The Lucky Seven

PEOPLE - Joanne Rae M. Ramirez (The Philippine Star) - January 6, 2016 - 9:00am

She gets up from her warm bed at least once in the middle of the night, even in the dead of winter, like a mother who tends to her helpless baby.

Except that she has to tend to seven of them. One of them is blind, one of them is bratty, one is so traumatized by a past experience he shakes in fear whenever he is approached by strangers. All seven are dogs “rescued” from animal shelters. “Rescued” because after a certain grace period in the shelter, they are put to sleep forever.

To my sister Dr. Geraldine “Dindin” Mayor, these four-legged creatures of God are her “suplings”(offsprings). Sometimes, she comes home so tired from her practice that instead of sleeping in her second-floor bedroom, she sleeps on a couch on the first floor, surrounded by her dogs, so that when one of them calls for her attention in the middle of the night, she can easily hear its cries. Usually, that means putting on a coat over her pajamas and taking them out to the yard. Like humans, her suplings also need a bathroom break.

She prepares their dinner before she prepares her own. Seven colorful doggie bowls filled only with strips of chicken breast and the best dog food. No high-cholesterol menu for these little ones, as their liver can only take so much fat.

When the dogs are indoors and “stain” the floors, Geraldine is down on all fours to wipe off the stain and disinfect the hardwood floors of her post-Victorian-era-style home. It is an HGTV-worthy home, but nothing there is off-limits to her suplings.

Who is her favorite?

“Those that need me most, the sickest one, and the oldest one,” she says. For now, the oldest one is 12-year-old Cisco, and he always snuggles in her arms like a baby.

She gives special attention to Spencer, who quakes when approached by others, especially men.

“Who knows what trauma he underwent in the past?” wonders Geraldine, who is a psychiatrist. She recalls that Spencer and his brother were put up for adoption, and when a prospective mom was about to adopt them both, the animal shelter lady discouraged the adoptive mom, “because that one barks a lot.” His brother got adopted, perhaps increasing Spencer’s trauma.

One of her dogs was described by one shelter as not too cute — nobody wanted him. The “unwanted” ones are those Geraldine wants most.

Cisco and Spencer’s siblings in her household are: Selena (whom Geraldine lovingly teases as her little “diva” needing affirmation of it every day), Benji, Dora and the father-and-son duo of Tino and Dino.

They are the lucky seven.

* * *

“When we meet our Maker, we also have to answer to Him on how we treated His other creations,” Geraldine, whose second name is “Frances” (how apt since her namesake is the patron saint of animals), says.

“Additionally, animals represent the disenfranchised, helpless, ignored members of society,” she points out. “How a society treats its animals reflects how it treats the poor, the orphans, the elderly, the voiceless...”

But to Geraldine, her dogs are sources of pure happiness. It is no sacrifice to care for them. She said she adopted them, firstly, because they are joyful creatures who make for great company, and secondly, because of her advocacy for animal welfare.

Her very first rescued dog was a bichon named Lou, who changed her life forever. She found Lou after enjoying the company of Chappy, our sister Valerie’s dog.

“During my 2008 visit to Manila, Val’s dog Chappy kept on following me and snuggling with me. After I returned to the US, Val said that for several days, Chappy would still visit my room, and stop on his tracks when he realized I had left. I found Lou on an adoption site, the shelter volunteer responded within a few minutes, and said she has just posted Lou’s page for less than 10 minutes. She said ‘it was meant for me.’ She told me she named Lou, after her late dad, because she sensed Lou was special. Lou was a senior dog, usually overlooked at shelters. Shelter dogs in general are overlooked, abandoned. Lou turned out to be a gorgeous dog, despite his age, and with such a great personality. So many great lives, wasted in shelter and pounds, as they are euthanized if not adopted within a grace period. He would have been ignored, if I did not get him.”

Geraldine laments that “despite the tragedy of dogs getting euthanized in US shelters, the street dogs of Manila have it worse...”

According to her, it is the poor in the Philippines who are “the backbone of animal rescue” in the country.

“How ironic, it is the poor who are so involved in saving the dogs, when they don’t have the means to save them or even themselves,” she says with admiration for these dog rescuers. She says very few of the rescuers are wealthy.

A healer to humans, she also endeavors to be a healer in her everyday life to animals, and “correct, even reverse the cruelty of humans to other members of creation.” (You may look up www.pawlanthropyinc.org, which she has set up in support of her mission.)

(Recently, our other sister Mae, who lives in California, rescued a dog that suddenly appeared by her office’s doorstep. He brought her so much good fortune she named him “Lucky.”)

* * *

With the rest of the family, I spent the holidays in Geraldine’s home in New Jersey. I saw the fulfillment in her face whenever her seven suplings would rush to the door, barking in joyful anticipation when she returned home from work. Then they were all over her, showing her just how much she means to them.

And no wonder. She is a doting, tireless mother to them. She rescued them from a hard life and a convenient death.

But if you ask Geraldine, her dogs are the givers, not the takers. They have given her both happiness and purpose.

I know deep in my heart that to Geraldine, she is the lucky one.

(Oops: In last Tuesday’s column, I wrote that Dr. Charles Barnes of the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia was African-American. He was Caucasian.) (You may e-mail me at joanneraeramirez@yahoo.com.)

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