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Tale of a Mother’s Day Puppy

May 11, 2022

Tale of a Mother’s Day Puppy

by Alice Jane-Marie Massa

            May 11 of 1980 was Mother’s Day:  on that Sunday of forty-two years ago, a buff-colored Cocker Spaniel was one puppy of the litter born on a farm in Shirkieville, Indiana.  The farm was near the farmland of former Indiana Senator Birch E. Bayh.  Upon returning to Indiana after four years of teaching in Ohio, I found that I could not remain dogless:  my seventeen-and-a-half-year-old Toy Manchester/Chihuahua Prince had passed away on March 20.  So, on June 20, 1980, I happily welcomed Chico–one of the Mother’s Day puppies–into my life.  What a picture-perfect puppy!  He was beautiful both as a pup and mature dog.  The photogenic Chico, true to his breed, was very affectionate and liked to pose for my camera.  I think I took and have more photos of Chico than of any of my dogs.  He was my only pet dog who I registered with the American Kennel Club (AKC); thus, I gave him four names–Chico Gabriel Massa Rainbow–so that I could be certain that no other AKC dog was registered with this name.  What was really important was not his having AKC papers, but was his having a place in my heart and in my many fond dog memories.

            My standard American Cocker Spaniel had the thickest hair of any of my dogs.  Often I thought that scientists should study the growth of hair on this breed of Spaniel.  Although Chico periodically went to a groomer for a summer cut, I thoroughly enjoyed grooming him; and he loved daily groomings.  When I trimmed his hair or when I removed cockle burrs from his impressive coat, he was always very still and patient.  Chico quickly learned the command “Turn” so that I could groom the opposite side of him.  The one command which truly challenged him and the rest of us was “No bark.”  For whatever reasons, Chico was a barker.  (Thankfully, he was my only dog with barking issues.)  Despite many attempts of numerous varieties to curb his barking habit when a new person or persons arrived, he persisted with his barking.  Only old age curbed his unnecessary barking duties. 

            Please do not ask me why; but one Christmas season, I purchased as a gift the “Clap Hands” device for turning a light on and off merely by clapping one’s hands.  Well, this gadget not only worked by clapping hands, but also by Chico’s barks.  With each of his repeated barks, the lamp turned on and off, on and off, on and off.  Somewhat disappointed, I had to return the “Clap Hands” device to the store.

            During holiday seasons, we had to be very careful to avoid saying “Christmas tree.”  Chico, who associated the word “treat” with receiving one of his dog biscuits, became excited with anticipation each time he heard someone say “Christmas tree” because my positive-thinking pet interpreted “tree” for “treat.”  I am always amazed at what good listeners dogs are.  Like most people, Chico ate a few extra treats around Christmastime.

            Another seasonal memory of Chico is associated with hot summer days.  When he was still young ,  he enjoyed swimming and also being atop a towel-covered float while I was right beside him.  Of course, I have photos of this water dog’s aquatic escapades.

            Eventually, due to my diminishing vision, I had to give up running with Chico on leash; however, he still enjoyed running within a fenced area.  His favorite toy with which to play outside was an empty Cool Whip container.  Fetching or  scooting the plastic bowl around the yard and flipping it into the air provided him with good exercise and entertainment.

            Another funny habit of Chico’s was his carrying into the house one of the white rocks from our driveway.  At times, he would leave the rock on the carpeted stairs of the landing that went to the family room.  Actually, with my then diminishing vision, the white rocks that were more tones of gray had little contrast with the tones of brown carpeting.  When I stepped on one of Chico’s “pet rocks,” I just picked it up and threw it back outside onto the driveway.  However, one day when the lighting conditions must have been just right, I spotted what I determined was another “pet rock” of my Cocker Spaniel.  When I bent over to pick up what I thought was another “pet rock,” the alleged “pet rock” jumped up to let me know that it was not a rock, but a very alive toad! 

            Eventually, I realized that Chico and I did not need any more pet rocks nor pet toads.  When Chico was five, I decided that what both he and I needed was another dog.  After much reading and searching, I was delighted to find that a litter of Cavalier King Charles Spaniels were soon to be ready for new homes.  While I will not tell my cherished Chelsea’s story here, I will share a few points of my Cavalier’s life in regard to Chico. 

            Although everyone thought that thirty-pound Chico would never accept and get along with the two-pound puppy, I was determined that the two would become good buddies.  Despite my failure with teaching Chico to limit his barking, I was thankfully quite successful with introducing the two Spaniels very slowly to each other.  With gradual and supervised interactions, the mature dog and puppy did become best of friends.  Much to our surprise, my cinnamon and white Cavalier, who matured at 16 pounds, definitely became the “alpha” dog.  Fortunately, Chico was quite content to let the new little princess have her way at all times.  In our family room, the beige swivel chair, which had often been Chico’s perch to look out the window, became Chelsea’s chair.  Chico was quite happy with the much larger dark green rocking chair which was too high off the floor for Chelsea to have much interest.  Sometimes, when Chico was lying on the floor beside the beige chair, Chelsea jumped off the chair and over Chico with one long jump.  Her buddy never moved.  Frequently, I wondered if Chelsea was from a line of circus dogs because she enjoyed using Chico as a hurdle for her jumping tricks.  Chico just lay perfectly still and looked at her with that “There she goes again” expression.  How tolerant my older dog was of my younger dog! 

            Whenever I gave treats to my two Spaniels, Chico always took the treat from the left hand, and Chelsea took the dog biscuit from my right hand.  Luckily, I did not really have to teach this behavior:  Chico and Chelsea were just pleasant creatures of habit.  Although a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel is considered a lap dog and not a herding dog, she definitely had a herding tendency.  When I, with dog biscuit in each hand, called both dogs to come inside, if Chico did not immediately obey, Chelsea circled back and truly herded Chico to the door.  Her instinct was that all should obey “Mama.”  I loved observing the interesting and playful interactions between my two Spaniels.

            Like my third Leader Dog Zoe, Chelsea passed away at much too young an age.  After her sudden loss, Chico would go outside in the fenced area, but promptly just would sit in the middle of the yard.  He only sat and did not want to move or play.  After this behavior persisted for several days, I worried that he, too, was not well.  With a thorough check for my Cocker at the veterinary clinic (with even X-rays of Chico’s back), the veterinarian concluded that Chico was healthy for his age, but was mourning the loss of his best buddy Chelsea.  Thus, together Chico and I mourned the loss of our dear, sweet Chelsea. 

            Weeks later, Chico, with much encouragement and patience, returned to running and playing; and I applied for my first Leader Dog.  1989 ended on a stronger and more hopeful note; then, 1990 blossomed into a new stage in my life.  Chico was the beloved Spaniel who was at my side during some of the most outstanding transitional periods in my life.  Thus, the memories of my photos of Chico have been running through my mind over the past few days and especially on this eleventh day of May.

NOTE:  If you missed my special post for Mother’s Day, continue reading past the closing of this post to find my blog post from May 8.

With thanks for reading this WORDWALK post,

Alice and Leader Dog Willow

May 11, 2022, Wednesday


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  1. I always enjoy reading your dog memoirs, Alice. When you speak of Chico being depressed after Chelsae died, I understand this all too well. When Rocco (Sheltie) died in 2015, our other dog, Mitchelle (a female terrier) sat in her chair by the bay window all day long. She was watching for Rocco to return, for she saw him being carried out of the house, but he never returned. After 2 months of her watch, I knew we needed to find another friend for her. That is when we learned of a 10-year-old dog (Doxi-mix) who had been abandoned in North Carolina. Her family moved away and left her behind in an empty house! My daughter made a trip from PA to Virginia, and our niece drove from NC with the little dog and met her halfway. This is how we got Miss Dixie Tulip – who is now 17. Miss Mitchel is 13. Dearly beloved doggies.

    • Hi, Lynda–Thanks for reading this post and responding with tales of
      your own dogs.  I know your dogs and cats are very special to you also.

      Take care, and enjoy the gardening season!

      Alice and Willow

  2. Thank you for another lovely and heartwarming post.

    • Hello, Rebeca–You are welcome!  Thank you for taking the time to read
      this memoir piece and commenting.

      Take care–Alice and Willow

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