The sad death of my grandmother had at least one positive thing about it, for it ended the almost dynastic form of animal abuse that she practiced throughout her life. This abuse would involve recycling the names of her dead dogs to both title and curse the replacements she obtained. No Chihuahua bitch would ever again suffer the fate of being called Gina and dying from some tragic event or rare disease. And this is no exaggeration: as consecutive as the inherited name was of each pup, so too were the tragic circumstances that later snuffed the creature.
The death of a beloved dog is always a sad thing to live through, but the death of one of my grandmother’s dogs was always linked to some terribly unfortunate accident or sinister collusion by the neighbors. My very first recollection of one of her dogs dying involved a mud-red Chihuahua choking to death on a bone in the kitchen area of her house. I am not sure what the dog was called, but I would not be surprised if it was the ORIGINAL Gina. Perhaps lingering guilt let to the repeated use of the name for the dozen-strong line of replacements that followed, but that is merely speculation on my part.
The second dog to become a hell hound of the reaper was a one-eared Alsatian called Nero. Another cursed name that would be reused many years later on another Alsatian—this one owned by my aunt—which had the unfortunate fate of starving to death from lockjaw syndrome. My grandmother used to tell me stories of how Nero lost his ear; “the devil came down and cut off his ear one night,” she would tell the terrified, toddler version of me.
The dog might as well have had the devil on his case because the reaper certainly was pestering it without end. Nero survived through several poison attempts by the neighbors before succumbing to a fatal gunshot wound to its back; something that my grandmother failed to see in time, so the assassination attempt on Nero proved successful a few days later. Perhaps it is not a good idea to name ones beloved dog after a tyrant of the ancient world.
The third one, Skiewies, a male Chihuahua, seized a chance to escape the inherited curse of death by running out the front gate of my uncle’s house. My grandmother was visiting my aunt and uncle that day and took Skiewies with her. Sadly, the escape attempt lead to Skiewies being run over by a car, its head looking like a bloody flapjack in the road.
Mercifully, I had missed this gruesome scene as my uncle had already removed the offending corpse from the road with a garden shovel before I arrived with my parents. Skiewies was a lively little dog and quite tolerant for a Chihuahua. I have fond memories of playing with him under the table where my Grandmother used to work as a tailor for a place of ‘safety’ for juvenile delinquents.
The next few dogs died without me actually being present, but a few deaths resulted from overfeeding, and an exploding water bottle, the scalding hot contents of whichboiled one pup to death. Come to think of it … the dogs were not the only misfortunate pets she had. Several cats were run over by various family members showing up at gran’s place to borrow some money. Just about every cat my aunt ever owned suffered a similar fate. Between being poisoned, run over, or being killed by a big dog, they all perished well before their naturally appointed time. Even the one I had the privilege of naming, old Garfield (very original, I know), just went missing one day.
But I digress back to the dogs. A Chihuahua called Cindy, the matriarchal female that gave birth to almost every dog my grandmother ever owned, succumbed to metastasized cancer albeit mercifully at the grand old age of eighteen years.
Another Chihuahua—this one escaped inheriting the name Gina and was called Bonnie—was last seen by me sporting a hideously swollen and bloodshot eye which was a remnant of an encounter with a bigger dog. Shortly after that, Bonnie gave up the ghost due to some sort of rare disease (note to self: don’t name your dog after a criminal). While this dog too was graying, I think it was more likely from lack of exposure to the sun. This particular dog was as anti-social and skittish as they get, but even this one’s social problems were spectacularly surpassed by one of its offspring (more on it in a while).
Then the patriarchal male, a brick-red Chihuahua called Terry, had the unfortunate condition of having effectively worn away its penis in the decade-long struggle of impregnating half a dozen females, all of which were his own offspring. I’ve heard of keeping the bloodline pure, but for god’s sake, incest leads to genetic defects and actually weakens the bloodline. If memory serves me correctly, this one died from puncture wounds it suffered in a scuffle with one of the big hounds in the backyard.
I have come up with my own theory of how to judge if a dog is living a happy and normal life. One needs only observe it when it eats. If it eats in a hastened and nervous way, it surely is suffering from some psychological trauma. If the animal is calm and eats at a moderate pace, one can infer that it is living its life free from fear and oppression.
While I can safely say that many dogs were harmed during the lifetime of my grandmother, I can also assuredly assume that whatever time they had before being snuffed out was probably filled with fear and terror of the highest order. I deduce this from the manner in which they used to eat.
When they were not huddled up together in a little dog house outside in the backyard, terrified of the prowling Alsatians and Huskies, they were at least kept in a little box in my grandmother’s room, where one of them became so antisocial it would become convulsive at the mere sight of someone other than my grandmother.
This particular Gina, a black and brown Chihuahua afflicted by extreme dwarfism, had spent the whole of its decade-long life doing nothing but eat and drink, urinate and defecate on old newspapers, , and sleep inside a little soft doghouse neatly kept next to my grandmothers bed. This animal had the longest walk of its life going to the water bowl that was conveniently placed less than a meter away from where the creature spent 23-hours of its day sleeping!
I think one of the greatest evils any dog owner can perpetrate is the act of not socializing their dog(s). Poorly socialized dogs suffer tremendous fear and insecurity and tend to live their lives darting for the shadows whenever visitors come over.
And so, my story draws to a close. While many grandchildren can enter their adult life with fond and happy memories of their grandma handing out candy and presents to them throughout their adolescent lives, the periodic passing of another dog or cat will always come to the fore when I think of my grandmother. Perhaps if there is an afterlife she is at it again, only this time death will not free the dogs under her auspices.