It is incredible how much a small dog can disrupt a life. This was not what I believed. Quite the opposite: ‘She’s so tiny: she’ll be no problem, make no noise, disturb not… Just a small dog.’ I should have looked more closely at the matter. After all, a flea in the wrong place –like an ear, for example- can raise havoc… But, as usual, I didn’t… think that is. I didn’t think she would make much difference. I didn’t even think about not thinking.
It was the merry month of May (couldn’t resist the cliché!) and I was off on a much awaited trip to the volcanic Isle of Lanzarote in the Canaries off the coast of Africa with my friend, Tamara. I did the usual, which is to drive to Madrid, stay over one or two nights depending on what I had to do and then fly from there leaving my car with the magnificent service that picks it up at the terminal when I leave and has it washed and waiting for me at the terminal door when I arrive. On my first morning in Madrid I decided to walk from my hotel (my home in Madrid, I call it) down to the park near where I used to live. It’s a lovely park, full of friendly people and their dogs, and cozy cafés where one can hang out for a cuppa or two. The day was bright (it seldom isn’t in Madrid) so I took a long stroll around the park. Up towards the playing fields I ran into a man with his small dog. It was so cute I reached down to pet it and, as I did, the small dog flipped over onto her (I could then see it was a female) back and started to writhe in the dust with what could only be termed extreme delight. I scratched her velvety soft belly and laughed.
“Do you have a dog?” the owner asked. I confirmed and he said: “Oh. I was hoping… You see, I need to find her a new owner. I can’t take care of her; I work all day and most of the night and she is always alone; it’s not fair.”
I looked down at the little beige and white thing still scratching her back in the sand. She stopped for a moment and looked back with the cutest pair of big, round brown eyes set in a button of a face. “Oh, I’m sure you’ll find someone,” I said, “she is sooo cute. If I didn’t already have a dog… But give me your phone number and I’ll ask amongst my friends” (I had a friend in mind already). And that was it. We smiled; said ‘good-day’ and both went on our ways.
When I got back to the hotel and was about to message my friend telling her about the dog, I realized it would be necessary to have a picture of her and not just the description ‘adorable, little jack-russellish doggie with joyful personality’. So I Whatsapp-ed the owner registered under Loli-dog (her name plus ‘dog’) on my phone asking him to send me a photograph. A few moments later, I received the following picture which I promptly sent off to my friend with a note: “This little long-haired mostly Jackie is about 4 years old, has all her vacs and her chip. She is adorable, loving, sweet and so tender. Her owner can no longer keep her and I would take her but I fear Salomé would be so jealous. I thought of you…”
She said she would think about it and that was the last I heard. I was off to Lanzarote.
Lanzarote was all and more than expected. I loved the island, its enormous lava fields, it’s volcano-cones, the starkness of it, and I enjoyed the visit with Tamara. All in all we had a splendid time. On the first day, I showed Tamara the photo of the little dog. “Isn’t she cute?” I said, “I can’t stop thinking about her.” Tamara predicted that I would end up with her, but I said ‘no’, I had enough with Salomé. Tamara was right. Every once in a while I would pull out my phone and gaze into Loli’s eyes and with the excuse of finding her a new owner I showed everyone the photo, not only during the trip but also once I got back home. This went on for two weeks while I lamely looked for someone to take her. It took precisely those two weeks for madness to settle in. At the end of May I messaged the owner of Loli-dog asking if he still wanted to give her away. There was no answer. I began to feel an inkling of disappointment in my stomach. I messaged again asking if he had given her away: still no answer. 24 hours went by and I began to panic so that, when the message that she was still available finally came in, any doubt or dithering had completely disappeared.
On the 1st of June I loaded Salomé in the car and we drove to Madrid. The test of fire would be Salomé accepting her, otherwise it wouldn’t be possible, but somehow I knew deep down that Salomé would: Loli was so tiny, so offenseless and so submissive that she would pose no problem in Salomé’s preferred pecking order which, of course, was Me First.
Did I have doubts? Of course I did. Every once in a while my enthusiasm would sour and I would think ‘Oh dear, what am I doing?’ But the much needed voice of wisdom did not kick in loud enough and on the following day I found myself standing in a veterinarian’s office in Madrid signing the proper papers, buying a sweet, pink leash and walking off with two dogs instead of one.
Salomé behaved superbly: she simply ignored the rat that I plopped into the car beside her, looking the other way and not even bothering to sniff the newcomer. LoliPop (yes I had already renamed her), on the other hand, immediately became a ball of fluff and terror and absconded rapidly under the front seat convinced that she was being dog-napped. I knew exactly how she felt as it is impossible to forget the absolute fear experienced when one is forcibly removed from one’s usual life and held captive by strangers. If I had been thinking logically, I would have left her under the seat but her fear pained me and I wanted her to know she was safe. So with extreme care and unheard of contortions of my own poor body, I extricated her and placed her on the seat. She trembled and looked away through my whole explanation of how happy we were going to be and, when I let go, she immediately dove under the seat again. After the third time I had to get down on my hands and knees and twist my body so that I could somehow get my arms under the seat and ease her out without harming her (but not without harming me). I finally managed to attach the leash to the head-rest in a manner that didn’t allow her to reach the floor of the car. By this time, I was suffering from a back ache from all the exertion. To add to my frustrations, Salomé, seeing that the newcomer was getting all the attention, decided that she wasn’t going to jump into the car on her own and sat decidedly down on the pavement by the door. I pulled and coaxed and scolded to no avail and finally had to pick her up (all 8 and ½ kilos of her) and plop her in her seat. Add to the unexpected challenge of caring for two dogs, doing the almost 1100 kms of Salies-Madrid-Salies in two days (one day down, next day back) and, I was exhausted by the time I got home.
In spite of her small size, LoliPop became an immediate problem. Her fear wouldn’t allow her a normal doggie behavior: eating, playing, cuddling, sleeping. Rather her existence became trembling, cowering and hiding. Our first tour around the garden to pee, was a disaster. In spite of having lived in a city (on a small and thus quiet street), Loli was totally unaccustomed to the rumblings and clankings of the trucks that roar by my building (which I have managed to white out so that they no longer bother me) and was terrified. Fortunately I had her on a leash so she couldn’t dive into the shrubbery where she would have been inaccessible, but peeing and pooing were definitely out of the question. Walking into town was the same problem: every car that honked, every motorbike, every heavy truck slamming by was a motive of panic. The poor dog lived in terror.
Following that, we had the dilemma of the bed… my bed under which she dove the moment she discovered it. She is very small, especially when she curls up into a terrified little ball, and the bed is 140cms wide so it was impossible to get her out. Perhaps this wouldn’t have been a problem except that the bed seemed to tickle her ears so she shook her head every five minutes producing a flapping-scraping sound that wasn’t going to let me sleep. When coaxing and pleading didn’t do the job, I had to recur to the broomstick, thus terrifying her more. Once I had her out, I stuffed access to the under-bed with every cushion in the house.
To make things worse the second night home there was a thunder and lightning storm as I have seldom experienced. Even I was scared and Salomé and Lolipop were quaking their little hearts out. I ended up with both of them in my bed, all three of us huddled under the covers, until the war-storm was over.
It seemed that every sudden sound would send poor Loli scuttering for cover: if I dropped my keys or banged a plate in the sink or allowed a pen to roll off my desk the little dog scrambled under any place that offered shelter. On our third day walking into town, she appeared to be starting to grow accustomed to the street sounds and was a bit calmer, and then France won the World Cup and all hell of honking and clanging and fireworks broke loose and I thought she was going to have a heart attack. I had to carry her all the way home, covering her ears.
The whole ruckus convinced her that outside was a very dangerous place so she decided it was safer to pee and poo inside. Seeing as this was not acceptable, I further frightened the poor creature by yelling and waving hysterically, and carrying her two floors down to the garden.
Eating was also a problem because she couldn’t stop being scared and vigilant long enough to put her head in the dish. I finally figured out that she needed protection and put her bowl under a table. There she could eat, although it has taken her well into two months to finish a dish in one go.
One day I realized that I was tiptoeing around the house, being very careful not to drop or knock over anything and suddenly I understood that this was the wrong approach. I purposely let a spoon drop on the tile floor of the kitchen and followed the loud clatter soothingly saying: “It’s all right Loli, it is just a noise and noise won’t hurt us”, and other platitudes like this, always directing an even voice towards her but without drawing near. After a few days, she was much calmer and had accepted a certain amount of routine noises.
Little by little she is falling into our routine even though noises are still her bugaboo. Today I let her off the leash in the park thinking there would be no disturbing noises. Then someone closed a window in the distance and her head and ears went up. I took a step towards her, another window was closed and she was off running as fast as she could (and she can run really fast) in the opposite direction of the sound with me racing after her screaming her name and dragging poor Salomé behind. Fortunately, she stopped at the first street crossing (her previous owner had disciplined her to do that) and I was able to put her leash back on. Salomé is getting deaf but Loli can hear a pin drop; sometimes I wish it were the other way around.
Apparently no one has ever played with Loli and she is frightened if I throw a ball for Salomé. One day, at the beginning, she approached a squeaky toy dog which –naturally- squeaked as she picked it up. She dropped it as if it had been a bee that stung her and hadn’t gone near the toy basket since. However, for the first time yesterday she approached it and, after digging around for a few minutes, appeared with a bright pink ball in her mouth. It was the smallest ball in the basket and had been given me by a neighbor precisely for her, but until that moment she had been afraid of it. I watched as she carried it gingerly in her mouth and jumped up onto her chair where she proceeded to chew gently on it for a while before losing interest. It’s a beginning.
So a small dog has disrupted my routine, and she has also brought me great pleasure as I see her slowly adopting to a new and probably kinder life. Salomé mostly ignores her, but she doesn’t seem to mind having her around and I am finding her a delightful addition to my little family.
 The experience of my kidnapping in Mexico is told at length in my novel, Eleven Days, a translation of the original Spanish version: Once días… y algo más.