The New Mexican Chihuahua is an icon, an art form. Yet Chihuahuas are often maligned and misunderstood.
Ask any delivery person or firefighter what dog is the angriest and most terrifying. The conversation will undoubtably begin and end with the typically 15-pound Chihuahua. As a firefighter over three decades, I have been bitten three times, twice by Chihuahuas. Once was while saving a Chihuahua from a car wreck. I held the Chihuahua, ironically named Angel, at arm’s length while she tried mightily to get at my jugular. The other time was while we were trying to help a Chihuahua mother get out of bed. The crafty dog was hiding under the bed and just waiting for the right moment to nail me as I knelt down.
They are irascible, often loyal to a fault and are beloved. Since I still have dreams of a Chihuahua with a huge head and blood dripping off her canines lunging for my neck, I thought it essential to understand the beloved bit. Also, by this column, I will actually be able to spell Chihuahua without spell check.
An important footnote: We have a half-Chihuahua, half-apparently-every-small-dog breed in New Mexico, named Maisie, whom we adore. But, to connoisseurs of the breed, only a 100 percent Chihuahua will do in researching Chihuahua-ness.
Being essentially lazy, instead of doing actual research, I called a friend, a Chihuahua guardian, Molly Norton. Molly has the unique perspective of having disliked Chihuahuas, then having one forced on her, learning to tolerate her and then enthusiastically falling in love.
Layla (or Layla-Bean or Bean) is the name of this dog. She is 13 years old. She is a serious Chihuahua with her own Instagram account, @whatsbeandoing. (Of course she has one; she’s a Chihuahua.)
The story of Layla is maddening, frustrating and ultimately heartwarming, thanks to Molly.
Layla was born in a puppy mill. She was raised in horrible conditions, lived in motels and was abused. I am not a religious person but I do hope there is a special hell for those who abuse animals.
When she was younger, Layla ended up at a shelter. It took the angels at the shelter almost six months to get her physically healthy to be adopted. Even then, she was an angry dog. (Who wouldn’t be?) She was peeing and pooping everywhere. She was mean, nippy and barked at everyone.
Molly’s roommate adopted Layla, much to Molly’s chagrin. Eventually the roommate departed and left Layla with Molly. And so began the long process of bonding with a dog who probably believed that life was hell.
Molly’s first task was to help Layla get over some of her fear-driven habits of barking at everything and everybody, and biting. A note: Molly was dating during this time, and Layla was not on the plus side of the ledger with most of the guys she met.
Next, socialize. Molly took Layla everywhere — on walks, bike rides, climbing Mount Wheeler — Layla turned out to be an excellent hiking companion. Layla accompanied Molly grocery shopping. Standing in line at the cashiers with Layla in a backpack, Molly would continually run into the New Mexico Chihuahua culture. Owners would talk to Layla and show Molly cellphone pictures of their babies.
About two years into this project — which is amazing for an old dog — Layla started to just be a dog. Loyal, protective, not a favorite of boyfriends, but just a dog.
After a tortuous beginning, Layla has become a Molly and a Norton family therapy dog. She plays with Molly’s dad and jumps on the laps of visitors. Such a deserved gift not only for Layla but also for Molly. Not only do dogs need human rescue; we also need a dog to rescue us at different times of our lives.
As I’m writing this, I’m sitting on my daughter’s porch in Minnesota. She has a new baby, a 2½-year-old daughter, a Shih Tzu mix and a cat. We brought our puppies, Maisie, half-Chihuahua, and Toby, part Great Pyrenees. As you can imagine, it’s mayhem.
But as I watch the dogs run riot, I keep thinking of Layla. She’s an old dog with a brutal history. And, maybe this doesn’t apply to all old and mistreated dogs, but most, with love and patience, can recover. Most dogs probably dream of being in a pack of humans and dogs and being loved.
What a great world that would be.