For many years, the newspapers used my sassy, one-of-a-kind Chihuahua, Don Juan, in its reader promotions.
You have searched for his paw print hidden somewhere within the newspapers to possibly win $50. You have entered sweepstakes for a Caribbean cruise where he urged you not to “miss the boat.” He promoted a chance to ride the train to New Orleans to see a New Orleans Saints football game in the Superdome.
While some of you didn’t realize that Don Juan was a real, living-and-breathing dog living in Carroll and Montgomery counties, he was a member of my family for the past 20 years. Last week, much to my family’s heartbreak, Don Juan passed away. He was buried beneath the oak tree in our backyard along with two of my other beloved fur babies, Skipper and Toulouse.
Many of you understand the heartache of losing a beloved pet. Twenty years is a long time to have a constant companion, and Don Juan’s personality made him always the center of attention at my house, even after the birth of my son, Dean. He was larger-than-life with a demanding personality, insisting on sleeping in the bed with us, being carried out into the back yard, and riding in the front seat of the car.
Don Juan came to live with me after being dumped on the side of the road by his former owner. He was fully-grown when he came to live with me, at first as a foster animal. Fostering didn’t last long, as he soon stole my heart and the hearts of everyone in my family. He was named Don Juan due to a heart-shaped marking on his forehead and my preference to name all my dogs after literary characters.
Some of my favorite memories of sweet Don Juan were after I moved to the Crossroads area in 2007. Moving to an area without knowing anyone there, I was prone to homesickness my first few months here. I spent my evenings after work sitting on the back steps of my house watching my dogs play in the pecan grove behind the house. It was something I did often when I lived in Southaven – sitting on the porch watching the dogs run around the backyard. It brought me a little bit of peace as I was getting to know my new home.
When I was pregnant with my now-seven-year-old Dean, Don Juan was obsessed with my baby bump. He would curl up around the bump or, in my later months, and sleep. When we brought Dean home from the hospital, Don Juan was extremely disappointed that the bump was gone and a crying baby replaced it.
Don Juan did warm up to Dean eventually, especially after he realized Dean would share his snacks with him. Soon, Don Juan was riding around with Dean on his little four-wheeler or in the trailer of his battery-operated tractor. Don Juan even made a trip or two down the slide of his playset.
Never once did Don Juan bite Dean, even though Dean deserved it more than once. He was so careful with Dean, even after Dean grew into a bull in a china shop.
Dean handled Don Juan’s death the hardest. For the past two years, Don Juan has spent more of his time curled in his bed than romping through the backyard with Dean. His age finally caught up with him. However, Dean fed him every day, as one of his chores. I also think he remembered all the fun times he had with Don Juan as a toddler and then a little boy.
“Don Juan was such a good dog,” Dean kept saying.
Now that Don Juan has crossed that Rainbow Bridge, we are adapting to life without the constant care he needed in his final year. I still call him to come eat and go outside, just out of sheer habit from 20 years with him. I’m glad he is no longer suffering from arthritis and blindness and hard-of-hearing.
I also know we will see him again one day. Not everyone believes beloved pets go to Heaven, but I disagree. If lions and lambs are in heaven, there is surely room for them as well.