January 21, 2002-June 13, 2017
The first strike against Z was Chispa. Chispa was the beloved family puli who lived with us from 1989 until she died in late 2001. She was an amazing soul who ruled our household with an iron paw. Everyone adored her, and my mother especially doted on her. We used to joke, not without some seriousness, that Olivia got into Stanford because of Chispa: one of her essays for admission was about Chispa. My own senior high school yearbook picture featured Chispa. So did Jose's. There was no way that anyone could live up to the myth of Chispa.
And so, when the call came into the breeder about a puppy, that there was only a boy available was met with a little disappointment. But still. Puppy!!
And Z came a little late. He was about 14 weeks old, and all of his siblings had already been gone a few weeks by the time he came to us. He had an umbilical hernia repair surgery before coming to us, and he needed a little time to recuperate. His was the "Z" litter from his breeder, and it didn't take us too long to come up with Zapata, the infamous Mexican revolutionary who preferred to die on his feet than live on his knees. Perhaps revolutionary was a bit tooooo close
His arrival was joyous. Everyone came to my parent's house to meet this little ball of fluff.
I was a little anxious about it, because Relampago, then nine years old, historically had not been fond of other dogs except for Chispa and Holden. I wans't sure at all how he'd handle a puppy. But Relampago LOVED Zapata from the moment he met him. They played together and loved each other, and Relampago's reaction to Zapata was the main reason I started looking for a second puli a year later. When my parents went out of town, Zapata would come to stay at my house.
Very early, Zapata proved to be a bit of trouble. My parents live on the sixth floor of their apartment building, with massive balconies. On one of the first weeks of Zapata's residence, he chased something (and with Zapata who knew what his mind was seeing) to the railing, and he went through the railing. Fortunately, there was a ledge on the other side, but Claudia had to very carefully retrieve the puppy from a suicide attempt. He and subsequent small puppies weren't allowed on the balcony unsupervised after that.
Since Zapata lived in an apartment, an important part of his day was his walk. He would pester everyone as soon as breakfast was over to get moving and get the business of walking going. My parents live not too far from Hermann Park, and Zapata and my mother would take epically long walks through the park. And Zapata LOVED to jump on every bench and retaning wall and curb and anything else to jump on that he could find. He lived for his walks.
He also loved the ranch, chasing and runnng around with Holden and Relampago, and later, Crianza. Once running around in circles like crazy people, when visitor dogs came to hang out. Once hysterically leading the charge against a Chinese Crested.
My mom, being a responsible pet owner, put Zapata in training classes as soon as she could. He was a very well behaved puppy dog. He would wait for commands before releasing from a sit, and he was generally very good on his leash. Except when he wasn't. He had triggers. Lots and lots of triggers. He didn't like other dogs. He didn't like most people. He would bark at the sun. He barked at shiny objects. He barked at bicycles. He began to nip at people. The trainers suggested other, more experienced trainers. At one point, Zapata was in a class with some of the "worst" dogs in Houston. Eventually, the trainers recommended that he be evaluated by a behavioralist. And that's how my mother and Zapata ended up being evaluated at Texas A&M and left with a fifty page report and a prescription for Zoloft.
Anyone else would have understandably given up, but I almost think that Zapata's issues drew the people that loved him closer. Part of it was that we had to keep an eagle eye on him. While walks at the park were a joy, they were also a minefield, especially during the summer when there were lots of kids that wanted to dart up and pet the rasta dog. Part of it was that his quirks were just weird. He had a vendetta against the antenna on the roof at the ranch. Sometimes the sun pisssed him off. Firetrucks were intolerable. He'd stand for minutes in front of the gong and bark at it. When he was let out at the ranch, he'd hightail it at full speed barking his fool head off towards the cattle guard, and he'd bark until he was satisfied that the demons were repelled. And he'd trot back to the house as if nothing weird had happened. He loved to patrol the dock at the ranch and bark at his own echo. Claudia used to talk about there being two Zapatas battling for control in his mind, one Zapata and the other Emilliano and you never knew which one had prevailed.
My family got to know Zapata's quirks. He had a muzzle for times when people came over. He also wore a sign at bigger parties advising against petting him. Because he and Relampago and later Crianza, Celosa, and Fusilli looked a lot like him to the untrained eye, mistakes would understandably be made about who someone was interacting with.
He was a beautiful puli. His cords always looked good and full, though he was a pain in the ass to groom. He hated baths, and I remember fighting him for nearly an hour in Taos in the tub. He also didn't like having his cords separated, which is something puli owners have to do from time to time to keep the cords from clumping. He'd snap at you if you did too much, and the only time I was ever injured by Zapata was when I was taking something out of his fur. My mother and I would tag team him for trimming or cord separating or otherwise keeping him tidy. And unfortunately, no matter what his bathing situation, he always had a bad odor that none of the other pulis ever had. Every solution under the sun was tried, but there was just some Zapata smell that just wouldn't go away.
His grooming issues made it so he often looked ridiculous because someone hacked at his cords without paying attention to styling in an effort to get it over and done with OR it got out of control and too long. Once, my parents rushed him to the vet because he couldn't walk. They thought he was paralized. Turned out that he got his foot caught in one of his cords and it was immobilized. He got a haircut after that.
Zapata was a weirdo in pretty much everything. His walks, for example. He'd start them by getting behind my mother and following her legs. It was the strangest thing to watch. I think it's part of the herding instinct, but he'd weave back and forth, following each leg as she walked. A few minutes into the walk, he'd move out from behind her and come next to her. And early in life he was banned from going down on the elevator, so he took the fire stairs down every morning. He didn't like to take food directly from someone's hand, but he was ok with it if it was on a fork or spoon. When he lay on the floor, he'd shove his paws under the rug in front of him. He demanded a glass of ice water every night when my parents had their cocktails and would only drink out of a bowl if absolutely necessary.
But for all of his quirks, Zapata loved his family. He and Jose had an amazing bond, and I was one of his closest friends. When Chicken joined us in 2007, Zapata was right behind Relampago in the Chicken Fan Club. (Crianza hated Chicken; she was resentful from the second she laid eyes on the corgi.) Relampago at that point was 13 years old, and he could just admire, but Zapata played and played with the corgi puppy and every time Chicken and Olivia came to visit, he'd take on Chicken entertainment duties. Relampago's departure and Celosa's arrival in 2008 were changes, but he accommodated them with aplomb.
The first time Graham ever came to visit, Zapata was staying with me. I warned Graham about Zapata's quirks, and as we opened the door, Zapata barrelled past us and went running down the street. Graham dropped everything and hightailed it after Zaptata, catching him before he got to the busy street. Z took a bite out of Graham, and ever since, everything between them was cool, though Graham always opted to sleep in the den when Zapata stayed over because Z kept kicking him out of bed.
The only one he didn't really like was Fusilli. Fusilli was fascinated with him as a puppy, but Zapata wanted nothing to do with him. Zapata was 11 when we got Fusilli, and maybe he was just over catching up with a youngster. In 2014, they got into a pretty bad fight and after that we kept them separated.
I don't know if apartment living was the best in the world for him, but he loved the ranch. It was worth the pain in the ass to haul him there every weekend. Zapata hated both 18 wheelers and round hay bales, and there are a lot of both in car rides through Texas, so drives with him were, er, loud. And at the ranch, he could explore and run and be himself to his heart's content. It was unlikely that he'd run into any dogs or people that could cause trobule. And he could explore. And bark at cows. He loved to take off and run around. It never seemed to bother him that he'd pick up tons of debris and sticks and bald cyprus leaves and burrs and pods.
And he could run and play. He taught Celosa how to chase cows. And he would wrestle with whoever was around. He patrolled the area around the house, but sometimes he'd go further, and we'd have to go out and look for him, sometimes in a car or the mule.
One of my most favorite Zaptata moments was the day after our wedding. He was, of course, in the ceremony, but he left the reception afterwards and hung out in peace at another house. The next day, the house was still full of people. And at some point someone noticed that Zapata was missing. A search party formed. My dad mounted the mule and began to look for him out and about. All of his usual haunts were no good. Panic started to rise. And then in a more thorough search, I found him in my parents' closet. He decided that no one was going to bug him there, and for the next five years, he was often found in closets if things got too overwhelming.
Zapata was just full of personality and quirks and stuff to talk about. We would all ask about him when we hadn't seen him in awhile, and we were super careful with him. He loved intently but very sparingly. His weirdoness made him that more special to us, and his fan club was small but devoted.
He went to Taos a dozen times or so with my parents, and he always had stories to tell afterwards. He and Relampago had a blast in 2003 there when I brought them back bones from the farmer's market. And again in 2006, when I went with them and Crianza to nurse a broken heart. Once, he lost his ham bone outside when it snowed, and he spent hours looking for it. The yard there was big with birds to chase. We lived in a not-unreasonable fear that one day he'd find the skunks there.
Over the last few years, it became clear that Zapata was hitting is dotage. At first it was just little things. He would have trouble staying oriented, and his eyesight and hearing started to deteriorate. Then his disdain and disinterest for Fusilli turned into fear because it was clear he could no longer defend himself or get away. He started losing weight, and he started sleeping a lot. At some point, he could no longer manage the stairs and elaborate blockades started to be built to prevent him from getting places. Last fall, he was diagnosed with a bacterial infection in his mouth, and he started to recover some of his appetite and start moving around again. But over the last few months, he'd get stuck. Under chairs or in corners. And he wouldn't be able to get out again. He was to the point he couldn't be left alone, and last week, it was clear that the Zapata we loved so much was gone.
As a family, we went to the vet's office last week. He ate as much cheese and pupperoni as he wanted. He gave everyone a hug. And it was time to say goodbye. The vet walked in, a woman we'd never met before. She spoke with a Spanish accent and called Zapata Commandante. "You know what Zapata means?" "Of course! Emilliano Zapata. Commondante." We talked about how he was always a revolutionary, and she said her minor was in Latin American Revolutions. She was the perfect person to help him across, and she said "Run free in Chiapas" when he died.
We held a wake for him over margaritas and we couldn't run out of stories about this amazing little soul who had been part of our lives for 15 years.
I will miss you, my friend. You gave my mother so much of yourself, and you loved her with devotion. You were never easy, but you made loving not a chore at all.