Good Dog

A Little Chihuahua’s Extra-Large Presence

A scraggly Chihuahua mix found on the banks of Lake Erie now runs the show in a Mississippi household

Illustration: JOHN CUNEO

If you squinted, you’d have thought the tiny dog edging his way along the shore of Lake Erie covered in crumbles of sand cherry and hop hornbeam leaves with switchgrass entangling his paws was a baby wolf. The beaches there are dotted with sea glass and slate, slick skipping stones and moss-colored murk, and this wily Chihuahua mix, covered in green, limped along for what must have been days until a kind onlooker called the Northern Chautauqua Canine Rescue to scoop him up. 

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After a good warm bath, the volunteers quickly learned this little ten-pounder must have been somebody’s dog because he was house-trained and never snapped at anyone. But they also learned he must have been hit—and hit often—because his hips seemed to go one way while his front legs and head went the other like a caboose not hitched to the rest of the train quite right, and anytime a volunteer raised her hands over her head, he’d cower, flutter his Milk Dud eyes, and flinch.

I had lost a sweet mini dachshund a few years earlier, so I really wasn’t looking for another four-legged creature that Thanksgiving Day of 2013 when my dear friend across the street who volunteered at the rescue told me about a little dog that I might just be interested in. Oh no no no no, I protested. My only focus was our big dinner: The turkey was already in the oven, I was finishing up final meal prep, and my weekend revolved around my beloved Buckeyes playing in the Game. I’ll check it out maybe during winter break, maybe next month, maybe next year.

But best friends often know what you need better than even you, and another call came soon after. “Since it’s Thanksgiving, I thought I’d just swing by and let him stay for an hour or two,” she said. “All the dogs from the shelter are doing it, just to get a little bit of home time over the holiday.” Okay, I said, but not for long—we’re going to eat dinner soon and I don’t need a dog begging under the table.

I was in the kitchen when the doorbell rang, and my husband, Dustin, answered it with his big jolly laugh that I’ve loved for years. My friend vanished before I could get to the doorway, and by the time I made it to the family room, our boys, three and six years old at the time, were already whirling like dervishes around this little dog, who had joined in—jumping and dancing and laughing (and barking)! Mommy, Mommy, come see! That little beige dog that looked like a miniature wolf wore a jaunty hand-knit green-and-white-striped scarf tied ever so gently around his neck. So distinguished—a little wolfy professor with four-inch legs and a bulbous belly like an overinflated football. He strutted around as if he already owned the kitchen. The dog trotted into each of the boys’ laps, sitting with his tongue out as if to say, I’m new here, so what’s cooking?

An hour or two turned into overnight, then overnight became at-least-just-the-Thanksgiving-weekend, and that weekend turned into a decade. For his name, I gave the boys a list of poetic terms to choose from—I’m a poet, after all—and they settled on the shortest name, the shortest type of poem, for the shortest little wolfy dog they’d ever seen. My oldest insisted on picking the middle name, his favorite thing at the time. So the rescued Chihuahua from the shores of Lake Erie became Haiku Macaroni Parsons. 

A few years later, we moved from Upstate New York to Oxford, Mississippi, where we could be outside for most of the year. Here, Haiku became my sylvan companion, accompanying me on the city’s beautiful trails while I bird-watch for indigo buntings. To both of our delights, he’s also become my roller-skating buddy, happily trotting alongside my iridescent boots (which are taller than him) with light-up wheels. His tail wags when he sees me pull them out of the closet, and he runs to the door and sits, vibrating with excitement while I lace them up.

In the heat of Mississippi, we exchanged his scarf for seasonal bow ties, which my boys save up for with their allowance. A bright pink bow tie blazoned with red strawberries in spring; lustrous mermaid scales for summer; pastel flowers for Easter; pumpkins for October; an orange plaid for Thanksgiving; Ohio State scarlet and gray for my alma mater, which we alternate with a University of Mississippi bow tie throughout football season. Hard-earned piggy bank cash and meticulous debate go into each selection.

Along with the bow ties, this little dog who came to us with nothing but a single scarf now has no fewer than four orthopedic dog beds scattered throughout the house for his many all-important naps. His little paunch has expanded over the years—what I’ve termed pandemic weight—to the point that one of my English professor friends joked that Haiku has become a little bit of a haibun (a chunkier form of the three-line Japanese poem). He’ll waddle from bed to bed, from bedroom to kitchen to porch, following the action. That means from May to early November, he’s outside lounging by the pool in his waterproof cot propped up from the hot cement. On his throne beneath his sun umbrella, he’s unbothered, only barking in protest if the boys accidentally splash him. We like to sing a variation of J.Lo’s “Jenny from the Block” to him: “Used to have a little, now he has a lot—no matter where he goes, he knows where he came from.”

Haiku’s most infamous quality, though, may be his side-eye, for which he has developed a kind of cult following on my social media. My friends have lovingly dubbed it his resting frown face, and like the ruler of a kingdom, he casts his judgments upon his subjects. (Are you sure you’re not oversalting that chicken? Interesting word choice in that poem. Really? Posting a photo of me again?) As I dress in the morning, trying on a new outfit, I can’t help but laugh at the little nonplussed furry face in the lower corner of my full-length mirror. Nope. Try again. I can’t believe you chose that.

While the rest of us had a hard time sleeping during the tumultuous early days of the pandemic, Haiku snoozed peacefully on his memory foam loungers. He took it all in stride, because his beloveds were always home. When I had online happy hours with friends over Zoom or a screenful of college students discussing a new novel, he was always there—a heartbeat at my feet, as Edith Wharton wrote—his big brown eyes full of love and scrutiny looking up at me. Before each class ended, my students would beg to see Haiku, and he became another companion for the students in their dorms who couldn’t go home and missed their families and pets terribly.

Maybe it’s too much to think Haiku gives us all hope. He’s the least likely candidate to do so with his little face judging everybody, but his big searching eyes make us remember what it’s like to be found. His origin story reminds me what’s most important: family, shelter, and the surprise of letting something unexpected open your heart. He’s certainly come a long way; his biggest stress these days is the squirrels out the window trying to steal birdseed. I like to think this little Thanksgiving surprise is grateful living out his golden years in his cushy beds, perched to have the whole family in view at all times. And for this little dog named after a little poem, who wears little bow ties, I give big thanks.