Isabella is our fourth dog in China. Lest you think I’ve joined the ranks of those who eat these creatures, I’d better explain. We knew we ought not to buy our first puppy at that market, when we saw her, but she was just such a nice little thing. We had gone to the famous Qing Ping market, where all kinds of animals are sold, just to explore. Then, we saw a beautiful little English cocker spaniel with the most serious eyes, not a drop of fearfulness but she seemed very introspective and thoughtful. S had just come out of the hospital, was too far behind in school to catch up, and she was struggling to keep on even keel, emotionally. She needed a boost. Our family wanted a dog; we bought the puppy. The puppy came down with parvo. Very sad, she died. This was when I first met S Y’s extended family. After the puppy died, S Y’s sister kindly invited us to her home, fed us tea and crackers, and her husband helped us bury the small puppy in a lovely bamboo forest on a hill behind their home. It was enough that they let us bury our puppy at their house; the kindness of his helping to dig the grave overwhelmed us.
Our second puppy was a purebred collie that someone had dumped on the street when they realized it was ill. It was emaciated and dehydrated, and very sick when S brought it home. S had rescued it from some boys on the street who were prodding it and kicking at it, trying to make it stand up. S brought it home just so it would have a quiet place to die. In fact, it was so near death that I was angry at S for bringing it to the house. After our first puppy died of parvo, we could not bring another pup into our house for six months because of the parvo germs in the environment. That quarantine period had just ended, or was close. I wanted to get another puppy, so I did not want another sick pup in the house. But our hearts melted once again. This pup had, indeed, given up on living. When S carried her into the house, she couldn’t hold her head up. She perked up a bit when we gave her some water. Then, for a week or so, she rallied and made an effort to live. The vet said, she might have lived if she hadn’t been so weak. Given the condition we found her in, though, she didn’t have a chance.
Our third puppy was the robust and healthy Golden Retriever, Augustus, A/K/A Cous Cous. In August of 2005, S was returning to the American International School of Guangzhou for a repeat of 12th grade, following her medical withdrawal in the 2004-05 year. She was already a bit depressed. All her friends had graduated and gone to college, she alone was left. She didn’t like China so much, but she couldn’t stomach the idea of returning to her former high school in the USA to finish there, after all her friends had graduated and left her behind. She anticipated a long, lonely struggle through her second shot at a senior year in China (which turned out to be correct).
I was stuck in the USA for a couple of months more, but I told her that I had planned to get a family dog, and she could pick it out. We agreed it would be less than 20 lbs., something with a some intelligence, a calm disposition, not a one person type breed of dog, and good with children. She went to a pet market to investigate what was available. We thought she would come back with a report. Instead, she came home with a gangly, intelligent, sweet, hyperactive giant. You see, her only experience of golden retrievers was our wonderful family dogs Brandy and Rosey. But she wasn’t the one who trained those dogs. I was.
One of my clear memories of my children’s childhood was the day in early 1991 that I had the brilliant idea of tying Rosie to my kids’ wagon as we went on our daily walk through our neighborhood. I harnessed Rosie to the wagon, and I thought I was so smart, to use Rosie like a sled dog so she could pull the wagon instead of pulling my arm out of its socket in her enthusiasm for her daily outing.
As we walked along, I continued to gloat mentally to myself, thinking I had such a brilliant idea, until Rosie saw a cat. In my smugness I had utterly failed to anticipate the need for a secondary leash, to harness the enthusiasm of that two year old golden retriever pup. In one moment, I had a dog joyfully pulling my kids along, and then in the next moment I had two toddlers on the ground scraped up and crying as their dog dragged their capsized red wagon, bouncing across a stranger’s manicured front yard. Yep, Sarah wasn’t the one who trained those dogs, it was me, and I remembered what it was like. Rosie was, indeed, the perfect dog. When she was nine years old. And how I loved Rosie! But it took her seven or eight years to turn into the perfect dog! When she was three, it was quite a challenge! S didn’t remember that part.
Cous Cous, the golden retriever, is a great dog with a lot of potential. But he needed more than we could give: more room, more exercise, more attention, more activity. We struggled for nearly a year to manage the challenge of having a giant, adolescent puppy in our small apartment, in a city where it is illegal to have big dogs. After considerable investment of time, love, and daily exercise, we felt ourselves fortunate indeed, if a little sad, when we were able to find a loving home where he could have his needs met by someone with more time, space, and energy than we had available.
So, we’ve been dogless now for six months. We had given up on the idea of getting a dog. It’s not a convenient time in many ways. Dogs take attention, they have to be housebroken, they take training, their vet care is expensive. Did I mention that they have to be housebroken, have a crate, and be exercised every day? Did I mention that they take vet care? Did I mention that in China, there seems to be about a 50% fatality rate from disease before the puppy can get innoculated? Or that there will be logistical issues to get the dog home?
But we nevertheless had discussed what kind of dog we would get when we got one. I figured on something less than 20 lbs, but not a tiny toy because they are so delicate around children. And because they tend to be one-person dogs. And hard to train. Neurotic. And yippy. And fairly stupid. And, that’s not what I wanted. I wanted a dog that was good with children, even temperament, easy to train, not yippy, not a one person dog. Just an all around, good natured mongrel. If I had given myself permission to get a puppy, I would have gone to our local vet, who already had told me he could find me just such a puppy for free.
So, our neighbor, M.T.’s, cat dies. She asks C to go with her on a Saturday morning to help pick out a new cat. I get this phone call. "There is a really cute chihuahua puppy here." I answer "Bu Keyi!" which means "[I] don’t agree!" I’m not keen on chihuahuas. I’ve only ever known one that I liked, and he’s a large chihuahua raised properly by a very experienced dog person. Dad gets a phone call, same answer. Dad doesn’t like doggie messes. The part I failed to mention to CJ is that, even if we were to decide to get a new pup, we wouldn’t get it from a pet shop. Every puppy in a pet shop or market has been exposed to distemper and parvo. So, purchasing a pet from a pet shop is almost a guarantee that it will become sick and die.
Well, CJ takes a very long time to come home. When CJ arrives home, she is carrying a pocketbook size pet carrier. She walks slowly up the stairs, staring at us and grinning. Inside, there is a baby chihuahua. About a pound. Our neighbor, M’s mom, swears she was not a co conspirator! Then she admits, she told C, "Your parents are reasonable people; they probably will not kill you." And now our family can add to the list of family legends the tale of the puppy negotiation, as well. The pet shop wanted 600 RMB for the puppy. Clarissa offered 300. The seller came down some on her end, but Clarissa wouldn’t budge on her offer. Finally, the seller told Clarissa, "chabudoa!" which means, "almost there," or "offer a bit more!" Clarissa offered 305 RMB. This was enough to save some face, and the bargain was struck for 305 RMB.
It turns out, CJ was right about the pup. Isabella is an exceptional little thing. She has dispelled many of my notions about chihuahuas. She doesn’t bark. She doesn’t bite. She is friendly to everyone, has no fear or timidity. She’s extraordinarily loving and sociable. Running in the apartment is plenty of exercise for her. She will be able to travel on the airplane as my carry on luggage. She is too emotionally sensitive to tolerate much fussing, but she responds very nicely to positive reinforcement. Because she is so delicate, we must limit and then watch closely the children who come inside. We also had a bit of a scare. She had bronchitis and a tummy bug when we got her. Fortunately, some antibiotic and medicine cleared it up. She is fine now, playful and a delightful tiny addition to our household. Here are a couple of pictures: