He barks incessantly, he yelps non-stop. He can’t keep quiet, his howls can irritate a whole neighborhood for hours, making him a trusty guard. Impervious to fleas and scabies, he is a hardy breed, uncomplaining when hungry and as resilient as the Kapampangan master that owns him.
A typical Philippine dog is described as a short-haired, moderately long-nosed canine weighing anywhere from 25-35 pounds. It is either tan or black in color with a white streak on the chest and “white stockinged” feet. Ears are often erect pointing a bit forward but with a slight flop. Its face features a wrinkled forehead, black nose and black eyelids. Its tail curls up in “C”.
However, a more pleasant-looking dog breed called “Sampaguita” was known in the Islands in the 1930s. A certain Mrs. Norma Lim, then president of the Philippine Ladies Kennel Club, had such a long-haired white dog. This local dog is believed to be the forebear of the slightly smaller Maltese, a theory supported by the American Kennel Club whose book notes that “the foundation stock of the Maltese in England came from Manila, not Malta”.
No matter how he looks, the lowly ‘aso’ will always be a special part of our lives, as well as our popular culture. Our language, customs and traditions are full of references to our best friend. “Manğaso” is a term for hunting with dogs, a traditional practice in the old days. “Miaso” is to go hunting using the dog(s) of another person—as in “Yang miaso I Juan keng aso ng Pedro” ( Juan went hunting with Pedro’s dogs). The hunt or the hunted were called “asuan” and “inasuan”. It is interesting to note that a Bagobo pre-Spanish epic celebrated the excellence of trained hunting dogs in its verses.
Related terms that have come down to us include an “aso-aso”, a dog collar outfitted with bells. It also refers to a similar noisemaker tied to a dog’s tail, when one was in a playful mood. The resultant jingle-jangle was described as ‘calangcang’. A man who has gone off his rockers is often referred to as “mamulang asu”, a mad dog—complete with bloodshot eyes and frothing, snarling mouth. Among Aetas, having ‘ipan asu” (canine teeth) was considered a mark of beauty, so Aeta maidens filed their teeth to a point and blackened them to achieve that ideal.
Then there’s “dugong-aso”—a pejorative term used to describe Kapampangans as a dog-blooded—traitors of their own race. This is in reference to that time in our history when Kapampangans were aiding Spaniards and Americans in their campaigns against Filipinos, capped by the capture of Aguinaldo with the help of Macabebe soldiers.
The custom of dog-eating is often associated with Kapampangans, but people from the Mountain Province were enjoying dogs on their dining table even earlier. Victor Heiser, Commissioner of Health wrote in his journal that “in 1905, on Benguet Road, I often used to see Filipinos bound for the Saturday dog market in Baguio”. This has led at least one writer, Sonia Lampson, author of “The Observer’s Book of Dogs”, to describe our ‘aso’ as a “Philippine edible dog, a favorite tidbit at the feast”. Dog meat is believed to warm the body, but can also give one a doggy odor. Black dogs, many maintain, are supposed to taste better. They are often cooked calderata and adobo style; its liver is made into “kilo” (kinilaw) with garlic and onions, perfect with swigs of Ginebra 'marka demonyo'. A more unusual serving is dog tapa, prepared the same way as beef tapa.
Certain beliefs and notions about dogs persist in many Kapampangan towns as well as in other parts of the Philippines. For example, a dog is said to become fiercer if he is tied. Also, an open wound can be disinfected with a dog lick (which unfortunately was not the case with actor Fernando Poe Sr., who died of rabies after being infected in this manner by his pup). It is also believed that dogs can tell if a person has eaten ‘azucena’ (aso + cena = dog dinner) through a snarl or a growl.
Looking at dogs in our history, you could come to a conclusion that they are indeed, a breed apart. In all kinds of weather, “Tagpi” will stay by you and reward you with loyalty. Beaten, bruised or starved, he will continue to come home. More than just a pet, he will remain a faithful companion, quick to defend, easy to please. For that, they deserve a bit of kindness—and a bow-wow!