What is your spirit animal?

My rescue dog Earl

I truly believe that my spirit animal is a dog. I mean, if there is such a thing as a spirit animal. I get along well with most dogs. Just as dogs can sense fear in a person, I can sense if a dog is a threat to me. Of course, I’ve been wrong before. Like the time I saw my neighbor’s two Scottish Terriers: one black, one white. I’m sure you be able to guess which one was named Salt and which one, Pepper.

Anyway, as I run toward them, I see them wagging their tails and jumping toward me as I approach them. I think, “What friendly dogs!” And I know they are friendly, and we will get along fine after I pet them. I know this because I am convinced because my spirit animal is a dog. Their owner is holding them back so I can’t get near them, but I am persistent. I get close enough to reach out to Pepper. Suddenly, Pepper starts growling and before I can pull my hand back, he takes one quick, vicious bite at my hand. I’m not sure what hurt more: the open wound on my hand or my pride.

Regardless, I still believe my spirit animal is a dog.



Long ago, my brother Jerry had a Vietnamese pot-bellied pig named Petunia for a pet. “Why did you name her Petunia?” I asked him. Well, what is Porky the Pig’s girlfriend’s name? Petunia! And so, in a moment of sheer brilliance my brother had a pet Vietnamese pot-bellied pig named Petunia. He was always proud of his naming abilities thereafter.

Petunia had quite a personality.  She attracted people from all over the neighborhood since no one else had a pig for a pet. They would drive by just to see Petunia in the yard. One day, Petunia escaped from my brother’s yard and within hours someone had returned her home to my brother. Everyone knew where she lived. Petunia was very friendly, especially if you were eating. She would butt her head against your leg until you gave her something to eat.

I used to visit my brother quite often, so I used to see a lot of Petunia. I liked her, but not in the same way I would have liked a dog. When I moved next door to my brother, I got to see way too much of Petunia, but I was sorry to see my brother move away. But not just because I would miss Petunia!

Once, when he moved to his new house, Jerry left a case of beer on the rear deck to cool off for a party, and Petunia managed to puncture through the cans with her teeth. She drank the whole case of beer! She staggered around the backyard until she fell over and passed out. There were empty beer cans all over the deck.

My brother loved that pig more than any pet he ever had, including our dog, Duke. Some days, he paid more attention to Petunia than to anyone else in his family. Once when I was at Jerry’s house, I noticed that Petunia’s toenails were painted red. Jerry had painted her toenails and his wife Rita wasn’t too happy about it. She said, “He never painted my toenails!”

P.S. Yo-Yo Ma named his cello Petunia.



Toluca, México

While driving through Mexico, I noticed two things about dogs. One, not many people keep dogs as pets. And, two, stray dogs didn’t scare people like they do in the United States. In America, if someone sees a large unleashed dog, they feel automatic dread and run for cover.

I don’t recall seeing a pedigreed dog even once during my last two trips to Mexico, except for my cousin who has an English sheepdog. Most of the dogs I observed on the street were large mutts that were some shade of brown. They usually stood on the curb looking at the traffic as if they were waiting for an opportunity to cross. These dogs were laid back and didn’t seem to be in any kind of hurry. I saw more dead dogs on the highway in the U.S. than in Mexico. These Mexican dogs coexisted peacefully with the people, which surprised me. They often sleep on the streets and sidewalks and no one bothers them.

When I was a boy, I remember laughing at one of the pushcart food venders in Mexico City because he sold hot dogs. I just never imagined any Mexican wanting to eat American hot dogs. But I laughed even more when I saw the sign on the push cart that advertised the hot dogs as PERROS CALIENTES! A literal translation of the name for hot dogs.

In English, I never pictured a four-legged furry animal when I thought of hot dogs. But in Spanish, perros calientes did not evoke any appetizing image of one our typically American foods (As American as baseball, hot dogs, and apple pie, so the saying goes.). I pictured an actual dog on a hot dog bun.

Well, on this last trip to Mexico, I noticed that the venders who sold hot dogs no longer advertised them as perros calientes, but rather as hot dogs. I asked my cousin in Celaya why that was and he told me because the name conjured up the image of actual dogs, which they didn’t want to eat. Well, in Mexico, according to my cousin, there are people who eat tacos made from dog meat. So now hot dogs are sold instead of perros calientes.


Simba as a cute puppy

After Duke, the best dog I ever had, I never had another pet for as long as I lived alone. When I had my own apartment, I liked living alone so I never had a pet. Now that I’m living alone again, I have no pets. I guess I enjoy the solitude between visits from my sons.

However, when I was married, my wife and four-year-old son insisted that we get a dog. I kept making excuses at our first house in Bridgeport that the house wasn’t big enough, the yard wasn’t big enough, or someone would probably steal our dog. After a few years, I moved next door to my brother Jerry whose neighbor sold the house to me for a discounted price since he didn’t use a realtor. I enjoyed living next door to my brother for the most part–except that he always had some home-improvement project in progress and sooner or later he would call upon me to help him.

Anyway, once we settled into our new house, my wife and son started talking about getting a dog again. All of my previous excuses were no longer valid and I was too tired to invent new ones. So, we immediately went into negotiations. I knew we were getting a dog one way or another. And despite promises of my wife and son that they would be walking, feeding, and generally taking care of the dog, I knew that eventually the dog would become my sole responsibility. I insisted that I get to choose what kind of dog we got. I got my wish and chose a chow chow. Was I ever sorry! But not immediately.

I had a friend who had not one, but two chow chows. Whenever I would visit him, the dogs would look me over and then I would pet them and then they’d go away. So I pitched the idea of getting a chow chow to my family. They weren’t too enthusiastic about a chow chow. We saw one at the park and we went over to talk to the owner. He let us pet his chow chow and he was very friendly. My wife and son were then sold on the idea of getting a chow chow.

Well, we bought a six-week-old chow chow puppy and he was the cutest little fur ball that you ever saw. The woman who sold him to us said that if we ever changed our mind about having him, we could take him back to her farm in Indiana. My wife, son, and I had more negotiations over naming the new puppy. I insisted on naming him Beowulf, but my wife and son out-voted me and named him Simba, after The Lion King. My niece Bridget came next door to our house everyday to feed and play with Simba. He grew so fast and he wasn’t cooperating with the house training. He was almost full-grown and he was still relieving himself in the house. I would put his nose in it and hit him with a newspaper so he wouldn’t do it again. This had worked with other dogs that we had previously had. One day, I was about to punish him for pooping in the house when suddenly he turned on me and tried to bite me. Well, I had to show him that I was the master, so I picked him up and he kicked the wall and we both fell to the ground. I wanted to show him that I wasn’t afraid of him so I wrestled him to the ground. He bit my hand and forearm, but I took him back to his mess and hit him with the newspaper. When I let go of him, he growled at me and walked away giving me the evil eye. My wife and son were watching and they were both pretty scared by what they had just seen. I knew something was wrong with this dog because I never heard of dog biting its master before.

I also learned that chow chows are very territorial. My niece Bridget would come and go to house at will before we had Simba, but afterwards she came to visit him a lot. She really loved that puppy. Until, one day, Simba was sleeping by the side door of the house. She came into the yard to pet Simba, but he woke up and started biting her. As she ran out of the yard screaming, he bit her behind repeatedly until she was out of the yard. I really didn’t understand his behavior at all because Bridget took care of Simba since he was a puppy and she was like part of our household. I didn’t realize how vicious Simba was until then. There were a few more incidents where children walking by would see Simba in the yard behind the chain-link fence wagging his tail. When they tried to enter the yard to pet him, he wouldn’t growl or bark, he would continue wagging his tail. After they entered the yard, he would bite them. I put up a six-foot wooden fence around the whole yard to protect the neighborhood children from Simba.

A boy and his dog!

Simba never bit my wife or son, but when the twins were born, he bit Adam when he was about one and a half. Adam walked by Simba while he was eating and Simba bit him. I risked getting bit, but I punished Simba for biting my son. Most dogs don’t bite small children for something like that. I wanted to take him back to the farm where we bought him, but my wife said no. She insisted that we keep Simba. This dog was a real monster. If he didn’t like someone on the other side of the fence, he would start chewing on the wooden fence. I had to replace some of the boards on the front gate because he had chewed through them. Another time, my sons and I were going to a little league game. Simba was in the yard and I opened the garage door and the minivan side door for my sons. Simba ran and jumped into the minivan before my sons. He wanted to go for a ride, but we couldn’t take him with us. I told him to get out, but he wouldn’t. I told him a few times. So I reached to grab his collar, but he bit my hand so hard that I thought he had broken some bones. I started yelling at Simba like a maniac and tried to grab his collar again. He was so afraid of me that he ran out of the minivan. For two or three days afterwards, he would run away from me. A master and his dog should not have to live in fear of each other.

When my wife and I were getting divorced, we agreed on everything except what to do with Simba. I told her she could have him since she was the one who wanted a dog in the first place. Besides, Simba had never bitten her. She didn’t want him. I was stuck with Simba. When I was selling the house, I knew I had to give Simba away, but no one would be able to take him because he was too vicious. He even scared me and I was his master. Eventually, I had to take him to the Chicago Animal Control Center. But I didn’t know what else to do with him. Well, they probably had him put to sleep because he would probably bite anyone who tried to befriend him.

Now, my sons keep asking me to get a dog, but I keep making excuses. I’m afraid to get another dog! If I ever do, I’ll probably get a mutt.



Duke was the best dog that our family ever had. When we lived at 4405 S. Wood Street, he followed my brothers and me home from school. He really did. At first, he followed us at a distance and that was fine by us because we weren’t sure if he would bite us. He was already full-grown and he was at least part Golden Retriever and maybe a little bit German Shepard and Chow Chow. We were sure that, since Duke got along well with the whole family, he probably was also part Mexican.

He followed us into our backyard and we went into the house. When we looked out the window later, he was still there. We gave him some bologna and went back inside. The next day, he followed us home again and we gave him some milk this time. He let us pet him and he seemed very friendly. He was too clean to be a stray dog and he didn’t have the battle scars of street dogs, but he didn’t have a collar or dog tags either. We never let him into the house because we knew our mother would get mad at us. But Duke kept following us home after school. He knew what time we got out of school and he would meet us at the corner of our block and follow us home so we could give him something to eat.

One day, my mother came home from work and asked us about the dog on the back porch. “What dog on the back porch?” I asked, knowing we were about to get in trouble. We didn’t admit to anything. Eventually, my mother brought Duke into the house and we all started playing with him. He was really happy with us and never even growled when my little sister pulled his ears or fur. We asked our mother if we could keep it, but she said it probably belonged to someone else and they would eventually want him back. We could keep him until someone claimed him.

We were so happy to have a dog again. And the good news was that he was already house-broken. At first, my mother would open the door to let Duke go out by himself thinking that he would eventually go to his real home. But he always came back. After a while, I started walking him without a leash. He always stayed close to me and he would never run away. I walked him all over the neighborhood so that maybe Duke would recognize his original home, but we never found his original owner. Soon I knew I was Duke’s master because one of the neighborhood bullies threatened me with Duke at my side and Duke growled at him ready to defend me.

Duke had some pretty good street cred, too, because when other dogs would see him, they would run away. I didn’t need a leash to control Duke because he so obedient that he listened to my every command. However, he loved to chase squirrels, but he would only do say when I gave him permission. Whenever he saw a squirrel at a distance, he ears would perk up and he would growl, but he would stay by my side until I said, “Go get him, Duke!” And he would run at full speed toward the squirrel. He never once caught a squirrel because the squirrels were usually too far away from us and too close to a tree that they climbed to escape. Only once, did I think that Duke would actually catch a squirrel in his mouth. He was rapidly closing in on a squirrel that was foolish enough to try to outrun Duke instead of climbing a tree. I think that Duke slowed down to give the squirrel a running chance and the squirrel got away.

When we moved to 2509 W. Marquette Road, Duke moved with us. By then, he was part of our family. Somehow, I remained Duke’s master. My brothers and I had to be careful when we wrestled because Duke would attempt to bite my brothers in my defense. Even after I married and moved away from my mother’s house. Once I was visiting and I started wrestling with Tato, my brother Jerry, in the basement just like in the good old days. Duke just stood there watching. He was a lot older now and he didn’t growl at my brother as he once did. Well, I could still out-wrestle all my brothers even though we were all about the same size now. I managed to throw my brother down on his back on the sofa. I jokingly said, “Sic him!” and Duke ran and bit my brother’s face. I really didn’t think he would attack my brother. I immediately grabbed Duke by his collar and he finally calmed down. My brother had some puncture wounds on his face from being bitten a few times. I apologized profusely to my brother. Neither one of us thought Duke would attack. But he did. I was still his master even though I had lived away from him for about a year. I still feel badly about this even now as I described the incident.

Duke lived to be very old, but we never knew his exact age since he was already full-grown when he started living with us. Eventually, he had so many health problems that my sister had him put to sleep. He was such a great dog that I can still visualize him.




Irma was a Mexicana who lived on my block when I was about ten. We lived at 4405 S. Wood Street in Back of the Yards and she lived two houses south of us, upstairs from my friend Carlos Mojaro. She was about six years older than me, but everyone in the neighborhood knew her. She was very pretty and friendly. She always had a boyfriend, but never for very long.

Of course, then all the rumors started about her reputation, if you know what I mean. Even when she wasn’t home, some guy would come looking for her. Sometimes they weren’t even from the neighborhood. Irma’s mother–I never did learn her name because everyone simply called her Irma’s mother–would always look out her second-floor apartment window and shout for them to go away and stay away from her daughter! There was no element of mystery here.

Everyone knew that Irma’s mother was also very friendly with the men in the neighborhood, but only more so than her daughter. She was a single mother raising a son, whom was rarely seen coming or going home, and a daughter. The whole family was very popular with everyone in the neighborhood except for all the neighbors who lived within a half-block of them. They also had a dog–no one knew her name, but we always referred to her as Irma’s mother’s dog–that would often escape from the apartment and wander the neighborhood, occasionally biting children who wanted to pet it. Their dog also developed a reputation of being overly friendly with the other dogs in the neighborhood, but somehow never had any puppies. One day as I was walking our dog Duke, he approached Irma’s mother’s dog out of curiosity and she tried to bite Duke, but Duke ducked and bit her first. Irma’s mother looked out her window and yelled at me. I tried to explain that her dog tried to bite mine first, but Irma’s mother just started swearing at me. There was no talking to her.

One day, I saw Irma go into her house with her boyfriend. I could hear her lock the door as I sat on the porch with my friend Carlos. A few hours later, her mother came home and Irma wouldn’t let her in. Her mother started to swear at Irma as she looked out the window down at her mother. She kept saying, “You better let me in right now!” But Irma went inside and closed the windows even though it was hot outside. By then a crowd had started to gather. Irma’s mother kept shouting, “I’m gonna call the police on your boyfriend!” Then one of the women neighbors started arguing with Irma’s mother because of her dog that had gone into the neighbor’s yard. Irma’s mother asked for a reprieve from the argument because her daughter was in the house with some guy and she couldn’t get in. I was sitting on my bike out in front watching the scene. There were well over fifty people watching.

Then, the woman tells Irma’s mother, “I’m not surprised your daughter’s in there with some guy!” “What do you mean?” asked Irma’s mother. “You daughter’s a whore!” Irma’s mother just laughed. “You’re a whore, too!” We were all expecting for a physical fight to break out, but nothing. Irma’s mother just laughed that off, too. Finally, the woman says, “I’ve seen your dog fucking all the other dogs in the neighborhood! Even your dog’s a whore!”

This was just too, too much for Irma’s mother to take. She grabbed the woman’s hair and said, “You can call me a whore and you can call my daughter a whore, but don’t you ever talk about my dog!” Then Irma’s mother scratched the woman’s face. By then the police arrived and broke up the fight. The two police officers wanted to know what the fight was about and Irma’s mother said that the woman had called her dog a whore. She looked at the police believing that she was justified in attacking the woman.

Eventually, the police said that they came because a girl was locked in the apartment by her boyfriend. They went up to the front door and kicked it open. Both officers went upstairs. Everyone watching was excited because it had been a while since the police had been to their house. Well, Irma’s boyfriend ran out the back door and came out to the front of the house. He saw me on my bike and said, “You have to give me a ride!” Actually, he was much bigger than me, so he rode the bike and I sat on the handlebars. He rode a block away and took off running. I never saw him again.

When I rode back to Irma’s house, the police were out in front talking to Irma and her mother. I don’t know what happened after that because by then my mother came outside and made me go in the house.


Yet another chihuahua with a Napoleon Complex.

My uncle named one of his chihuahuas Chispirita. But none of the family children could pronounce Chispirita. All the children called him Cheese Pizza instead.

Translated to English, Chispirita is the English equivalent for a common name for a dog: Sparky. I have known of several dogs named Sparky in English, but this was the first Sparky I knew of in Spanish. Chispa means spark. Adding the diminutive “-ita” or “-irita” to “chisp-” makes the name Sparky or Chispirita, a term of endearment.

All the children in the family loved Chispirita, even though he was a moody chihuahua. When my twin sons were three years old, my uncle warned me that Chispirita would bite them. Although I warned my sons, they still petted Cheese Pizza, and of course, Cheese Pizza bit them. But my sons laughed as Cheese Pizza bit them and they told me to let Cheese Pizza bite my hand. When my uncle saw that Cheese Pizza was about to bite me, he came running over and said, “Watch it! Chispirita bites!” But, alas, Chispirita started chomping down on my fingers with his tiny mouth and I started laughing because my sons were right. Chispirita’s bite didn’t even hurt. Cheese Pizza’s bark was certainly worse than his bite. My uncle picked up Chispirita to put him in the house and told me, “I hope you learned your lesson!” I couldn’t believe the pain I experienced from laughing so hard with my sons!