I always wanted a chihuahua that I could call chewy, as in chewbacca. A big name for a small dog. But when my neighbours turned up on my doorstep one morning carrying a hairy little two-toned brown puppy I knew that he was my dog. My wookie.
He was far too young to be taken from his mother at that stage. I sent him back to his ugly white hairy sausage-like mother and multiple wiry siblings while I waited for him to grow up. But then the funniest thing started happening.
This pea-sized pup would take it upon himself to navigate all the way down the hill and all the way up the hill again to my house each day. It’s about 500 metres from my house to the neighbours’, along a steep and winding cobbled path, but we can see each other, and call out across the valley. I’d be standing in the garden and hear a 10 yr old’s cry of “vais! vais!” and watch while this tiny little blob galloped his way over hill and down dale. And then he’d spend the day stuffed in my jumper because he done enough running around for one day. Some days I’d deliver him home again, to be snapped at and rebuked by his mother and other days he’d take himself home all by himself.
On special days the whole family would come to visit. I think the mother wanted to check out his pre-school teacher. I’d be making breakfast and be surprised by a calamity of excited puplings dancing around the loungeroom. Altogether there was Wookie, Babywookie, Uglywookie and the Otherwookie.
After a while, Wookie would stay later and later in the day and then overnight. He was soon joined by his little brother Babywookie who decided he’d quite like to be adopted too thanks very much.
Like all pups they got up to serious mischief. Shoes, of course, were randomly distributed around the village. That’s to be expected. The circulation of my undies, however, was more problematic. When I first saw something familiar swinging on their clotheslines, I innocently thought the neighbours and I were wearing the same brands. But then there were undies under the lemon tree, draped over the water meter, or swinging on the heads of cabbages. Once the postman had to step over a lacy pair on front steps. The neighbours would invite me in for a glass of wine and offer me a nice pair of bonds polka dotted bikinis to take back with me.
I’d take Wookie wherever I went, like a little mascot. Initially this lead to regretful consequences like the day wookie vomited eyes but mostly he was buckets of fun. He got somewhat well-socialised, what with making doggy friends and patiently waiting while kids conquered their fears to pat and cuddle him. Other people recognized in him what I saw – a very charming and affectionate, uniquely goofy creature. Occasionally in his enthusiasm for town life he would get away from me and I’d lose him for an hour only to discover he’d found his own way to the café and been waiting for me the whole time. The force is strong in this one, yes.
Some of the neighbours and I clashed over the dog. They insisted that he should be tied up. They were convinced that he was going to kill their goats, and he would torment me by escaping and barking at them or trying to round them up.
The whole issue of dogs in Portugal is a polarizing one. Around here, the sight of dogs tied up for the duration of their lives is something you have to get used to, somehow. And these neighbours were those kinds of people. The only dogs they have known are chained up dogs: miserable, unpredictable, desperate and mostly insane. Wookie’s freedom became a protest against cruelty and an example to show them what a good dog is like. And anyway I couldn’t stomach the sad eyes and whining that comes with confinement… oh god, the guilt. The guilt!
It was nice and noble in theory. It was a nightmare in practice. First Babywookie went missing. Other village dogs got abruptly relocated to the wild or there was a genuine dog thief about; to this day I don’t know, but it was traumatic for the village kids and me. Then big Wookie got run over by the neighbour’s son and they asked me to pay for the damage – as is the custom, I was to learn. Never mind my injured dog, his speeding, the vet bills. I paid up. I kept him inside more, I worked on his training, but apparently Wookie didn’t really appreciate my political agenda.
For a year or two he really tested me. We’d be out and about exercising his human rights and given the slightest chance he’d get off the lead and terrorise random free ranging chickens wherever he could find them. I was forever handing over compensation to enraged strangers in obscure villages after Wookie would ruffle the feathers and scare the shit out of their chooks. Once, when houseminding near Tomar, Wookie chased a bunch of sheep into a forest during a severe thunderstorm. Two farmers and I somehow managed to locate them again, even having to drag a young one from a river. Now, I certainly could see the other point of view; nonetheless chaining him up wasn’t the solution. Instead I re-trained myself and decided I’d listen to sensible advice to be more strict with him.
The One had a calming effect on everyone. He was far more practical than me and we took Wookie out less and less. We went to live over the mountains, in a village where the livestock had fences. I think he forgot his cattle-dog urges, and used up all his energy playing harmlessly with his new village dog friends. He grew up a lot during that period and by the time we got back to Cú de Judas the dynamic had changed and the Wookie and the neighbours had mellowed out.
I’d like to do a shout out to all the other dogs who came to live with us over the last 7 years. Stray dogs know which houses to pick, and Wookie was so friendly and happy to welcome in new mates. First there was Curious who was a chunky Rottweiler sook with a question mark on his forehead. Then there was Dingo, who stayed for about a year and vanished in the great dog disappearances of 2009. Then there was Ringo who would follow us on foot 10kms up the road and back again, so determined was he to belong to us. And there were many more, as well as a string of cats, some who just came for a day or two, grateful for a feed and a pat, mostly lonely and ashamed of having been abandoned. This too, is a sad fact of life that you get used to here in the mountains.
For the last couple of years it’s become entirely normal to find Wookie minding a little woolly herd in our garden. The neighbours trust him now. Many nights he hasn’t come home because apparently he is welcome in one of the village girl’s beds (!). The neighbour who once carried a stick to throw at him can now be found ruffling his ears and calling him by his nickname wookieziiiito. Their dogs are still chained up, but at least their poor lives are brief.
Today Wookie has a new home. We decided it wouldn’t be fair to bring him to the city, through a long quarantine, to the noise and traffic, to be fenced in. Almost unbelievably, he has found a home with another wookie! A girl-wookie! I’m so happy that he’s found a family who’ll love him like I have, for his ruffian looks and his gentleness, for his curiosity and quirkiness. For being a wookie.