I started blogging because the thought a 50-year old first-time dad’s journey into uncharted territory was too good to pass on. I envisioned light-hearted posts written with a mix of sarcasm and sentiment, along with a few serious posts.
At the time I had no idea, I would be writing two eulogy posts in three months
I will always remember 2015 as a bittersweet year. Watching Cristian’s progression from fragile newborn to curious toddler is the highlight. Burying my father after a long illness was painful. Thursday night, Esther and I shed more tears, when we made the painful decision to put Chico to sleep.
I tried writing this post when I got home Thursday night. After placing Cristian in his crib I sat down at the keyboard but my mind was flooded with too many memories and emotions. The post just didn’t want to be written.
As a teenager, my sister-in-law Rose Marie, or Nequi, her family nickname, wanted a dog. One evening her father brought her a mysterious bag as a birthday gift. Placing the moving bag on the living room floor out came two puppies, Chico and Chica. Chico staggered out and headed directly to Esther.
At the time the Santiago family knew little about caring for a puppy—much less two—that changed quickly. Esther learned fast asking friends, co-workers, and pet store owners for tips and advice.
Taken from their mother at about two weeks old the family took turns bottle feeding Chico and Chica baby formula. Swaddling Chico in a blanket Esther carried him like a baby. Neighbors rushing over to see a baby were greeted by a dog snout.
When caring for two puppies became overwhelming, Esther found a new home for Chica, keeping Chico—he was friendlier. He spent the rest of his life rewarding that decision.
Esther and Chico were together for over 18 years—her longest male relationship. He was her first child, running partner and weather dog. When Esther worked for a special-needs preschool, Chico’s morning walks served a dual purpose. If he hopped like a bunny through snowdrifts after a heavy snowstorm, she called her boss canceling the day’s classes.
He was with her through good like the birth of nephews and godchildren and the bad, helping her cope with the loss of her first husband Luis, when he was killed in a car accident. My late mother-in-law Maria called him her first grandchild.
I met Chico shortly after Esther and I started dating. Before my first visit to her apartment, she warned me, “He’s protective and barks a lot when he meets new people.” She was stunned when we started playing shortly after my arrival.
We bonded immediately, Chico had a special vibe—he didn’t think he was a dog, he thought he was a person. I remember waking up in bed with the flu and finding him stretched out next to me with a contented look that said, “Great nap Frank.”
When I became a runner, I used Chico’s morning walks to gauge the morning’s weather so I knew what gear to wear for that morning’s race.
Chico stayed with Grandma Maria, when we had a travel race. Together they watched novellas and Sabado Gigante. Whenever Esther and I went out of town he knew Ritz Crackers, Hagen Dazs and Don Francisco were on the menu.
As parents we spoiled him taking him on two-mile walks. We admired the Tudor houses while he played with the neighbors dogs or searched for the perfect tree. Trips to the drive-through window included chicken nuggets for Chico.
We took him on many vacations with us. He played among the pine trees in Maine, cruised the boardwalk in Asbury Park, and walked among the brownstones on Embassy Row in Washington DC. Chico sat on my lap with his head out the window during my first trip to Florida.
He was my practice child. Yes I’m a aware caring for a baby is more involved than caring for a dog—I’ve written about it but the responsibility and discipline I learned caring for my canine companion helped when Cristian was born.
Chico was with us through two miscarriages and three failed IVF cycles. Sensing something was wrong he curled up with Esther offering comfort and warmth as if to say, “I’m here for you Mommy.”
Cristian’s birth was a rough adjustment for him, he initially refused to acknowledge him—that baby was taking time and attention usually devoted to him. He acted up demanding a walk when I was giving the baby a bottle and avoided Cristian, walking around him whenever we placed the baby in front of him.
After a few weeks Chico accepted the baby, or maybe he realized that baby wasn’t going anywhere. Coming inside from walks he stopped and sniffed Cristian’s feet and played with him as the baby rolled around on comforters. He was patient when Cristian grabbed his fur or an ear.
Before long the boys started working as a team. When Esther and I assembled the Cristian Zone, the baby’s play area, Cristian watched closely as Chico squeezed between the ottoman and the toy box—this was valuable information to be used for future escapes.
Chico started showing his age over the past months. The sweet disposition was still there but after 18 plus years, his body started betraying him. He hips weakened and he needed a diaper because he couldn’t hold his urine. The vet, we took him to was shocked—he’d never treated a dog that old.
Last Tuesday night, he deteriorated further—his back legs stopped supporting him. Wrapped in a blanket, on Esther’s lap with the World Series as background noise was painful—more painful than Jeurys Familia’s blown save.
Chico fought back Wednesday morning, giving us hope as he struggled out his bed. Determined to walk, he staggered around on shaky legs defiantly squeezing into the Cristian Zone. As evening approached we realized it was a false hope.
Waking up Friday morning was rough, Chico’s bed was empty, there was no dog to walk. I miss his morning walks, with a cup of coffee in one hand and his leash in the other. The memory of him racing Esther to the subway as she hurried off to work makes me smile as I type it.
His full name was Chicolindo, in Spanish, that means Pretty Boy. In Esther’s family there is a long line of Chicolindos—until now. Sitting in the vet’s waiting room, I suggested it’s time we retire the name.
We stayed with him to the end—I’m comforted knowing he went peacefully. He was an amazing dog who was more than a pet—he was family. We spoiled him giving him a great life and he rewarded us with better memories.
We will miss you my friend.