Author: Paco Papagni
I want to be clear that I’m writing this to set the record straight; not for recognition or because I have nothing better to do. Dogs have historically contributed more to humankind than we are given credit for; we all have a story. My name is Paco and I belong to Chris. I don’t like the “belong” verb, but it’s better than “owned by” or “property of.”
More than three years ago I was abandoned and left for dead in a wooded area in Estoi, Portugal. There is not much I can say about my former owners, except that they are pond scum who had no business taking me into their home in the first place. I had a chip that was never registered. I suspect my mother was a stray who either lived on the derelict property or wandered close to it by mistake when she was pregnant with me and my siblings. Some of this is me filling in the gaps — it was a difficult introduction to the world and I’ve blocked the bad bits out.
I’m four years old (that’s a guess) and I’ve survived a lifetime of trauma already. After being left to fend for myself in a place where rats, wild dogs, poisonous insects, and who knows what else, thrive; I kept myself alive and I’m ready to tell you how it all went down. Please don’t feel sorry for me, I’m a dog, having a survival instinct is my secret weapon. It’s a world where humans rule and some of us pets get to help make their lives more livable — our sole purpose. Where, how and when this pairing-up situation plays out, is purely random. We know this at birth, even before we learn to speak.
There are things about me that made it somewhat easier to be paired with a human: I am blond, my hair is as soft as cotton, I am tiny, and my eyes are soulful. I only know these things about myself because others have told me. I’ve heard stories of ugly dogs being put down because nobody wanted them. I knew I was not of that variety very early on — this explains why I prance when I walk. I know who I am.
Still, I was literally thrown into a dire situation and before I could even try to find my person, I had to survive despicable humans and the wrath of nature. I awoke before the sun one morning not long after I was cast out into the wild. Small parasites discovered I was a host without protection. They attached themselves to my body and left me defenseless against their harmful pathogens. As a result, I became weak and unable to hunt for food. I feared my mother and siblings were far away and the wooded brush was my only blanket. Days and weeks passed and I became quite delirious — a state I was grateful for . . . for obvious reasons.
Weeks after the start of my affliction, I wandered onto a dirt road; a shipping container used as a house in the distance. Although it was a cold and rainy December day, I could smell a dog who may have been guarding the property. I approached the container hoping I would be seen or smelled. Hours passed as I shivered in the storm, breathing what I was fairly certain were my final breaths. Nearby voices woke me from my stupor and warm hands scooped me up from the side of the road. Two humans gently lifted me up and carried me to their home. The dog I’d smelled earlier kept trying to attack, although he did not know I was not a threat. I was weak, wet, and tired, and these humans thankfully kept this dog away from me. They tried to feed me, but eating was impossible. My instincts told me that this illness had made it certain that I would perish. All I wanted was to sleep.
A night passed and the humans took me to a place they thought might help. I was starving, thin, weak, and my breathing was labored. A gentle woman examined me and told the couple that there were tests she could do to determine why I was dying. The kind humans had no money, therefore, the best they could do was take me home and hope for the best. In the meantime, they spread the word that they had found me hoping to locate my owner — that would never happen. Some humans view us as expendable.
It must have been difficult to keep that other dog away from me because the humans seemed anxious all the time. They also mentioned taking me to the doctor, but they didn’t have the means. Someone who lived nearby told them that there was a local American man on Facebook looking for a dog in need of a home. This person said that he couldn’t come to meet me for two weeks, but she seemed to think that he would want me and that he’d be able to take me to the doctor. Knowing that I might soon have a forever home made me feel a little better. I started to eat a little and I know that I slept most of the time. The Scots, I believe they were Scots, had named me Whisper and I thought that sounded sort of lame. Still, I knew that I should be grateful.
Time passed slowly and I started to believe that I might die before this man came to meet me. One day one of the Scots answered the phone and it was Chris, the American they’d heard about. They told me that he’d be there to meet me later that day. At least I think that’s what they said.
Indeed, a car pulled into the driveway and two tall men and a woman got out. They seemed excited to see me and each of them held me in their arms. They were nice humans. I knew which one was Chris right away, because when he held me tears ran down his face and he kissed me about twenty times. I was pretty grungy from living in the woods, so I was a bit embarrassed. Before they left me, Chris said he would be back for me and I believed him. The Scots seemed relieved and happy, so was I.
I’m not 100% certain this part is true, but I seem to recall that my first owners (the scum) spoke Portuguese. When I was rescued by the Scots on the road by their house, they spoke funny; it might have been English. I was grateful that they’d found me, but I couldn’t understand anything they said. Then when Chris came to get me, I was pretty certain he spoke English. His words in the beginning made him sound angry, but I later learned that he was from Brooklyn and I’ve overheard his friends tease him about that; apparently Italian Brooklyn men sometimes come off as gruff. He’s a big guy so he can be intimidating. It doesn’t really matter, I understand everything now.
Chris took me to a doctor the day he brought me home. Maria (vet) told him I had a serious viral infection and that because I was so weak and my red blood count low, I might not make it. She said I was about 11 months old. Maria said she would do what she could to make me well. Chris’ friend Michele removed all the matted parts of my coat and gave me a bath. Being that I was matted everywhere, she had to remove most of it, but I didn’t mind. I already knew I was one of the fortunate ones.
My dad is a good human for the most part. I think he travels way too much and he often seems to get upset about how slow things move in Portugal. I know that no human or animal for that matter, is perfect, so I forgive him. The other thing he does that I wish he wouldn’t do, is fool with this little cellular thing. He’s constantly pushing on it and is talking to it and it mumbles back to him. I think he may be more in love with that thing than he is me, but again, nobody’s perfect.
It’s been three years now. Early on we had this government enforced stay at home restriction called a lockdown and it was just Chris and I, all day every day, for a long time — this happened twice. I liked that time with Chris. We would go outside and the streets would be empty. There is a dog park near our apartment and we would go there to run around. Everything was still and it was peaceful. I hoped it would last forever, but it didn’t.
I’ve been deathly ill several times. Aside from that killer virus I had when they found me, I’ve had an operable tumor on my paw, bronchitis I caught from a stray that came close to ending me, and one time we even had to go to a hospital in the middle of the night because I was having trouble breathing. Chris cries whenever I’m very sick. I wish that I could tell him that I’ll be okay and that I’m not going anywhere. I don’t think I could ever leave our home; it’s warm, quiet, and has a lot of soft surfaces. I have a bowl full of toys I play with everyday. I eat really well and apparently the doctor says that even though I could have died from that tick bite in the woods, I am now 100% healthy.
Things can get a bit crazy on our street. Two weeks ago a dog that I used to play with, Loki, was attacked by a big dog who got loose from his owner. The dog broke Loki’s spine in several places and he died; the owner was bitten as well. Some dog’s instincts tell them to attack, I was born to comfort. I’m sad about Loki because I know his owner would have prevented the attack if he could. I know Chris would be very sad if that had happened to me; we’re both extra careful now. All animals, including humans, are unpredictable.
I have a friend, Patricia, who stays with me whenever Chris leaves town. She has a dog named Petucha; she’s like a sister (see photo below). Petucha lives across the street, so I get to see her a lot. I’m glad she doesn’t live with us, I like things just the way they are.
I think I might be the happiest dog alive. There are only two things I truly need in my life: treats and Chris, in that order. My dad tells me he loves me a lot; even though I can’t say the words, I let him know, in my own way, that I love him too. Blond and tiny or not, I know that I’m a pretty lucky dog. Lastly, Chris renamed me Paco the day he brought me home; my new name suits me just fine.
Patucha and me on my terrace