Some things in life are inevitable. You know, like death and taxes. Another one, for men at least, is apparently “mid-life crisis.” As crises go, my own has been relatively tame: First I bought a motorcycle; then I got a Chihuahua. I’ll talk about the motorcycle some other time. This post is about the dog.
Understand that I’ve never been a great fan of pets. My feelings toward animals have generally been lukewarm. While I grew up with dogs or cats around, and even respected some of them for their unique personalities, we didn’t have any emotional connection. Later, when my wife and I began having children, she convinced me to have house pets for the kids’ sake. But again, I didn’t feel much connection with those creatures (with the exception of Gruagach, which is also a story for another time).
So why this sudden urge for a Chihuahua? All I can think is that with my own children becoming adults and moving out, my nurturing instincts were looking for a focus. Well, that and the fact that having raised four daughters—always being “odd man out” in the family (even our pets were universally female)—I was long overdue for the male bonding of “a boy and his dog.” So I mentioned the desire to my wife. She replied, “We already have a bunny [her pet]; we can’t have a dog too; Chihuahua’s are so noisy; and I know I’d end up taking care of it.” I kept bringing it up. She kept saying “No.” Then just before Christmas of 2006, she surprised me with the news that a coworker of hers was a breeder of Chihuahuas, and asked if I’d like to go take a look at some puppies.
The pups were only four weeks old when we first visited, just babies, with their eyes still closed, huddling close to their mother in a playpen. The breeder took them out one at a time for us to hold—one big fat one, one runt, one female (already spoken for), one they called “Lucky” (because he barely survived birth), and one other. They all shivered nervously as we held them, with the exception of the last. He stretched out on my wrist, stuck his nose in my coat lapel, and went to sleep. “Obviously he likes you,” they said. I suspected salesmanship, but he stayed there nearly an hour, until my wife finally made me put him down so we could go home.
Next weekend we went back to visit the pups again. I needed to. Their eyes were just beginning to open, and they were toddling around a bit, mainly over to their absorbent “pee-pee” pads, and then back to their mama. Wondering if he’d remember me, I picked up the same one. When my wife asked, “Are you sure that’s him?” I pointed out the pattern of spots I’d memorized the week before. Again he stretched out—this time crawling up my forearm and burying his nose in my elbow—and went right to sleep. Obviously, he was comfortable, but did that mean there was a bond? The breeders admitted that Chihuahuas, once taken home, often attach to the lady of the house instead. While that might be charming, I wanted a dog of my own.
We sat for something over an hour, until the pup woke and began to get restless. Regretfully, I put him back in the pen with his mother and siblings. He waddled over to the pads, peed, then—to my delighted surprise—waddled back to my hand and pawed at my finger, begging to be picked up. That was, of course, the heart-melting clincher. The next weekend—Christmas weekend—we took him home.
The breeders said, “He’s still young, so he’ll need lots of attention for the first few weeks.”
“No problem,” I said. He and I spent pretty much the whole three-day weekend together in my recliner. The next four days he went with me to the office, where he slept in an open box next to my desk. New Year’s weekend we spent another three days in the recliner, watching old movies.
Nights he spent in that box, next to my side of the bed, where I could drop my hand over the edge for him to snuggle when he whimpered. But that didn’t last long. He went with me on a five-day trip to Kentucky in mid-January, and the lodge we slept in was so cold I grew more worried more about him “freezing” than about crushing him in my sleep—at the time, he weighed about two pounds—so into bed he came. Now he always curls up with my wife or me, his favorite spot being between the knees. By the way, he’s now reached his full adult weight of five and a half pounds, so we still have to be a little careful not to crush him, especially given how often he burrows under the blankets before we come to bed. Is that just a wrinkle, or is it Dobie?
Why Dobie? That was my wife’s suggestion. Something about his face reminds her of Dobie Gillis.
Taking my responsibilities toward him seriously, I picked up a few books about caring for small dogs. One thing all these books recommend is training dogs to do tricks. This is the first time I’ve ever attempted such a thing, and the sense of connection as a result is nothing short of thrilling! It’s obvious that Dobie thoroughly enjoys it, too. His excitement at trying to figure out what I want, and then to show off what he can do, is clear. Check out the videos below to see what I mean. I’ve tossed in a few photos for good measure.
One final note: While Dobie clearly loves everyone in the family, I’m happy to say that the early bonding paid off well. He prefers my lap to anyone else’s, and even though he’s two-and-a-half times as large now as when we first got him, he still likes to be tucked into the left lapel of my bathrobe and sleep against my heart.
SOCIALIZING A CHIHUAHUA
DOBIE CORRALLING A SHOE
DOBIE & SIMON (Jenny’s bunny)