Shortly after my dog Hannah died—within hours, actually—the panic set in. It announced itself so quickly, I was surprised—my experience with grief has usually been a progression from sadness (lots of crying) to rage (I kick something) to panic (obsessive thoughts of how will I live this way?). This time around, I went straight to panic, perhaps because I’d already been sad and angry for so long.
The panicked state was not acceptable, and yet could only be ameliorated by something healthy and normal, like processing (blech); something pharmacological (check!); or something cute and fuzzy. For example, years ago my parents had a dog named Peanut who got killed by a car. The next morning they went back to the breeder and bought Peanut’s little sister, Sugar. I always thought it was a little strange to get a new dog so soon, but now I found myself thinking along the same lines. How soon is too soon?, I wondered.
Though it seemed wrong in some vague way, I initiated the search for a new dog almost immediately. Within less than a day we found ourselves, red-eyed and wilting with Hannahlessness, at the SPCA. Now, I know pit bulls have a bad rep, but some of my best friends are pit bulls (hi, Tori!) and they can be extremely loving, friendly, stupid-silly, wonderful dogs. And when you go to the SPCA, there they all are, standing on tiptoes and wagging the bottom half of their bodies to impel you to lean over and scratch their square heads. Not everyone wants to pet them, though. It’s kind of heartbreaking to see them twirl like toddlers in tiaras as clumps of dog-wanting people pass them by for the fancier dogs.
Because there are fancier dogs. There’s the pretty cocker spaniel, who never met a cookie she didn’t like; the coon hound named Lady Bird, whose ears flop back when she howls; the min-pin trembling on a little mat; the other reasonably sized mixed breeds with sweet, shepherd-like faces and unrelenting puppy-dog eyes. It’s like that Sarah McLachlan song is being subliminally piped through the speakers.
We had come to the SPCA because of course we wanted a rescue dog—that’s the right thing to do. I’d bought Hannah at a pet store (I know!), and had been apologizing for it for 12 years since. Now I would reset the karmic clock. I just had a few requirements.
First, the dog had to be a chihuahua. After 12 years of participation on message boards, endless breed-specific purchases like Chihuahas for Dummies and even a Chihuahua meetup group, changing breeds would have been like converting. Second, I wanted a relatively young dog because I couldn’t go through another death too soon. Third, and least rationally, I wanted a female. Maybe it’s the gay in me, I don’t know, but I just didn’t want another penis in my home. One is plenty.
These didn’t seem like terrible strictures, and a cursory look at petfinder suggests the world is simply flooded with homeless chihuahuas, their bulging eyes seeking a person who won’t make a Taco Bell joke or name them something like Bandito. But it seems that even the most defective chihuahua is highly desirable. You want a blind and deaf chihuahua? Probably not. But given the application process, you’d think there were thousands clamoring for dogs that bump into walls.
The biggest selection of chihuahuas was at a fancy animal rescue that I’d been told by an insider was out of my league. That seemed silly. They have so many, and I’m an excellent candidate: I work from home; I don’t have children; I devote all my leisure time to my pet; I’m stable and have great vet references.
I sent a heartfelt plea, and described my living situation as a “charming Victorian on a lovely street in University City.” (I did not add “where both my car and bike were stolen.”) Sure enough, I heard nothing back from the fancy people, which surprised me: Being a journalist usually counts for something (not for money, true, but something). I was not posh enough to own a broken-down chihuahua.
And yet, I do now have a new dog. What kind? From where? It’s all in the future, my friends. Tune in next week.