Another previously unpublished story/article

Cheech and the Bridge

Unpublished -- 2006

Strictly speaking this isn't a story since it is pretty much true.

My wife has always had this thing for Chihuahuas. Had one as a kid. Loved it. Has always wanted one. Eventually she put out feelers through some sort of mysterious network that weaves through the infrastructure of Northwest Vermont. She wanted a chihuahua. Anyone know of one? In the late Fall of couple 2002, the calls started coming in. The Burlington animal shelter has a chihuahua!!! She announced to me that the Animal Shelter had an elderly Chihuahua. Could she have it? Huh? Please.

So we -- wife, me, and our real dog Java -- drove down to the animal shelter to be interviewed. ChiChi turned out to be an elderly animal who weighed in around fourteen pounds. That's about twice to thrice the size of a typical Chihuahua. Story is that Chichi grew up with a little old lady who apparently fed her regularly. Cheech was now on her own. One family had adopted and returned her because she didn't get along with the other pets. Cheech showed some interest in my wife and ignored Java and I. For some reason, this was held to be a successful interview. Cheech was to be ours. Or we, hers -- depends on your point of view.

Turns out that Cheech is a bit set in her ways. Furthermore, she approaches change with the same tactics that she approaches all problems -- a show of teeth (about three hundred of them -- all incisors) and a snarl. She has had some differences of opinion with Java.

For example, Java regarded herself as leader of a pack. A small pack -- the other member being a small tiger stripped cat -- but a pack nonetheless. She was only too happy to welcome Cheech to the pack. Trouble is that Cheech think packs are communistic. Her position is -- One house, one dog, and one person to serve the dog. She was in a house, right? And she was a dog, right? My wife was the designated servant. What the hell are all the rest of these people and animals doing here and when were they going to their homes?

To further exacerbate things, Cheech feels that she has a personal food bowl. Java feels that the pack had two food bowls. This causes no small amount of friction especially since Cheech feels that food is VERY important. Fortuitously, Java is a good sized dog. Even a fourteen pound chihuahua can't get its mouth open wide enough to clamp onto any important part of Java's anatomy. And Cheech's instinct is to go for the belly or jugular both of which are, in Java's case, well protected by hair.

Meantime, Java has taken a dislike to Cheech. Being attacked on a daily basis will do that apparently. Java has always been a mediator, a peacemaker ... uncomfortable with conflict ... ready to jump into any dispute and separate the participants. Occasionally members of the family will stage feigned attacks on each other or on the furniture. Java will immediately jump to the defense of the attacked party or object. Unless the attacked object is Cheech, in which case Java sits back in hopes that this time the slaughter will be real.

Java, who is not stupid, has taken to doing a variety of things carefully calculated to annoy cheech. Java steals cheech's food bowl and parades past her carrying the bowl out to the backyard. Java sleeps across doorways that she knows Cheech will use. And Java will, when being petted slowly shift her position such that her wagging tail slaps Cheech directly in the face. Cheech doesn't much like Java. Could be related to these actions on Java's part.

Cheech doesn't much like me either. She barks when I enter the room and occasionaly snarls at me ... unless she has hopes of cadging food from me in which case she does a truly marvelous transformation into a sweet little housepet. A display of empty hands -- which she takes to mean that she won't be fed -- is greeted with a growl and a snarl after which she stalks off. This animal is the living incarnation of Jim Henson's Miss Piggy. I'm told that when I leave the room, she will spend hours growling quietly while looking at the door I left through.

Cheech settled in and took possession of one end of the sofa. One of the greater shocks of her life appeared to be that I am allowed to sit on the furniture -- including her sofa. However, she has learned to live with that. After a while, we came to accept that the chihuahua was a permanent feature of the sofa. It never crossed our mind that buried somewhere deep inside there might be a dog of action.

I can't remember why, but one day I suggested to my wife that she leash up the couch potato and take her along with me on Java's afternoon walk. So we headed off across the street and into the 10 acres or so of woods over there -- a large enough area that custom allows dog owners to let their dogs run loose without leashes. Java being a dog that gets along with people and other dogs, and loves to explore, I turned her loose. To our great suprise, cheech yanked the leash out of my wife's hand and took out after Java at a pretty good clip trailing her leash.

So, Cheech became a fixture on our twice daily mutt marches. Suprisingly perhaps, she is capable of walking for miles, although she makes no pretense of liking long walks. She especially dislikes plowing through snow over her head, fording ice water up to her chest, and temperatures below about 15F. Since I don't like her any better than she likes me, I make sure that she is not deprived of the pleasure of dealing with heavy snowfalls, snowmelt ponds, and temperatures down to 20 below Fahrenheit.

What Cheech really wants to do is wander around and urinate on things that displease her -- which are very numerous. She can do that within a hundred yards of home. We have reached an accomodation. I take her on long walks in all sorts of weather, and she gets to pee on everything in sight within reason. On the whole, she'd rather walk with my wife than me, but my wife thinks walking is boring -- especially with a conisour urinator who carefully scopes out spots about 10 feet apart to enrich. Mostly Cheech walks with me.

After a few days of walking Cheech in the woods across the street, I decided to branch out and take her down to a large, rarely used, athletic field in back of the local middle school. The back path to the field involves a short treck through the woods and crossing a wooden bridge built about a decade ago by the boy scouts. The scouts did a terrific job of building the bridge, but time has not been kind to it. The biggest problem is that the soil on both sides of the bridge is glacial clay. This stuff -- known as Leda Clay -- has a bad reputation amongst civil engineers as it tends to creep out from under structures built on it. After a couple of nineteenth Century bridges and buildings in Canada collapsed when the dirt under their foundations slunk off, engineers have tried to avoid it. But here, there was no choice. The scouts built their bridge, straight, firm and level with its ends sitting on large blocks of concrete buried in the clay. The blocks on the North side have stood true and firm. Those on the South side have crept down into the stream leaving the bridge with a distinct downhill grade. It also tilts to the West by perhaps 5 or ten degrees.

To exacerbate things, kids -- clearly spawn of Goldwater Republicans and other disgusting creatures of darkness -- have, over the years, ripped the railings off and pried up a few of the planks. The bridge is safe enough in the Summer and also in the depth of Winter when it is covered with well packed snow. But occasionally in the Spring and Fall, it is covered with frost or ice. On those days, it is passable for dogs who have four feet, well textured pads, and claws. It is not safe for humans.

As it happens, Cheech's first encounter with the bridge was on an icy late Autumn day. When we approached said bridge, I was faced with the problem of crossing the miniscule creek and getting Cheech across -- without my experiencing potentially damaging fall off the bridge and without sinking up to my boot-tops in gooey clay. I opted to edge across a pile of branches and debris a few feet West of the bridge and to let Cheech -- still on her leash -- cross on the bridge. All went well for a while. I worked my way along a fragment of ice covered birch trunk that would get me to a point where I could step to a rock on the far shore. Cheech trotted out onto the bridge. I was looking down, evaluting where I could make my next step safely when suddenly the leash pulled taut.

Cheech -- who presumably had never seen a floor with a hole in it before -- had fallen through the first missing plank in the bridge. I rescued her -- none the worse for wear -- and we continued our walk. I even managed to get her to cross the bridge in order to get home.

It is claimed that it is hard to teach old dogs new tricks. Not so. Cheech may be old, but one fall through that bridge was more than enough for her. Cheech has never again fallen through the bridge. But she has never again trusted it. She knows that it is her enemy and suspects that it lays awake nights thinking up ways to get her. (That's what she'd do were the situation reversed.) Anyway, she will cross the bridge.

But only if I cross it first to verify its safety.

Copyright 2007, Donald Kenney (Donald.Kenney@GMail.com). Unless otherwise stated, permission is hereby granted to use any materials on these pages under the V2.5 Creative Commons License