Typical of many independent, free-thinking college students pursuing an education, I made weekly trips back home for money, food, laundry facilities and other forms of parental love. I would show up at the house, unburden myself, throw a ball to the dog and eventually get around to asking for advice – hopefully, without seeming to.
My parents were pet people who had a Chihuahua 20 years before they became popular in the fast food commercials. It was a tiny reddish female my mother had named Gigi Quadrille Novak. I don’t know how Father felt about it – he never said anything – but hearing the last name out loud always made me somewhat uncomfortable, there being no family resemblance whatsoever.
Our family had this pet for many years. As the delicate creature aged, she had to be taken to the veterinarian for one procedure or another – eventually having her teeth removed on one side. After the extraction, Gigi walked around with her tongue hanging out that side of her mouth. As amusing as this was, it was quite comical when she drank from her water bowl. She quickly learned to stand to the left side of the bowl as her little pink tongue flicked in and out of the side of her mouth, efficiently lapping up the water as if it had always been this way.
At last my folks had come to the realization that one day soon she would be leaving us for a better place, where she would be reunited with her missing teeth. So, they did the unthinkable and began looking for a little friend for Gigi. This time it would be a boy dog for my father – perhaps, a replacement for his soon-to-be graduating son, as I had already made plans to move out of state for an entry-level position in my chosen field. At Christmas I showed up with a trunk full of presents for the first time since graduating from high school, courtesy of my new job. Gigi came slowly across the floor toward me, waddling as she had been doing for several years, when I noticed the new addition to the family.
The little fella was hiding in the corner behind the ornately decorated Christmas tree. As I stepped toward him to make friends, he began peeing on the floor. Dad went to get the mop without saying a word as mom explained that he was a little nervous around strangers.
The full explanation came later at dinner. It seems that little Sir Guy, as they had named him, had been abused as a puppy and so was afraid of everyone and everything. Later I threw a ball to him but he just stood there with a hurt expression as it bounced off him, and he started peeing again. Every time I visited, I would try to play with him, but I never got any closer than 10 feet without him fleeing in terror, slipping and sliding on the hardwood floor, leaving behind a trail of pee.
Sometime in early February, I got a call from Mom. Gigi had passed away. But the full story was genuinely uncomfortable to hear. Mother had locked herself out of the house and gone around to a ground-level window that was left partially open for the dogs to get in and out. She had decided to maneuver herself through the opening and was having a difficult time stepping through in a bent-over position, when she suddenly fell.
Fortunately, Mom had come through it unscathed. Unfortunately, Gigi was right there to welcome her and before the ordeal was over, the poor creature had been squashed flat.
A year later, an assistant management position opened up just a few miles from my hometown. I applied and got the job. I had been in town about six months when I got a call from Mom. Dad’s dog was missing and she asked if I would come over and help look for it.
I got off work at 5 and quickly drove across town, wondering just how much help I could be – they had been looking for Sir Guy since about 8 that morning. When I arrived, Dad was sitting on the couch wringing his hands and fretting while Mom was trying to comfort him, without much success. The little Guy had gone missing a couple of times before and once they had found him hiding in some tall grass in the backyard. The other time they had found him a few houses away, cowering in some bushes.
I tried to cheer Dad up by reminding him that dogs run away all the time and that we would either find him or he would come back to his yard as he had done once before. Dad was worried that a car might have run over him because he was so small and hard to see. Mom said that Chihuahuas were very desirable and that somebody probably picked him up and would be happy to have Sir Guy and give him a nice home. She said she would make some signs and I said I would put them up around the neighborhood and someone would bring him back for a reward, but Dad was not to be comforted.
As night came, we all resigned ourselves to the fact that the poor little fella was probably gone for good. Dad began preparing for bed, exhausted after a day of worrying.
The house was more cluttered than I remembered as a kid. It had collections of small treasures that represented memories from decades of living. The second bedroom, my old room, had become a storeroom for most of these heirlooms. My folks’ bedroom was shared by my parents most of the time, but when Dad ate his favorite foods, totally against the recommendations of his doctor, he would spend the night on the bed that folded out of the couch rather than being unpleasant around mom. The couch had been an expensive piece of furniture when they were first married and had lived in a studio apartment. Unlike contemporary versions, it had a comfortable, full-size mattress.
Dad got up off the couch and went to the bathroom to prepare for bed. Ever helpful, I lifted the cushions off the couch and pulled the mattress handle. The bed quickly unfolded as Sir Guy plopped out, stiff as a board. Mom gave a short gasp and I thought fast, flipping the mattress, scooping him up and loudly saying goodbye as I slipped out the front door.
I walked to my car inspecting the lifeless form and comforted myself with the thought that the tortured little fella was finally out of his misery, and just as importantly, that Dad would never know. He had sat there all day long flattening the poor creature to the thickness of a pancake.
On the drive back to my apartment, I remembered that Mom had once mentioned that the little fella was forever jumping on and off the beds as they were being made. When I got home, I ceremoniously wrapped him in plastic, hid him under some other stuff and somberly carried the container out to the curb. My last thoughts that evening were that both of my parents had inadvertently squashed their dogs. I turned on the TV, trying to distract myself, but the irony was too much to take – it was truly tragic, but the entire bewildering sequence of events was just too absurdly preposterous.
It was several weeks before I could bring myself to drop by the house, but when I did I was pleasantly surprised. Ever the optimist, Mom had convinced Dad that they should get another little Chihuahua. This one had had a happy puppyhood and was spry and chipper and pranced around the place like he owned it.
Dad had named him Paco and called him Paco Taco, which caused the little fella to dance in circles. Mom, of course, had given him a full proper name – Paco Taco Novak.
This new addition to the family was a bodacious fun little guy, but at the same time he seemed to be rather clever in an understated way. I had spotted him sniffing around the back floor-level window and also the couch. I’m sure he could tell that he was not the first of his kind to inhabit this domicile. And somehow he seemed to innately know that those who came before him had curiously departed somewhat abruptly.
He was clearly wise beyond his one year and took special note of the movements of his elders as they lumbered about the place. If a movement seemed to him less than coordinated, he was cautious to keep his distance.
He understood the loving ways of his ungainly parents, but he had plans of growing up and someday finding a mate of his own with which to make merry.
He gave my parents his love and companionship and they gave him their love and care for the rest of their days, but he seemed always mindful of the truth that these well- meaning gentle giants were not the most nimble of God’s creatures.
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