Month: March 2017

Yes, We Have No Chihuahuas – Part 2

Regarding the canine species in Mexico and a commentary on how at least some dogs are doing in the central highlands these days, cont’d

The most recent addition to this canine mix, of course, was the transplant known as the expat dog, or Canis spoiledrottenus.  This breed stood out from the rest by its well-groomed and well-fed appearance, and the confidence the dog had in knowing it would always have “three hots and a cot.”  Smaller versions of this breed were often carried in Frida Kahlo handbags by senior expat women in wide-brimmed hats.  Larger ones grudgingly followed their owners up and down San Miguel’s narrow streets.

Our own dog, Cassie, belonged without question to the Canis spoiledrottenus camp.  She was a nine-year-old black standard poodle who possessed a classy bearing—unlike her owners, who could best be described as a motley crew of two.  We would sometimes catch Cassie glancing at us out of the corner of her eye, disapprovingly or condescendingly, as if she were wondering how we ever ended up ahead of her on the evolutionary chart.  I often asked myself the same question.  With an intense expression on her face, Cassie sat rather formally in a chair, with her front paws crossed and dangling.  Her pose was simply regal.  She looked as if she were waiting for someone to light her cigarette or peel a grape.

On the other hand, both Arlene and I tended to slouch when we stood, sat, or walked.  And when God was passing out tall, dark, and handsome, I was in the men’s room taking a whiz.  It was not as if Cassie would have ever said anything openly to us about it, even if she could have articulated her disappointment.  She was too well-behaved and far too shy to take a public stand, and, as a result, was all the more willing to suffer fools quietly.

We called her Cassiopeia when she was good and Cassandra when she was bad, but most of the time she was just good ol’ Cassie, the sweetest dog we’d ever known.  When introducing our dog to another dog owner, we would brag that Cassie came before Lassie in the phone book.  She was small for a standard, and since I’m never one to pass up a cheap joke, I usually introduced Cassie as being “sub-standard.”  She seemed repressed, at times, but ran with such enthusiasm that her butt would swing out ahead of the rest of her body, much like a gate swinging back and forth.

She was, to borrow the words of a Tom Robbins novel, skinny legs and all.  Whenever three neighborhood Chihuahuas escaped their house during one of our walks, the little yappers went right for her legs.  In the scene that ensued, Cassie would watch helplessly, as if the tiny dogs were midget lumberjacks trying to saw her down.  It was funny to watch, even if Cassie failed to see the humor in it.

To my larger point, Cassie was not just a dog.  She was a girlie-girl who ran side-saddle and walked like Charlie Chaplin in high heels.  So I made an effort before we left for Mexico to get Cassie to look like a normal dog.  No nail polish.  No ribbons or bows.  No frou-frou haircuts.  Still, I worried that a poodle in Mexico would turn out to be too much of an oxymoron.  Worse still, whatever macho points I might have left on the board were sure to be scratched the moment I walked Cassie in our traditional Mexican neighborhood.  But the outings were not as publicly humiliating as I had imagined, since most people either weren’t out or didn’t care.  Thus, we quickly settled into a twice-daily routine of “walkies,” checking out our neighboring streets together, once in the morning and again late in the afternoon.

We lived in La Lejona, a mostly Mexican middleclass neighborhood with wide, cobbled or unpaved streets, dust everywhere except during the rainy season, and an impressive backdrop of cacti and mountains.  The area consisted of about one hundred houses, in various stages of development, from abandoned ruins to brand new structures.  La Lejona is Spanish for “far away” and, as I understand it, was the name of the original hacienda in the area, which still exists tucked up against the hillside along a ravine.  But far away is a relative term, and our neighborhood was less than a thirty-minute, mostly flat trip into the popular historic Centro on foot, a fifteen-minute bus ride, ten minutes by car or taxi.

Something strange happened one morning during our walk.  As always, our first challenge on these walks was to get by two examples of barkus obnoxious directly across from our house without creating too much noise.  They manned—or dogged—a large, one-level, empty house of brick and wrought iron.  One of the dogs was older, a little feeble, gaunt, with skinny legs, and deep-set but very woeful eyes.  The other dog was much younger, more energetic, quick to wag his tail, even quicker to snap at other dogs, including his older companion.  I named the older dog “Quixote” and the younger one “Sancho.”

As soon as we left our house, Quixote and Sancho, without looking up, barked and howled and snarled and carried on as if the entire country were under attack.  That is, until they recognized me, and when they did, they quickly replaced their barks with wagging tails.  I had been bribing them with treats since our first day in the neighborhood, and, let’s face it, a little protection money goes a long way no matter where you are in the animal kingdom.

After leaving Quixote and Sancho, we wandered to the end of our block, turned the corner and headed north.  Two of the better examples of Canis rooftopus in our neighborhood ruled this street, two dogs I nicknamed Mutt and Jeff, for they were as dissimilar as two dogs could be and still belong to the same species.

Yes, We Have No Chihuahuas, Part 1

In honor of the upcoming one-year anniversary of returning to Oregon, I’m going to post the first essay I wrote about living in the middle of Mexico. At the time, it was a stand-alone essay. I did not know it would become a chapter in a book about our experiences south of the border (ahem, Nobody Knows the Spanish I Speak). The essay became the chapter titled “Yes, We Have No Chihuahuas,” which, as you can guess, is about dogs. I am including it here in three installments.

If you’re interested in reading the entire book, please visit my publisher’s web page:

Or order the book from Amazon. Vaya con nachos! Here’s the first passage:

Yes, We Have No Chihuahuas

Regarding the canine species in Mexico and a commentary on how at least some dogs are doing in the central highlands these days

There are several fine books, chapbooks, and even coffee table books available about the doors, windows, and churches of San Miguel de Allende.  But what about the dogs?  I asked myself that question as I made my way through the town’s small, eclectic bookstore for non-Spanish-speaking types.  After all, in the short time we’d been living in that beautiful spot, I’d noticed at least six distinct subspecies or supraspecies of canines.  Surely, I thought, these dogs deserve as much attention and photo-spread space as a mere door.

Take Canis barkus obnoxious, for example, a mixed breed with an obvious chip on its shoulder.  This dog was usually kept locked inside of a casa or courtyard, and was always heard but rarely seen.  Highly valued by Mexicans and expats alike, especially homeowners of the paranoid sort, this local celebrity dog was worth his or her weight in table scraps.  Much cheaper than a home security alarm and consistently more effective, the dog could be found in most neighborhoods, from the center of town to the outlying residential areas.  However, if you lived next door to this breed you could kiss a good night’s sleep goodbye, for they were relentless barkers.  They had one skill, barking, and they knew how to sell it.

A similar breed to your basic courtyard guard dog was Canis rooftopus, a subset of highly specialized canines that guarded a house from the roof only.  These dogs were always seen and usually heard.  Apparently, any size canine qualified for this, ahem, lofty position, and it was not unusual to see two pint-sized terriers working the same roof.  Or two German shepherds.  Or a rottweiler and a Shar-pei.  More so than your average guard dog, this breed typically worked in teams of two and three.  Canis rooftopus was as effective as broken glass cemented to the top of an exterior wall and much more ecologically and esthetically pleasing.

Just below rooftopus sat and barked Canis balconynonus, typically a breed of a very small type that appeared infrequently at a balcony’s iron grill.  This dog was clearly well taken care of, preferred to work alone, and only visited the balcony as the mood struck, which meant you had to show ample patience when looking for it.  However, a sighting of balconynonus was worth catching, for its bark was often both enthusiastic and hilariously high-pitched.  If you didn’t catch this dog on a balcony, you needn’t worry.  This species was often seen around town pulling its frustrated owner in several directions.

On the ground was where you usually found Canis roadkillsimilaris, otherwise known as the “Is It Still Alive” dog.  These dogs were everywhere and resembled some expat retirees in their fascination with siestasCanis roadkillsimilaris was the very definition of sloth.  In fact, it was often hard to detect if this species of dog was still breathing, short of performing mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on it.  This breed was usually found sprawled out in a driveway or on the side of the road.  Although roadkillsimilaris preferred to sleep in the sun, during the hotter periods of the day or year it usually curled up in whatever shade it could find and considered itself on the job.  I’m not sure how or what or when roadkillsimilaris ate, since I had never seen any of these dogs actually move other than to swat a fly.

While Canis roadkillsimilaris never moved, Canis wanderlustus was always on the go.  Usually traveling in packs of three or more, wanderlustus moved, shark-like, from house to house and neighborhood to neighborhood, searching for food and water.  Put your garbage out for collection too soon, and you could bet that wanderlustus would find and “trash” your trash faster than you could say, “Beware of dog.”  Although they often traveled in packs, I never felt threatened by their presence.  If I encountered one of these dogs, I simply picked up a rock and pretended to throw it.  The dog was sure to leave me alone since this bohemian breed consisted mostly of lovers, not warriors. — to be continued…