Friday, January 30, 2009

Alone time

So we're slowly moving forward in the grieving process. The pain is not 24/7 anymore, like it was. Now it just comes in waves, and usually when you least expect it.

Like yesterday at the bank. I wasn't ready for that.

In general I find it's easier talking to people who already know about it. Breaking the news is nearly impossible, and usually ends with me bawling and telling them to go read the website because I simply cannot bear to tell the story any more. I'm still not answering my phone unless it's someone with whom I'm immediately coordinating plans.

But the happy times are peeking through. I can laugh with my friends, have a decent dinner with Aaron, and go on a dog walk successfully. In fact, so long as I'm in the presence of other people I'm pretty much fine. It's when I'm alone that it really hits home.

I realize that I haven't actually been alone for nearly 8 years now. Paco was not just my dog, he was my sidekick. He went everywhere with me, literally. When he was 5 1/2 weeks old and needed to be fed every few hours, I wore him in a papoose behind the counter at the junk store I worked at. When he was 12 weeks old he would come with me to work at the dog day care every day. When he was 4 years old and I quit the daycare to pursue Paco Collars full time, he came along with me. Vacations were planned around his inclusion and my avoidance of public transportation was on his behalf (except the one time I snuck him on BART in his therapy dog vest when my car broke down).

I went out of my way to get him his CGC and Therapy Dog title so that he would be accepted everywhere. In places other dogs were not allowed people made exceptions for Paco.

Just a few days before Christmas this year some friends had a get-together at their house. The hosts were pregnant (well, the wife was) and had invited all of their "baby friends." In fact, it was primarily a "baby party." And, guess what? They went out of their way to invite Paco. They knew Paco was as important to us as any of the children were to their parents, so they asked if Paco could come. Visually he was a little out-of-place, being the only four legged guest, but he was happy to perform tricks for latkes and allowed the children to walk all over his back.

I was away from him for a week two summers ago when I went to New York. Most recently, we were in Mexico for two weeks. That was by far the longest I'd been away from him. Part of me wonders if this recent extended absence prompted his desire to squeeze out the cat door and follow us that night. Or maybe my fears were true and his seemingly increased ravenous demeanor of the late was the presence of a new, budding disease, one that prompted him to check Pirate's feeding spot for leftovers on the other side of the fence.

All I know is that now I feel alone. I can be surrounded by other dogs, and there's still a giant hole. Paco was my other half, and I wonder if another dog can ever fill that hole.

ana poe and paco at pyramid lake

Today we tear down the fence and build a new one. Folks will be coming over to help. In essence, it will be a two day wake for Paco.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

New Leaf

The saying goes something like, "When one door closes another opens." I think that's the polite way of saying life has a twisted sense of humor.

Yesterday afternoon we found out that we got the space. *The* space. It's the space we've been hand-wringing about for two weeks. The space that was too perfect. The space that required the preface, "I don't wanna jinx it but," whenever I mentioned it to the handful of friends I knew would share our pain if we didn't get it.

Several different events, such as the lease running out, our 24 hour security guy moving to Oregon, and the lack of insulation combined with the roof leak directly above my desk (it's not the biggest of the roof leaks, might even be the smallest, but it's the most annoying) prompted the desire to find a new place, and we were hoping the move could be an upward one. Given our meager budget, our options were slim, but one day we found a posting on Craigslist that was too good to be true.

Formerly a blacksmith shop, the building was one of the oldest on Shattuck. The space is as long as our current studio and about half the width (which is totally fine since, if you've ever seen our current studio, you know half our space is just full of junk).

it's *this* big

It also includes a small office.

faux typing

But the best part is that it includes a fireplace. Having worked in warehouses, basements, cargo containers, and garages for the past 7 years, this is downright luxurious.


The facade. Yes, we can affix signage and yes, we have both windows. Note the hitching posts.


It's just $50 more than the rent we pay now and across from the Berkeley Bowl, the best grocery store in the entire bay area. Just 2 blocks from BART, the location is beyond perfect.

In a way, the timing couldn't be better. We all sorely need a project to get our minds off the recent tragedy, and what better project than creating a physical tribute to Paco in the form of a store that honors his memory. It all seems so bittersweet, though.

We start to move in this weekend and, in the meantime, we're totally taking design advice. The one bad thing about all of this news is that we cannot change the colors of the facade. The Paco palette is pretty earthy so we'll have to find a compromise. We can do whatever we want to the interior so goodbye, sunset wall.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Pet Cemetery

Yesterday we took Paco up to Napa.

It's fortunate that the one pet crematorium that was open on a Sunday also filled the desire to get the f- out of town. While making the reservation the woman on the other end of the phone asked me, "Do you have someone to carry him? Because I'm the only one here."

"Of course," I answered, "we can carry him."

"Are you sure?" she asked, "Because I'm the only one here."

It seemed strange to me that she didn't think we could handle carrying a 48 lb dog (actually 47.5... I had just taken him in last week to get his rabies booster and was shocked to discover he was a pound under his ideal weight). But I dismissed it.

We hopped in the car and went to get Paco. Carolyn had taken away his body the night before. She's an ACO for Contra Costa County and, therefore, the one I called to find out what to do with the body. When we discovered Paco, his extremities were cold but his core was still warm. By the time Carolyn took him away his core was cold as well. But as we took Paco out from her trunk to put in ours, I pulled back the quilt to expose his elbow and rib cage and was shocked to feel how utterly chilled his body was. This, of course, sparked a fresh crying session.

We dried our eyes, picked up Donyale and headed north.

The drive was absolutely beautiful. The air was chilly but the sky blue and full of moist clouds that threatened to rain at any moment. The wine country made a beautiful backdrop to distract us, as the mood in the car was somber. As we climbed the hill to the Bubbling Wells, I was amazed at the scenery. I mean, check out the view.

the pet cemetary

Inside the office/chapel, things were... um... creepy.

creepy poodle

The woman instructed us to drive around the side to the refrigeration area. She pointed to the astro-turf covered bench and told us to put the body there. We carried him out in the quilt and placed him on the bench.

She produced a large, black trash bag. "Okay, and now you need to take him out of the blanket and put him in this bag."

We peeled away the blanket, lifted up his stiff body, and that's when we all started bawling. I realized then why she had stressed so much about asking for help. Carrying him wasn't the hard part, this was.

"Oh my," she said, "he looks so young." As the three of us stood there sobbing, each with a hand on Paco, I tried the best I could with what little oxygen I had to explain what happened. While she had seemed a bit hardened before, I could see that the story impacted her generally tough demeanor. "Oh dear, how tragic," she kept saying over and over.

I don't know how long we stood there petting Paco. Somehow his mouth had closed during transport and his lip was hung up on one tooth, which was always my favorite facial expression of his.

We lifted him up and slid the trash bag around him, sobbing and following her instructions about pushing him to the bottom.

"Now twist up the end," she said. I was staring at Paco's face and reaching toward the bag but I couldn't do it.

"Now twist up the end and tie it in a knot," she instructed again. But I couldn't do it. I was, literally, frozen in shock staring at his little snaggle-tooth.

"You don't have to do that," Aaron said, as he bear hugged me and pulled me away from the scene, breaking the trance. And that's when I really lost it. I was crying hysterically and couldn't stop. All the pain came crashing down in that one moment, and I felt the loss in a way I hadn't experienced before. The reality of it all hit me, and I just let it all out.

Eventually I pulled it together and we lowered Paco into the fridge. Stacked on top of those other bags he was indistinguishable. We took a few minutes to pull ourselves together and potty Xochitl, who was doing a really good job at distracting us with her puppy-antics.

this sucks

Randomly, Leslie and Nickie were up north, so we met up with them at one of their favorite wineries to toast Paco. This is the view from the winery (and also what I look like with a purse dog... this is only until she gets all of her shots, I swear).

the winery

It was on the drive home that we decided we'll be tearing out the fence. We just can't look at it anymore.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Hardest Post Ever

Paco is dead.

He died last night while we were at dinner. I guess he broke out of the fence (we have a short fence that separates our yard from the front house) and then, while trying to get back into the house, tried to jump over the fence, didn't make it, got his head caught in between the fence pickets, and strangled. By the time we got home he was dead.

I cannot explain how much this event rocks my core.

This wasn't supposed to happen. He was supposed to get old and grey and crotchety. He was supposed to raise Xochitl. He was supposed to make me a millionaire so I could get taxidermy done to his head when he did finally kick the bucket.

There are so many "what-ifs" in this situation but what I can't shake is the image of him hanging in the fence. His feet couldn't touch the ground and his toenails were bleeding from the attempt to get his head unstuck. The last thing he wanted to was get back home and he never made it. He died alone.

The simple act of putting the key in the gate brings back the image. Without the aid of sleeping pills it would have kept me up all night last night, but, as it was, it only kept me up about half the night.

Today we drive up to Napa and get him cremated. And I think I'll commission Tim to make a piece to hold the ashes.

I still can't believe it. I feel like there's a big hole in my life. The night before he died we went out, took Paco, and left the baby at home. At one point, we were at a restaurant having a beer under the outside awning. I looked down at Paco and had a moment of realizing just how much he made me feel complete. We were so in tune with each other that we could move in sync. Together we made a whole and now it's broken.

Magical aura

If anyone wants to do anything for me/us/Paco then make a donation to BADRAP under his name.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Growing a thick skin

I promise you this will not become "The Xochitl Blog" but, let's face it, she is one of the most exciting things in my life right now, so let's talk about her!

In my head she just gets cuter and cuter every day. Her little personality is evolving hilariously and her body is beginning to mature, lengthen, and grow. At daycare she's making friends. Yesterday she played with Monty the Min Pin all day. He grew to love her so much that he began resource guarding her. That's right, if any dog approached the pink satin love pillow they shared, he would fight them off. I'm not sure if I approve of her seeing older men, but I suppose a day long flirtation is of no harm.

Today she moved on, apparently.

I'm having a snuggly good day, mom!

She's also incredibly smart when the reward is obvious. It took her one day to learn to sit, wait, and watch for her food. And her "fetch" is amazing.

It's such a departure from Señor Paco, who, when asked to fetch, didn't see the point since the toy tasted just as good over there as it did here. And, actually, it tasted *way* better over there since he got to keep chewing on it longer. In his world, the command "bring it" still means "chew faster".

So if Xochitl is such a wonderful, charming, and adorable dog then why would I say I'm having a hard time? It's because not everyone thinks she is. In fact, some people are absolutely repulsed by her.

Now, I'm kind of used to this. I own a pit bull and have for the past 7+ years so I've gotten pretty immune to the opinions of others. In fact, if someone has something bad to say about my dog I have an entire arsenal of facts and demonstrations I can whip out in order to give them another impression. Paco has managed to change quite a few minds in the past and we will continue to educate for the rest of his life and mine.

If someone says to me, "Pit Bulls are bad dogs," I have a prepackaged response ready.

But if someone says, "Man, that dog is ugly," I just don't know what to say.

The first statement can be fought with facts and examples, but the second statement is an opinion... how do you fight someone's opinion? I mean, I know people do that all the time, but it's a totally new experience for me and I have yet to put together stock responses and grow a thick skin. Right now all I have are, "Takes one to know one," and, "Have you looked in a mirror lately?" but both are pretty adolescent, which usually does not persuade someone to come around to your side. It's all so new and fresh I take it personally now... if someone is weirded out by her then I feel like it's somehow my fault.

It's like when Paco was a puppy and I would tell people he was a pit bull. At first the general response was so negative that I took to lying about his breed. Ironically, I went through a month long phase where I told people he was a Xoloitzcuintle (at the time I thought that would be the closest I would ever get to owning one).

It took quite a while to get the words "pit bull" out of my mouth without the cringing, but eventually I embraced it. Like so many other derogatory terms that have been co-opted by the groups they once alienated, I feel the term should be said with pride, so now I never hesitate to use it.

So I know it's just a matter of time before I get used to it and come up with a response so witty people will swayed by our combined charm, but, until then, I expect a few uncomfortable months ahead of us.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Xolo Shower... Paco Hangover

We now have a barometer by which we can judge the success of a house party: Paco's food bowl.

Knowing Paco's propensity for turning anything into a toy, we always buy a handful of $.99 dog bowls every time we hit up Ikea and, when he gets excited, it's usually one of the first things to go in his mouth. From the photograph below, can you tell how the Xolo Shower went?


Yesterday we had a little shindig to serve the dual purpose of both introducing Xochitl (So-Chee) to our friends and filling in everyone about our trip to Mexico. Things started out just like any other party...

Aaron donned his Oaxacan grilling duds and sparked up the weber.

official oaxacan grilling uniform

Folks came over to meet the little girl and bring her clothing.

sari and xoxo

We served a variety of Mexican snacks, including chapulines. Here Claudio is contemplating eating one. And the decision was not a light one. In fact, the consequence for not trying one was that you had to take a shot of tequila.

contemplating chapulines

I guess it's okay to disclose now but the spicy salt we used to rim the margarita glasses actually gets it's color from the mescal worm so, yeah, you were eating bugs whether you knew it or not. And to say that taking a shot of tequila was actually a "punishment" is also a little bit of a stretch. In fact, the tequila we brought back from Mexico was so good, many folks were taking optional shots, which leads me to the next barometer of a good party: lack of documentation.

There are no shots of the Mexican flag cupcake trays.

There are no shots of the pit pull/pug/Patterdale portion of the party.

There are no shots of little Xdog killing the pinata (well, she kinda failed but Paco was more than happy to finish the job).

There are no shots of the dog-laden after-party at the bar down the street.

But probably that's for the best, since drunken party shots are usually less than flattering. This is one that actually made it.

drunk?  maybe just a little

(and you can tell we must have been drunk since Muggy and Lola were partying on the couch)

Thursday, January 15, 2009

It's official...

... life with Xochitl is ADORABLE!

Let me preface this by stating that, after having worked with dogs for so long, it takes a lot to impress me. I mean, I have seen/met/worked with so many dogs that a dog had better possess a little something-something that sets it apart from the pack (no pun intended). I am not one of those people that walks into a shelter and wants to take very dog home. Nope, not me. I have a harsh, critical eye when it comes to the dogs. Just ask Aaron, who was amazed at my puppy critiquing skills a couple weeks back as we cruised

"Ugly, bad dog, biter, ugly. That's a cute one," I'd call out as we quickly scanned each page.

"How can you tell from just that tiny thumbnail?" he'd amaze.

"Easy, when you see as many dogs as I do you can just tell which dog is a trouble maker, and which one is an ass-biter, and what it's going to look like when it's full grown," I told him, matter-of-factly.

I also have to admit that I'm not a puppy fan. They take up way too much time, energy, and patience and all you get in return is a something that constantly demands food and produces nasty smelling stuff from the other end. Over the years I've dealt with my share of puppies and, except for a handful, I would have to say that they're more trouble than they're worth.

All that said, I have to say that Xochitl is the cutest thing ever. Her little personality is adorable, she's hilarious when she waddles across the floor toward you or wants to kill a stuffie three times her size, and her constant need for warmth is endearing as she constantly wants to cuddle.

It's this need for warmth that is bonding her and Paco, as they both crave comfort. While their friendship in the "awake hours" is still developing (they had their first real play session yesterday, but mostly their interaction consists of them both playing with toys near each other), they don't hesitate to take any opportunity to cuddle. Rather, Xochitl will hunt down Paco and cuddle on him, Paco just tolerates it. But this is the beginning of something beautiful, I can tell.

And now the pics...

Sharing the sun spot (note Xochitl's new Paco Collar)

sharing the sun

For scale

for scale



Just for fun we've also taken to writing Xochitl's name phonetically on her ear band-aids... one side reads "SO" and the other reads "CHEE".

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Introducing Xochimilco Gonzales

But you can call her Xochitl (So-chee).

meeting xochitl

She's Paco's new sister and the story goes something like this...

One day we left the hotel in Oaxaca and I saw a woman walking a beautiful Xoloitzcuintle down the street. Stunned by its beauty, I stopped in my tracks and started gawking. Eventually she caught me staring so, not wanting to be rude, I mustered up my best Spanish and called out, "Me gusta su Xolo!"

She looked puzzled so I tried again, "Me gusta su perro!"

"Oh, thank you!" she answered, in English.

As we continued walking Aaron asked me what the heck a Xoloitzcuintle was, an innocent enough question that elicited from me a several-block-long-dog-nerd-monologue that explained the Meso-American history of the breed, my lifelong fascination with them, cataloged every personal interaction with one I've ever had, how Frida and Diego owned them, and the exact circumstances that would have to exist in order for me to actually own one (Xolos have a tendency to be shy around strangers so early socialization is key). My speech was interrupted by another Xolo sighting (see previous post for the proof).

The next day we went on the hunt for a good outdoor cafe. And by "outdoor cafe" I mean "a place to drink beer outside". While wandering the streets we stumbled across an art gallery. As I stepped into the courtyard I recognized the first Xolo from the day before.

This time I struck a conversation with the owner about her dog. She's owned many breeds but is now completely sold on Xolos. I asked her about the breed presence in Oaxaca and she explained the regional differences in conformation. "You know," she said, "there's this woman artist up the road that has a litter right now. You should go see them."

Suddenly feeling like a Bigfoot hunter with a good lead on a fresh set of tracks, I sat eagerly as she drew me a map to the house. Strangely enough she only lived a short walk from our hotel in the neighborhood of Xochimilco (So-chee-meel-co).

After a good lunch, we stopped by the hotel then headed up the hill to the neighborhood of Xochimilco. We were told to "ask anyone" should we get lost and, sure enough, everyone we asked was able to point us toward the house that held the "perros sin pelo" (dogs without hair).

The owner, Gabriela, was not at home, but she lived in a compound and several people were knowledgeable about the history of the dogs. Goya had six pups, they said, three with hair and three without. The ones with hair were given away and Demian Flores had just taken the one hairless male. The two remaining puppies were both 8 weeks old and female which, unfortunately, fit the exact specs of what would work well in our household. Of the two, the smaller one was far cuter.

That would be this one:

meeting xochitl

After playing with the puppies and Goya we went on our way. "Did you hear her?" I asked Aaron, "the puppies are only 1,000 pesos! We paid more for that painting."

"No, she said 4,000 pesos," he replied. My heart sunk a little, but it still seemed unbelievably cheap to me since Xolos are so rare in the states. In our heads we named her "Xochimilco" and she was Paco's personal bedwarmer, but we knew it was just a dream. We didn't have the time/space/want for another dog, let alone a puppy. Not to mention the idea of buying a dog just seemed wrong to me.

But as the night progressed I couldn't get her out of my mind. People would have intense conversations around me and all I could do was go through every imaginable combination of issues that involved owning two dogs. In the past, every once in a while I would crave a second dog, but the feeling would pass and I would be happy I'd stuck to my guns.

But this time it was different. Topping out at around 15 lbs, that meant a full grown Xochitl could travel with us and, being a fairly low energy breed, the demand for extra exercise and attention wouldn't be there in the long run. In fact, aside from twice the feeding, it was hard to see why fitting my dream breed into our lifestyle wouldn't work. And, let's face it, it's not every day a Xolo puppy with beautiful parents and temperament comes your way.

We talked about it late into the night. "Listen," I told Aaron, "I'm going to call the breeder in the morning and meet with her. I need to be talked out of this but it can't come from you. I need to ask the right questions and see for myself it's a bad idea."

After breakfast the next morning I called the number and spoke with Gabriela. She was on her way to the mountains for the weekend with Goya but had already sent me an e-mail through the Paco Collars website explaining the price for the pups was actually 6,000 pesos (!), we were welcome to go visit, and that her housemate had all the paperwork and could answer our questions.

Up the hill we went again, this time with Aaron's father, his brother, and his brother's girlfriend. Enamored with the puppies, they didn't help at all. And I didn't get the answers I wanted. The puppies already had shots, this was Goya's last (and I believe only) litter, the sire had been carefully selected by the family veterinarian to expand the bloodline. This was getting harder to say "no" to and unbeknownst to me, after turning down several people, Gabriella had already researched us and had selected us to be the parents to the one pup that was for sale (the pup we didn't choose would go back to Goya's breeder's family).

This time, going back down the mountain, it was Aaron who was sold. "Xochimilco Poe. No, Xochimilco Bautista," he mulled, trying on several last names.

"No, it's Xochimilco Gonzales," I said, fitting his mother's maiden name onto the dog. But we still both knew it was a bad idea. So we decided to set up some alternate hurdles. And down those hurdles came, one by one.

His parents, who we expected to be opposed to the idea, actually endorsed it and offered to cover the extra pesos we lacked.

It turned out the customs procedures for puppies are actually quite lax, and our airline told us they could fly the dog out for a small fee.

But there was still one major hurdle, and it wasn't until after nightfall that the landlord finally got back to us an okayed the addition of a second, small dog. At this point we had been hand-wringing for several hours, since we didn't want to fully commit until we heard from him, but were also due to leave Oaxaca the next morning.

As this final puzzle piece fell into place, we knew it was meant to be... all the stars had lined up just right. As we bustled back up the hill in the dark, I likened the decision to an unplanned pregnancy: sometimes you things just happen when you least expect it, but in giving it an appropriate amount of thought you see there's no reason why you can't make it work with just a little bit of rearranging.

We left the compound with a small, warm bundle wrapped in a scarf in Aaron's arms. "I suddenly feel like one of those celebrities that goes to a foreign country and comes back with a little brown baby," he said.

More to follow...

And the person who came closest to guessing the surprise from the previous post was Jane but she doesn't win the 100 pesos since she described Xochitl as being "one of those ugly little dogs" and, as you can see, she's quite adorable.

xochitl and aaron in the sunset

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Greetings from Mexico!

Almost feels like cheating since we'll be in transit back to the states tomorrow, but it's been a jam-packed vacation. 400,000 photos to come but my camera cord is at home, making downloading impossible. Regardless, here's a sneak peek at what we've been up to...

First, the Etla market. "Etlas" are the towns and villages surrounding Oaxaca. There is a central market where all the vendors from the various etlas congregate and the result is a shopper's paradise. Not only is there an insane amount of fresh produce you've ever wanted, but you can also find a life-sized donkey pinata, a pig's head, or a pirated copy of the Simpsons in Spanish. We got an apron (for all the cooking I do, *cough, cough*), some fireworks, and a miniature Luche Libre action figure set. Here's what the market looks like (Aaron resents being filmed from behind as he argues it makes his butt look big):

And here is a Oaxacan traffic signal. Pedestrian fatalities in Mexico are high and I can see why... this little guy is so mesmerizing I almost got hit when sucked in by his cuteness:

And finally one of my favorites, a Xoloitzcuintle we met through a window. He lives at an art gallery and his sole job is to look cute and attract passerbys. Sorry for the sucky video quality, it's hard to film a dog and play with it all at once. I *heart* Xolos.

We get back home late tomorrow, put our lives back together the next day, so hopefully I'll be able to put together a concise summary of our vacation events soon. Here's a hint: we've got a BIG surprise! If you can guess it, I'll give you 100 pesos (which is not much considering the incredibly awesome, for us, exchange rate right now)