By Jamal Ashley
Niza has always loved cats. She had them for pets since she was still in grade school in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Now, after being a cat person for so long, she decided to have a dog. When her brother’s friend was looking for people to adopt some Belgian Shepherd Dog Malinois, she took the leap.
“They say that having a dog is different than having a cat. I wanted to experience having a dog,” she says. She didn’t want a small dog because she already has cats. She wanted a dog that could act as her “bodyguard”.
She said that her main reason for getting a dog was her desire to get back in shape. She thought that a dog would be perfect because she would be forced to take him for walks.
Her brother’s friend told her that among all breeds of dogs, the Malinois is the one that really aims to please his master. She liked the idea and did a little research on the Malinois. “They are good sniffers and they are some of the most intelligent dogs,” she says.
“When I got him, it was a totally different experience,” she swears. She named him Woodstock, after the 1969 rock festival.
Niza is short for Zebuniza. She’s the daughter of the late Moro leader and 1992 Liberal Party senatorial candidate Macapanton Abbas, Jr. and Hajara Canoy Abbas. Niza grew up in Saudi Arabia where she studied grade school and high school. Unlike most Filipino children in Saudi Arabia who go to the Philippine School administered by the Philippine Embassy, Niza and her siblings went to Arab schools. Thus, they learned to speak Arabic.
Her knowledge of Arabic landed her a job at the Factset Philippines Inc. as a Financial Language Analyst (Arabic). Her company provides financial information and analytic software for investment professionals.
Previously, Niza was a Director III at the Office of Muslim Education in the Department of Education (DepEd).
Niza loves painting. She even had an exhibit at the GSIS Museum years ago, but she did not pursue the art professionally.
When opportunity arises, she does volunteer work such as tutoring Muslim students in English, collecting old clothes for typhoon victims, and participating in various outreach programs for street children.
When not working, Niza prefers spending her time with her cats, and since a few months ago, her dog.
WOODSTOCK WON HER HEART
“I wanted a big dog,” she says. She asserts that as a responsible pet owner, she would naturally take care of his needs, and one of them was to make sure he has the daily workout he needs for his size.
“But instead of him just being my reason or excuse to exercise, Woodstock won my heart and the rest of the hearts of my siblings and my mom,” she admits. “He had become part of the family,” she adds.
Niza’s siblings were not dog lovers but somehow they had a change of heart when Woodstock came into their lives. Her brothers have even started buying treats for him and teaching him some tricks.
Because of Woodstock, Niza and her family started watching Cesar Millan to learn some tips on handling dogs. Millan is the Mexican-American dog trainer with a TV show, The Dog Whisperer.
Niza says that Woodstock is very sensitive to her feelings. “I’ve read that they are very perceptive when it comes to the emotions of their master,” she says. “One night, while I was walking him, a frog jumped out of nowhere. I am very scared of frogs,” she continues. “I didn’t make any movement but my heart was racing. He became suddenly alert and started growling.” Somehow, Niza feels consoled in knowing that her dog is sensitive to her feeling.
Niza thinks Woodstock is very smart. She bought him a crate which was to be his “(dog)house”. The doghouse is at the garage. “When I leave the house, I don’t want to run over him so I tell him to go to his house by pointing at the crate-house,” she says. In two days, Woodstock understood that when Niza points to the doghouse, he must go there right away. Now, Niza doesn’t even need to point at the doghouse. She simply rattles her keys and Woodstock immediately goes to his doghouse, safe from the car of his mistress.
The Malinois breed of dogs are reputed to be dangerous. “That’s what they say but I don’t sense any danger from my dog,” she insists. Niza noticed, however, that Woodstock reacts differently to different deliverymen. “With some, he just looks at them while with others, he growls and barks,” she explains.
Niza swears that Woodstock is a very good companion and very affectionate. “Dogs are very loyal, that’s what I love about them,” she adds.
MUSLIMS’ DISLIKE FOR DOGS
Generally speaking, Muslims are not dog lovers. Unlike cats, whose saliva is deemed germicidal, dogs’ saliva is considered dirty; thus, the Muslims’ aversion to dogs.
But Niza is not bothered. “The restriction is just about saliva. So, wherever the dog’s saliva touches you, you just wash it seven times,” she says. “Besides, in religion, it says that one must be kind to animals,” she adds.
DIFFERENCE BETWEEN CATS AND DOGS
Niza says that her cats are not the type that she can take out to the park. “I can’t teach my cats to do tasks – such as fetching a ball — that easily,” she says.
Niza explains that Woodstock is the outdoorsy type so she can bring him out of the house, which she could hardly do with her cats.
She brings Woodstock out to Ayala Park once or twice a week. There, he meets his brother and another dog they had befriended, a female German Shepherd. They play off leash.
For Niza, her cats are there for her when she wants to relax and be calm. Woodstock, on the other hand, is there for her when she wants to exercise and feel more active.
What’s the biggest difference between dogs and cats? Niza says: “Cats already know that I love them and they love me back. My dog needs me to reaffirm that he’s needed and loved every day.”
Published in Animal Scene magazine, Feb 2012