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Sunday, August 31, 2014

Things You Might Not Know About Chihuahuas

by Waverly Fitzgerald

I did not intend to fall in love with a Chihuahua. 
My first encounter with a Chihuahua when I was a child did not inspire me to seek any further acquaintance. My Aunt Catherine had a Chihuahua named Bunny. Bunny was a fat, asthmatic, cross-eyed Chihuahua, possibly mixed with pug since Bunny had bulging eyes and a constant snort. Bunny also wheezed and humped legs enthusiastically. 
So when my daughter decided to adopt a Chihuahua, I did not approve. But Shaw had moved out into her own apartment, and so I did not expect to have much contact with her dog. She set out to adopt a long-haired female Chihuahua and came home with a short-haired white male Chihuahua who she named Pepe. 
Isn’t that the way it happens?  No matter what we intend, our pets pick us. At least that’s how it happens for Geri Sullivan, the protagonist of the series of mystery novels I’ve written with my friend Curt Colbert. Geri goes to the pound to adopt a dog and comes home with a short-haired white Chihuahua, one of many Chihuahuas flown up to Seattle from Los Angeles where they are being abandoned in record numbers. To her surprise, he starts talking, in a mixture of Spanish and English, and introduces himself as Pepe. 
Despite a busy job and a busier social life, my daughter did a good job of socializing her Pepe. He went everywhere with her and as a result is very friendly. When I visited her I would occasionally take him for walks but other than that our contact was limited. Until my daughter moved back in with me, so she could attend the local college, and Pepe moved in too. For the first time, I was living with a Chihuahua and I found it fascinating. 
I sometimes think that Chihuahuas are more like cats than dogs. Pepe loves to cuddle—he is truly a lap dog—and he likes to perch on the top of the sofa, where he gazes out the window. He also loves to burrow and is often found under the pillows on the sofa. He  has various nests around the houses, boxes filled with blankets, and spends many minutes arranging the fabric around him, pushing at it with his nose and feet, until he is completely covered up. 
The origin of the breed is a mystery. Some claim they were raised by the Toltecs for food. Others that they were bred as temple dogs to be sacrificed to the Aztec gods. The latest research suggests that they descended from a breed of dogs found in Mexico called Techichi (a name which simply means dog). What seems clear is that they are used to being cosseted, admired and spoiled. No working dog here. Their main task is to be adorable.
Pepe worships the sun. Like a cat, he sprawls out on the carpet in the sunbeam. One of my seasonal markers is the phenomenon I call the Pepe plop. On a sunny day in early summer, Pepe will plop down in the warm grass during one of our daily walks and refuse to move. It encourages me to stand still, to feel the sun on my skin and sniff the scents on the breeze. 
Chihuahuas typically rank low in trainability. Some people think that’s because they’re stupid. I actually think it’s because they’re smart (but I recognize my bias). That’s another way they’re like cats. I believe they view us as servants. At least, I’m pretty sure that’s how Pepe views me. 
Chihuahuas have some bad habits. Many are quite noisy, though Pepe is not. He only barks when we leave the house and only in one desperate volley as we go out the door. 
Pepe was a big hit at
Malice Domestic
He also suffers from Little Dog Syndrome. Whenever he sees another dog on the street, he growls and snarls. It’s terribly embarrassing especially when the other dog is a well-behaved pit bull or Great Dane who passes by without a glance. The owners, however, usually give me the eye, a contemptuous look which implies: “Why can’t you control your dog?” I don’t blame them. They have obviously put some effort into training their dogs and we could do much better at teaching Pepe to feel safe around other dogs. I assume he’s trying to scare them away by appearing to be much bigger than he is or maybe he’s trying to warn them away from getting too near his people. 
But he doesn’t behave like this around other Chihuahuas. I recently heard that Chihuahuas are the only dogs that recognize their own breed. I’m not sure this is true. But the dog who acts so ferocious around big dogs becomes mild-mannered when I take him to Chihuahua meet-ups. 
If you remember the scene in Beverly Hills Chihuahua which takes place in an Aztec pyramid valley full of Chihuahuas, you know what a Chihuahua meet-up is like: a number of small dogs wandering around aimlessly. Chihuahuas in a group don’t behave like other dogs. They don’t chase each other around or play wrestle. They just wander around, sniffing each other, and looking confused. 
My writing partner, Curt Colbert, does not have a Chihuahua of his own—in fact, he is much more of a cat person. So I often have to correct some of his misperceptions about the breed. For instance, he frequently writes scenes in which the Chihuahua is desperate for a treat, but the real Pepe is totally unmotivated by food. He would much rather play with his squeaky toys than eat. 
Curt also tends to write the fictional dog’s personality as grouchy and critical. I think maybe he’s channeling his cat. The real Pepe is sweet and good-tempered. I realize not all Chihuahuas are, but I feel lucky to have this little dog in my life. 
Two months ago, my daughter moved out and took her Chihuahua with her. Luckily, she is only next door so I still get to see Pepe frequently. But now I have the delightful opportunity to adopt my very own Chihuahua. The only thing I’m worried about: adopting Chihuahuas seems to be addictive. Instead of becoming a cat lady, I have an image of myself as an old lady, wandering down the street with my pack of Chihuahuas. 

Waverly Fitzgerald writes with Curt Colbert under the name Waverly Curtis. Together they’ve written three books featuring Pepe, the talking Chihuahua, and his owner, PI-in-training, Geri Sullivan: Dial C for Chihuahua , Chihuahua Confidential, and The Big Chihuahua.  An e-short, A Chihuahua in Every Stocking, is coming out in October of 2014. 

 A version of this article was published on June 15, 2013 in King’s River, an online magazine that often features reviews of animal-related mysteries.


  1. Thanks for being here, Waverly! As we've discussed, Chihuahuas get a lot of bad press because of poorly bred dogs and owners who fail to treat them AS dogs. Lovely post - I hope I get to meet Pepe one of these days.

  2. Delightful post, Waverly! I'll admit that I always thought of Chihuahuas as annoying, yappy dogs, until a good friend had a very sweet, loving one that showed me how I'd stereotyped the breed. Your books look delightful. Got the first one in my Kindle TBR list.

  3. Also, I adore your book covers. So very cute and clever!

  4. Waverly, you totally described our Pogo! Wiley has more Corgi in him, but Pogo is so Chihuahua that it overwhelms any other breeds in his mutley mix. He burrows, plays ball, goes ballistic with big dogs, but is a sweetie with every other dog or human. He nuzzles, he kisses. He has more personality than a thousand other animals, and resistent as I was to him at first, I couldn't adore him more now. Thanks for the great blog! Ellen Byron

  5. Lovely post! I inherited a spoiled-rotten taffy colored long haired male, a smart little 'sass-barker' named Eddie Chihuahua. He believes himself to be a Rottweiler, and tries to run the household. I'll keep him forever for his great courage. When aging Spoiled Sheltie Dog Coco Marie was attacked by a vicious pitt bull, Eddie drew blood on the aggressor, defending his pal. He's all this, and a warm cuddly pal on the coldest of nights!