Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Chi-Chi's Enemy

(Chi-Chi died today, from complications of diabetes. Before her death, we had the chance to become actual friends. This piece, written two years ago, describes my basic relationship with that funny little dog.)

I don't think Chi-Chi really hates me. Her feelings are both deeper and more complicated than that.

Chi-Chi is the pack member I've alluded to a few times, but not written about much . She's a 14 year old, diabetic, Chihuahua who belongs to my mom, which makes her my sister. To be sure, she hates me less than my human sister does, but since I live with Chi-Chi, she has to endure me much more.

I've lived with Chi-Chi for eight years, and she still barks at me as if I was a burglar every time she sees me. Not every time I come into the house, but every time she lays eyes on me. When I get down on the floor to try to befriend her, she backs away in terror, snarling at me, until finally she's in the back of her box.

That's right. Chi-Chi lives in a box. I know it's supposed to be called a "crate," and, technically, that's what it is, but it looks like a box to me. Chi-Chi spends at least twenty hours a day in the box. The door is never latched, or even closed, it's just where Chi-Chi prefers to be. One might think this would mean she's housebroken. One would be mistaken. 

It's not that she doesn't know we'd prefer she went outside, it's that she doesn't care. Her turds are as hard and dry as rocks, and we don't have carpets in the house, so she's easy enough to clean up after. To be clear, though; these aren't "accidents." She knows better, she has the opportunity to go outside, and she decides she'd rather not. I don't much like cleaning up after her, but I must say I admire the strength of her convictions, however ill-advised they may be.

When I approach her in her box, she is as aggressive as possible. Fortunately for me, she's a Chihuahua. How aggressive can that be? I used to worry a little, until one day I decided to just let her bite me, if she wanted. She did want to, but since I could barely feel it when she dove into the flesh of my hand, we've both come to understand that actual violence on her part is an ineffective deterrent.

Chi-Chi weighs eight pounds, but the vet feels she should weigh six. At one point, she weighed twelve pounds, and looked more like the bioengineered result of blending a pot-bellied pig with a human fetus. Then she was diagnosed with diabetes, began insulin shots and a special diet, so today she's at least recognizable as some form of canine.

My parents got Chi-Chi from a rescue organization when she was already about a year old. She was tightly bonded with my father, who passed away 2 ½ years ago. Since my father's death, Chi-Chi has become much closer to my mother, and, if anything, hates me even more. Understand, I've never yelled at Chi-Chi or disciplined her in any way. I've always been as gentle with her as if she were a glass figurine. It doesn't matter, though. Chi-Chi is the only dog I've ever met who just can't stand me.

But "hate" might not be the exactly right word. Chi-Chi will accept a treat from me, though she trembles as she does so, and I have to reach my arm way out so my hand is as far away from the rest of my body as possible. She'll muster up the bravery to pluck the treat from my hand, and then immediately retire to her box to eat it. She would prefer that I never touched her, or looked at her, but I have fed her and given her insulin shots. She is terrified when I have to do this, but when I leave her alone in her room, she eats all her dinner.

Sometimes, though, I'll see Chi-Chi looking at me when she doesn't think I notice, and she's not giving me the evil eye. I'll catch her looking at me with an expression of awe, if not reverence. If she sees me looking back, she'll usually start barking and snarling again, but it doesn't matter. I know. And she knows that I know.

Chi-Chi sees me walk, feed, and totally care for Levi, Rocky and Erica (of course she's been invited on the walks, and, naturally, she refuses). She sees me comfort them during frightening times, like thunderstorms. It's clear to her that they all love me. So what's the problem?

Honestly, I believe it's that Chi-Chi is scared to love me, for whatever reason. Maybe it's something unknown in her past, like abuse from a man who looked like me, but I don't think so. I think Chi-Chi holds back from a simple fear of loss and rejection. I think that because she's so small, when Rocky and Levi are excited around me, she's scared she might get knocked over and hurt. 

Mainly, though, I think that Chi-Chi has decided she can't love me, because she wouldn't be able to stand if I didn't love her back. Of course I would, but I think Chi-Chi is a one-person sort of dog, and that, whoever her master is, better be a one-dog kind of person. Knowing I love Levi, Erica and Rocky, I think Chi-Chi is unwilling to accept sharing my love with anyone. Therefore, Chi-Chi's reasoning goes, she has to hate me.

I'm sorry for Chi-Chi in that she can't bring herself to be my friend, but she has a relatively full life, anyway (full for someone who spends twenty hours a day in a box, that is). She has a very close bond with my mom. She loves Levi, who is clearly aware of their size disparity and is always extra gentle and careful around her. Like everyone, she loves Rocky, though you can tell even she knows he's not too bright.

But Chi-Chi's best friend in the pack, outside my mom, is the other girl, close to her size and age. Chi-Chi and Erica Kane adore each other. Erica's been long habituated to dogs, but Chi-Chi is the first one she's known who's actually smaller than she is. As far as I know, Erica is the first, and only cat, Chi-Chi has ever seen, but somehow they couldn't be tighter sisters and girlfriends. 

So all in all, me and my pack moving in on her territory was a positive thing for Chi-Chi, even if it does mean she has to live with me, her enemy. I refuse to be her enemy, though. She can bark, snarl and bite all she wants, it doesn't matter. Any friend of Rocky, Levi and Erica, is a friend of mine. 

(Note to my Hispanic and Spanish speaking readers: I know what Chi-Chis are. I do not believe my parents did when they chose that name)

© 2009, All Rights Reserved, Rich Sands



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