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  • We agreed to meet at the circle at Ladd's Addition, the one by the coffee shop with the great green lawn surrounded by rose bushes and shady trees. The neighborhood in southeast Portland resembles a series of bicycle wheels, grassy parks the hubs and streets sprouting from centers like spokes. It's a mess of an area, an easy place to get lost, to fail to spot a couple of hipsters and a tiny brown chihuahua on the skinniest of leashes, sniffing tree trunks and anxiously pawing at smelly dead things on the lawn.

    Of all the dogs I ever imagined myself caring for, a chihuahua was not one of them. Oh, I didn't hate the breed, like many do; I hadn't had any kind of bad experience with this small narcissistic yapper. It had just never entered my thoughts before, much the way I felt when I suddenly found myself moving to Indiana for grad school when I was thirty. It wasn't a bad thing or a good thing. It just hadn't really existed until then.

    They called him Jorge (Hore-hay), because naturally every good chihuahua needs a Mexican name at least once in their lives. He was a compact bundle of little dog muscles and he ran faster than anything I'd seen before, a Roadrunner tearing up the grass with figure eights, his body seeming too low to the ground, too small to be able to pick up that much speed and draw circles with that much force. I crouched next to a patch of clover and waited for him to notice me. He seemed transported to another world when he ran, not looking up or around, just running feverishly as if trying to escape from something, or maybe trying to locate something he'd lost.

    This hipster couple had spotted Jorge wandering the higher numbered blocks of Foster; anyone who lived in Portland ten years ago knows that it was not a safe place for minors or small unaccompanied dogs to find themselves after dark. Jorge was covered in fleas and dog bites and his hind leg had a noticeable limp. He did not resist (or so I am told) when the couple scooped him up, gently, and took him home to bathe and feed. I am also told his rescuers did their due diligence when trying to find his original owners, thinking perhaps he had run away, used those strong muscular sprinting legs to bolt when a husband or wife returned home from work one evening, opening the door a crack wider than normal, just enough for a five pound Jorge to slip through. The ads were placed, the lost and found postings on craigslist scoured, the fliers strategically taped on lamp posts and local businesses in the neighborhood where he was found. "Jorge knew some tricks," the couple said. "He knew how to sit and he danced for treats, " they said. "Someone must have once loved him." Three months passed. No one ever called.

    I watched Jorge that day, running himself in circles, never stopping to introduce himself, showing no interest in this late twenty something, outwardly gregarious, inwardly terrified girl, who had responded to an adoption plea from the Pixie Project, a local animal rescue group who had found themselves responsible for yet another abandoned dog, one of many, especially chihuahuas, the most returned dogs to shelters, parents bowing to their children's pleas for a cute little tiny pet, failing to understand the needs of these little warriors, these ancient guard dogs of Chihuahua, their yapping impossible to breed out because after all it's how they protect their owners, their loved ones, their kings. I didn't know if I could love this ugly thing, if I could restore its faith that it could love and be loved and could give it the security to know it would never find itself on the streets again, shaking, cowering from the cold and the big dogs that once bit a hole the size of my fist into his side.

    Yet I found myself in the car an hour later, $250 lighter, with this alien creature in my lap, pawing at the window, wanting to stick his head out and let the breeze catch in his tiny golden brown hair. It took a while to find an appropriate name for my adoptee - The Punisher was a contender for weeks - but that summer I was in desperate love with a man so wrong for me, and we listened to this band Augie March, and when I called him Augie he came to me and licked me once, his little frog tongue meeting my hand, and who knew at that moment that he would become my shield, that he would restore my faith in loving and being loved, that this tiny rotten chihuahua would comfort my own wounds when exposed, would hold my heart when it skipped a beat, cowering from the cold?
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