It isn't easy, raising a spiritual Chihuahua. In fact, it would be easier to raise the dead.
My Chihuahua, Truman, is going on nine. I got him when he was three months old and a mere three pounds. But even though he was no bigger than my palm, he already had a fully developed soul, brimming with unconditional love, loyalty, and devotion, all the aspects that we associate with a high degree of spiritual evolution.
Truman was, and is, my first and only dog, and I marveled at these wonderful canine qualities that made him seem so superior to his petty human counterparts. I even went so far as to write a book about him, "A Widow, A Chihuahua, and Harry Truman," in which I waxed eloquent about how he brought me through the dark days of widowhood and helped me gain an even deeper admiration of his namesake, Harry S. Truman. But alas, through the years I have come to realize that my sweet little dog angel is no paragon of virtue. He can easily fall prey to selfishness, vengefulness, manipulation, and other ego-invested vices, and in fact, he grew so clever at getting everything he wanted that my friends started calling him Truman the Human-not necessarily a compliment.
I think Truman has probably been guilty of most of the Seven Deadly Sins, with the exception of sloth. He is not a lazy dog, and lives for his walks-a good thing for his owner, who is lazy and would never get a lick of exercise if it weren't for him. But let's look at a few of the others:
You've heard of the Thirty Years War. Well, I have one for the history books too. The Nine Years War has been going on at my house since the day Truman arrived. He entered a household ruled by my two five-year-old cats, Petie and Rhonda, a pair of devoted littermates who took one look at the pretender to the throne, hissed and spat, and drew the battle lines then and there. This three-pound something, who looked like a rat and smelled like a dog, was low man on the pole, period. If he dared to approach the ruling elite, he was swatted with an angry cat paw. So, he would slink off, whimpering and dreaming of the day he could claim his revenge.
Today, Truman is eight-and-a-half pounds, almost as big as Rhonda, and that happy day has come. His primary mission in life is to keep the cats and me apart, and he will stop at nothing to accomplish it.
Now, it's interesting. The cats have never been jealous of each other. If I kiss and cuddle one of them, the other one just sits there serenely, amber eyes blinking like those non-threatening flashing yellow traffic lights. But dogs-and in particular Chihuahuas-are another story. If I call Rhonda, Truman races over, jumps in my lap and grins down at her triumphantly. If Rhonda tries to jump up on me, Truman bares his teeth, growls, and snaps at her. Unwilling to condescend to Truman's level, Rhonda takes a military approach and makes a strategic retreat, sauntering off like she doesn't care. Then, suddenly, she begins advancing along the rear flank and leaps up onto the couch or chair from behind, settling on my head, where it's her turn to flash the enemy a smug smile. Truman then retaliates by whimpering and licking my lips with the intensity of a long-lost lover finally reunited with his amour.
Since cats don't kiss, and it's impossible to resist these fervent demonstrations of adoration, Truman definitely has the upper hand. Imagine my amazement, then, when I awoke one morning to find Rhonda sitting on my chest and licking my lips, while Truman looked on in helpless rage.
If you've ever been licked by a cat, you'll appreciate my dilemma. It was heartwarming, to see how far Rhonda would go in imitating the enemy to get my undivided affection. But it was like having my lips assaulted by an electric sander. I hated to hurt her feelings, but I had to push her away, albeit gently and with kisses and assurances of gratitude.
"Oh, Rhonda, thank you. Oh, Mommy loves you too! My best kitty girl! But honey, your tongue is too rough! Truman's tongue is soft, but kitties have sandpapery tongues so they can groom themselves. And Mommy's lips are getting raw...Here, you can kiss my hand instead."
I put my hand in front of my lips. Rhonda gave it a few licks and then wandered off, which was Truman's signal to leap onto my chest and begin licking my lips with even more fervor, as if, in addition to declaring his love, he had to wipe away all traces of his adversary's presence.
Being a dumb human, I was completely unconscious of the sinister fact that these kisses were not what they seemed. I later discovered that when dogs lick you on the lips, they are not saying, "I love you." They are saying, "I own you!" They are asserting their dominance, an absolute no-no, as it is your job, from Day One, to establish yourself as the alpha dog. Being clever-far more clever than you'd ever suspect-your dog knows this, and so must resort to the most devious of means to wrest this title from you.
"Lust has been a major problem with Truman."
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Many is the talk I've had with him about unconditional love. "Truman," I've said, sitting him down on my lap. "Mommy loves you very much. And she loves Rhonda and Petie. She loves all of you the same, and there's plenty of love to go around. You don't have to be envious of the cats. But you have to be willing to share, and to let them have love too. Do you understand?"
I read in a book somewhere that your dog understands most of what you say. Truman looked up at me reverently, one ear cocked, and then jumped up, put his paws on my shoulders, and began licking my lips, with that familiar chilling intensity, an indication that he did indeed understand, and didn't want any part of it. You're mine! Now and forever! Screw the cats! I hope they croak!
Lust has been a major problem with Truman. His libido surfaced early; by the age of five months he was all over his stuffed animals, and by 11 months he was in full reproductive mode. I tried mating him with a couple Chihuahua girls, and all went well. But alas, they miscarried, and he has yet to sire progeny.
Truman's libido never died down. One night, when I came home late, my upstairs neighbor opened her door and yelled down, "Do you know what Truman was doing tonight?"
"No," I replied nervously.
"He's been giving sex shows in the window!"
She came downstairs, laughing, to tell me the whole sordid story. She'd been walking past my place when she saw Truman in full view in my sliding glass doors, getting physical with his favorite toy bear, which is bigger than he is. When Truman saw that he had an audience, he went to town. She was laughing so hard her roommate came down to see what all the commotion was about.
To this day, Truman is still very attached to this toy bear. If someone picks the bear up, he runs over, crying and reaching out with his paws. When he's got the bear again, he drags it by the ear to a safe place and settles down next to it, guarding it with all the protectiveness of a mother hen.
By the way, "fixing" them doesn't help. If they began as puppies, they'll continue the behavior into lecherous old age. It is beyond embarrassing, and no amount of lecturing or psychotherapy will change them. I had to accept the fact that I had a horny Chihuahua, period.
Truman has devised a number of ways of punishing me when I make him angry or upset. The worst punishment usually comes when I've gone away and left him with a sitter for more than a week. When I return he goes through the ceiling with joy, yelping, and racing around madly until he starts coughing and wheezing and it seems like his little heart is going to burst through his chest. I spend the next hour kissing him and trying to calm him. The reunion is glorious; I doubt that any human could beat a dog for Most Ardent Welcome Home.
"Truman is as fussy as the worst prima donna..." Read more >>
Once, however, he really outdid himself. I'd left him for two weeks and he gave me the usual deep freeze. When he decided I'd been sufficiently chastised, he trotted over and lifted his paws, wanting to be picked up. I gathered him up and kissed him. "I'm so glad you're not mad at me anymore," I said. He just grinned. After awhile I went into the living room. Suddenly and inexplicably he ran off and slinked under the table.
Now, whenever Truman does something evil, you never have to put him in "time out." He does that himself. I looked around, afraid of what I was going to find.
"What did you do?" I asked him, getting down on my knees and glaring at him under the table. He just sat there, stubborn and silent.
I toured the room warily, like a Cavalry officer scouting for Indians. I found nothing. No poo poo in the corner, no pee pee on the rug. Everything looked pristine. Too pristine. Finally I sat down on the sofa to watch TV. I felt something hard and uncomfortable underneath me. I got up. There, very carefully placed on the sofa, was a nice little pile of cat poop, or "kitty roca," as my friend calls it. And there was plenty of litter, too, to round out the effect.
"Truman!" I thundered. "Bad dog!"
He stayed under the table for most of the evening. But he was merely hiding, not repenting. I knew it wouldn't do any good to stick his nose in the offending object, first of all because he didn't feel at all sorry for what he'd done, and secondly because dogs adore the stuff and wolf it down like dessert.
This sin goes hand in hand with finickiness. Truman has always been very particular about his food. Unlike other dogs, who will gulp down anything without ever knowing what it was, Truman is as fussy as the worst prima donna. I have spent hundreds of dollars on various dog foods, only to have him turn up his nose, and I have gone to great lengths to make him dinners that make me salivate-like, for instance, his ground beef with Worsteshire sauce, a little bit of garlic, mashed vegetables and wheat germ, which smells so enticing I usually have a spoonful or two before feeding him. He may reward my efforts by eating a portion-and then again, he might not. The only thing you can count on him gobbling up is Costco Roasted Barbecue Chicken. But it has to be Costco. Once I gave him some chicken I'd baked myself. He sniffed it and stared at me accusingly, as if to say, "This isn't Costco Barbecue Chicken. I know Costco Barbecue Chicken. You can't pee down my back and tell me it's raining. Did you honestly think you could put one over on me? Did you?"
However...If one of the cats so much as approaches Truman's food dish, he does a 180 degree turnaround, running to the dish and gulping its contents down so fast he chokes, all the while keeping one eye on the invader. He also does this with the cats' food, which is why I have to feed them on the table. If I ever forget and leave a bowl of cat food on the floor, forget it. Truman will inhale its contents, no matter what they are.
I've lectured him on his pickiness and his greediness. "Look at you!" I'll admonish him. "You get the best food in the world. Ground beef, chicken, ham, cheese. And you turn your nose up at half of it. Don't you know there are dogs starving in China? And everywhere else? Shall I give your dinner to Charlie and Susie next door? They'd be grateful for it, let me tell you! And then scarfing down everything in sight as soon as the cats come along! It's not like I didn't try to bring you up with manners."
That lecture, like all the others, goes in one big Chihuahua ear and out the other. As a result, I've considered sending Truman to a Zen monastery for a spiritual overhaul. But I doubt that would work, either. They'd just tell me he's acting according to his Dog Nature, and is perfect. No alterations needed.
Which perhaps is the lesson in all of this. Truman is just being Truman. What seems like a sin to us is nothing more than proper dog protocol to him. We humans are the ones who label things; dogs just do them, without putting any qualifiers on behavior-theirs or anyone else's. So what if his kisses mean he owns me? I don't mind. Being a slave to a Chihuahua isn't half bad. Believe me.