Monday, May 29, 2017

The Chihuahua Who Became Chucho

The name his rescuer gave him was Everest, because she found him in Montaña, a neighborhood in here in Curaçao, which translates to "Mountain"... Personally, I might have gone with Kilimanjaro, or even Blanc (you know, for Mont), but—well, naming is the rescuer's prerogative. Either way, this first name wasn't going to last, because a couple of months later, when a fabulous woman adopted him—only temporarily, as it turned out, but I'm getting ahead of myself here—she decided that, him being a (sort of) Chihuahua and all, he needed a more Mexican name. One of the most common appellatives in Mexico is Jesús (pronounced heh-SOOS), and every Jesús I know gets called, for unfathomable reasons, Chucho for short.

So Everest became Chucho.

Chucho (even before being called Everest) came to us on October 5th, 2016, and it was thanks to Facebook. I belong to several animal rescue groups (surprise, surprise), and on this particular fine afternoon a post popped up on my timeline from a fellow member asking for advice. She'd found this tiny dog on the side of the road, walking in tight, tight circles and acting disoriented. She didn't know what to do. I was probably the third person to reply, and echoed exactly what the other two people had said: Take him to the vet. ASAP. And I added that I'd be happy to do it myself, if she wanted. People not intimately familiar with rescue have no way of gauging what the veterinary 'damage' will be, so sometimes they hesitate to take an animal to the vet out of fear they won't be able to afford the bill. Plus, not everyone can drop their lives at a moment's notice in order to rush a strange dog to the ER. In this particular case, the rescuer said in her post that she knew next to nothing about dogs, that she'd always been more of a cat person; I felt she had done enough by picking up the dog to begin with, so it seemed only reasonable to step in and offer help.

At the home of his rescuer while they waited for me. All he wanted was to sleep. No water, no food, just... sleep. Yep, not a good sign.
I arrived at her door about a half hour later, after a few wrong turns but not nearly as many as I expected; it was Election Day here, and a voting location had been set up just a block from her house, so the crowd and the lines of parked cars were hard to miss. She helped me load the dog—who really was tiny; he'd looked rather larger in the photo she posted—into the car, and I promised to call as soon as I had some sort of diagnostic. I did warn her that, from the behavior she'd described—the walking in circles, the disorientation, the lack of appetite or energy—the prognosis would probably not be very good. "There's a chance he'll need to be put down," I told her, as kindly as I could. She nodded, reached a hand in through the open window to pet the tiny head again. "I understand."

But it was not to be; Everest would live. The vet that afternoon couldn't find any obvious injury or clear signs of disease that warranted ending his life. "Let's keep him in observation for 24 hours," she suggested—which, of course, meant I had to bring him home. That hadn't been the plan, especially since my pack at home is notoriously averse to newcomers (canine or human). But Everest's rescuer worked full-time, and had a small daughter; no way she was going to stay up all night to monitor the dog. We had no right to ask her to, even.

So Everest came home with me.

Chucho (aka Everest), on his first night with us, curled tight in the smallest dog basket I have. (And he still manages to make it look huge. He was so, so small...)

After an uneventful night (which I spent on the couch next to him, just in case), he began experimenting with leaving the basket. He didn't seem able to walk in anything other than circles, which was worrying (to put it mildly). I carried him out to the backyard and let him wander, hoping that in the open space he'd finally find his bearings... But no luck. He basically walked, always in tight circles, until he exhausted himself and laid down, where he stood.

Yeah. Not good.

For a good seven days, we—I mean the vets and I—were convinced the kindest thing would be to put him down. Sure, he had no obvious injuries or any signs of neural disease (such as, say, distemper), but—the circles. The disorientation. He had to be freakin' hand-fed. He wouldn't even drink water on his own for the first two or three days, and when he did it was basically by taking a swim in the water container.

But... how does one give up on this face?

So I got in touch with my dog network—behaviorists, vets, owners of multiple Chihuahuas, the most experienced rescuers, anyone I could think of, really—and told them about Chucho. The idea, initially, was to gather input from multiple, and independent, sources in order to work up the courage to put him down. This video was filmed on Oct. 13, eight days after Chucho was rescued, and the original, unedited version was meant for a behaviorist friend who lives in Germany and had asked to see him 'in action', so to speak.

Who was going to adopt this dog? Who has the time, or the inclination, to hand-feed a tiny Chihuahua twice a day, to give him even water by hand, too? No one, that's who. And, if you're any good at reading dog body language, you can see that this disorientation was causing him stress, too. Was he in pain? Was he suffering? All we could do was guess, but at the time this video was made, and shared with people equipped to judge, the consensus was that this was not a happy dog, or—more practically speaking—an adoptable one, either. Best to let him go.

But Chucho had other ideas. On the same day the video was filmed, I brought him to the vet for a check-up—and he surprised us all by walking more or less in a straight line in the examination room. We had thought he might be blind, but after multiple tests (the vet stood in his way, put obstacles in his path, changed items of furniture around) we were convinced that he could see perfectly well. We were still no closer to figuring out why the walking-in-circles or the disorientation (painfully evident in the video), but it was clear that a) he wasn't blind, and b) he was improving. No way to know how much he'd improve, or whether he'd ever be completely normal, but it was only logical to give him the chance to recover as much, and as far, as he could.

We all breathed a sigh of relief.

And then, two days later, this happened.

Did he sense, somehow, that we were on the verge of making the decision to let him go? Did that last visit to the vet work some kind of all-is-well spell? Could it have been blue-harness magic? He seemed to like that harness. Bottom line, your guess is as good as mine. The point, however, is that as of that day, he improved by leaps and bounds. Three days later (the day after video #2), he was eating from a normal dog bowl. Unassisted. And there was no more of that walking-in-circles spooky crap. When I called him, he turned toward me (instead of toward the wall, or the sofa, or the kenepa tree), and actually came to me—in a straight line.

And so we began to look for a home for him in earnest. Yes, he'd probably need special care all his life, but—well, a dog that can eat and drink without physical assistance has a much better chance of being adopted versus one that can't.

So it was. After a halfway stop at a pseudo-foster (who had every intention of keeping him), he met the (human) love of his life and now lives in the Netherlands. He is feisty and doesn't allow his miniature size to limit him in any way. He shows no signs of reverting to his circle-walking days, except when stressed; he did it a little bit after his castration surgery, but once the anesthetic wore off completely, he was back to his normal, straight-line self.

Chucho in the Netherlands, at his forever home. Yes, on the bed, heel graag ;)

All we need is love. A flurry of miracles that converge on a single point, and—tah-dah! The rescuer—who wasn't a rescuer at all, just a normal, non-dog-loving person who saw a dog in distress and simply couldn't drive on, couldn't turn a blind eye. The vets who saw him—who could very easily have recommended euthanasia on the first day. The foster-slash-adopter who gave him a chance. And the adopter in the Netherlands, who gave him a home to belong to, and a life worth living.

I love this story. Chucho, you make me believe in miracles.


  1. This is. Beutiful story about such a resilient dog. I'm not an expert at all, but it makes me think of people who are not with other people during their formative years so they become, weird. They may not be able to relate well, they don't talk to others, etc.. I recall seeing people in mental wards( on tv) who would walk in circles and act so strangely and much of it was due to anxiety. When I watched this little dog, he just seemed so anxious, he had no clue how to react. Regardless, I'm so glad you helped this dog and did not have to put him down. He is one survivor

    1. 'Survivor' is right, Birgit—indeed, Chucho is a great example of the resilience in dogs. The amount of things, the severity of conditions, that they're able to not just survive but even put behind them without a second glance is just amazing. We do think he had a home at some point, because he was clean and tick- and flea-free when he was found. He was a little thin, but not skinny. And he didn't seem afraid of people (or even other dogs), so that would be a good indication that he was socialized properly. But... no one responded to the several posts we shared looking for his owners, and no one posted anything regarding a lost or missing Chihuahua that matched his description. Who knows what his story is... Certainly worth exploring in fiction one of these days :)

      Thanks for the visit, Birgit! Always a pleasure to see your name pop up :)

  2. I love Chucho! I would have taken him in a minute. Chihuahuas are the best breed ever. Mine barks too much but I love his naughtiness. Chucho looks a bit like him. Great name too xxx Bless x

    1. Thank you! Haha — Chihuahuas really are naughty (I had no idea; the tiny breeds and I don't seem to have much rapport, hehe), and Chucho was no exception. But he was loving, too; a streak of tenderness that I chose to interpret as him having had, once, a home and a family that loved him for real.

      Thanks so much for coming by, and for your sweet words. Happy Hump Day!

  3. When dogs are abandoned it takes so much out of them and even longer to recover. I had a female lab that was probably used as a breeder and then just dumped. It took at least 5 years for the constant moaning a plea of loyalty to die back. I'm glad Chucho got a chance. Chihuahua's are such an expressive breed.

    1. You're so right, Ann... I'm constantly amazed by the resilience of dogs in recovering from psychic wounds that would leave any human disabled for life. And, yes, some do bear the scars until the end of their days. I'm glad your lab did get past it, eventually.

  4. O such a lovely story in spite of the distress I experienced in the beginning! Blessings on all who rescued him, from the first rescuer, to you, the vet and the person in the Netherlands, and also of course to Chucho who knew that he was loved and would do well, ultimately. A fighter of the best kind. I would have loved to have watched the video but my computer is on a go-slow ...Lovely story Guilie!

    1. Thank you, Susan! Yes, Chucho's story really didn't start well, and we were all in tears just thinking about the inevitable (we thought) outcome. But he surprised us all—Go, Chucho!

      Thanks for the visit, my friend :) Hope you're well.

  5. What a beautiful story! Chucho's recovery is definitely miraculous. You and everyone else involved did a wonderful job with him. I'm so glad he was given a chance and now has a loving, forever home.

    1. So glad you liked it, Debbie! Indeed, Chucho's story really brings new perspective to all those 'lost' cases that get put down on a regular basis. Sometimes... all you need is love. (But I do understand the limited resources that force shelters into euthanasia... I have nothing but respect for their volunteers, and their vets. I know first-hand how horrible their job is, and the profound toll it takes on them.)

      Thanks for coming by! I'm publishing my 30 Odd Questions post late tonight, so I'll be doing the rounds of the other bloggers who signed up throughout tomorrow. Fun times!

  6. Oh, I love this story too and got a little choked up reading it. I needed to read something beautiful today. So happy for Chucho. The picture of him in his forever home is so precious. Thanks for reminding me that miracles can happen.


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