A menace roams the streets of Yakima and no one seems to care.
Well, I do.
In late October and early November, I had repeated run-ins with my archenemy, and it was never a pretty sight … or sound. My wife, Leslie, and I were on a mission to remind people to vote in the presidential election. We knocked on the doors of nearly 400 homes, and each time we stepped out of our car, a chorus of yelps from these scrawny creatures assaulted our ears.
In Greek mythology, the fearsome beast was called Cerberus, a three-headed hound that guarded the gates to the Underworld. In Yakima, the canine comes in a much smaller package but delivers a similar wallop. It also goes by a different name — Chihuahua.
Now don’t get me wrong. I’m sure there are a few well-mannered, friendly Chihuahuas living in Yakima. Sadly, I didn’t meet any during our two weeks of doorbelling. And it’s not as if we didn’t survey a wide swath of the area. We knocked on front doors in the north near Chesterley Park, in the city’s midsection around Franklin Park and in the south below Washington Avenue. Our crusade even took us into Union Gap.
And everywhere we went, it was the same scene — the proverbial déjà vu all over again. A second after I closed the car door, the yapping would begin. Often the sound was in stereo since Chihuahuas seem to come in pairs.
This ear-splitting sound is vastly disproportional to the size of a Chihuahua, which has the profile of a Bud Light beer can and protruding eyes ready to pop out of their sockets at any moment. With ears sticking out like miniature Frisbees, the bony-ribbed, oftentimes hairless Chihuahua is an animal to be pitied — if it weren’t for its demonic yapping.
At one home, after Leslie had knocked on the front door and failed to get a response, I could hear a side door open and then close shut. From along the side of the house, out sprang a Chihuahua, howling in a hoarse, rasping voice. What little hair it had atop its head stood straight up, giving the odd appearance of a punk rocker. Realizing that the dog’s territorial instincts border on paranoia, we beat a hasty retreat to our car as the crazed Chihuahua continued its rant.
One afternoon while doorbelling in a mobile home park along Washington Avenue, we came upon a hapless pet owner who had difficulty repelling the advances of her two Chihuahuas.
“I’ve got to get rid of these dogs,” she lamented.
She looked to me for salvation. Trying to yell above the yapping dogs, I shook my head and replied, “No thanks. We already have two cats. They’re enough trouble.” I didn’t mention that one of our cats requires daily medication for irritable bowel syndrome. But compared to a fidgety Chihuahua, I’d take a feline with intestinal distress any day.
I have nothing against pets. I don’t care if they are four-legged, bipeds, covered with scales or feathers, shed hair or hurl hairballs. I’ve comforted all of them at one stage in my life.
My first pet — I was 5 at the time — was a goldfish I won at the county fair by successfully landing a ping-pong ball into its pint-sized fishbowl. Two weeks later, the goldfish met an untimely death and, in a ceremony filled with pomp and a few awkward moments, my brother and I flushed it down the toilet.
Once, for reasons that still escape me, I purchased a pair of rats for my oldest son, who was in elementary school at the time. They were cute when they were small but soon grew to such proportions that my son wouldn’t get near them. So we ended up giving the rats away to a family that answered our newspaper advertisement. They arrived in a beat-up station wagon, its muffler bumping along the pavement and exhaust smoke filling the air. As the mother carried the caged rats to her car, my son whispered to me, “Dad, are they going to eat them for dinner?”
“Of course not,” I replied in a not-so-confident voice that only heightened my son’s fears.
Yes, such is the agony and ecstasy of owning pets. But really, given all of the wonderful creatures available in this universe, what’s the point of a Chihuahua?
The breed’s past is obscured in mystery. Sightings of a miniature, nearly hairless dog have shown up in records kept by Spanish conquistadores in the early 18th century and center on a region in Mexico later called — drumroll, please — Chihuahua.
In 1904, the American Kennel Club gave its seal of approval to the breed, noting they are “graceful, alert and swift-moving with a saucy expression.” The saucy part is certainly right. In the AKC’s popularity rankings last year, Chihuahuas came in No. 14, sandwiched between Doberman Pinschers and German Shorthaired Pointers. Described as having either a Deer or Apple head, the pint-sized pooches go by such endearing names as Teacup, Pocket Size and Tiny Toy.
I shouldn’t, though, be so quick to judge a pet by its breed, even the shrieking Chihuahua.
I discovered this invaluable lesson a few weeks ago while taking part in Camp Prime Time’s annual Leftover Turkey Trot at the Yakima Greenway. After finishing the three-mile walk, I headed to the parking lot at Sarg Hubbard Park and came face to snout with a Chihuahua. A most unusual thing happened next. No yapping. The apple-headed canine instead seemed to smile back at me.
A few yards away, a man opened his car door and in jumped the Chihuahua. Off the two went, with the hairless pooch perched atop the steering wheel. Now that’s a sight to behold.
Is that legal? Then I remembered. It’s a Chihuahua. Why shouldn’t it drive a car? They already rule the streets of Yakima.
• Spencer Hatton retired in September 2010 after working 27 years as city editor and editorial page editor at the Yakima Herald-Republic. A signed copy of his book, “Counting Crows: Stories of Love, Laughter and Loss,” is available at www.SpencerHatton.com and at Inklings Bookshop and Dunbar Jewelers in Yakima.