an easy-living dog in a small town in Curitiba, south of Brazil,
The Country Squire
The house we rented in Brazil for a year came with a dog. The landlady had only said, “Don’t worry about feeding him.” My husband and I thought this strange, but did not dwell on it. We had much to do in settling in. Curitiba is a small town 3,000 feet above sea level, in the south of Brazil; our new home was in a semirural area and had a pear orchard in the back. We met Totó that night, in a manner of speaking. He barked for hours under our bedroom window. We tried telling him to shush, threw comic-strip projectiles, which worked about as well as they do in comic strips.
In the morning, weary from fragmented sleep, I opened the kitchen door and found Totó seated quietly on the mat. Our tormentor was a mixed German Shepherd, a bit runty. His right eye was clouded. I talked to him, telling him the noise had to stop, that finding a dog pound in Curitiba might be a challenge but I didn't doubt I would succeed.
He stood up, head inclined, appearing to listen attentively. When the lecture ended, he placed one paw on my foot and licked my ankle. I felt a premonitory pang of weakness. But I quelled it; the night to come would decide if he stayed or went.
Thereon, our slumber remained uninterrupted.
He lacked a dog's territorial instinct whenever other animals intruded in our backyard. One was a capybara, the largest rodent in the world, a powerful animal with fat haunches. It was at least four feet long, and easily reached into our fruit trees. Capybaras are a food source for Indians, but this one knew I was no Indian and calmly helped itself to our pears. Totó merely observed, yawning from time to time. When a peccary trotted in one day, he hardly glanced in its direction.
Two holes under our fence yielded more traffic than passed through downtown Curitiba. Chickens and ducks browsed in our yard; so did puppies and kittens. Adult dogs and cats did not. I supposed Totó had laid down some kind of rule about that. He stepped carefully around the ducklings and let them guzzle in his water dish, a practice I thought unsanitary. Could they give each other a disease?
I learned why I didn't have to worry about his mealtimes. He sampled the fare at every other house along our block. Everywhere we went he was greeted by name. A lick on the knee, usually female, was his hello. Through him I met our neighbors, his meal tickets. His friends told me that Totó’s bad eye was caused by glaucoma.
Sometimes his faithful company caused problems. I tried tying him to a telephone pole outside grocery stores; invariably he would bark and choke himself, coughing, against my bathrobe belt. He didn't wear a collar; most of the country dogs there don't. Finally I was allowed to take him inside the store, where he sat peacefully, giving my knee a lick every so often while I shopped. I noticed then that the burlap sacks of sugar piled at my hip were tilting; they began to sink. Simultaneously the shopkeeper and I looked down. His leg cocked, Totó was demolishing the bags of sugar. Soon, the remains of 50 pounds of sugar rested in a brown puddle.
The shopkeeper displayed remarkable restraint. I opened my handbag and looked at him. He named a sum. I paid up, and Totó and I slunk out.
He hated for me to go out without him. Locked in the kitchen, his cries followed me for blocks. Once, I left him gnawing away on a gristly bone on the front porch and tiptoed around the back to the side gate. At the corner, I boarded a bus headed downtown, paid my fare and sat down. Then I caught sight of a small figure galloping after the bus, tongue streaming, stride stretched to the limit and beginning to falter. I got off at the next stop.
We went to town together. Our walk started at a comfortable pace, but as we neared town, Totó and I began to have problems staying together. Unaccustomed to sidewalk crowds and troubled by his blind side, he bumped into unknown legs, followed the wrong people. We entered the Loja Americana, a Brazilian version of Woolworth’s. After about a minute I looked around for Totó. No dog. I went outside, rushed up and down the street searching. I spotted him following a woman, fiercely concentrating with his one good eye. I called; his head whipped around. He barked and came careening back to me.
I begged a taxi driver to allow my dog into his car. Exhausted, Totó went to sleep at my feet.
In his own domain, he knew what was what. We were experiencing our first Brazilian winter in July. In the State of Parana', whose northern region crosses the Tropic of Capricorn, temperatures drop to zero. Every night we slung a blanket over the large cage housing our collection of native songbirds. I noticed Totó eyeing the blanket.
One morning I found the birds huddled in a corner of the cage fluffed against the cold like little round powderpuffs. Totó snored within the folds of the blanket on the floor.
I bought him a blanket of his own. A fast learner, he promoted a cushion from the living room. Equipped with pillow and blanket, he became busy at bedtime. He dragged the pillow to a corner, came back for the blanket, then struggled to adjust his bedding until he was fully satisfied. I am sure he wished he had fingers.
We experienced fogs as total whiteouts. While taking out the garbage one night, feeling my way along the wall, I heard a muffled thudding. It came closer. I froze, and Totó growled and shoved ahead of me. My heart nearly exploded when a huge long object loomed in front. A horse’s head! Totó’s growls turned into yips of relief much like my own shaky laughter.
When our year was over, I tried to figure ways we could take him home with us. We knew it was risky taking him out of his natural habitat. He was no longer young, and I could not imagine Totó, the boulevardier of Curitiba's country lanes, tethered to a leash on city streets.
The landlady said we could have him if we wished, but she promised he would continue to thrive without us.
We went away without him, convinced that when he ended his days, he would do so on someone's best quilt in a warm house.
Site: Lucille Bellucci, writer
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"The Country Squire"
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|Reviewed by Jim Magwood
|"-came with a dog." Shouldn't all of our "places" come with a dog, eh? Keep up the good work, Lucille.