The Day My Mom Stepped on a Yorkie Puppy

It was the beginning of a shift in my family’s relationship to dogs

Yorkie puppy
This is a Yorkshire Terrier, Luca’s dog breed. Photo by Stephen DeWeese on Unsplash

It all started the day my mom stepped on Luca, mortally wounding him: our family’s gradual shift from dog neutral to dog enthusiasts.

My sister Gabi, 23 at the time, commented to her colleagues at the Danish consulate in Caracas (Venezuela) that she wanted a dog. It so happened that a Danish colleague’s Yorkshire Terrier had just had puppies and she offered one to my sister. Soon after, Gabi, who lived with my parents, brought Luca home.

Luca’s arrival at my parents’ house didn’t cause much of a stir. Sure, Luca was a cute little puppy, and when I say little, I mean the size of a grapefruit. As for cute, it’s hard to think of anything cuter than an 8-week-old Yorkie, which is around how old Luca was when he set paw in my parent’s home.

Five of my seven siblings still lived at home then. Yet, adorable and tiny as Luca was, no one, except Gabi of course, was particularly interested. Dogs were just pets some other people had, not creatures that touched your heart.

In fact, at 25, Yorkshire Terrier was one of the first breeds I learned to identify. I already knew, of course, that firefighters had Dalmatians and that the scary dogs in movies were Dobermans. I could tell a Rough Collie apart as well, but thought that the breed’s name was Lassie. You’ll know what I’m talking about if you are of a certain age and had a TV in your home when you were little. (If you don’t know, but would like to, just click here).

Of note, I actually grew up knowing that my parents had had a dog when I was a baby because the dog appeared in family pictures. I had asked about it of course and been informed that that was Apollo. When I first heard about the moon landing and the spacecraft Apollo, I thought either that NASA had named it after my parent’s late dog, or that it was a mere coincidence that both were named the same.

My parents never mentioned Apollo having been particularly special to them, or signal through a mournful or longing facial expression that they’d loved him. My late father-in-law, by contrast, carried in his wallet a picture of Uli, the Pomeranian he’d had years before my husband was born. He smiled broadly and whipped out the picture from his wallet whenever the word “dog” was uttered. Now, there’s a man who clearly loved his dog. I actually never saw him smile quite the same way when his own children were mentioned.

Because my parents are compassionate, loving people, I’ve come to the conclusion that their indifference toward Apollo was them actually being kind and not telling us something dark. Perhaps Apollo was a terror. Perhaps it bit two fingers off someone’s hand. I prefer to leave it a mystery.

This, then, is the family Luca joined, as far as its relationship to dogs went. Just two weeks into his new life at a new home, tragedy struck: in the dark of night, my mom accidentally stepped on Luca. My mom and sister took him to the animal hospital, but two days later, he was gone.

The saddest I’d seen my mom was when our uncle passed away. Luca came next. She cried and cried, horrified that she’d so mindlessly ended Luca’s life, even if it was by accident.

Thankfully, there was at least one more Yorkie where Luca had come from. Thus, just a week later, Gabi came home with Yorkie’s sister Nani. The first thing my sister did was put at little bell on her collar that would ring-ring-ring as Nani moved.

Nani was beloved and celebrated. My mom took care of her when my sister travelled and when she first moved out. Nani later lived in Connecticut, Washington State and Colorado with my sister and her family, and died at the age of 13. She was deeply mourned.

Yorkie puppy and baby
Nani and Gabi’s son

Short as his life was, Luca paved the way for a sea change in our family’s relationship to dogs, at least for most family members. Some of the shift had to do with the fact that all of us (except one brother) eventually emigrated to the US, where a dog’s place in society is vastly different from what it was in Venezuela when we were growing up.

But it all began with Luca.

I’ve been pondering the dog-human relationship a lot lately. This relationship, as we all know, goes back to pre-historic times when humans and wolves “tamed” one another.

One good record of a dog’s place in US society is a speech by lawyer and politician George Graham Vest.  Vest was a Missouri Congressman, a Confederate Congressman and later a US Senator.

He first gave the speech in question in September, 1870 as a closing argument in a trial where he represented a man suing for damages over the killing of his hunting dog by a farmer.

Here are a few excerpts with which many a dog person will relate to 150 years later:

“The one absolutely unselfish friend that a man can have in this selfish world, the one that never deserts him and the one that never proves ungrateful or treacherous is his dog…He will kiss the hand that has no food to offer… He guards the sleep of his pauper master as if he were a prince… When riches take wings, and reputation falls to pieces, he is as constant in his love as the sun in its journey through the heavens.”

It is said that it was this speech, and not any testimony or charge presented, that won him the case.

Click here if you’d like to read the speech in full.

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Are you Crazy About Dogs? Please, Don’t Judge

My views are evolving

Since I moved to Fairfield County, CT twenty years ago, I’ve learned that a dog’s place in human society can be very different from the place occupied by the average dog of my Venezuelan childhood.

This is a world where dogs rule. A family almost appears incomplete without one. I mean, in some, the dog is the most important family member. My cousin, for instance, recently posted her family’s holiday card on Facebook. She has six children. The top half of the photo had a picture of the family’s eight human members (mom, dad and the six kids). The family dog took up the entire bottom half of the card.

Here’s something else I’ve experienced: Because I’m a special education teacher, I sometimes ask parents to send in or email a picture of their child, human family members, or the family pet. I usually get the dog pictures right away, sometimes multiple ones. For the child himself or another family member, I often need to send reminders.

I’ve also learned from two of my sisters who have dogs that the politics of dog ownership are complicated. Sandra’s dog, Odin, is a rescue -a fact she is compelled to mention whether or not people ask. And I don’t blame her. Having a rescue signals that you are a thoughtful, upstanding human.

Rescue dog
Odin, my sister Sandra’s dog

Apparently, people may readily undermine a good relationship with a neighbor over a dog’s origin. I now know, for instance, that acquiring a dog from a local pet store is a grave act. Cooper, my sister Ana’s dog, comes from a pet store. “Shame!” was her neighbor’s one-word comment when learning of the dog’s origin.

Cooper, my sister Ana’s dog

When I was a young girl, people didn’t need to rush home during their lunch break to feed the dog or take it outside. When folks wanted to leave a dinner party, they couldn’t say, “I need to get home to take care of my dog.” That excuse did not exist. It would’ve been like saying, “I gotta get home to hem my pants.”

I’m talking about pet dogs, of course, not the street ones which, like Coco’s Dante, roam most towns and cities in the developing world. I grew up in Caracas (Venezuela), and knew some families that had dogs, most of which spent their day outside. Dogs didn’t get to go on family vacations or were listed as family members. Only small ones were petted, talked to, or got to spend any amount of time beyond the kitchen in the company of humans.

That’s just how things were and I didn’t question them. That was also a long time ago. I’m not sure how dogs fare today in the city of my youth. From what I hear, though, things have improved for pet dogs and gotten much worse for street dogs.

Most street dogs anyway. I happen to know of one former street dog who hit the canine jackpot. On a trip to Caracas five years ago, Clarissa, an acquaintance who now lives in the Dominican Republic, was on a short hike and came upon a dog, whom she adopted and named Veva. Now Veva lives in the DR, where she shares a nice home with her loving human family.

Dogs being so incredibly desirable, I’ve come to question my warm but not exuberant feelings for them. Sometimes, I’ve found myself making excuses for not having a dog. I’ve almost felt inadequate for not committing to having one some day, especially given that my son Diego has autism and, over the years, numerous well-meaning folk have suggested that a dog would do wonders for him. I have subjected Diego to many therapies, both proven and unproven, so why not see if a dog would help calm his anxiety?

It’s likely we would’ve gotten one had Diego or his brother Andres ever hounded us about it, as many kids do. For some reason, neither of them did. Even today that Diego’s 26, when asked if he’d like to have a dog, he says that he wants a girl instead.

It’s not that he thinks that a girlfriend and a dog are interchangeable. It’s just that Diego’s obsessed with having a girlfriend, and perhaps he fears that one would preclude the other. Who knows.

Another thing I’ve found myself doing is hiding my fear on the rare occasions a dog scares me. It’s silly and embarrassing to be scared of dogs. Even telling my sister not to bring her dog over (unless she’s willing to have him stay outside) now feels so small of me. “I’m just not used to having dogs in my house” doesn’t sound like a valid reason, such as, for instance, being seriously allergic to them.

Having a dog allergy has one advantage for people who are not dog people: it’s an incontrovertibly sound reason for not having a dog or not being 100% accommodating. Significant as this advantage may be, though, it does not come close to making up for the awful drawbacks.

My friend Hope, for example, is seriously allergic to dogs (and cats). We were hiking one day and a dog ran over to us just to be friendly. Hope tried to get away and asked the owner to call the dog back. When a person in the dog’s party passed us a few minutes later, he said, nastily, “It’s just a dog.”

The guy did mumble an apology when Hope’s husband noted the allergy, but the damage was done. A person’s dog had been rejected, and that person took it personally. Hope was immensely frustrated.

I do like dogs of course, other people’s dogs. My sister Rosanna had a dog named Nala, of whom I was quite fond. I loved seeing her run in my sister’s yard. I’d pet her whenever I saw her, and checked on and fed her a few times when Rosanna asked.

Dog Beagle
Nala, my sister Rosanna’s dog. Photo by Fer Neri

The day Nala died, she was in pain and hardly moved. She hobbled if she needed to get from here to there. That day, I was at Rosanna’s home alone with Nala for a while while my sister ran an errand. I was sitting on the floor and saw Nala get up and start hobbling in my direction.

Where’s she heading? I thought. Toward me, it turned out. She stopped where I was, sat and rested her head on my lap. And that’s where she stayed for a good while. It was a mystical experience.

There’s a good chance I might have a dog someday, a rescue for sure.

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