This morning, in my daily walk, I notice a young lady walking her poodle and I can’t help feeling amused by the dog’s sweater that matched hers. I drop by a convenience store for some snacks, and I detect a visually impaired senior citizen having breakfast, while her guide dog, a huge golden retriever, lies down quietly, patiently waiting for her to finish her meal. The sights bring a smile to my face.
In one of the houses along the way, I see two tuxedo cats sitting on the ledge of a window. The cats are a dead ringer for Sylvester the cat I had loved—and lost—and my face suddenly changes from smiling to sad.
Before I had Sylvester, I wasn’t too keen on cats and animals in general.
I remember few years ago, while I was doing the usual rounds at the office, I noticed Eddie, our part time employee, acting differently. He would usually say hi, but this time he didn’t.
“Boss, his dog die and he always sad and cry,” Saeed, his supervisor, told me in his characteristic, genial way.
I did not know whether to smile or to express sadness, but I invited Eddie to join Saeed and me for coffee.
The lady at the counter whispered to me: “Mr. Manny, you better give Eddie a day off.” I jokingly responded: “Ok I’ll ask him to fill up a bereavement paper.”
I asked Eddie if he wanted the day off but he assured me he was ok. I thought it was the better option to stay in the office, rather than at home, to keep his mind off his dead dog.
Saeed later told me he wanted to laugh at Eddie’s behavior, except that Eddie was his best employee and a good person at that and he didn’t want to offend him. Saeed shook his head. I felt nothing. These Americans, I thought to myself, grieving for days over the loss of a pet.
There are some things that take time to sink in. One of them is my attitude towards animals. I remember seeing in the Naga Parochial School library that reproduction of “St. Francis Preaching to the Birds.” It did not have much impact on me until much later in life when I watched the movie “Brother Sun, Sister Moon” did I appreciate the greatness of St. Francis of Assisi and why he is called the Patron Saint of Animals.
My wife always wanted to adopt a cat. I didn’t want one. My son and I were both allergic to cats. She was so fond of cats that at one time I jokingly taunted her to choose between me and adopting a cat.
At the back of my office, however, a cat had just given birth. When I told my wife about this, she insisted I bring the kittens home. I acquiesced but on condition that if my allergies broke out I’d take them back to the office. She agreed. No allergies came.
The cats turned out to be sweet and playful. I named them Kitkat and Sylvester. We played hide and seek. I learned many things about cats. I was able to make out and differentiate the particular sounds they made to call each other and the sounds they made as they played with one another. A couple of times, I accidentally closed my dresser not knowing that Sylvester was inside. After a few minutes I heard Kitkat meowing in a strange way at the foot of my dresser as if telling her playmate that she was safe outside. They played and slept a lot and were always fun to watch. We’d watch TV together. They were also our “alarm cats.” They would wake us up on the dot every day at 6 am. Then I would take them out to play outside, sometimes chasing squirrels. I told my son that now we have an excuse if we accidentally broke something in the house – the cats.
Sylvester was the most playful and affectionate. He was always there to entertain visitors. He loved to sit by the kitchen window and just look outside in awe of everything happening in the world, from birds flying to falling leaves. His sister Kitkat was different. She was more “suplada” and reserved. When I was recuperating from bypass surgery Sylvester was always at the foot of my bed assuring me that everything was going to be all right. At this time he also won $500 dollars in a Halloween costume contest.
One day Sylvester began to lose his appetite. Then he stopped eating altogether. The vet broke the bombshell news: Sylvester had cancer. We tried to make him as comfortable as possible. In his last days we learned it was Sylvester who was trying to comfort us by trying his best to entertain us even if he was already growing too weak to walk.
One night when my son was going out of state for a vacation, I told him to say goodbye to Sylvester before he leaves for the airport. He patted him and brushed his hair and Sylvester purred as if assuring my son that everything would be all right. I dropped my son at the airport and when I came back my wife said that Sylvester cried out in a strange way as if he was trying to say that he was leaving soon.
It was the last time my son saw Sylvester. Sylvester died quietly early the next morning while we were still sleeping. He spared us the trouble.
My mind goes back to Eddie. Now I understand his grief. Now I know the feeling. I recall the eye dog, the guard dog, the comfort kittens for senior citizens, the sheep dogs and the many other animals who help us and keep us company. I think of the animals who welcome you each time you arrive home to soothe your nerves after a hard day at work. They are always communicating to us. It is we who do not listen.
I think science should do more research on how to communicate with animals. I want to know, for example, why, despite more than a year since Sylvester’s death, her surviving playmate Kitkat would still make the same sounds she’d make when they’d both play.
I wish I could communicate with them on a deeper level.
I read that humpback whales and dolphins have brain capacities and intelligence keener than what we are aware of. Why don’t we study this area of communication instead of hunting and killing them to extinction? By killing them, and a host of other animals, we may be depriving ourselves of what they may have been communicating to us essential for our human survival.
I think animals are here not as objects of human dominion but as a source of joy, praise, and gratitude for the gift of life. I think again of Saint Francis of Assisi preaching to the birds, and the birds listening intently as he preaches to them on the beauty and the love of God for all His creatures.
I’m sure I’ll meet Sylvester again, in heaven, and we’d play the same games, just like old times.