“I have been training Blackjack for almost a year,” says Selyo Redolosa, with a white moustache, in Filipino. He is a 72-year-old native of Leyte.
Blackjack is gray and white with a yellowish tinge; he is also an ‘aspin’ or native dog owned by Mang Selyo. He believes he puts smiles on the lips of the motley crowd watching the dog tricks they perform every Saturday and Sunday. Truth to tell, the tricks the tandem perform wow the passersby and the crowd milling around in front of Manila City Hall under the scorching sun.
“I used to have other dogs named Habagat, Amihan, and Bagwis. All of them passed away already,” the lanky septuagenarian shares. “I even had a dog, Jack, which appeared in a TV commercial. He mysteriously died right after the shooting of the ad. I suspected it was poisoning,” he says with a sad face.
Mang Selyo shares that Jack got PhP 3,000 as his talent fee. Mang Selyo, father to 9 children and a former fisherman of Navotas, opted for a less backbreaking job due to health reasons. Now the dog trainer of over two decades has an assistant: Eddie, 12, his youngest child, a fifth grader is fast learning the tricks of the trade.
THE DOG DOES MATH – “Blackjack is good in arithmetic,” Mang Selyo proudly says.
“Blackjack, two plus three?” he shouts. Blackjack barks, “Aw! aw! aw! aw! aw!”
The students watching are amused; some are clapping, while others are laughing with delight.
“Blackjack, four minus two?” Mang Selyo, with his weather-beaten face, enthusiastically eggs Blackjack for an answer.
“Aw! aw!” Blackjack barks loudly; in volume, he competes with the blaring horns of passing jeepneys.
“We will make it more difficult. Fifteen divided by five?” the master yells.
Without hesitation his four-legged pet snaps, “Aw! aw! aw!”
The crowd roars approvingly.
The dog-man team has other acts: Blackjack walking on two feet; sitting and turning around a basketball; fetching slippers and a basket, where appreciative audience put coins and paper bills; card tricks; jumping through a hula hoop; crawling and playing dead when ‘shot’ with a toy gun.
Justifying his street performance cum trick show, pony-tailed Mang Selyo says, “What I’m doing is not cruelty to animals. This is just entertainment. I take good care of Blackjack. We even sleep together. I bathe him twice a week.”
Since he cannot afford to buy dog food, he gives him table scraps. “But I give him fried chicken without the sharp bones,” Mang Selyo says with a toothless grin while stroking his white goatee.
“Occasionally I enter Blackjack in dog shows. Just recently at a big mall in Biñan, Laguna, doing our routine tricks, he won PhP 3,000 cash and other goodies. Yes, dog food!” he beams with pride.
Mang Selyo, clad in a black T-shirt, and Blackjack, and their tricks may be just a pause that refreshes in the frenetic rat race of urban living. Yet they put a little smile on the lips of Manilans on this dog day afternoon.
This story appeared in Animal Scene’s March 2015 issue.