When I was five, I got my first puppy. His name was Piccolo. He was a bad dog. But I loved him. He bit people, barked constantly, and enjoyed peeing on clean laundry, furniture, and, if he really liked you, your pant leg. He was a Chihuahua, we think. His pedigree was questionable.
One of my fondest and most vivid childhood memories is of the time when Piccolo was almost arrested. I was seven years old. The two police officers stood at the front door, looking quite stern. I hid behind my father, holding the little culprit.
“What can I do for you, Officers?” my father asked in a casual, somewhat bored tone. My dad was a town doctor of sorts; everyone knew him. He probably took the tonsils out of every kid in the neighborhood, including all of the police officers’ children. Dad never got a speeding ticket, which was amazing because he was a terrible driver.
“Hi, Doc. Hate to bother you…” the older officer began to say.
The younger policeman interrupted. “There’s been a complaint from your neighbor about a vicious, destructive dog.” He checked his little notebook. “A Mr. Peterson across the street there,” he said, gesturing to the house.
“Yeah.” Dad took his glasses off and looked the cop in the eye—that was a serious look. “What exactly happened?” My father knew exactly what had happened, since he had seen the whole event. I think he found it quite funny, and he didn’t like old Mr. Peterson anyway. I held my squirming little dog tighter.
“Well,” the officer said, looking at his notes again, “he says the dog tried to bite him and was digging up his tulips, peeing on his plants. Also says he had to chase him off with a shovel, and almost had a heart attack.”
“What type of dog was it? Sounds dangerous.” Dad stifled a snicker.
“He didn’t say—says it’s your dog, though.”
“Yeah, I see. Well, this is our dog.” I peeked out from behind my Dad’s pant leg. Piccolo tilted his spotted head; he seemed to be grinning at the two policemen.
“You mean that dog…that little thing? I don’t believe it.” The young policeman looked at Piccolo, who was wagging his tail now, as though proud of himself for getting away with his bad behavior, and the man tried not to laugh. Fortunately he did not attempt to pet Piccolo, because a bite to the hand would have ended the fun times.
The older man shook his head. “Sorry, Doc. Your neighbor must have been mistaken. That dog doesn’t look too dangerous to me.”
“Well, alright then, you officers have a good day.” Dad let the screen door slam behind him. Piccolo jumped out of my arms and ran into the living room to pee on the couch. He lifted his skinny leg with what looked like sheer delight. I tried to catch him, but it was too late. Dad sighed and mumbled, “Damn dog.” I cleaned up the pee as best I could, hoping my mom wouldn’t notice. Then Piccolo trotted off, undoubtedly looking for more trouble.
It all began when I went with my mother to the home of a distant cousin, whom I didn’t know very well. He was older, in his twenties, and owned a Chihuahua named Bitsy. Bitsy had one puppy. I’m not sure if Bitsy was a real Chihuahua—she was kind of big. My cousin kept her and the puppy in a cage on a shelf. While we were visiting, he handed me the tiny dog and said, “Wouldn’t you like a puppy?”
I looked at my mother, expecting a negative response. To my amazement she said, “He is cute—let’s take him home!”
I was delighted to have a new puppy, but I was a little concerned. Mind you, we already had a dog: our big, noble, and saintly German shepherd Rin Tin Tin. Didn’t my mother realize that Rinny may not like this puppy or might even eat him? Even at the age of five I could envision this possibility. It was not a good idea.
But I wanted the puppy. I thought he was so cute. In truth, he was not cute at all. He was funny looking at best. He had buggy eyes, huge ears, and skinny legs, and his coat was mostly white with some brown spots.
Well, we took the puppy home. My father was a little surprised at the new arrival, but immediately suggested, “Let’s name him Piccolo, which means ‘small’ in Italian.” Dad thought that was very clever.
Rinny came over to see the new addition to the family. I was scared to let go of Piccolo. My father said, “Put him down on the floor and see what happens.” Before I could say anything, Dad scooped up the pup and placed him in front of Rinny. Piccolo immediately began to bark and growl, standing his ground.
My dad snorted, “That is one dumb dog.”
Rinny eyed the small animal and then lifted his leg, peed on Piccolo’s head, and trotted away. He clearly wanted no part of little Piccolo. Good dog that he was, he tried to ignore the pup, but Piccolo went after Rinny like gangbusters, chasing him, biting his tail and his leg and making him yelp, and generally torturing our poor “good dog” Rinny.
Piccolo was fast. No one could catch him. All afternoon during that first meeting, Rinny tried to get away, but that little pup could move. Finally Rinny grabbed him by the neck and tossed him across the living room like a softball. This presented only a minor setback for Piccolo, who just returned with a vengeance. I finally tackled the puppy and held him tight. However, as soon as I put him down again, he went back after Rinny for more.
This, we discovered, would not get better with time. There was no Dog Whisperer back then. So Rinny would spend part of the day in the basement while Piccolo ran around the house, and then in turn Piccolo would be barricaded in the guest bathroom and Rinny would take over. It was not an ideal situation. But that was how it went.
Regardless, I loved little Piccolo. He had a lot of personality, but he tolerated my dressing him in doll clothes. (Poor dog.) He looked adorable in one particular frilly blue dress. He was my best playmate and constant companion.
My mother had spent much time training Rinny, making him the “perfect dog,” which she gave herself full credit for, but Piccolo proved to be untrainable, despite her best efforts. I am not sure if she really tried very hard, since Piccolo was such a nasty little thing. He loved me, but no one else. He was happy to bite anyone he did not like, which was everybody.
He did have a fondness for my aunt and uncle. When we would travel, Piccolo would take up residence at Uncle Mike’s house in the country. I wonder now whether my parents were hoping Piccolo might have an unfortunate accident involving a hungry coyote, fox, or small bear, or perhaps drown in the nearby lake. However, Piccolo seemed to love Uncle Mike and Aunt Annetta so much that when we returned from our vacations he would have all but forgotten us—even me—and would growl and snap at us when we tried to catch him and take him home.
Piccolo had a passion for running free. He was Houdini reincarnated: he could escape from any confinement. We had a fenced-in yard, but it didn’t matter; he always got out. He also frequently managed to run out the door and annoy the neighbors. When I started school, Piccolo was kept in the bathroom for a good part of the day. It was the only place from which he could not escape. Unfortunately he showed Mom what a bad idea this was by eating most of the woodwork.
Still, one day Piccolo escaped the bathroom somehow and my mother could not find him. (Though truthfully, I’m not sure if she tried very hard.) No one knew how he had gotten out. In 1962 kids walked to school, and I was no exception. Apparently Piccolo had decided to follow me. He was also good at breaking and entering, and somehow he made it into Ridge Road School one day. We were in the middle of our morning reading class when, to my surprise, I saw my little dog dash into my classroom, where he ran happily about, ducking under the desks looking for a good place to pee. How he got there, I have no idea. My teacher, old Mrs. Robinson (bless her soul), thought he was adorable until he growled at her. I finally caught him and she sent me to the office to call Mom and ask her to come and pick him up. Mom was not too happy. Piccolo never went to school again. Mom made sure that bathroom was secured!
As every dog owner knows, bad dogs live forever. When he got older, Piccolo developed heart disease and epilepsy, but that didn’t slow him down very much. He could still outrun anybody and bite you if he felt like it. He died peacefully at the age of fourteen, surrounded by family and friends.
I remember Piccolo fondly. He was no Rin Tin Tin; in fact, he had no redeeming qualities whatsoever. But he will always be my very first puppy—and he behaved as sweetly as could be with me. We buried him in the backyard under the big pine tree and marked the spot with a little headstone. Piccolo was full of life and definitely made an impression on everyone with whom he came into contact—maybe not always such a good one, but he will certainly not be forgotten by those he met.
My parents never got another dog.