Tuesday, April 9, 2024

Remembering Kunig, My Original Maligcong Soul Dog (2008-2024)

Spending a lazy day with then 7-year old Kunig

It was 2013 when I first heard of Kunig and Maligcong. My best buddy, Ironwulf, decided to take a detour and spend the holidays in this part of Mountain Province after a trip to Buscalan. When he told me of this wonderful dog who loves to hike up Mt Kupapey, I instinctively knew he was special. 

The following year, I got to visit with friends, Ironwulf, Erick, Rocel, and Norbel, and meet Kunig and Suzette, the owner of the homestay and his primary human. Up to that time, I was adamant about getting bonded to dogs (and cats) as I want to avoid the pitfalls of sadness and depression when the bonds are broken. But little did I know, that was about to change. I visited every 3-4 months ever since and each time, Kunig was always my constant companion, not just in the boondocks but also inside my room.

Here's a little secret: I'd take pity on him especially during the colder season when he'd struggle to make himself as small as possible to fit on the foot mat outside the door of the two-room homestay (yep, it used to be a two-room affair way back then). At lights out, I'd smuggle him inside and he'd take his place on the other bed in room number one or right under my table. Suzette is always too kind to overlook the fact that letting him inside the room (and later on, the other dogs would also sleep inside with me, especially Maku, TamTam, and Shiwa who'd actually sleep beside me) means extra cleaning and laundry work. 

First hike with Kunig in 2014 taken by our friend, Erick Dantoc

A TEMPTING OFFER - It came to a point when one day, Suzette asked me if I wanted to take Kunig back to Manila. Such is the kindness of new friends. I admit it was tempting, but I'm not one to take away her beloved dogs from her and the kids. The building where I'm staying then also does not allow pets. And to take away this huge mountain and terraces playground from Kunig is totally unfair to him in exchange for the city (a demotion or downgrade, I think).

Kunig was later joined by other dogs, Maku, and the two black Labs including TamTam and Tuba (mentioning Tuba's name still traumatizes me as we lost him  early on), plus Uncle Jeff's canine, Tiny. It was uncanny that all of them picked up his stewardship and guiding instincts to accompany guests on their hikes. Maligcong was then slowly coming on the radar of local and foreign tourists. I think, much credit should go to Kunig and the dogs even if some of the locals may tend to frown on them (some still do to this day but I digress). Like it or not, Maligcong is known for canine company and friendship during hikes to see the sea of clouds and now famous terraces.

There's a dog snoring under my bed :)

THE RESILIENCE OF DOGS - I often wonder how being homestay beings could alter one's disposition -- dog and human alike -- to keep a cheery disposition and friendly outlook toward guests who may not be friendly at all, and most of whom they may never get to see again, sort of a revolving door of humanity. The thought still gives me pause to this day. I grew up avoiding house guests all the time so I find it incredible that the dogs as well as Suzette's kids would meet up and mingle with strangers from week to week.

Anyway, even as Maku and the other canines usurped his position in the homestay preferred sleeping places and my room's spaces when I'm there, Kunig never turned bitter. He is a gentle soul, through and through. I think he knows he has a special place in our hearts anyway. Even in his advancing years, he remained friendly, always ready to disrupt guests with a gesturing paw requesting for some food whenever he spots someone eating. He also never outgrew his trepidation of thunderstorms except when he gradually lost his hearing later on, racing inside the house and jumping over the gate to the kitchen or inside the main house to hide until the storm has passed.

7-year old Kunig

THE PANDEMIC YEARS - When the pandemic lockdowns happened, I was worried about the homestay, the Chees family, the dogs, and the village. I was also secretly harboring this fear of never being able to see the dogs again and say goodbye if one of them would cross the rainbow bridge. I am grateful to be given the opportunity to return in 2022 after I got redundant in my job.

By then, Kunig was a little deaf, and would prefer to sleep outside on the veranda instead of indoors. When she was alive, Shiwa will usually stake her place beside me, even barking at Maku and TamTam, so Kunig would at times, stay off her view. Kunig has always been a noisy huffer and puffer (my term) so we opted not to take him with us when we hiked up Kupapey to spare him the effort. Lo and behold, we saw him running up to us on the summit. He was only too happy to see us and his canine friends, Maku, TamTam, Tiny, and Tiny. I'd always remember that time in my heart.

Iconic Kunig, looking excitedly over the summit of Kupapey

BEEN WANTING TO COME BACK BUT... -- I really wanted to go back but life and a series of unfortunate events got in the way. Not too many people know it but I thought I wouldn't survive the holidays of 2022 due to Long COVID (4 months bedridden and on death's door for weeks). 

I got well but was hit from all directions by more unfortunate events -- the death of a brother; one scam after another (three in a row, in fact); unemployment; having to sell my photography equipment and retire from photography assignments; all side hustles drying up; not finding employment for almost a year; finding work eventually but experiencing issues at the workplace, and the death of another sibling. Then, there's also the trauma of burying my foster strays one after another. At one point, I was burying them on consecutive days and that drove me to a very dark place. Trauma. Depression. Recurring thoughts of ending it all. Truth to tell, I'm not yet over it.

LIVING WITH GRIEF -- When Shiwa, Uncle Guideon's Shih-Tzu-Shihuahua mix passed last year, I grieved for a month, never sleeping much. 

Last week, on the heels of a serious tiff with a sibling over a family matter, I didn't have an inkling that my original soul dog was breathing his last. Hearing that Kunig passed on to the rainbow bridge hit me like I've been stabbed in the heart. From time to time, I struggle to breathe in between sobs as if I'm drowning. I've encountered a lot of passing in my life of both humans and other sentient beings but let me be very honest, it doesn't get any better. I wrote this post in longhand at a Dunkin but I had to go home so soon because the paper I was writing on kept getting soaked with tears. 

Taking pride in being able to carry Kunig in my arms


SEE YOU AGAIN, MY GENTLE AND FURRY FRIEND -- In any case, here's the story of how our paths crossed. I am thankful for being your friend, my dear Kunig. I look forward to seeing you again, my friend, when it's my time to cross to the next world. 

I'm as far away from being religious now than I've ever been in my whole life, but the accounts of those who came from the brink of near death and came back, reporting that all their friends, humans, canines, felines, and all the sentient-beings-in-between, came greeting them after dying, gives me comfort. I really hope that's true. 

I really look forward to see you running to me with that familiar huffing and puffing, and then pawing me again for oat bars so we can take a hike with Shiwa, Misty, along with Gamma, Buddy, BonBon, Chubbee, BenBen, Mama Orange, Greyyi, Oreo, Domino, Snowee, and all the foster strays I've loved so much and lost, along with Mamay and my siblings,never to be separated again


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