In the early months of 2018, I didn’t feel like myself. On December 15th last year, in the midst of preparations for my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary, I found myself with a headache, and eyestrain. Living alone, I went to the neighborhood clinic. I panicked when the nurse found my blood pressure to be high. It was unusual for I was physically healthy. Even another patient was perplexed for he would see me exercise everyday. It took hours before a doctor could see me. In the meantime, my mind was spinning what to do and I was panicking. I was scared. Thankfully Dionette, my friend and neighbor, came to be with me in the clinic. While waiting for the doctor to see me, she showed me videos of her dogs: Hansel and Rapunzel. I also watched videos of Momo and Bear of @Lokistagram and @bertiebertthepom on Instagram. Somehow, watching cute puppies calmed me down and distracted me.
Since that time, I thought something was physically wrong with me. The cardiologist initially thought it was hypertension, because of my genes. But by early April, I learned it was not hypertension. My blood pressure was normal. It was anxiety. Some mornings I would wake up panicking I wasn’t well. On bad days, I would call friends and family to come and be with me.
I soon realized going down my condominium, going to the park, walking and playing with dogs calmed me down. I prayed I would see a dog on my morning walk to play with. I met Sushi, a playful puppy and felt much better. I got to know the dogs in the neighborhood, memorizing each of their names. There was little Chelsea and Little Sweetie, both Shihtzus I often played with. One morning, I had an attack I asked Dionette if I could see her Rapunzel. She told me Rapunzel had dog training that morning. But Dionette surprised me and brought her two Bichon Frise dogs to see me in the café where I loved writing. They sat with me and we played. By the time my mom came arrived, I was already much calmer. They became my emotional support dogs.
You see I’ve always loved dogs. But when I lost Snort, my ShihTzu in 2010, I vowed I wouldn’t get a dog until I’ve finally settled home. When I moved back to Manila in 2011, I knew it a stopover. What if I moved to another country? Besides how could a travel writer living alone have a dog? So I just settled on playing with other people’s dogs. There were always pigeons sleeping by my bathroom window every night. I consoled myself saying they were my pets. But they were always annoyed when I showered at night or went to the loo. The light and the noise in the bathroom bothered them. “Such moochers,” I thought.
My longing for a dog became so intense this year. I felt happy when I was with them. I found myself searching for dogs online, watching youtube videos on dogs, and petting my neighbor’s dogs. Several youtube videos showed how children with autism got better with a dog or how someone with depression or even an addiction turned their life around with a dog. If having a dog helped them, it could surely help me too.
Getting regular therapy with a psychologist and a therapist, I learned to understand my anxiety. I realized I was not weak. But I tried to be strong for others for so long, I had forgotten myself. When I was first told to do self-care, I was stared back and asked, “Like how?”
All my life, I never gave much importance to looking pretty. But I knew I always had a spark in my eye. And I valued that spark. To me, that was more important than beauty. My psychologist, also a reiki practitioner, told me my energy was low. After our first Reiki session, she told me I had lost the spark in my eye. That hit me hard. I lost my spark. So, the past few months, I’ve been working on finding my spark.
At an acupuncture clinic one day, lying on my back with needles pricked all over my body and head, I lay still. But my mind was active. I already knew I was getting a little ShihTzu pup. I was thinking of names for my dog. Then it came to me… Spark.
My therapist thought it was a good idea for me to get a dog. Even my psychiatrist supported my idea to get a dog. He too was a dog lover and knew the healing powers of man’s best friend. So after looking at many websites and Facebook groups and even visiting one breeder, I found my little puppy. He played with his brother in the video on Instagram. I instantly knew he was naughty and I liked that. With my mom as my enabler, we went to Makati to pick him up. He was handed to us in a Charles and Keith paper bag. He was tiny but instantly playful in the car. By the time we got to the vet, he peed on me as if to mark his territory clearly declaring, “You are mine.”
That was June 26th, a little over two months ago. He was a tiny puppy. But from day 1, he didn’t even cry the first night he moved in with me. He slept soundly the whole night in his cage. When he would wake up, he would look at me. But I too slept soundly that night and the following nights since he arrived. For many weeks, it was just Spark and Me. He still needed to get all his shots, so he stayed in my condominium all the time. I taught him to accompany me to throw the garbage, just in the same floor as my unit. But he was excited for this little adventure. He now looks forward to it everyday. So now even this once boring task has become fun for me.
At first, he looked so tiny and fragile. I questioned myself and wondered if this tiny puppy would survive in my care. What he died while I was out running errands? But now he is almost five months old. He can now go with me for walks. He can go to the mall and do errands with me. He even took his first road trip to Pampanga yesterday, accompanying me to renew my passport. (I didn’t want to leave him alone at home all whole day). He was well behaved all day. He even held his pee until we left the mall.
Spark loves cuddles. And gives me big kisses everyday. If he had his way, he would like every single person he meets to pet him. He would kiss each one of them in gratitude. He’s become such a sweet, charming dog. He has charmed big macho guards, little kids, and my neighbors. He wants to play with all the dogs from the big huskies to snobby Shihtzus. He loves them all. These days, he plays with Rapunzel, Hansel, Sweetie, and Sushi, the very dogs who got me through my anxiety attacks.
Last week, Spark had his first visit to the groomer to clip his nails and to trim the hair blocking his eyes. He was terrified of the hair dryer, but looked adorable after. He waited in the car, while I went to my therapy session. When we got home starving, he accompanied me to grab a quick dinner. I needed ID photos of Spark for his PET ID required by the neighborhood mall. The guards pointed me to a studio who took passport photos. He got his solo shots. Then I spontaneously asked the photographer, “Can you take photos of us?” He gladly did. When I saw the photos, I was so happy, I smiled. There was my adorable little puppy, looking like a stuffed toy. Next to Spark is a woman with the spark back in her eyes. My eyes were alive. It didn’t matter if I wasn’t dressed nice or that I didn’t brush my hair or felt tired. I was happy again, and it showed.
If you are going through something, feel overwhelmed with things, or are tired of relating to people, consider getting a dog. My little puppy thinks every thing I do is exciting. He sees things with fresh eyes. He is also the best zen teacher. He is totally present and mindful to what he is doing whether it is eating, or playing with his toys. And when he does something wrong, he quickly says sorry. He is easy to train. Yes, he mastered doing his business in the puppy pad in a day and now poops outdoors. Most of all, he is an awe of who I am. He doesn’t care if I am fat or thin, rich or poor, messy or neat, successful or not. In his eyes, I’m the best. One thing is sure: Spark has brought my spark back. For that, I am immensely grateful!
If you are going through a difficult time, please get professional help. You are not weak. You’ve been trying to be strong too long. It’s okay to get help.
By the way, Spark has an Instagram account: spark_shitzu. Please follow his adventures.