Wolves are never prey. They are at the top of the food chain; they need fear no other animal. Wolves are territorial; rivals will not enter their domain unchallenged. What happens, then, when you put the brain of a wolf into a ten-pound body?
We had many names for Koko. Burrito Boy and Nature Boy were my favorites; the first descriptive and the latter ironic. Koko was always on the losing end of encounters with the local wildlife.
He was a stocky chihuahua, big-boned I always said, who wheezed when he slept, under the blankets on the bed with his head on the pillow, his four little legs rigid, sticking straight up into the air.
Koko was about six months old when we picked him up from a family who lived some distance out of town. The place was strange -- almost-feral dogs roamed the property, and little Koko was at the bottom of the pecking order, all his siblings long since adopted. The owner used a garden hose to bring the rest of the dogs to bay long enough for us to get to know the solid little dog with the coloring of a doberman. Triska drove while I held Koko on my lap. He lay down, fearful and shaking and drooling, and didn't move until he puked in my lap.
Spike, our other chihuahua, wiry and hyper, was ecstatic to have a new friend. It was for Spike we had agreed to get another pup; he hates to be alone, and when we got home from work he would be hoarse from crying all day. Before long Koko was beating up Spike and the smaller dog had never been happier. They would run laps around the dining room table, sometimes forgetting who was chasing whom.
Burrito Boy was hardly a show dog. One ear stood up, the other flopped. At almost ten pounds, he was far over the limit for the breed. His lower lip stuck out, black and shiny, and he had way too many teeth. It looked like a shark's mouth in there. He was one solid cylinder of energy, somehow able to propel himself straight up into the air on his skinny little legs, over and over like he was dancing the pogo.
While Spike craves coffee, Koko was a beer dog. All guests had to be warned to protect their cervesas from the little bandito, lest they turn to find a dog sticking his tongue surprisingly far down the neck of their bottle.
I only intentionally gave Koko beer once, on the night I named him Nature Boy. A skunk had happened through the back yard only moments before I let the dogs out. They were off like a shot, competing to see who could kick the skunk's ass first. As wolves, they cooperated, and Spike attacked the front end of the intruder while Koko took the rear.
I caught up to them in the neighbor's yard, Spike rolling in the grass and rubbing his eyes, Koko motionless and foaming at the mouth. The skunk had shot him straight down the throat. That night he wouldn't drink water, but I gave him a bottle cap of beer. The next day I went on a business trip, and I had lots of room around me on the plane. Nature Boy had bad breath for a month.
Koko also had a losing encounter with a rattlesnake, and we learned just how much antivenin costs. When I didn't notice the bobcat in the yard until after I had released the hounds, it was Koko at the vanguard. The bobcat retired, whether out of fear of the small loud thing (Koko) or the larger thing (me) close behind, I do not know. Probably it was just looking for peace and quiet.
Nature Boy was not allowed outside unsupervised, as I well knew the dangers that lurked in the canyon. One night I was a little slow following them outside. There was a commotion, a strangled squeak, and a coyote disappeared into the darkness before I could get there.
Wolves are territorial; they will lay down their lives for the good of the pack. They do not retreat in the face of a larger foe, they use teamwork and numbers to accomplish what individuals cannot. There is no room for fear; if one wolf hesitates the pack may fail. On that night I, the alpha of the pack, was late into the fray, and Koko, brave little warrior, paid the price.
Article © Jerry Seeger. All rights reserved.
Published on 2005-11-07