We recently had to bury our beloved dog Blackie after he followed Oh to the main road. He was hit by a bus as he tried to cross over, a heartbreaking situation especially after researching how to bring him to America with us (and discovering it was not as hard as I had feared to bring a dog from Thailand to the USA. Easier than making a human a visa, actually). He was the last of our little animal brood to leave our company. With us leaving for America in less than a month, there’s something ominous and sad about the loss of our pet family, as though they sensed our leaving and opted for the other side. But it still doesn’t stop me from thinking about the bounding young dogs and cat crossing through the woods with me, and thinking about what could have been.
I wanted to take the chance to commemorate our three beloved pets, our two dogs and one cat. Oh got Ma Air the cat first, in July 2012. I’d mentioned to him in passing that I wanted a kitten. A day later at his mom’s house he produced two tiny balls of fur, one a dark tabby and one a tan tabby. They couldn’t have been more than five weeks old, and I lectured him for taking them so young from their mother. “Thai style.” Oh insisted. “That’s why we take two.” He explained that his mother was happy to take one kitten when they got a little older, and asked me which I preferred. The tan kitten approached me purring, so Ma Air it was. “It’s a girl cat.” Oh told me definitively. It’s hard on such young kittens to tell. I flipped the purring bundle of fur on her belly and held up her bottle brush tail. “I think it’s a boy.” Either way Ma Air was the best cat I ever had.
A few months later we moved into a new house, taking the young Ma Air with us. He’d been terrorized by Oh’s mother’s dog, Snow White. Despite this, perhaps due to late stage pregnancy nesting hormones, I wanted a dog. Just one dog. A puppy preferably that would not try to kill the cat and could learn to be gentle when the baby came. Thai style being what it is, it should not have surprised me when Oh’s mother came with not one, not two, but three puppies. It was not a choice, exactly. The woman had insisted that Oh’s mom take the whole litter of five week old puppies. After some frantic conversation in our yard, a solution was reached: Me and Oh would take two dogs, and Oh’s mom would take the third. I had already settled on the runt of the three puppies, a tiny little whining ball with mange who had settled on my foot as we debated what to do with all these puppies. Mange is a near death sentence for a Thai dog, even though it’s easily treatable. The dogs lose all their hair to the fungus and sift through trash on the side of the road, unloved and unwanted. The poor puppy would have had a very hard and probably short life, and I love charity cases. The puppy that would soon be called Rosie was my baby before I had the baby, getting saved from ant attacks, mange, fleas and ticks and all manner of trouble.
I decided to take the next puppy of the three that approached me. The largest puppy, the only boy of the litter came next. I decided this one could be for Jasmine, who named him Blackie.
We decided to keep the three puppies together due to their young age for a bit. I was worried what Ma Air the cat would think about all these dogs, especially after his bad experience with Snow White. I should not have been worried. The 4 month old kitten was still bigger than the five week old puppies. Ma Air took one look at Rosie and started batting at the her face playfully. “Look at these little things! I can take them!” The cat seemed to be saying. Inexplicably, Ma Air became best friends with the dogs. Rosie became best friends with the cat, perhaps because she stayed too little to bother with any doggie dominance wars. She knew she was at the bottom in a fight, so she found becoming friends with another species quite appealing.
My little brood stayed together for over a year. Oh’s mother eventually gave the third puppy away to a friend, but Blackie, Rosie, and Ma Air remained inseparable. I trained the puppies to walk on leashes, and Oh trained them to ride on the motorbike. Based on a few trips to the beach we learned that Blackie loved to swim (but Rosie did not and had to be thrown in the water by force). Ma Air would follow on my walks with Blackie and Rosie, and I am sure I was quite a sight in our Thai neighborhood: a western woman, nine months pregnant, walking two dogs on a leash while a cat followed behind. It was a happy home even through the transition after Eliza’s birth.
Rosie was the smart one, with an expression of concern that deepened after I went to America with Eliza in 2013. “Rosie want to be human in her next life.” Oh proclaimed. “She thinks to much. She worry what to do if we go to America and leave her behind.” I’d checked into taking the dogs and cat to America, and it sounded like Ma Air, due to his smaller size and being able to fit in the passenger area, was the best bet for bringing to the US first. Rosie and Blackie would have to wait at Oh’s mom’s house for probably months, maybe even a year, something that weighed on me too. But besides some pretty easy vaccine requirements, the rules were dependent on the individual airline’s policies. I would not know or be able to plan more until Oh had a visa to go to the US, a process that was dragging on with no end in sight.
Then my pet family started to come undone. I remember seeing Ma Air and Blackie and Rosie stretched out together on our brown sofa, as they had done so many other times, in mid November. They were all grown and I hadn’t taken such a picture since they were little together. The camera’s battery was low, however. It shut down and I put it away, thinking flippantly “I’ll get plenty of other chances to take that picture.” Such would not be the case. We were planning a trip to the North of Thailand. A neighbor had agreed to watch the dogs while we were gone, but we were worried that Ma Air the cat would wander away in our absence. So we planned on taking him to Oh’s mom’s house, an area that he knew and would be watched. The morning we were leaving, however, the cat disappeared. I was sure Ma Air would turn up at our house while we were gone. A dream I had in Isaan told me otherwise, as in it both Rosie and MA Air were walking towards a bright light, ignoring my calls to them. I had a very bad feeling about that.
We came back from our trip. Ma Air had never been found. I searched the neighborhood calling or him, but he had vanished. Sometimes I thought I heard him meowing from a house behind ours. I walked by the house several times, calling for him. They had another cat in the house, but I always wondered if they’d taken him in.
Rosie died a few short weeks later, hit by a truck right in front of our house. Our gate had trouble latching in, and Rosie, the smaller of the two dogs, could slip through the crack at the opening if it hadn’t been shut all the way by somebody coming or going. I heard a slight squeal, nothing more. It sounded like Rosie but I thought Blackie was playing a little rough with her and I went back to my edit as Eliza slept. Oh came in a few seconds later. “Your dog die.” He told me. He had Rosie laying on the floor, and he tried to pump her chest for life. She never responded, but looked so peaceful, as though she was sleeping. It was hard to believe she was dead when she had been in the house maybe five minutes before. There’s a disorientation that comes with such a shocking, sudden change. Blackie laid on the sofa, showing no interest or concern for what had happened to his sister. That added to the unreality of it all. Rosie looked like she was sleeping.
Oh said a short Buddhist prayer after Rosie was laid to rest in the woods, and told me that it was to give her power to be a human in her next life. If I had another daughter, I think I would name her Rosie.
That left only Blackie, who seemed to adjust well to the absence of the other two and our move and building of a bungalow next to Oh’s mom’s house.
After over a year of wrangling, Oh’s visa to the US arrived. I wasn’t sure if we should take Blackie on our first journey out as a family to the US. He seemed content at the house, and I knew would be well cared for. But he had been following us down to the main road, a fast moving four lane highway, and that had been something we had had to watch very closely. Normally Blackie followed me to the road, not Oh. So when he darted out of a corner long after Oh had left on motorbike towards the road, it took me by surprise. I called for him but there was no way to stop the dog by then.
“He did not just cross the road.” Oh told me later. “He walked in the middle of the road and stayed there. I try to get him to come out to the other side. Snow was barking at him from her side like get out of the road. He just stay there for a long time. And then the bus come and he go under.”
Jasmine said that perhaps Blackie missed Rosie but did not know how to tell us that. I’m sure he sensed that big change was underway, that another move was happening. I still feel that they should not have died at only 1-2 years old. But perhaps for Blackie, Rosie and Ma Air, what is more important is that they lived, that I enjoyed their love and companionship immensely during the time they were here.
We buried Blackie in front of our bungalow and marked the spot with a wooden cross. Oh said another prayer for Blackie to be human in his next life, even though he admitted to him that “being human is very hard.” I stayed in the grave for a long time with him, not wanting to believe the dog was dead. Eliza apparently did not understand either. A few hours after we had buried Blackie, our 16 month old daughter took his leash off the back of the chair and walked over to his grave with it. She seemed perplexed that he did not come out for another walk or motorbike ride.
Ma Air could still be alive somewhere. I hope so as he was such a great cat. And Snow, the 11 year old bitch that she is, has seen it all come and go, and is still kicking. But in time, they will end up on the other side too, as we all will. Life is a gift, a miracle. It goes too quickly whether you are willing to see the changes or not. Try to fill every moment with the wonder and beauty of what you have around you.
You will be missed my friends. Thanks for the memories.