There are happy dogs, the take-me-anywhere kind. Then there are picky dogs, who are picky about food, humans and almost everything. So, when you meet a dog handler who can please and make friends with the pickiest of dogs, the obvious question is how does he do it? “Dogs can feel your energy,” says Ronaldo Sonata, a dog handler who can easily make friends with any dog.
Ronaldo is one of the most fun and gentle dog handlers I’ve seen. He lives and breathes the “dogs can feel your energy” principle. But the funny thing is Ronaldo is a later in life dog lover.
I didn’t really like dogs
The obvious assumption for someone who gets along with every dog he meets is that he must have grown up with pets and must be a massive dog lover. But Ronaldo’s story is quite different. “When I was eight years old, a dog bit me. I was traumatised and didn’t really like dogs, until much later.”
Being from the Philippines where people generally like and have dogs as pets, Ronaldo’s mother too had a pet dog. “We called him Kulit, which in Tagalog means high energy/hyper dog. My sister had brought him home and he soon became my mother’s favourite child. She used to specially cook for him and feed him by hand. I found it strange, disturbing and annoying too, especially since sometimes we didn’t have enough food to eat. But my mother would never keep the dog hungry. Whenever I asked her why she should feed the dog when we are hungry, she would just keep quiet.”
Read #HumansofDogs stories here
Then one day our dog saved us
Ronaldo’s coldness towards the pet dog continued until one day “when our dog saved us.”
“Kulit would settle down easily after his night walk. But one night he wouldn’t stop barking. It was strange and to be honest, I was getting angry because I was unable to sleep. My mother sensed something was off. She asked me to switch on the lights and that’s when we saw a snake. That day our dog saved us.”
Although this incident softened Ronaldo slightly towards the dog, it wasn’t enough. A few years after this incident Kulit fell ill and eventually passed away. Ronaldo’s mother was heartbroken and cried for days on end. But Ronaldo still couldn’t understand why she should be so upset since “Kulit was just a dog.”
I really wanted to get on an airplane
Around five years ago Ronaldo stepped out of the Philippines for the first time. To him, it seemed like a once in a lifetime opportunity. But the irony [or shall we say a life changing event] was he landed himself a job that involved taking care of dogs.
“Since I was a kid, I always dreamt of getting on an aeroplane. So, when my friend told me about a job in Saudi Arabia I agreed almost instantly, because I’d get to fly in an aeroplane.” Even through the job was to take care of not one but 27 dogs.
“These dogs belonged to one of the royal families and my ex-boss was a true dog lover. Culturally, dogs aren’t really accepted very well in Saudi, although things are changing now. But my boss was different, he had a genuine affection for dogs, just like my mother had. This was a huge turning point in my life when I realised that like my mother there are many others who really care for dogs. They can be from different backgrounds and cultures but their love for dogs is the same.”
My life changed in the UAE
After Saudi Arabia, the next stop for Ronaldo was the UAE – often hailed as the land where dreams come true. “But my initial days in the UAE were hard. I was running out of money; my visa would expire soon, and I still didn’t have a job in hand. At some point, I got a job offer where I’d get paid Dh1,000 excluding accommodation and food. I knew this would be unsustainable, yet I agreed to take it up. Then I received a phone call that changed my life. The call was for an interview at Romi’s Home Pet Nursery where I’ve been working since the past few years.”
Even though Ronaldo had already realised the meaning that dogs bring in our lives, nothing prepared him for what he would experience at Romi’s Home Pet Nursery. “My life changed after joining Romi’s, where I understood what it means to love dogs with all your heart.”
Now I feel incomplete without dogs
“Today I know why my mother handfed our dog. I also realise why she was inconsolable when our pet dog passed away. Although I don’t have my own dog in the UAE, every dog I care for at Romi’s is like my own dog. I know their personalities; I know what they like and what they don’t. Somehow, I feel as if I’m responsible for their happiness and I make it a point to give them the love and attention. I feel incomplete without dogs. And if they ever come in harm’s way, I’ll do anything to protect them.”
“If there’s one thing I’ve realised about dogs, it’s the fact that dogs can feel your energy. They will respond to you the way you treat them. If you treat them well, they will shower you with unconditional love. Now I can’t imagine a life without dogs.”
Ronaldo Sonata, Dog Handler, Romi’s Home Pet Nursery [Dubai, UAE]