RIP Chico

Posing Chico

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.

Chico in Hoodie

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.

One of his favorite places, lying in a pile of laundry
One of his favorite places, lying in a pile of laundry

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.


At Shea Stadium for Bark at the Park Night.
At Shea Stadium for Bark at the Park Night.

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.

Chico with Santa
Chico with Santa

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.

Wathing Sesame Street together in the Cristian Zone
Wathing Sesame Street together in the Cristian Zone

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.

Chicos Paw Print


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Your Father is Going to be Very Happy

Esther and her nephew Justin.
Esther and her nephew Justin.

In my post before the break I wrote about finding out about Esther’s pregnancy but it still wasn’t real—I said it was but it wasn’t yet.  We’d been here before.  Esther had gotten pregnant twice and miscarried both times.

We tried IVF—three cycles worth.  Early morning blood tests, late-night hormone shots, and a 60-year old woman handing me a cup and pointing me to a room full of adult movies and magazines.  Is that Lindsey Lohan?  Okay I had the easy part, but IVF didn’t work for us either.

Since Esther was 41, and had two miscarriages, we were a high-risk pregnancy.  We were referred to a specialist.  After discussing our family histories Esther was sent for a Chromosome 21 test.

Me and an old picture of my niece Katie.
Me and an old picture of my niece Katie.

The fetus was tested for potential birth defects such as Alzheimer Disease, Cytogenetically Normal Acute Leukemia and Nonsyndromic deafness.   All we could do was cross our fingers and pray.

While we waited I joked that one family was going to be disappointed.  Esther’s family was dying for a girl, her brother has two sons and her sister has another. My brother has two daughters. My family wanted me to produce the elusive male child and keep the family name alive—but no pressure.

A few weeks later Esther called crying.  The test results were back.  Bracing for the worst, she said,

Esther and Chico at Shea Stadium for Bark at the Park Night.
Esther and Chico at Shea Stadium for Bark at the Park Night.

“The test results were negative.”

Choked up I asked, “Does that mean?”

“The baby is healthy” she answered crying tears of joy.

Wow!  It just got real.  She asked me, “Do you want to know the sex of the baby?  I didn’t ask because I wasn’t sure if you wanted to know.”

I wanted to be surprised, but knowing Esther wanted to know, said, “Sure, call her up and let me know.”

Twenty minutes later, Esther called back saying, “Your father is going to be very happy.”

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By The Way Did You Know You Were Pregnant?

Sitting in the doctor’s waiting room with Esther, I’m having flashbacks to a Sonossnowy Saturday afternoon in January when our lives changed.

I was prepping for the first race of a half marathon doubleheader weekend when Esther asked me to drive her to work. She usually drives herself to work on race days.  This morning, she asked for a ride because she wasn’t feeling well that morning.

A few hours later, she called sounding horrible asking me to pick her up from work early and taking her to an urgent care center. If you know Esther then you know how rare this is, she’s never sick and doesn’t leave work early.

At Urgent Care her pulse and blood pressure were taken and blood was drawn. Waiting for the doctor we talked about her skipping the next day’s Fred Lebow Classic. Imagine our surprise when the doctor said, “By the way, did you know you were pregnant?”

More sonosWe were surprised but not elated. We’ve been here before. Twice.

I remember how happy I was when Esther called me into the bathroom showing me a blue stick and the disappointment a few days later when the baby didn’t have a heartbeat.   We were referred to Northshore LIJ’s Center for Human Reproduction for IVF after a second miscarriage.

Three rounds of IVF treatments, thousands of dollars spent and multiple hormone injections only provided more disappointment. The first two rounds didn’t take and the final round produced embryos testing positive for Down Syndrome.  I wondered if we were meant to be parents.

So we were cautiously optimistic when we visited the OB/GYN for more blood tests and wait and see.  It wasn’t until we heard a baby’s heartbeat that we realized this might be real.

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