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Grieving Creature

Thinking about a freakish little dog on the anniversary of her coming to us.

Creature came to us by accident. I promised the elderly couple that I would find good homes for their three small dogs so they could feel good making the decision to prioritize their changing living needs. One Chihuahua went easily to the home of an elderly woman whose arms were as open as her smile in the photo I received from her daughter who made the connection. The little pompy poodle—every bit what that name conjures—transitioned into the Parish Security Dog and Overly Affectionate Hug Tolerator from everyone who comes into the Saint David’s Parish Office. The last dog, a Chihuahua (and both mother and aunt to the first chihuaha—think about that for a second. Dogs happen.) was miniaturely monstrous.

Coming with the name Nieve on account of her white coat, Creature became Creature quite quickly. Part rodent, part cat, part Alpha, part human infant, snaggle-toothed, tumor ridden, and a sporting curve in her spine that made her look like a walking comma, Creature was an odd looking dog. She had less than 18 months to live because of an advanced heart condition; and the mammary tumor she had grew visibly each week. Not the most attractive dog I’ve ever seen, but there was a sweetness about her that I had never encountered in a dog before. I held her, my heart rate slowed. She curled up next to me, I’m pretty sure that once or twice I felt the fizzy rush of oxytocin I felt when nursing my babies. I went back and forth about this dog for several days: “Should I keep her?” “Here are all the reasons I should not keep her.”

When I did some research on the origin of the Chihuahua I confirmed in my mind that which my heart already knew: I would be the caretaker for this little thing. The Chihuahua came primarily from a Toltec breed in Southern Mexico called the Techichi. Family pets of the Toltec Techichis were thought to possess the power to see the future, and they were believed to guide the dead to the next life. Many these dogs have been found in the graves of higher echelon Toltecs. That seemed to seal the deal: a death-related dog for a death doula.

Creature stayed with us for only about 9 months before the mammary tumor finally grew to an incorrigible size and necrotized. She ran a fever for a few days and could only find comfort in my lap or the crook of my arm. I decided it was time to ease her pain and took her to the vet who helped us guide her into her own next life.

I miss this little ugly dog. I miss her burrowing under the covers by my feet as much as I miss her snaggle-toothed underbite. I miss her confident face as she stared into the sun in the late spring, and I miss her nose-bumps, which seemed to be her way of offering a kiss. Once I caught her chasing a squirrel across the back fence. There was no way she could catch it, but to see her try was a joy—it seemed she was a bounding, bouncy dog after all, not just a living stuffed animal. I miss her goofy photogenic facial expressions. In fact, I took several photos of her and started making memes that were passed around among friends for laughs. Here are some examples.

The calmness about her, her confidence despite her size, the discernment she exercised when introduced to new people—she did not need to announce herself because there was no apprehension, no fright, no worry. It seemed she sized up people’s ability to receive her mellow presence and approached accordingly. She didn’t waste her time on anxious people, me included at times, nor did she bother to expend energy on things that enervated her. She would just get up and move to another spot.

I loved sneaking her into the assisted living place where her original caretakers were now residing. She would crawl into bed with one and curl up under the crook of the lady’s arm as we talked about Saint David’s people and shared Communion. Creature doled out as much love as she could in our brief encounters, then was quite happy to return to her hiding place at the bottom the large bag I toted her in.

You get my drift here. The love I feel towards this creature is wholly unmerited, and perhaps that is why I miss her so much. I was not expecting that a dog could be so dear or give me so much by doing so little. She just was, and did what she did. I loved watching her navigate situations to always achieve her goals to be comfortable, mellow, and close. Would that I could master such simple single-mindedness. Creature’s way of being and living could go a long way in this tight, fast, discomforting life. I'm deeply grateful to have had the chance to spent a brief time with this little gift.

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