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Austin Chronicle Little Darlings

Luv, Chihuahua Style

By Margaret Moser

FEBRUARY 7, 2000:  The little darlings are asleep in my lap, giving me the first few minutes of peace and quiet I've had in several hours. Last Friday I was driving along with my brother on the way to meet some friends when a sign caught my eye and I stopped. Twenty minutes later, we were the new parents of two puppies. I haven't had more than four hours' rest at a time since.It doesn't take a psychologist to figure out why I did that. Although I had no plans to become a pet owner, the deaths of two friends recently served to remind me how precious our days are and that no matter how talented you are, life offers no guarantees. A new life to fill the void of the old, though, isn't that the cycle of nature?

And I had been thinking about getting a pet, I just hadn't made up my mind. But dogs?? I am a cat person. I love dogs and was raised around both but always seemed to feel like cats were easier to care for. Cats are independent, like me.

It has been a little over 15 years since I had a pet. I lost my beloved calico cat Sally Jane on Friday the 13th in 1984. Sally Jane and I had been likethis and only something terrible would have made her not come the night I called her and called her. When she didn't answer, I knew she was gone. She always answered. She hadn't left my side since the day we found each other.

Sally Jane adopted me five years earlier when she was a kitten. I had just moved into a house with my husband and we had ordered pizza. I heard the screen door being rattled and answered it. Domino's it wasn't, but rather a little calico clinging like a miniature Garfield to the door. I opened it gently and she let go, dropped to the porch, and promptly scampered inside as if she had planned the maneuver. And so went our relationship. Sally Jane ruled, I followed.

We were inseparable. When my first husband and I split, I got custody of Sally Jane. We lived the wild days of punk in its infancy with abandon, me and my roommates and Sally Jane. If we dyed our hair pink, Sally Jane got pink color on her white areas. If we painted Adam Ant stripes across our noses in bright blue, Sally Jane wore a stripe on her nose, too. For a while, Sally Jane sported a très punk black leather collar with studs, then went to a more New Wave red leather number with rhinestones. For more formal occasions, there was my multi-row pearl bracelet that made Sally Jane very stylish. We looked good.

Sally Jane was well-known in my neighborhood. She often whiled away her afternoons on the front steps of the house where I had an apartment. The folks in the neighborhood called her "Princess Lazy" for her imperious ways, and she would strut around the neighborhood. But her pride was her downfall. She used to tease the watchdogs at the car lot down the street by jumping on the fence above where they were penned. I wouldn't find out for almost a year that she had been killed by one of those dogs on that Friday the 13th.

I was so devastated when she turned up missing, I couldn't even think about replacing her with another cat. I could not imagine life without her. As it was, I met the man who would be my second husband the next week. He told me he loved me after the fourth day we'd known each other and asked me to marry him four days after that. We were married two months later and stayed married for almost 15 years.

Pets were often discussed, but I didn't want just any cat to replace my darling Sally Jane. That was okay with him; he didn't like cats. He also spent a lot of time away from home at his tattoo shop in Hawaii. He would be gone for four to six weeks at a time four or five times a year and I was left in Texas on my own in our new cool little house in a borderline not-so-great neighborhood. When our neighbors' house was burglarized, I suggested we get a dog.

Hubby was ecstatic. He loved dogs -- did I like Labs or German shepherds better? Labs? What was he talking about? I wanted something small and lovable, an indoor dog, not some big galloping galoot I would have to shovel after for weeks on end while hubby was away. No, I wanted a Lhasa apso or Westie or something like that. I wanted something to help guard the house and offer companionship.

Well, you can just imagine what happened. The battle lines were drawn. Friends were polled and information gathered ("See? This Enquirer story says that small dogs are as effective at scaring burglars as larger dogs!"). It didn't seem to faze him that I would have to bear the brunt of care for a large dog I didn't want. He didn't even consider something in a medium range.

We didn't get a dog. He and I moved to Hawaii not long afterward into a high rise with pet restrictions, so it was just as well.

I started thinking seriously again about a pet when I bought my condo a few years ago after separating from my husband. It sits right on the edge of the Colorado River in downtown and has lots of places for a dog or cat to enjoy. Several neighbors had those little dogs I always wanted, but for the first time in years I thought about another cat. Dog -- ? Cat -- ? I just thought about it.

Until last month. My brother and I were in a borrowed truck and had just completed several unpleasant tasks at a storage place and were on our way to return the truck when we saw the sign on the side of the road: "CHIHUAHUAS."

Brother and I looked at each other.

"Should I?" I said, already pulling into the turn lane as he was nodding yes because we'd had Chihuahuas as pets when we were little.

It should have been obvious then that we would not leave empty-handed, but neither of us had considered that we would leave with two instead of one. But when it came to make that decision, there was no question: We were taking two.

They are like babies; they require constant tending and attention of some sort every three or four hours. I've had to get up at 2am and 5:30 to take care of them, not like little pains in the ass, but like babies when they give me that irresistible look with their liquid brown eyes; my heart melts and I cuddle them to me. And I can't remember when I have laughed so much so many times for days on end.

And that's the story of how Addison DeWitt and Miss Caswell came to turn our lives upside down in the past few days. We named them for George Sanders' and Marilyn Monroe's characters in All About Eve with Bette Davis, a favorite movie of ours. It was a little perverse; I just wanted to be able to put down "Miss Caswell" on her official papers because it was so ridiculous a name for such a tiny little puppy.I lay their sleeping little bodies in their basket to write this. I probably should have taken a nap myself, but I was so anxious to write, I waited until they had whimpered softly and drifted back to sleep to sit down in front of the computer. I can hear their little puppy snores above the click-click of the keyboard, and it comforts me. I can't wait until they wake up and we can play again. The little darlings.

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