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M.C. Sungaila

M.C. Sungaila is a lawyer in Los Angeles. She and her parents now have one Bichon in their lives, Gigi, who was also Machi's longtime friend.

Culture: Tributes
Machisma
Doing life on her own terms

“She doesn’t have much time,” my mother said over the phone one April morning, “you should come down this weekend.” My dog, an almost 17-year-old white, coal-eyed Bichon Frise, who had been part of the family since she was four months old, was dying. Whether it was a recently-found tumor or a long-hidden hormonal imbalance, the problem was neurological, and Dr. Cohen told us there was little he could do for her. “If she were my dog,” he said, “I would take her home to be with the  family.” And so my mother did.

Machi started life at my parents’ home, where I still lived as I began my career as a lawyer, saving money to buy my own home. When I moved into a Los Angeles apartment 60 miles away, I took her with me. I was rarely home; the long hours I worked meant she spent most of her time alone. She became flea-bitten and confused by apartment living.

When, two years later, I bought a home a few minutes from my parents’, she hid behind couches and ate an entire bowl of foil-wrapped chocolates, prompting an emergency call to the vet. I was in a troubled relationship and navigating my way through the politics of law firm life. Machi absorbed the stress. Once I yelled at her as I lay crying on my bed and, contrary to my house rules, she tried to climb up to see me. She never forgot that yell, no matter how tightly I held her or how much I apologized afterward. Whoever said dogs live in the moment never knew Machi, whose memory and intelligence were deep.  

Once, on a visit to my parents’ house, as the time to leave came, I looked over at Machi. She was sitting up, looking out the window from beside the chair in which I was sitting. I called her to go home. As I did, she suddenly thrust her head down and pretended to be asleep. I took her home that night but, within the week, I returned her to my parents. It was clear she preferred her childhood home to mine.    

Machi was always her own woman. She loved all of us (my father in particular), but she did what she wanted, when she wanted, on her own terms. She did not, as my mother liked to say, “pander” to anyone. That quality was in fact why I chose her. She was the only one of the litter to squirm off my lap when I tried to hold her. That quality was also how she got her name. Machi was short for Machisma, the female version of machismo.

Machi, sick, lay flat like a rug on my parents’ hardwood floor or the cool limestone of the bathroom. Her remaining joy was to sit outside, with a light breeze ruffling her hair, her body slowly and softly being stroked. It seemed to remind her of her middle years, when she would sit outside alone after dinner, sniffing the breeze. My father used to call it her after-dinner “smoke.”

Machi was a fighter. For years she lived with crippling arthritis and never complained; she just took shorter and slower walks. She accepted what was and kept going. She would never give up, no matter how wracked her body became.

And so, after a particularly painful night, the decision was unanimous. My father, who typically avoided  illness or death, drove us to Dr. Cohen’s. Machi cried out when the needle entered her paw. She looked surprised and perhaps a bit betrayed that we had taken the last thing she had—the fight itself—away from her. All three of us held her.   

The next day, I ran the treadmill, pushing through intense bursts of interval training. On the third interval, I wanted to give up. Then I thought of what Machi would do, and I pressed on.
 

Culture: Tributes
Teddy’s Second Family

Teddy came to us late in life, at the age of 14. His owner Charlie was one of my mother’s real estate clients. When Charlie became ill and close to death, he called my mother. He knew she loved Bichon Frises like Teddy. (My mother had two Bichons already, who were featured in calendars she sent to clients like Charlie every year.) Charlie’s relatives did not share his love of animals, however, and he feared that when he died they would get rid of Teddy. One of Charlie’s last acts was calling my mother and getting her to promise she would take Teddy when he died.

  My mother arrived home with Teddy under her arm. Teddy was blind, overweight, possibly deaf and ill-shorn. Unfamiliar with his surroundings, he tended to bump his head into walls and then quietly back up and redirect himself. On his first afternoon with us, my father “fished Teddy out of the drink” twice. He moved faster than my father could catch him and twice fell into the family pool.   His first night in his new home, Teddy lay right on top of my mother’s leg, staying close to the person who had saved him. Before the lights went out for the night, our other two dogs looked at my mother as if to say, “Is that one staying?” She told them he was. After that, they never bothered him. They seemed to sense our family was Teddy’s last chance   Under my parents’ care, Teddy slimmed down and grew thick, handsome hair. He turned out not to be deaf; a good ear cleaning fixed his hearing problems. Teddy stuck to the areas of the house he knew—two rooms on the lower floor—and only occasionally would get stuck behind furniture and have to back himself out. He never complained and was invariably sweet and even-tempered. Teddy joined the other two dogs at the end of each day, waiting at the front steps to greet my mother when she came home from work. And all three dogs appeared in my mother’s calendar.    Teddy lived with our family for the remaining four years of his life. His calm acceptance of his situation and trust in us to do the right thing by him set the tone for his time with us. His gentle way of adjusting to what life brought him continues to inspire us.  

 

Culture: Tributes
Teddy’s Second Family

Teddy came to us late in life, at the age of 14. His owner Charlie was one of my mother’s real estate clients. When Charlie became ill and close to death, he called my mother. He knew she loved Bichon Frises like Teddy. (My mother had two Bichons already, who were featured in calendars she sent to clients like Charlie every year.) Charlie’s relatives did not share his love of animals, however, and he feared that when he died they would get rid of Teddy. One of Charlie’s last acts was calling my mother and getting her to promise she would take Teddy when he died.

  My mother arrived home with Teddy under her arm. Teddy was blind, overweight, possibly deaf and ill-shorn. Unfamiliar with his surroundings, he tended to bump his head into walls and then quietly back up and redirect himself. On his first afternoon with us, my father “fished Teddy out of the drink” twice. He moved faster than my father could catch him and twice fell into the family pool.   His first night in his new home, Teddy lay right on top of my mother’s leg, staying close to the person who had saved him. Before the lights went out for the night, our other two dogs looked at my mother as if to say, “Is that one staying?” She told them he was. After that, they never bothered him. They seemed to sense our family was Teddy’s last chance   Under my parents’ care, Teddy slimmed down and grew thick, handsome hair. He turned out not to be deaf; a good ear cleaning fixed his hearing problems. Teddy stuck to the areas of the house he knew—two rooms on the lower floor—and only occasionally would get stuck behind furniture and have to back himself out. He never complained and was invariably sweet and even-tempered. Teddy joined the other two dogs at the end of each day, waiting at the front steps to greet my mother when she came home from work. And all three dogs appeared in my mother’s calendar.    Teddy lived with our family for the remaining four years of his life. His calm acceptance of his situation and trust in us to do the right thing by him set the tone for his time with us. His gentle way of adjusting to what life brought him continues to inspire us.