Bruce had such a distinct personality even as a puppy. He came into our home with 2 full-grown Labradors, which made it all the more apparent. He was so tiny then; but when I set him down and let Chili and Kani sniff him for the 1st time, he stood his ground and even let out a few warning barks as if to say, “I’m not scared of you.” Within days, I knew he wouldn’t be like my other goofballs, with their in-your-face style of I-Love-You-So-Much. Bruce was somewhat aloof, came mostly when he wanted a morsel of what I was munching or to be petted. I’d know if it was the latter because he’d rub his face, then his body, against my leg or hand until it rested near his butt. That was his favorite spot. This was why some of my friends joked that he was like an introductory cat, since I’d never had one.
He had very specific preferences. Unlike most other dogs, he was very discerning with his food. He sniffed discriminately at whatever I was offering, (and I mean this could be a thorough investigation that could last a minute), before deciding if he wanted to put it in his mouth or not. There have been times when his sniff test failed to match his taste, and he would spit food he really didn’t care for. Other dogs would be like, “whatever!” and gulp it down, but he’d be like, “nope.” This made it difficult to give him meds in his later age, because despite concealing it in treats or whatever other trick we had up our sleeve, he was slicker. We’ve seen him chew and swallow bread that we stuffed a pill in, then open his mouth to drop the pill unscathed.
He loved being on top of things, literally. Especially when he was much younger, he liked to lay down on anything other than the floor, whether it was a piece of cloth, a carpet, the ottoman in our sala, or my bay window, to name his frequent choices. When he was nimbler, he used to jump on my bed to sleep; but when he took me by surprise one night and I shoved him off, he didn’t try that again in the dark. (This is one of my regrets in life.)
Bruce is the only one who had the freedom to go anywhere in the house. Only he knew how to and was heavy handed enough to push the two-way door to the formal living room. He was the only one brave enough to go up our staircase and have access to all our bedrooms. Like a boss, he barged through partially opened doors, or relentlessly scratched on doors until he was let in. I usually slept with my door open, and this made it so he could come in anytime he wanted. He liked to patrol the house at night, and being a light sleeper, I’d wake to his footsteps on our sometimes creaking wooden floorboards. More than a handful of times, he gave me a scare when I woke in the middle of the night, hear breathing near my bed, and being black as darkness, it took my half-asleep mind a few beats to realize it was just him.
He’s the only dog I’ve had with the most intact basic instincts, like knowing that he had to do his potty business outside and never anywhere inside the house. I didn’t have to train him, but when he had to go, he’d tap on either the kitchen or dining doors, asking to be let out (or back in). After every poop, he’d kick his legs back, as if covering his mess, but I later learned that dogs also do this to leave the scent of their paws on the ground. And if there’s anything Bruce was, it was territorial. That was probably why he loved our evening walks so much — so he could mark as much territory as he could manage.
Not many people saw Bruce’s playfulness, but when he got excited, he growled and whined and jumped and spun on all fours. Mostly he did this when I whipped out the tennis ball, or daily at around 7:00 pm. His circadian rhythm was strong, and somehow he knew the exact hour of his dinner time. Then because of routine, he knew that after give or take 30 minutes, he’d be taken out on his evening walk. This probably gave him the most joy, because he went crazy when I picked up his harness and leash.
Once, Ryan bought him a giant bone, and suddenly Bruce was restless, pacing and whimpering. We didn’t understand what was wrong, but it turns out that some dogs react that way out of gratitude. We later understood his behavior for what it was: he wasn’t pacing, he was flaunting the gift and was showing it to everyone in the house. His whimpering wasn’t so much crying as “tears of joy.”
The one thing Bruce hated more than being left alone was water. He hid when it was bath time (and he even recognized the word ligo). If I so much as accidentally shook my wet hands in his direction, he would scamper off and look at me like, “what the heck, woman?” One of my funniest memories of him was during the typhoon Ondoy. Our garden had overflowed into the sunken part of our living room, flooding it about half a foot high. Oddly enough, the water wasn’t muddy, it was clear. When we discovered this, we all rushed into the raised area and surveyed the damage. Sensing the commotion, Bruce came running in but went straight into the transparent flood. As soon as his feet hit the water, he froze, then raised his legs gingerly as if disgusted. (The best demonstration I could find was this video of a lizard at 1:58).
But the best thing about Bruce was his loving and sensitive nature. He greeted me at the gate or door when I came home. He seemed to know when I was having a rough day, and he’d let me cuddle as much as he could tolerate. He was loyal, and was very protective of us when strange people came into the house. Even the way he passed could be interpreted as an act of consideration, not wanting us to see him go. And though I wish I were with him, he had his own way, just as he had his own ways about everything.
We tend to say things like, “it would’ve been his birthday in 6 days” or “he died right before Christmas” when our loved ones pass. I think that’s our way of marking the special occasions that we’ll miss them the most. Today is Bruce’s birthday. He would’ve been 12. Today is the day I finally allowed myself to think that he’s really gone, because he didn’t make it to 12, and he isn’t here to celebrate, and I miss him.
All of this, and all the things that we shared but have been forgotten, and all the things I don’t have the words for, these have filled my life with so much love and happiness. I’ll see you at the rainbow bridge, my bestest friend.