Consider the Chihuahua. Small. Fast. Insane. A rough estimate reveals that there are, oh, say, a billion of them here on this hot, hot Saturday in Montebello at the PETCO Unleashed regional Chihuahua races — in any case, more Chihuahuas and their worshipers than you can shake a Taco Bell bobblehead at. As the sun bakes dog and human brains alike, people wander around in “I live in my own little world but it’s okay, they know me here” T-shirts, while others wave stuffed squirrels at their dogs, baby-talk them, snuggle them and spritz them down with Cesar Millan Dog Whisperer fortified dog water. Crazy, crazy people in love with their crazy, crazy Chihuahuas, otherwise known as the tiny dog with the ferocious heart. Otherwise known, to their detractors, as “poor excuse for a cat” or “what the hell is that?” or “get a real dog.”
“I don’t feel bad knowing I’m the only crazy one for my Chihuahua,” says Michelle Carballido, a pretty woman with bobbed brown hair and pale, luminescent skin. Clutching her dog Tiffany against her breast, she and her dog are a force of cuteness to be reckoned with.
Theories are divided over which dog will win. “See? It’s all the –o’s,” someone says. “Diego. Taquito.”
Taquito is small but quick. He looks at me, bewildered. Was his owner expecting him to run so fast?
“Not really,” she says, equally bewildered. He’s a teacup version and only 10 months old. He is liquid gold. He is nitroglycerin. They gaze into each other’s eyes as if discovering the truth for the first time.
Who else? Scott Walter’s 1-year-old Chihuahua, Jack, named after Kiefer Sutherland’s federal-agent character, Jack Bauer, on 24. Jack’s practice routine involves running up and down the hall of Walter’s Woodland Hills home. Jack has an adoptive brother named Bauer, who technically runs faster than Jack but suffers the great misfortune of not having been born a Chihuahua (he’s a Yorkie).
Yu-Ling Tse’s dog Milord (“the ‘d’ is silent”) won second in his heat because he chased a sexy little girl dog across the finish line. Tse is half-French, half-Chinese, and Milord got his name — which means “my lord” — from an Edith Piaf song. She found Milord on the street, tagless, microchipless, emaciated, exhausted by life, hind legs so thin and lacking in muscle he could barely stand. Tse took him home. Now he wears a bitchin’ jewel-studded $35 leather collar from Woof in Atwater Village.
Shane Gibson’s dog Nibbles, short for HaNibble Kratos Lecter, Ph.D., also practices by running up and down halls. Nibbles is black with a white belly, has long fur, majored in the psychology of getting hapless people to buy him stuff and wears the expression of a serial killer. A beautiful Asian girl with long hair is photographing Nibbles.
“I’m his manager,” says the girl, named Erica.
“Nibbles has a manager?”
“No, Shane does.” Erica hands over her card. Gibson is the guitarist for the band KoRn. Like daddy, Nibbles loves heavy metal, but unlike daddy, he gets off on chewing literal metal — belt buckles, necklaces, key chains. Maybe he likes the feel of cold against his teeth. Who knows? A Chihuahua’s mind is nothing if not impenetrable. Gibson and Erica plan to get Nibbles nice and angry and riled up in a minute, because when Erica took him to the races in Anaheim the other day with a photographer and a handler, a too-mellow Dr. Lecter simply refused to budge.
“What’s your impression of the race so far?” I ask.
Nibbles: Lick, lick. Blink, blink.
When the announcer is done admonishing everyone to keep their Chihuahuas hydrated and the sponsor finishes extolling the virtues of Royal Canin dog food — reminding us that Chihuahuas are the dog world’s smallest breed, have the largest brain relative to body size, are native to Aztec and Toltec tribes, spend most of their time indoors (so you shouldn’t blame them for peeing in the living room all the time), are predisposed to periodontitis, and have delicate joints and thin bones — the final races begin.
But where is Taquito? Taquito! Taquito! He’s disappeared. Has his human, nowhere to be found, grown frightened of his impending greatness? That’s how it happens. How a dog with so much early promise can fall by the wayside. These are the harsh realities of the Chihuahua races.
Debriefed by reporters, the winner, a.k.a. Tiger, a.k.a. The Fastest Chihuahua in Los Angeles as defined by a corporate-retail pet-supply chain, will be moving on to represent it in the nationals. He will race 14 other dogs during intermission at an upcoming Padres game at PETCO Park in San Diego.
“We have to beat New York,” says his owner, Cathy Smith.
Place your bets now. The smart money’s on Tiger, who won the nationals in 2006 and has since been receiving agility training and working out with a Frisbee.