I grew up with dogs and cats, generally one dog at a time and, when we moved to the farm, multiple half-wild cats. I loved them all, but Chico was the best dog.
I was in school at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. Walking down the Strip, a slightly seedy street lined with delis, head shops and bookstores, I saw a man standing on the corner with a box of tiny puppies. “The mother’s a purebred German shepherd, but some mutt got to her, ” he said. “If people don’t take the puppies I’m going to drown them.”
I was stricken. I immediately hatched a desperate plan. I took the only puppy who was marked black and tan like a German shepherd and took him back to my dorm room. He lived in a box under my bed for a few days. I named him Chico, because he was a little boy and because I liked the Marx Brothers. I took him to the vet, who told me he was only 4 weeks old, and gave him vitamins. Then I bummed a ride home for the weekend and took him to my parents’ farm.
Mother was not thrilled when I turned up with a puppy in a shoebox. There was no question of him living in the house–pets were never allowed inside–and the weather was cold. Daddy built a small doghouse from bits of wood and insulated it with styrofoam. He put a light on an industrial extension cord, put the light in a coffee can, and wrapped it in a towel, so Chico had a space heater. He even put an alarm clock in a towel so Chico wouldn’t cry. Then he fenced a tiny yard with loose bricks so Chico couldn’t wander away.
Chico never looked back. He grew into a 110-pound German shepherd, always gentle, loving and patient with all the grandchildren. He was devoted to my parents and never bit a soul. Chico liked to take my wrist in his mouth, shake it, and let it go. I thought nothing of it until I saw him crack a hambone in his jaws. When I brought a boyfriend home he would walk between me and the guy. He didn’t growl. He didn’t need to.
After Daddy died suddenly Chico became Mother’s guard dog and protector. He still roamed the farm and cadged food from the neighbors. When he was 11 years old, feeble and shaky, he had to be put down. I’ve never had a dog since then. I’m pretty much a cat person now. But I’m glad I brought that puppy home.