Edgar came into my life last October. I can still remember the first day we met. He was standing in the center lane of a street already busy with Monday morning traffic. My daughter and I had just left the gym, and she noticed him before I did, alerting me to that fact by screaming at me to stop the car, jumping out, and flailing wildly at oncoming traffic, successfully bringing it to a momentary standstill. Within seconds, she had scooped up the tiny Chihuahua trembling in the widening beam of the headlights before him, named him Edgar, and announced that he would be moving in with us. In spite of having just run several miles on a treadmill, I still hadn’t had my coffee, so I was neither alert nor ready for a Monday let alone the prospect of a Chihuahua. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I figured we’d stick a few “Found Dog” signs around the neighborhood, and by the end of the day “Edgar” would be back where he belonged, answering to whatever name someone else had given him.
Sophie almost convinced me to let her stay home from school that day, so she could be with “her” new dog. He was shaking and scared, submissive and sweet, and Sophie was vexed that we could see his little ribs so plainly. Without saying it, I knew she knew that based on our experience with Molly - a greyhound we’d rescued several years prior but had to surrender because the separation anxiety rendered her unable to stay alone in the house – that a new dog was probably not in the picture. Her dad and I had sort of established an unspoken rule. One cat. No more dogs. No way.
But there were tell-tale signs that this little Chihuahua was making his way into my husband’s heart. “Surely someone is missing this little guy terribly,” Ken said. He bought dog food. He drove around the neighborhood, looking for “Lost Dog” signs, hoping that he would make some family’s day by returning their dog. He checked the newspaper and Craigslist every day to see if someone in Phoenix had lost a cute little Chihuahua. He took him to the Humane Society where he was informed that they didn’t take lost dogs. Still, they checked for a microchip. There wasn’t. They estimated his age at about five years old, determined that “Edgar” hadn’t been neutered or cared for. He had bad breath and worse teeth. He was malnourished and dirty. He weighed three pounds. Barely.
Within three weeks, it was clear that nobody was looking for this little dog, who in spite of having four perfectly good legs, expected to be carried everywhere. Dutifully, we all obliged. He gained weight. He stopped trembling. He slept in our daughter’s arms every night. He came running when we called “Edgar,” and soon we were all in love with him, because, as poet Mary Oliver wrote, “. . . of the dog’s joyfulness, our own is increased. It is no small gift.”
When my daughter and I were far away in Northern Ireland a month later, visiting my parents in South Derry, my husband died in our Phoenix home. I like to think that Ken’s last interaction on this earth was tender, with three pounds of unconditional love curled up like a comma on his chest.
Worried, on another continent, in another time zone, I was on the phone with my best friend when she arrived at my house and looked through the bay window to see Edgar looking back at her, still and silent, knowing what we had yet to discover, waiting for her to find the keys under the front doormat, to come on in and call my husband’s name three times before finding his lifeless body on our bed, hoping he was just resting but knowing he was dead.
It has been seven months, and Sophie tells me that every day without her dad begins not with sorrow, but with Edgar licking her face and making her smile. He is ready, always ready to help her get ready to walk out into the world.
“But what about Edgar?” she asked me over pancakes one morning last week. “What if he spends every day just waiting by the door for me to come home? Doesn’t he need a friend to keep him company?”
Yes. He does. Don’t we all?
So last Thursday, I did a little research. I found out that dogs like Edgar are in need of friends. According to the Arizona Humane Society, dogs like him have replaced pit bulls as the most abandoned breed. From January to March of this year, 821 Chihuahuas have been surrendered or brought into the shelter for a variety of reasons. In 2013, the Arizona Humane Society and the Maricopa County Animal Care and Control, the two largest shelters in Phoenix, received 10,535 Chihuahuas and euthanized 2,100.
So I drove to the Arizona Small Dog Rescue after work on Thursday, having spent my lunch hour perusing picture after picture of tiny dogs who needed a home, one in particular - a little black and tan Miniature Pinscher Chihuahua mix, just two years old. The volunteer told me she had come from a “hoarding situation,” but she was “as sweet as can be, quiet, mild mannered and gets along with all dogs and people who are nice to her.”
And with that, I knew she would be coming home with me, that Edgar would have a new companion, that we would name her “Gloria” - with a nod to the most requested encore at a Van Morrison concert and, of course, Ms. Steinem - and that my 16-year old daughter’s tender heart would expand once more.
The history behind “When Irish Eyes are Smiling”