Chope was a Chicano dog: part Chihuahua and part little dog, a mixed breed born in El Chuco, aka El Paso, Texas. He was descended from Xolotl, the companion of the creative force Quetzalcoatl. Chope loved to eat chorizo and burnt tortillas.
Chope was probably one of the few dogs with a last name: Arbolito, or Little Tree. He was named after the famed Chope’s restaurant in southern New Mexico. It had the best red chile, but always seemed closed. Yet everyone knew when it was open, with a long line outside the door. He was named Little Tree because every park was his after he marked every tree. For years, Chope was the size of a shoe. But he eventually grew to two shoes.
Chope moved with us to numerous places, from desert to arctic. In one of our moves, Chope got loose. We looked all over for him. Then we got a phone call from a nice-sounding lady who asked, “Is this the Arbolito residence?” We smirked and said, “Why, yes!” Our friends started sending us Christmas cards to “the Arbolitos.”
Rodríguez: One day, as I was closing the garage door, he tried to sneak under it. I stopped, picked him up and tossed him about 10 feet away. Again, I closed the door and this time, I crushed his skull, sending him to the dog hospital. He was cat(dog)atonic for some 30 days. The neighbors’ children, who loved to play with him, brought him out of that state. I fed him by hand until he recuperated. Thereafter, he never seemed to leave the foot of my computer. (Before, he wanted nothing to do with me and vice versa.)
Gonzales: Time and again, Chope escaped, but he had lots of dog angels. Once we found him a mile away, trotting to the house of his girlfriend Campanita (Little Bell) leisurely, or “bien campante.” Another time, we lost him in the coldest night in Albuquerque. After hours of searching, we gave up and I determined that I would go to sleep and dream where he was. I dreamed he was in a large house that had rows of dog houses. I woke up knowing he was OK.
The next day, a woman located us through the humane society. She had found him dazed from trying to cross a busy thoroughfare. She took him home to her own house of six dogs. There were times when we’d have neighbors and kids on bikes doing Chope patrol. In San Antonio, the dogs were smarter. They showed him how to dig under the fence. There must have been some sort of mass dog talk going on because, soon, other friends reported having the same problem. Chope could dance on his feet like a circus dog, and he’d shake on two legs from the cold, a sure way to get inside. Except he’d try this trick in August ... in the desert.
Sadly, Chope’s heart was old, and the winters too cold in the Midwest. He had several heart attacks, and it was time to say goodbye. He would get real close to my face and whimper. I knew he was telling me he wished he could speak human. We took him to the vet, faced with the hard decision that many dog lovers go through. He was suffering. I told him how much I loved him. He wagged his tail as soon as he got the shot. Our vet said that was a good sign. Chope let us know we had made the right decision.
Rodríguez: Chope was there when my singing voice came back to me after 29 years. He heard me hundreds of times as I rehearsed Agustin Lara songs for the concerts I would do for elders. And so when he was ready to go, I sang him Farolito — little light — to guide him to the next world. It was his honor song.
We buried him atop snowy February ground last year, his pyre made of stones from a fire used for prayer. At times, we think he’s still yelping in that high-pitched pig squeak that drove us crazy, but we know he’s flapping about in dog-angel wings, marking all the trees in four-legged paradise. A friend of ours who helped to bury him says she doesn’t trust anyone who’s never had a dog. Perhaps we’re blessed because we enjoyed 10 years of “dog medicine” — his loyal friendship.
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© 2005 Universal Press Syndicate