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Saturday, October 27, 2018
A dog is a basic necessity in the village, and the bigger the dog, the better. Houses here do not have doorbells or alarm systems – that is the dog’s job. I have always wanted a big menacing dog, like a German or Caucasian Shepard. So imagine my disappointment when a friend from Moscow visited and brought us a red, short-haired dachshund puppy. I was skeptical, to say the least. The dog came with a pedigree certificate (likely fake) and a number tattooed on the inside of his right ear (poor thing), both supposedly guaranteeing that he was an authentic miniature dachshund, descended from German canine royalty.
According to the documents, the puppy’s name was “Nice Shadow” (in English). So we decided to call him Shadow. The name Shadow was quickly Russified, however, thanks to an elderly neighbor. She was fetching water from our well as I was calling the puppy – “Shadow, Shadow!”
“You’ve lost your Chado, again, eh?” she asked.
“Chado” (pronounced “Chada” as the “o” is unstressed) is Old Russian for “child.” The name stuck.
Chado grew up quickly (he didn’t have much height or weight to gain to reach adulthood), and settled comfortably into our family and his basket by the door. We put a sleeping bag in the basket, and he would curl up inside it. In time, the little dog grew on me – he is polite (not scarfing down food but taking it gently from my hand or gazing up at me to ask permission before eating from his bowl), he doesn’t shed, and he always accompanies me on walks to the river or forays in the forest. Despite the fact that my mother says he looks like a prehistoric rat, Igor and I think he is cute. He gets along great with our two sons, Andrei (4) and Makar (20 months), tolerating their tail-pulling and ear-tugging. He also loves our gray tomcat (who weighs twice as much as he does). They curl up together in the sleeping bag.
While dachshunds are not generally associated with remote Russian villages (they are usually kept as couch dogs in cities), Chado has adapted well to country life. Although he does not bark at strangers, but eagerly accompanies them from the gate to the front door, he has earned respect from the villagers and our guests. Many, especially our city-dwelling visitors, call him “superdog.”
On legs only slightly longer than wine corks, Chado can keep up with – and even outrun – any horse. In fact, while my horse works up a foamy sweat at a fast gallop, tiny Chado is running circles around us and dashing out ahead. Sometimes, feeling bad for him, I take him into my saddle. I reach down as far as I can and he reaches up as high as he can – standing on his hind legs for a moment (not easy for a disproportionately long dachshund to do). I grab him by the loose skin on the back of his neck (dachshunds are bred to have loose skin for fox hunting, so that the fox cannot bite into the flesh, but comes away instead with a mouthful of skin), then I hoist him into the saddle. He perches in my lap with his back legs standing on one side of the saddle and his front legs on the other side, resting on my thigh.
Chado can also ride bareback. One time he was perched on my horse’s rump as I rode close by another horse. Without hesitation, Chado-the-circus-dog jumped onto the other horse’s back and continued to ride bareback on that horse, until he grew tired and whined for someone to take him down. To jump down from that height would have been suicide for such a little dog.
In addition to all the stunts and super feats, Chado does regular village dog things, like chase cats, chickens and ducks, not to mention dig holes in pursuit of muskrats and field mice. Once, he killed a baby duck I had nursed back to life after it nearly froze to death one particularly cold night. He loves to chase motorcycles, too, and was run over by one last summer. He fractured a rib and still has a bump on his side to prove it.
Now that he takes care to avoid motorcycles, Chado’s one truly dangerous vice is his urge to jump into any car with an open door and hitch a ride. It is not that he wants to leave, I am sure. He genuinely loves riding in cars - a rarity in our village. Any open car door presents an opportunity for him. He cannot think through the consequences of his actions – that he may wind up hundreds of miles away with no ride home, or that he may never see his loving parents or village of Chukhrai again. Indeed, on several occasions, this would have been the case if not for the intervening hand of fate.
Once, Chado was literally snatched from the jaws of death when a friend found him in a neighboring village in the company of alcoholics, who were heating a pot of water for dog soup. There is not much meat on his tiny, thin frame, but evidently the bandits were desperate.
Another time, a friend found Chado riding in a commuter train more than 100 miles from home. She rode with him to the nearest station from our village (20 miles away) and set him on the platform, from where he eventually found his way home.
Then there was the time Chado went missing for two months. Rumor had it that he had hopped into the car of some fishermen and sped away, destination unknown. We asked everyone, but no one had seen him. Igor drove to our district center of Suzemka (30 miles away) to put a lost dog ad in the local newspaper. On the way, he passed a red Russian Niva. Glancing in the car, he saw a little dog in the back seat, peering out the window. It was Chado! He pulled in front of the other car and slowed down, forcing the driver to a stop.
Igor got out and confronted the driver, “That’s my dog.”
“What are you talking about?” the man said, “I’ve had this dog for two years.”
Chado jumped out of the open door to greet Igor.
“If he has a number tattooed inside his ear and a bump on his side, then he’s mine,” Igor said confidently.
Sure enough, the tattoo was there, as was the bump, and the man drove off, embarrassed by his deception. Chado jumped into Igor’s open car door, as if nothing had happened, ready to set off on another road trip.
Then Chado went missing for nearly three months this past winter. We thought surely it was the end for him – this dog has no insulation from the cold, and temperatures had dropped to -30 degrees Celsius. I told my son Andrei that Chado had gone to doggie heaven. Later, we heard that he had been seen wandering around the logging company in Suzemka. Igor and I drove to town and stopped into the company’s office. They had seen a little dachshund and even fed him, but they said he did not live on the premises and apparently had been spending the night wherever he could find sympathy down the street. As we headed in that direction, we spied a humbled little creature trotting toward us, skirting patches of mud and puddles. Chado! We hardly recognized the poor dog – he was emaciated and covered with spots of bare skin (a fungus he had picked up, living like a bum). Chado did not recognize us at first and steered clear, perhaps having been beaten by strangers. When he realized who we were, he bounded toward us, greeting us happily and jumping into our car.
We returned home with Chado late that night, and my sons were already asleep. When Andrei woke up the next morning and saw Chado, tears of joy streamed down his cheeks. For a time, I had doubted whether we wanted to keep such a troublesome pooch, but when I saw my son’s face, I knew Chado belonged here. I guess Chado has a right to explore the world around him, but maybe he too will eventually realize that there is no place like home.
Chado disappeared again some months after this story appeared, in the May/June 2006 issue of Russian Life.
Laura Williams contributed over 25 articles to Russian Life, and in recent years focused her energies on using horses as therapy for humans. She passed away suddenly on October 28, 2018. For over two decades, Laura lived with her husband Igor Shpilenok in the village of Chukhrai in the Bryansk Forest in western Russia. They have two sons.