Furry Friday: The Puppacita

As readers have witnessed my profiles of an assemblage of small critters — furry, feathered, and finny — some may have wondered, “Doesn’t she have a dog?”

Why, yes. Those of you who follow me on Twitter know her better as The Puppacita. And as I’m celebrating this chihuahua’s birthday tomorrow — fittingly — this is Chi-Chi’s Furry Friday.

As any dog owner/lover would say about his or her pooch, there is no dog like my baby. She came into my life nearly a year ago — our adoption anniversary is May 15. I found her at a local pound. The owner had left her there with a name, calling her Kiwi, an age (6 or 7), but suddenly claimed not to speak English when asked why he was giving her up. Later revelations would indicate that she was being used for some sort of backyard breeding, and given up when her time in that area was up.

The minute the shelter worker placed Chi-Chi (as I named her, as no Mexican dog should have an Australian name, but I wanted to stay with the same phonetic sounds) in my arms, the timid, sad pup hesitantly reached up and licked my face. I would later find out that she hardly ever kisses, so this was a very special sign. I took her home right away, with a $20 fee and $35 deposit on the spay she would need.

First stop, this being Bridget Johnson’s dog, was the Juicy Couture outlet, where I bought the tiny pup a terry hoodie. Then on to PetSmart, where I had probably one of the best days ever as we walked around the store and bought her anything she wanted. The shelter had given me a ratty harness and leash, so she got to stroll around the store (and picked a bed, as you can see). A breeder shopping in the store asked me how recently she’d given birth — it was later that the vet confirmed she’d had a couple of litters, and later that her tummy tightened up and I realized why people asked that.

The first night, I figured I’d let her sleep in the living room to see if she would be OK being alone when I went to work. That didn’t last long — at 4 a.m. I stumbled out of bed, went to pick the 5.04-pound pup up out of the living room dog bed, and brought her into my bed. She’s been there every night since.

She was very docile at first — the “anti-Chihuahua,” as I call her — not jumpy, yippy, shaky, a “cuddle bug” as the shelter called her. She was a bit nervous around people at first but has warmed up. She only barks when she thinks she needs to protect me from a bigger dog (and then looks back up at me proudly while wagging her tail), or if she thinks a UPS man or pizza guy is invading the house. She’s not a morning dog and is content to snooze as long as I want. It took a couple of weeks to potty train her — she hates the wee-wee pads, so we have pretty regular times that we go out. She refused to go near the crate that the previous owners left her in and the shelter sent with me. Whenever there’s a cross-sounding voice — I mean, even if I’m just annoyed that I can’t find my keys — she withers and hides, or comes with ears back asking for some love and reassurance. It breaks my heart to think of how things might have been for her.

When I took her to the vet, I learned the extent to which she hadn’t been cared for by the previous owners. The vet confirmed she was between 6 and 7 — not old for a Chihuahua. Half of her teeth had fallen out and the rest were rotted and infected, and the dental disease gave her a heart murmur. Blood and liver tests confirmed, thankfully, that all is functioning well and she doesn’t need any meds for the murmur (I just don’t overexert her). She also has patellar subluxation — though not symptomatic, that meant doggie stairs for her to come and go on the furniture; she’s very good about not jumping off the bed without me to set her on the floor (though she does a happy dance on her hind legs when I come home, which can’t be good for the little knees).

The adoption deal for the spay was fantastic — at any vet in this neighboring county, it was $70 total for, after the wonderful heart monitors and other precautions they took for my little one, what turned out to be a $540 spay. The vet also did a complete dental, pulling all of the rest of her teeth — which were so bad they just fell out, and I didn’t get charged per tooth — except for three (read: I will never be targeted by a bite lawsuit). Like how she got over the standard post-shelter respiratory infection without meds, the Puppacita surprised me with how quickly she bounced back from the surgery. No vomiting, baby food that night (she wanted more and stuck her snout in the jar), and real food the next day. It’s all canned food, of course, and I swear by Blue Buffalo as she’s never finicky with it, the homestyle variety doesn’t need extra mushing, a regular-size can lasts her 3-4 days, and her coat looks gorgeous now. I’ve learned to hunt down the soft dog treats in this world, as well, though I sometimes pick through the Petco bar for broken pieces that she can crunch between two of the three remaining teeth (a Chi-Chi trip there costs about 15 cents).

After getting those nasty teeth out, it was literally Second Puppyhood time. The new lease on life included a mischievous streak, a confrontational streak with other dogs, and going from shuffling when she walks to trotting and galloping.

Yes, she goes everywhere with me. I used to take her on the Metro on cool days into D.C. when I worked at AEI, and she would delight in running around to the other offices to say hi. She also loved the food up in the dining room. One day I’d closed my office door to go up to the 12th floor and bring back a lunch tray, and one of my staffers cracked the door to see if I was in. With a yelp, Chi-Chi shoots out the door and runs down the hall, trying to find mommy, running into a conference room where we’d previously been. Scholar Joe Antos was holding a meeting on ObamaCare at the time, though, and the bemused guests had a little dog darting in and out under the tablecloths. Finally, she was lured out with a piece of cookie (anyone who’s ever been at AEI knows those are plentiful) and returned to my office — before I even returned with the lunch tray.

One of her favorites at AEI was Norm Ornstein, who gave head scratches that sent her into some sort of catatonic state.

When I’m working at home now, she takes her daily nap on the Puppa Perch — a bed tucked into the corner of my built-in desktop (so she’s a foot away from my left arm as I write this). When I go up to the Hill, she tries to catch up on all the mischief she’d missed (needless to say, it’s easy to put things out of her reach). Some of the people-food faves that she tries to get: Pirate’s Booty and carnitas. The vet warned me she would have sinus issues, and they actually coordinate with mine when the weather is changing: A session over a steamy sink with a towel draped over both of our heads (doggie facial) solves her duck-sounding congestion nicely. And when I give her a bath, it’s also in the sink, with chamomile puppy shampoo for her sensitive skin and some warm hair dryer afterward.

Yes, her tongue always hangs out of the right side of her mouth — she even laps water out of that side. The white heart marking on her face is actually her undercoat color — when she sheds for a few weeks in spring and fall, it’s little white hairs everywhere. And yes, she has an extensive doggie wardrobe by now, ranging from coats and sweaters to faux Uggs, slipper socks and sundresses, T-shirts and hoodies. There are a few reasons why she’s usually dressed, unless it’s hot outside: a) she loves the snuggie secure feeling (chihuahuas are great blanket burrowers), b) she has sensitivity to the grass on her rather hairless underbelly, and she’s right down at grass level, and c) she gets cold when it’s 65 out (and the air conditioning I have to blast in the summer for my chinchilla means she needs at least a tee). By plowing through off-season clearance sales, when dog clothes go as low as a buck, I have leashes to match many of her outfits, and the soft jingle of the bling charm on her collar next to her microchip ID tag helps me to not accidentally step on her.

Days off are #DogAdventureDay, where we go out for all the adventure that being a tiny pup in a world of big-dog dog parks allows. We may go to a pet store to trot around. She’s a favorite at my local Nordstrom Rack, where she rides in the cart after I put her soft tote on the wire grid. Tomorrow for her birthday there’s a local pet fair, which will be fun. She loves to ride in the car and look out the window while driving (not the safest when she climbs on me, I know; tried a booster seat to no avail), and has a seat bed to nap in otherwise. Though it has to be said that every day with Chi-Chi is an adventure; she accompanies me most places, even the salon, except grocery stores.

I love my puppacita more than words can say. Feliz cumpleaños, my tiny puppa.