed to being top dog, so to speak, and didn’t settle Chez Hargrove. LaRue had found him sheltering from the dogs under the Hargrove car – looking very sorry for himself – and took him in.

The only problem was that LaRue already had a housecat, Blue (a refined pedigree kitty) who resented Pusa’s arrival, so LaRue was desperate to find a permanent solution. And that solution was found Chez Jackson. It didn’t take Pusa long to settle in. Ours was as good a house to occupy as any other. He had his couple of square meals a day (having survived for many years on boiled rice and dried fish – which I soon changed to a better balanced diet of tinned food) and a roof over his head at night, although Pusa was a great IRRI staff housing prowler. He’d always jump up on my lap in the evening, and usually begin to groom me – a hairy arm or leg. And he demanded to be let into the bedroom in the morning, jumping up and making himself comfy.

Like all cats, he had his special relaxation spots, a favorite being the roof of the car in the car port, a great vantage point from which to survey his surroundings, better still if the sun had warmed the bodywork.

Sadly, Pusa’s kidneys gave out just after Christmas 1997, and in early January 1998 we took advice to have him put to sleep. By then he was almost 20 years old as far as we could determine, and he’d had a great innings. But it was still a very sad day when we had to say goodbye to him. My flight to Kenya that night was a sad affair.

A bundle of fur
Then Tara came into our lives in April 1998. Tara was an eight week old Siamese kitten that we purchased in Manila, but sadly not properly socialized. When we got her home, she dashed from the box we’d carried her in, right across the living room, and hid away for the next few hours – hunger eventually brought her out. But that initial dash led to her name. Philippa, our younger daughter, 15 at the time, thought that she should be called Cheetara, after one of the characters in the cartoon series ThunderCats, then playing on TV; but this was abbreviated to just Tara.

Tara was a lovely cat, and as with all Siamese, had a mind of her own. As a young cat one of her favorite games was to fetch a small toy that we would throw for her – behaving just like a dog! She’d jump at our bedroom door in the morning, asking to be let in, and then snuggle up, under the bedclothes. Just like Pusa, she had her favorite snoozing places, including our bed and the bookcase in the study. Tara remained a house cat (unlike prowler Pusa), since we didn’t want her to get beaten up by all the other moggies on the IRRI staff housing (some of which were strays). But she had the run of quite a large house – and took advantage of that.

In January 2009, she sadly developed a bladder problem that could not be easily sorted by surgery, so we took the painful decision to put her to sleep. I was badly affected by that, for several months. But we have so many wonderful memories of our beautiful Tara. The video below was taken at Christmas 2008, just a couple of weeks before she was put to sleep – who would have guessed?

Finally, our elder daughter Hannah and husband Michael had a beautiful cat, Carmen, that they got through a rescue center. She also passed away quite recently and is sorely missed in the Foldes household.

We invest a lot of emotion and love in our pets – be they dogs or cats. They support us instinctively, and they look to us for their well-being. But the rewards of having a canine or feline companion are huge, and I look forward – whenever – to having that ‘friendship’ once more.