Saturday, February 14, 2009

For V-Day, A Love Story

A lot of people think Paco was a rescue. He wasn’t. I actually bought him from a backyard breeder.

The story goes something like this:

My friend Mara used to live in a house commonly referred to as “Hamilton Place.” It was located on Hamilton Court, a cul-de-sac off Harrison Street in Oakland, near the north end of Lake Merrit. It was an extremely large Victorian that housed six Mills undergrads and a huge storage space beneath, a space filled with the belongings of many people, as the girls upstairs often volunteered its capacity to friends that were in transit. I was one of those friends.

One day during May, 2001, I was either moving stuff into or moving things out of the space, I can’t quite recall. Their street was so tight that, in order to get out, you had to drive up the steep hill, make a three point turn in the cul-de-sac, pray you didn’t tap someone’s car, and then go back down the hill. On this particular day, while making the three-point turn, I noticed a red-nose pit bull with extremely large nipples sitting on a porch.

Two days later I returned to Hamilton Place with manpower in the form of Davon, one of the corner kids that used to hang out on Vallejo Street. This time while making the three-point turn, we saw a woman and a teenage boy sitting on the steps of the porch I’d seen before. D'angelo jumped out of the car.

“Hey, ____, long time no see!” he embraced the other teenager. They started gabbing. So I started small talk with the woman I assumed to be the boy’s mother.

“So, I noticed that dog the other day had really big nipples,” I said, though I’m pretty sure I didn’t say it quite that crudely. Or maybe I did.

“Oh yeah, she just dropped eleven pups yesterday,” the woman informed me.

We started talking and I told her about my situation. At the time I was living in a punk flophouse with motorcycle messengers, skaters, and construction workers, which is no place for a dog. But soon I was moving into a new place, one where I would actually have a room with walls. Once I was settled, I wanted to add a dog to my life ASAP. I had lost my old dog, Ajax, the previous fall and working at the dog day care every day just made me miss having a dog more and more.

She told me I was welcome to come back and buy one of her puppies when they were ready. I politely said, “Sure, I’ll check them out,” but in my head I knew there was no way. I’d never own a pit bull.

Fast-forward several weeks.

This time it was Jake’s stuff we were moving into the basement of the Hamilton Place. And he had a lot of stuff, so my truck and I were asked to join the moving posse.

I dropped off a load and headed up the hill to do the three-point turn. I wrestled the truck into the first part of the maneuver (no power steering) and that’s when I saw him. A little, dark puppy waddled its way across the porch, stuck its face in the corner, squatted down, and took a piss. I was hypnotized, absolutely frozen behind the wheel of my immobile truck. The spell was broken by a woman’s voice.

“Hey! Hey, you! I remember you. Didn’t you want a puppy?” It was the woman I had met a few weeks earlier. Despite my initial protests, she finally convinced me to turn off my engine and come out and meet the dogs.

For over an hour I sat there with the family and their dogs, both mesmerized and horrified by what I saw and heard. Mama Dog had dropped eleven puppies, they told me, but only 8 survived. Two died shortly after birth and the third somehow broke its leg and they ditched it at the vet after they learned how much it would cost to fix it. “We just left,” she bragged, then laughed and mimicked talking to the vet, “’Hell, now you gotta deal with it!’”

Of the eight surviving puppies, four had been sold already (I later did the math between the first time I saw Mama Dog to the day I met Paco… the puppies were only 5 ½ weeks old). Two of the puppies were female and brindle. They were lively and wrestled with each other incessantly. The two boys were much more lethargic, and Paco, the runt, was about half the size of his chocolate brother. “We’re gonna take the rest to the flea market tomorrow to get rid of ‘em,” they informed me.

All the puppies had huge bellies, swollen from worms. I held Paco and scratched him behind the ear and felt something crunchy under my fingers. I looked down and saw dozens of fleas scatter. Mama Dog keep circling and growling at me. If she got too close they’d take a wire coat hanger and shake it at her, threatening to whoop her with it. Daddy lived out back, and was so happy to have a visitor he nearly knocked me over with his enthusiastic “hello”.

The sun went down and I was still sitting on the porch with the puppies. At this point I’d been dog shopping for weeks. I’d been to every shelter in the area many times over but I just hadn’t found “the one”. In fact, I thought “the one” would be female and a border collie cross. This little dark pit bull was about the furthest thing from that I could find, but I couldn’t deny the bond I had felt instantly when I saw him waddle across the porch and take that piss.

Of all the dogs, he was the least outgoing and wanted the least interaction with people. In fact, he didn’t want to be handled *at all*. He was the smallest, and the sickliest. He was so flea infested that the parasites had managed to burrow their heads under his skin like ticks (at the time of his first vet visit he weighed 3.2 lbs and, when he was dewormed, he pooped solid worms for days on end).

I imagined him being sold to some kid at the flea market the next day, living in a backyard tied up, and then getting dumped when he was deemed to be a nuisance. And the kid probably wouldn’t care since the dog didn’t want anything to do with him, either. I imagined a mother’s voice booming out the back door, “I told you, git rid of that damn dog!” Internally, it made me cringe.

“So, you want one?” They were trying to close the deal.

“Well,” I finally said, “if I was going to pick one it would be that one.” I pointed at Paco.

“That one? That one?” she asked incredulously, “Shit, you can have him.”

I thought that was pretty generous, considering she originally had asked for $250 per puppy, but then she thought it through more.

“Let’s do this, give me $40 because I at least need to cover the cost.” The pups had not gotten any shots or dewormer but they had been taken to the vet for a preliminary visit. I believe the broken leg puppy was dumped during that visit.

I agreed to her terms, telling myself I would just nurse the dog back to health and then find him a real home. But who was I kidding, it was love at first sight.


paco at 6 weeks

Paco at 6 weeks wearing a sombrero that once adorned a tequila bottle. If you notice his fur looks grey or blue because it was dead, and his forehead is suspiciously bald, a feature that almost earned him the name "Grandpa"... I'm kind of glad "Paco" won.


Anonymous said...

Damn you and your ability to have to turn on the water faucet in my eyes! lol

I have the button with Paco's little baby picture on my bulletin board. Lemon's collar tag is next to it right now.

Thank Goodness for difficult turns and moving buddies. xoxo

Home2k9 said...

Such a great story... so glad you two found each other!

J said...

this is what all love stories should be like. btw, ana, you're a really great writer.

PitBullLadyDesigns said...


Anonymous said...

Wow - great love story!

I have a black lab/pit mix who crawled into my lap and fell asleep... and it was over. (I wanted an adult dog.) Eight years and one puppy bout of hip dysplasia later, he's still the sweetest boy I ever met. And he still wants to sleep in my lap.

Nature Girl and Petey! said...

Beautiful story.....I'm glad he found you even if it wasn't for a long life.

Anonymous said...

If that's not a rescue, I don't know what is!

Anonymous said...

Did you contact the animal control on those breeders? They don't sound to good, I'd hate to imagine the life of the rest of the pups and those they are going to continue breeding for. Poor pups.