My mom said that my dog, Fabulous, looked like a hamster on the day that I brought him home. Through the years, she would retell the story of their first meeting every time she saw him. She’d describe how I held him in a washcloth big enough to be his blanket on a cold New Mexico day in March. The woman practically squealed with adoration when she saw him. He was a Chihuahua that I had wanted so badly and named before ever laying eyes on him, as a naïve 21-year-old. (I have never regretted the name by the way, only sometimes the decision to buy him in the first place.) My then-boyfriend bought him for me as a Valentine’s gift. He promised he would get me my little dream dog whenever I found one, and soon after, I saw an ad in the paper. I imagined that having a Chihuahua would be like having a portable cat, and since I was always on the go, I rationalized it that he and I (the dog, not the boyfriend) would lead this adventurous, Legally Blonde-style life together. While Fabulous was The World’s Most Difficult Dog, in his 14 years we truly did embark on countless grand adventures together.
On March 1st, 2005, my ex and I went to the home of a family that spoke only broken English where we met the puppies and their parents. The plan was to take a look, but of course Fabulous was so darling that there would no leaving without him. His mother was solid black, long, lean, and full of anxiety. A nearby older brother from her previous litter was caged, but viciously barking at us. He looked identical to what Fabulous would become (and acted like it, too). These two animals’ temperaments should have been a dead giveaway, but it was the father that won us over. This handsome, fawn-colored, Taco Bell mascot lookalike was so well behaved, and rested his paws on our knees as if to give us his blessing. Thinking back, it makes sense that he might have been unrelated to the others, and that the angry brother was actually Dad… The owners took our $250, and shampooed Fab with Pantene before handing him over in a dry washcloth. He was four weeks old with no teeth. “What do we feed him?” We asked. “Pollo,” they responded and since we looked confused, they brought us to the kitchen to show us chicken in the fridge for clarification. We promptly bought him formula, which he rejected for chicken. And so, a cooler full of crushed chicken went everywhere with me, so I could feed Fabulous every time he cried, 24 hours a day. I even had to bring him to work with me. He slept with a ticking clock in his crate to replicate his mother’s heartbeat because he was still so young. Everyone told me he was too young and would die, but my hippie holistic vet in Santa Fe reassured me he would live up to his namesake.
Stubborn Fucker probably would have been a more fitting name for Fabulous knowing what I know now.
Though I had been studying Chihuahua handbooks prior to buying him, there were many things I was not prepared for. Because he was so tiny, Fabulous was hand fed and carried constantly. A friend of mine altered baby onesies for him so he would stay warm. (The blanket he died in was actually a baby blanket I bought at Target for him, which he cherished for 14 years. He was rarely more excited than when that thing was fresh out of the dryer.) We set him in a box lid to contain him when we needed two hands. Later, he graduated to an actual box, and then to a play yard purchased at Toys R Us…for real babies. If we didn’t know where he was at all times, he would eat something he shouldn’t (including copious amounts of carpet fuzz, equaling one expensive vet bill), or get stuck somewhere, or fall down the stairs, and on and on. I tried to litter train him using a system made for small breed dogs, but it only resulted in a territorial little dog that liked to pee and poop on carpet, since it felt like the litter. Why not use pee pads, you ask? Oh, because he liked to go directly next to them instead of going on them.
I tried to socialize him by bringing him to events crowded with humans, bringing him to dog parks and even Chihuahua meet ups, and I went through three obedience schools with him. Three. The final school gave me my money back, saying Chihuahuas are nearly impossible to train. After living with him for 14 years, I can attest, you do not train a Chihuahua; a Chihuahua trains you.
Fabulous would howl, like an ear-piercing, high-pitched, shriek when he wasn’t happy, when he was too excited, and when he was overstimulated. He would also jump in place. Like, five feet off the ground. He did this especially when he was about to get a treat, and whenever we lived in a two-story residence and he did not want to be stuck upstairs. Thump. Thump. Thump. Fab would jump like the Energizer Bunny until he got your attention. He had separation anxiety and was fiercely protective of me. Fab would bark at strangers, intruders, and the wind. Once, my house was broken into while I was at work. Fabulous was the first thing I worried about. Would the burglars have killed or hurt him just to shut him up?
He seemed to dislike men more than women, but loved my Dad, who we lived with for almost two years. The two of them were adorable to watch, with my dad working around various construction projects in our neighborhood and Fabulous freely wandering nearby, like a trusty-but-out-of-place sidekick. A six pound Old Yeller. Fab was mostly a ladies’ man, but would snap at anyone who tried to move once he had settled comfortably onto their lap. He would watch Days of Our Lives while perched on my grandmother’s shoulder, and stayed glued to my aunt as she recovered from an aneurysm. We knew Fabulous didn’t like baths or water, but we learned he couldn’t swim the day he fell into my grandmother’s pool. She was the only one home and, never one to get her hair wet, had to lay down on the concrete to fish him out, lest she lose her balance and fall in right behind him.
More than once Dan went running with Fab in an attempt to tire him out, but his little legs couldn’t keep up, so my big and tall husband ended up carrying the little Chihuahua for the duration of the run down our busy road. I’m sure that image was captured by a passerby and made into a meme floating around out there.
Life changes for anyone in the span of 14 years, but I seem to have collected an absurd number of transitions in that time. Fabulous was with me through nine moves, traveled across the country with me seven times, and shared a roof with two husbands, two children, one grandparent, two parents, one dog, six cats, and one bearded dragon (at different times). There have been job changes and heartaches, hangovers and morning sickness, long nights rocking a baby and long days mourning loved ones. While I often thought of this high-maintenance dog as a burden, Fabulous was the only constant in my life in all that time. He was a financial drain when I had no money; he was a buzzkill when I wanted to stay out (or go out), but knew I had to return home to take care of him…a canine Jiminy Cricket; he was not friendly; he was not healthy; he was neurotic, temperamental and stubborn. Fabulous was not the companion I thought he would be, but I was committed to his care nonetheless. I knew a sweet side of him that very few others got to see. He kept me accountable and was, whether I want to admit it or not, my mirror. Fabulous was a witness to my life. And now he’s gone.
Toward the end, I called him The Crypt Keeper because with dementia, heart disease, kidney disease, tooth decay, digestive issues, eye issues, arthritis, and balding ears it didn’t seem like he would ever die. Chihuahuas can live to be 20, but at the rate he was going, what would be left of him? He wore diapers, smelled horribly, and was grumpier than ever. He slept most of the time, but began pacing and grumbling at night. He couldn’t see, hear, or smell me coming. He would stare off into space and seem confused. I began having to take him out twice a night every night, and then he started bleeding, but I’ll spare you the details. You, like everyone else in my life, might be wondering why the hell I wouldn’t put him out of his misery. Because he continued to eat, drink, and get out of bed in the morning, I felt it wasn’t my place to play God and end his life. I had only ever seen pets euthanized when they were vomiting, and couldn’t get up, not even to go to the bathroom. Those were the markers I was looking for, and Fabulous was still fighting the cat for her food and getting excited when he smelled chicken cooking. It dawned on me that this stubborn asshole was never going to surrender or show weakness, even though he was in pain. I found myself crying too often, and asking God to take him in his sleep. In the last week of his life, I was cleaning up nightly messes akin to a murder scene, but still felt it was a secondary infection that a good pet owner would have remedied…but what would be next?
On the eve of the one-year anniversary of my mother’s death, Fabulous’ pain was palpable. He was whimpering and inconsolable. He wasn’t even comfortable in bed with me or on my lap, two places he always wanted to be. My mother believed there is no such thing as coincidence, so the significance of this date was not lost on me. She was one of the biggest animal lovers I have ever met, encouraging me to pray to St. Francis whenever an animal was in need of help. I had asked God to make it abundantly clear when I needed to intervene, and I suddenly felt a responsibility to Fab. I still believe that humans can be selfish, pulling the trigger too soon out of convenience. A pet is not a rock band that should “go out on top,” after all. But I learned that when we accept responsibility for an animal’s life, sometimes that also means accepting responsibility for their death.
And so, one year to the day that I lost my mother, I sent Fabulous to be with her. He basked in the sun (his absolute favorite pastime), ate some hot dog, and went for a windows-down joyride. His smile was so big as he panted and licked my face for the first time in ages. Though I had been present for pet euthanasia before, this was the most peaceful one I had witnessed. I held him in his blue baby blanket as he fell asleep, then set him on the table, kissing his face in his favorite spot (the one right between his eye and his ear, so I could whisper what a good boy he was as the doctor administered the injection). His life—our life—flashed before my eyes. It truly was the best death he could have experienced. I wrapped him back up and held him one last time, snuggling him to my heart since he could no longer snarl or fight me.
I often imagine my mom is now a little girl again, the time I believe she was happiest. Now, I see her running up to her parents, who have also passed on, to show them what she’s just found: a feisty Chihuahua puppy, swallowed up by a big blue baby blanket, as tiny as the day they first met.
February 1, 2005 – September 17, 2019