Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Ponchito the Fierce Warrior

I know you’ve all been waiting on pins and needles to hear what happened to the Hahamongna Chihuahua, spending sleepless nights worrying about the little guy. Here, finally, is the update.

Back at my place, he lay on the floor, barely able to keep his eyes open, yet each time I came into the room he’d stand up and wag his tail. The little guy now adored me, and the feeling was quickly becoming mutual.

Already I was testing the waters, mulling over how to make it work, hoping he could make a harmonious transition to becoming a new member of the pack.

The cats, both bigger than he, were unperturbed by his presence, a refreshing change. Ramona lounged on the floor just a foot away. Frieda was cautiously curious, and then ignored him. But he growled at them as they passed.

Life must be difficult when every creature you meet is bigger than you and therefore a potential threat.

Something about this little guy’s scrappy looks with his bulging eyes made me think of Grandpa from the Munsters so that’s what I started calling him.

That night, the cats slept in my bedroom, Tommy in the kitchen, and Grandpa in the living room. It made me happy to see his little body curled up on the makeshift bed of blankets, sleeping soundly.

In the morning, I took him out for a short walk and then went back to the house to take Tommy out. But the little guy wanted more. To save time, I decided to walk them together. I left Grandpa waiting at the front door and brought Tommy in his snoot loop toward him. I picked up the little guy’s leash, and Tommy with his overbearing energy went right up to his face. And bam!, there was a dog fight, the pit bull against the Chihuahua.

I spread my arms, a leash in each hand, as wide as they could go, sending poor Grandpa airborne. And that was it. It was over as quickly as it had started.

I took Tommy for his morning walk alone.

The plan was to drop Tommy off at Starcrest Kennels for doggie daycare and then take the Chihuahua to the Pasadena Humane Society. If no one claimed him after the required allotted time, I would spring him from the shelter and foster him. Maybe I could even keep him, although the morning did not bode well for a house of harmony.

I worried about his options if I couldn't keep him. Veronica said she might be able to get him on a transport if he passed a temperament test, but what if he didn't? He wasn't a cute cuddly lap dog. He was elderly and curmudgeonly and, with his cherry eye and a wheezy cough, he had health problems. What would I do if no one wanted him? I had turned my life upside down to save Tommy, and after two and a half years I finally felt as if I had my life back. I wasn't sure I could take another upheaval, not with my small space and no yard and the constant threat of fights. But what had been the point of saving this guy from the streets if I were to just turn around and let him languish at a shelter for 5 days before being euthanized?

In the car, Grandpa crawled into my lap to get protection from Tommy’s wild gaze. But like I said, he wasn’t a lap dog, he didn’t cuddle. He stood up to see what was happening outside the window, his little legs boring into my larger ones. At a red light, I lifted him to his blanket on the passenger floor. I scratched his head and made cooing noises at him, which really perplexed Tommy. Why was he getting all the attention?!

Once at Starcrest, I left Grandpa in the car while I brought Tommy up to the reception area. As I turned back toward my car, Rita, the owner, passed by. I told her about how I'd found the Chihuahua, and jokingly asked, "Do you want to keep him?"

I expected a laugh in return, perhaps a gentle "no, sorry, I can't..." but instead she said, in all seriousness, "let me see him."

I took her to the car and we discussed what to do. I told her I thought I should take him to the Humane Society first and give an owner a chance to claim him. She said well, if that's what you want to do. But I started to change my tune as we considered his stats: unneutered, cherry eye, with a yellow rope tied around his neck. Whoever “owned” him didn’t seem to take very good care of him. Doubtful that someone was looking for him but if they were, didn’t we want better for this little guy?

Rita took him under her wing, and that's the last I've seen of him. He's since been neutered, had surgery to fix his cherry eye, and gotten all his shots. He's in quarantine in "the condo" until Rita's sure he's healthy.

Rita says he's fiesty. He put up a good fight when she went to give him a parvo shot. She called him a fierce warrior and named him Ponchito.

Once he's out of quarantine, I'll post a picture of him.

Rita, like Veronica, is a hero.

Ponchito the Fierce Warrior. Lucky dog!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Hahamongna Chihuahua

Last Tuesday evening after picking up Tommy at Starcrest Kennels, I drove past a little black Chihuahua mix running in the opposite direction along Oak Grove Drive, just where it’s sandwiched between the 210 Freeway and Hahamongna Watershed Park.

I made an abrupt u-turn (sound familiar?) as I cursed profusely. I can’t stand the thought of a dog getting hit by a car (as the Tommy saga reveals), but it’s not like I want to spend my free time catching them.

And yet, I can’t help myself.

The u-turn brought me into a driveway of sorts leading to a dirt road into the park. The entrance to the road was blocked off by a big chain; I parked my car parallel to it. There isn’t much of a shoulder on Oak Grove so it turned out to be the perfect spot to land.

I opened the passenger door in the off chance the dog might just jump in. He didn’t. Instead he lay in front of the car in the dirt.

I left the passenger door open and squatted a few feet away so as not to spook him. The poor guy was exhausted. I threw some kibble his way. He got up and checked it out but didn’t eat it; at least he wasn’t starving.

Tommy whined in the back seat, so I gave him some chicken jerky and broke off little pieces for the Chihuahua. That he liked. I lured him closer. He gingerly approached and sniffed my hand. One of his eyes was all teary and had a big red bulge at the bottom of it (a condition known as “cherry eye”). He let me stroke his back. He had a yellow rope tied around his neck with about two inches of leash. I gently took hold of the leash and started to pull him toward the open car door.

And he flipped out, twisting and turning and bucking up.

Back in February I tried to rescue a stray dog in L.A. Long story, but the upshot is I got bit, the dog ran away, and I spent the morning in the emergency room. Granted that dog was a Jindo, and they can be fierce, but even a Chihuahua has sharp teeth. And what would be the point if I scared him off too?

I reflexively let go of the yellow rope, the dog tore off, and Tommy flew out of the car after him. The Chihuahua with the pit mix on his tail ran into the middle of the street. I screamed for Tommy to come, but he ignored me (so much for rocket recall). The little dog circled back toward the side of the car where I stood, leading Tommy directly into my arms. I shoved him into the back seat and secured him with a harness and seat belt.

Even after that harrowing ordeal, remarkably the little guy hung around, although a bit warier now.

I started to experiment. I gave him a command in a stern voice; that only made him slink away. I called him Chico, the only Spanish name I could think of (lame, I know); it had no affect whatsoever. I made a noose out of Tommy’s leash and lured the little guy with chicken jerky. As soon as I lifted the makeshift noose, he ran away.

Back in the driver’s seat, I put pieces of chicken jerky on the bottom edge of the passenger doorway. He stretched his neck to reach them, while Tommy whined and barked in the back seat. (I couldn’t blame him. Under the circumstances, he was being a pretty good boy, but he didn’t exactly put the Chihuahua at ease.)
The little guy scooted out of sight. I got out of the car to look for him and found him waiting on the other side. As I approached, I sweet talked to him and he wagged his tail. I took that as a hopeful sign.

I watched a bicyclist pedal past. A few cars sped by, followed by a looker in a turquoise VW van. His eyes stayed with mine as I watched him pass, his wheels spinning him toward some unknown destination. I half expected, half hoped he would turn around to join me. Maybe there was a reason I’d stopped for this Chihuahua. Maybe the dog was part of some larger plan to bring me and the man in the VW van together. It would be divine intervention that would lead to love ever after, the kind of fateful event that changes your life and makes for a great story.

But of course the looker just kept driving.

I let Tommy out of the car, and we walked down the dirt road into Hahamongna. The Chihuahua followed at a safe distance. But then an off-leash dog that looked like a fox tore after him as if he were a rabbit. For the second time in an hour, the poor pooch ran as if his life depended on it, and surely it did. The fox-like dog was retrieved by her human, and I went back to the car, securing Tommy in the back seat again.

The Chihuahua still stuck around.

I sat on the dirt cross-legged, like a yogi, hoping he’d crawl into my lap. He came right up to me but as soon as I tried to put my hands around him to pick him up he stiffened and I backed off.

“Sometimes you just can’t catch ‘em,” is what one dog rescuer wrote to me after I'd bemoaned the fact I hadn’t caught that Jindo.

I looked longingly at passing vehicles willing someone to help me. But I remained the lone loon sitting in the dirt.

The day slipped into twilight. It was hot. The quest became a meditation.

I got back in the car and pondered what to do. I don’t pray but I found myself asking God for help. It wasn’t a deep plea that souls resort to when confronted with a life-threatening danger or the loss of a loved one. It didn’t have the profound weight associated with facing mortality. It was matter-of-fact.

“Look, God, I can’t stay here all night. Either you help me out or this dog is going to end up as roadkill or dinner for a coyote.”

I started the car and waited, hoping he’d come to his senses and jump in, the door still open inviting him in. He didn’t.  I wanted to drive off, but I couldn’t see him. I may have been ready to give up, but I didn’t want to end my quest running him over with my car. Talk about irony.

I turned off the engine and walked around to the other side. He wagged his tail again when he saw me.

I tried one last thing.

I placed one of Tommy’s old blankets on the ground with pieces of chicken jerky in the center and sat beside it holding the makeshift noose. He came up to check out the treats and, just like that, I slipped the noose around his neck, tightened it, folded the blanket around him, and carried him to the front passenger seat floor. Still holding the leash around his neck, I got in the car and shut the door, then climbed over the clutch to the driver's seat.

Oh my god. I did it!

With the pit bull on high alert in the back seat and the Chihuahua mix huddled in the blanket on the floor, I started the engine and, giddy, headed home.

Epilogue (inspired by Haiku Bandit)

hahamongna chihuahua
playing hard to get
cherry eye
not your turn to die

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Tommy Enjoys Brunch in Old Town

Last Saturday morning I walked Tommy along Colorado Boulevard in Old Town Pasadena so I could stop in at the newly opened Intelligentsia. As I walked up to the cafe, Tommy jerked to the right pulling me along with him. His target? A brown paper bag filled with crinkle cut French fries.

Gotcha! I caught him a second before he gobbled them up.

I consider it a success when I’m quick enough to prevent Tommy from sucking up food trash left by what seems to be the entire Pasadena population, considering how much of it is strewn about town.

I tied Tommy to the fire-hose contraption, jutting out of the adjacent building and just to the right of the Intelligentsia entrance, and went inside. Tommy registered his discontent by bucking up and barking and then staring into the cafe with his standard quizzical expression, “WTF?”

After I got my coffee I grabbed a table with a clear sight of Tommy, and then went out to give him a bully stick so I could enjoy my fix in peace. Tommy was thrilled, and I got a good laugh watching him. As he gnaws on one end of that thing, the other end sticks out of the side of his wide mouth, which makes him resemble Edward G. Robinson chewing on a cigar.

As I left the cafe, a couple of more dogs were outside. I approached with Tommy and struck up a conversation with the owners, who were sitting inside, holding the dogs’ leashes through the window. Tommy grabbed his opportunity and made a beeline for that paper bag. By the time I caught on, he had already feasted on a good chunk of those crinkle cut French fries.

Darn! You got me that time, Tommy.

Like most dogs, Tommy has a great nose. The problem with that is I never know whether he’s sniffing a patch of grass because he’s on the scent of another dog or if he’s honing in on something like a lollipop or a bone or some crushed Doritos.

During the first few months living in Pasadena, Tommy worked the street like a Hoover vacuum cleaner, sucking up every piece of chewed-up gum in the neighborhood, and there was a lot of it: electric blue, neon green, hot pink. Before long there wasn’t any more gum to be found. Either the gum chewer had moved away or had outgrown the habit. But Tommy’s work cleaning up continued.

After his French fries coup, we continued our walk, and within the course of an hour Tommy had tried, with varying degrees of success, to eat a pile of short ribs, squished cherries, and a flattened brownie.

You can’t stop a dog from sniffing. Dogs sniff. That’s what they do, and we humans have to let them do it. But with Tommy, I must keenly observe his sniffing in order to keep him from eating things that could make him sick. (Tommy may be a macho street dog, but he’s got a sensitive stomach.) It’s a balancing act.

Tommy went toward what looked like a piece of foam on the sidewalk. I thought he’d just sniff and keep walking—even Tommy possesses some discriminating judgment—but instead he ate it.


This is where the snoot loop can be both good and bad. I pulled the leash up so the loop tightened around his nose, forcing his mouth to shut and point toward the sky. This trick works sometimes. When he discovered a piece of hard, stale whole wheat toast in a neighbor’s bushes, I pulled on the leash so that the toast stuck straight up making it easy for me to wiggle it out of Tommy’s mouth (we repeated the performance with a fried chicken breast, Tommy’s pièce de résistance, on Lake Avenue). But if the food, or food-like substance, is entirely inside his mouth, pulling on the snoot loop to snap his mouth shut makes the offending matter that much more inaccessible.

The foam piece fit this latter category. I loosened the loop and stuck my finger in his mouth but he had already swallowed it.

Darn! I wondered what the foam would do to his sensitive belly. There wasn’t much to do about it at that point so I kept walking, only to get a glimpse of more “foam” up ahead. Turns out it was actually a yellow cupcake.

Having thoroughly enjoyed his dessert, Tommy pranced along the sidewalk sniffing for his next course.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

My Imagination Sure Can Run–Part One

I like to think I have an active imagination. Unfortunately two recent experiences reminded me that there’s a fine line between imagination and just plain crazy.

The first one happened a few weeks ago.

I share a small backyard with a young couple, who have a beautiful border collie, oddly named Tally (at least I think that’s what I heard during one of the rare conversations I had with the wife). Tally is a calm, well-behaved dog. I’m not sure how they’ve managed that, considering how challenging it is to give a high-energy dog, as border collies are known to be, adequate exercise without a big fenced yard—speaking from experience, of course. But somehow they have. Maybe she’s the rare exception or maybe they spend their days hiking in the San Gabriel Mountains or maybe they take daily trips to the dog park. I don’t know. All I know is that I rarely hear her bark.

That is, until a few weeks ago when I worked from home and listened to her bark and whine all day. I followed the cries into my bathtub to peek through the tiny window that faced the yard. She sat at their back window, directly across from me, her furry face pressed against the glass, panting and whining and then letting loose a high-pitched bark.

At first it was a minor annoyance. But as her distress seemed to escalate my irritation grew to concern. What if she were trying to communicate something? What if she were like Lassie trying to tell the world her owner was hurt or in danger?

I went around back to investigate, walked up the steps and looked through the front window. Tally barked ferociously as any good watchdog would do. I couldn’t see into the side room, so I considered going into the yard to peek through the very window where Tally had sat before I triggered her protective instincts.

What if the wife, probably around 27, had had a heart attack and was lying on the floor unconscious? What if she’d had an accident or been attacked by an intruder and needed help?

Should I stick my face right up to the glass where Tally had just whined? Or would another neighbor see me and think I was a snoop? A busy body? Or just plain ass crazy?

What if I didn’t do anything and later her husband would come home and find her on the floor unconscious? What if she were dead?! The police would question me. I would say I had heard the dog barking all day and then an investigator would ask why I hadn’t done anything. “You could’ve saved her but you didn’t!” the husband would shout.

Sometimes it’s hard to know what the right thing to do is.

I contemplated calling the landlord to get a cell phone number but I refrained. Three times that day, I walked to the house to investigate, and each time I stopped short of creeping into the yard to do the full-on window search. Each time I returned to my computer, where I listened to Tally bark and wondered why no one showed up mid-day to walk her. Poor girl.

Sometime after 6 o’clock Tally stopped whining. Voices floated from the house. All was well. The wife, and her husband, had avoided some terrible fate, and I had escaped the embarrassment of advertising my craziness to the neighbors.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Tommy the Lap Dog

Tommy’s not allowed on the furniture in my house. Not because I’m philosophically opposed to sharing my couch with him nor because I have such nice furniture (far from it—the cats have made sure of that as my $500 red leather cat scratcher will attest), but because he’s a dog that needs clear and strict boundaries.

But at Veronica’s house, Tommy is allowed to indulge his inner lap dog.