From the moment I moved out of my parents’ house for good at the age of 21, I wanted a dog of my own. I had grown up with an assortment of strange and wonderful canine companions, and I quickly discovered that a life of un-chewed socks and vomit-free floors was simply not for me. I figured I would wait until I’d finished grad school and settled down somewhere before picking out a sensible, medium-sized dog with a good temperament that was relatively easy to train.
That’s not what ended up happening.
Pictured: a dog who is absolutely none of those things.
My youngest brother was two years into his undergraduate education when I started grad school, and apparently, he decided that being a 6’4 starting player on the varsity football team was just not making him popular enough with the ladies. So he quickly found a local animal rescue agency, and started fostering and rehabilitating abused dogs. His life and his Instagram story were taken over by pictures of all kinds of dogs in need of permanent homes, and I made half-serious threats to fly home and adopt each and every one of them.
Sir, step away from the corgi. I’ll take it from here.
My brother was in the habit of texting me photos of all his new foster dogs, because he found it greatly amusing to kick my “must acquire dog” instincts into overdrive, and in late spring, he reached out to let me know that he’d just taken in four very special rescue dogs on the same night.
“Four at once is a lot, even for you,” I replied.
Two minutes later, I was looking at a picture of four of the saddest, mangiest chihuahuas I’d ever laid eyes on.
My brother explained that a local chihuahua breeder had unfortunately gotten on the train to Dementia Town, and managed to get pretty far gone before anyone noticed that he was no longer capable of taking care of himself, let alone a gaggle of chihuahuas. The small, rural dog rescue operation my brother worked with suddenly found itself flooded with underweight chihuahuas, many of whom had neglect-related health complications. In need of a small miracle to deal with all those dogs, they apparently turned to the volunteer who bore the strongest physical resemblance to Jesus.
Suffer the little ankle-biters to come unto me.
The four dogs were named Bailey, Bianca, Beverly and Blue – because apparently the ability to choose decent pet names is the first thing to go when you start losing your marbles – and all four of them looked like underweight Furbys with mange. Bianca and Bailey were sisters from the same litter, and they were collectively in pretty rough shape. Even at their absolute healthiest, chihuahuas look like Beanie Babies that shrunk in the wash; the creatures that turned up on my brother’s doorstep were somewhere on the spectrum between “sewer rat” and “quite possibly a tiny chupacabra”.
I got on a plane to adopt one immediately.
Canadian Kennel Club-registered dog that retails for $3000, or mythological Mexican murder-beast? You decide.
Originally, I planned to adopt Bailey, the tinier of the two sisters. To this day, Bailey is possibly the frailest and most pathetic creature in the entire history of the canine genome. She has never been able to gain any significant amount of weight, no matter how many Snausages we feed her, and at any moment a strong gust of wind could send her parasailing on her own enormous ears. She lacks all of the necessary skills that a dog needs to survive – she has no idea what she’s supposed to do with the brown pebbles that are regularly placed in a bowl in front of her, she’s not quite sure what she’s expected to do with the squeaky toys that dot the landscape of the living room floor, and she can’t quite figure out how many of her feet should be on the ground when she pees.
I knew within moments of meeting her that she had no hope of surviving in New York City.
The other big problem that Bailey was facing was her horrible sister, Bianca. Bailey’s main goal in life was to enjoy all the human love and attention that she’d been missing out on. Bianca’s goal was to bite Bailey until the humans loved her instead. Bailey was a quivering pile of dog jello. Bianca was four pounds of straight-up bitch. When the chihuahuas were taken outside to play, three of them huddled close together and slowly stepped out onto the yard, marveling at the sensation of grass beneath their feet. Bianca, on the other hand, was already halfway down the driveway and picking up speed, having decided that she was tired of this “nature” bullshit and owed none of us any loyalty.
I knew immediately that Bianca was the dog for me.
Love at first sight.
So it was decided that Bianca would come home with me. Blue was adopted by a local family, and Jesus Brother had become so attached to sweet Beverly and poor, hinky Bailey that he decided to permanently adopt them both. And I took a dog that was barely emotionally stable enough to handle life in the Nova Scotia countryside, and I stuffed her into a dog purse and brought her to live in Manhattan.
For the first 24 hours, everything was fine. Bianca loved my roommates. She loved getting scritches and belly rubs. She loved curling up on their beds and getting her surprisingly abundant dog hair all over their pillows. And then after that first 24 hours was over, something deep within her little dog brain snapped, and she decided that every human being on the planet other than me was a hollow-eyed succubus determined to feast on our flesh. She will allow me to stuff her into humiliating dog tutus and drag her around the city in bright pink dog booties, but if anyone else dares to get within ten feet of me or her without her express permission, they are in for the ankle-nipping of a lifetime.
And if you happen to accidentally stand between me and Bianca, there is no man or God that can save you.
Bianca slowly, gradually revealed that she is absolutely terrified of everything. And when I say “everything”, I don’t mean that Bianca is afraid of normal dog things, like moving cars, vacuum cleaners and large animals that would like to gnaw her face clean off. Bianca is afraid of spoons. She is afraid of headphones. She is afraid of my guitar. If I pick up a book while she is curled up in my lap, she takes off running like her only natural predator in the world is a paperback copy of The Shining. When my glasses are firmly on my face, they’re fine, but the minute I take them off, they are optical weapons capable of causing mass death and destruction.
After spending half her life living in New York City’s East Harlem neighborhood she is more or less indifferent to loud noises, mostly because she learned that emergency sirens and car horns were a small price to pay to be able to eat stale Bodega french fries out of the gutter. Her enthusiasm for going outside decreased somewhat after the first time she accidentally put her foot through a subway grate, but loud noises were never an issue. With one notable exception – she will flee in terror if she hears the opening bars of Paul Simon’s You Can Call Me Al.
She does not understand how ‘Al’ could possibly be a nickname for ‘Paul’ and it is freaking her out.
Bianca’s greatest passion in life is her large collection of toys. Every time I stop by the pet store, I get her a new $3 puppy toy from the bargain bin, because I am an indulgent parent and I am raising a spoiled monster child. But Bianca doesn’t play with her toys. She doesn’t cuddle them. Oh, no. She likes to pretend to murder her toys, and spends the rest of her time surveying their strewn corpses like the 6lb Barbarian Queen that she is. At any given moment, you can find her curled up on a giant pile of slain squeaky toys like she’s Smaug atop a dragon horde.
But despite spoiling my dog rotten with miniature stuffed penguins, I did actually make an effort to train her. I’d seen chihuahuas that were horrible feral purse-demons, and I was determined to make sure that my chihuahua was better than that. I knew that I was going to have a rough start, because I was adopting a 2-year-old adult dog with a brain the size of a Jolly Rancher, but I was optimistic that I could teach her the basics of ‘sit’, ‘stay’ and ‘lie down’.
I was too optimistic.
The only thing in the entire universe capable of motivating Bianca is food – like a moody adolescent, she loves me, but she could care less if I approve of anything she does. Unfortunately, food is too motivating for her – even the thought that she might be in the same room with a piece of food that someone might give her is enough to turn her into a whirling dog tornado that understands neither her own physical limitations nor the meaning of the word “sit”. The closest I can get to making Bianca perform a trick is to alternatively offer her things she loves and things she hates to make her ears flap up and down like she’s trying to achieve liftoff.
But even though I’ve failed miserably as a dog whisperer, Bianca is not actually a badly-behaved dog. She understands that she is not allowed to bark at me or dig holes in the couch, and she knows that if she poops on the rug I will probably turn her into a furry coaster. She also enforces the rules on her own – I never actually have to scold her anything, because every time she’s bad, she slinks around the house like a guilty ferret until she feels that her penance is complete. Ultimately, the one thing that I’ve actually taught Bianca is how to experience a crushing sense of deep shame, which means I might have failed as a dog trainer, but I’ve accidentally given her an excellent Catholic school education.
I never saw myself as a chihuahua person. I was familiar with all the stereotypes, and I didn’t see the appeal of keeping a terrible, bug-eyed pom-pom of a dog crammed in my purse at all times. I’d been told that they were bad-tempered, over-protective and difficult to train. But Bianca has beaten the stereotypes – she is absolutely a terrible bug-eyed pom-pom of a dog who is bad-tempered, over-protective and difficult to train, but she strongly prefers riding around in backpacks over purses.
Take that, stereotypes.
Bianca may never learn how to obey basic commands or stop reacting to sudden movements like she’s a startled velociraptor in a Jurassic Park movie. But she knows how to be the best friend that a weird Canadian blogger could ask for, and ultimately, that’s the only skill she really needs.
To read more about the weird dogs I have in my life, check out this post about how my family came to own the world’s strangest designer dogs.
If you’re thinking about packing up your own anxious dog and moving to Manhattan, be sure to read my guide on blending in with native New Yorkers, even if you’re a bumpkin from the suburbs.
You can also sometimes hear Bianca bark in the background of my incredibly funny true crime and history podcast.
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The post I am the Proud Parent of an Emotionally Compromised Chihuahua appeared first on All Wit, No Brevity.