As soon as we began coming regularly to the land were our ranch was to be built, about three years ago, so did Chucha, which immediately became our most devoted and solicitous neighbor. Hers was not the gradual approach to romancing new friends, or at least that wasn't the case with us. It was more like, "Hey guys, can we get this house finished so I can move in?"
Her looks are not her biggest asset. Even before we started to feed her regularly she was a matronly sort, with a beefy torso and legs splayed slightly, which produces a loopy waddle rather than an elegant strut. Old age or perhaps arthritis also make Chucha walk at a slight angle, like an old pickup that was rear-ended and the chassis never quite straightened out.
No matter. Her tail wags constantly and in various directions, depending on the occasion: Up and down, right to left or at times of extreme delight, all around in a whirligig-like motion.
Her nose is grayer by the day and a nervous tic makes her left lip and ear twitch nervously. Her eyes are beginning to cloud up though she seems to still see quite well. She also hears well. And if you insist, she'll let you check her teeth and discover that alas, there aren't many left, basically just a few grungy canines.
Then you have her teats--hence the Ms. Titties nickname we gave her--which dangle from her belly like a rack of medals for "Outstanding Achievement in the Propagation of the Species Canis Domesticus." Indeed two of her progeny, one a male named Negro with identical markings--all black except for a white blotch on the chest and white tips on all four feet--and a female named Brenda, still hang around with Chucha. Feed one and you have to feed all three. Rub one on the head and immediately you have what Stew calls a "group hug." We have no idea how many litters Chucha has produced except she's a veteran mother.
Even if you could pin down her breed, Chucha would never win a ribbon for her looks. But she surely would win something for something: Personality, lovability or just sheer grit. Of the six farm dogs that come to our gate daily, Chucha is by far the oldest--ten or eleven years old at least--a most venerable age for a dog that was born and has spent her entire life outdoors, her owners good for no more than a couple of stale tortillas a day in lieu of food, and living under constant threat from predators, other dogs, cars, disease or human cruelty.
The Darwin Award for survival of the fittest or at least the most determined. That would be a good award for Chucha.
Chucha actually belongs to Don Vicente, a rancher who lives in a ramshackle house downhill from us, with a wife and fourteen children, not all of them from his wife as we understand. He told me that Chucha is special to him because she was a gift from a "female friend."
From the beginning Chucha followed us around and rested her head on either one of our laps if we sat down. Any sign of affection from us triggers a belly-in-the-air routine until we give ten or fifteen seconds of rubbing.
Chasing her away was useless, so we started thinking of adopting her which just didn't work out. For all her sweetness and gentleness toward us, Chucha was definitely an alpha bitch who wouldn't tolerate any competition from other dogs, including our Lucy and Gladys.
Any sight of each other would trigger frightening bouts of growling and snarling. In fact her aggressiveness is most likely the key to Chucha's longevity. When we used to feed the other dogs, including Negro and Brenda, they would all give Chucha the right of way.
But over the past six months Chucha's supremacy is noticeably fading. Other dogs no longer stand back and let her eat first; now some will even challenge and chase Chucha away. In a touching sign of family loyalty, only Negro and Brenda will still let Chucha eat first; indeed Negro, the biggest member of the pack, occasionally chases and snarls at other dogs bothering or threatening Chucha.
Chucha has had a couple of health scares recently. One of her nipples swelled up grotesquely but the day before we planned to take her to a vet Don Vicente reported that the inflammation somehow had burst and drained by itself. Then a bright red growth about the size of a golf ball appeared dangling from Chucha's rear end. Again, it disappeared. Maybe it fell off or she bit it off. Whatever it was, in a couple of days she was back at our gate looking for food.
Unlike the other dogs, Chucha is no mercenary. She shows up punctually at our gate whenever we come and go, not necessarily looking for food. A quick back rub and a "Hi Chucha!" and a couple of minutes later she's on her way back to wherever she sleeps or hangs out.
Her punctuality has given us a few scares. If she doesn't come, has something happened to her? At her age, we realize one day she's not going to show up for good. We'll miss her and be sad and most likely will say something trite like "for a country dog on her own, Chucha had one hell of a run." In her case, every word will be true.