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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