My dog Lazarus gives new meaning to the term Latin lover. He may be an American Pit Bull Terrier, but he’s got a pure Spanish spirit: The dog simply worships Spanish people, especially Latino men. He also adores the women, and especially the children, sitting politely to accept pets.
Whenever he sees or hears a Latino person of any age, height, or gender, his sweet clown face breaks open with a broad smile, his tail wags at a cool 90 mph, and his little butter-bull body vibrates with delight. He practically starts salsa-ing on the spot. The cartoon bubble over his head clearly reads, “You had me at hola!”
In the neighborhood we moved to last year, there’s a heavy concentration of Latinos of many stripes: Mexican, Peruvian, Puerto Rican, Dominican. No matter the accent or dialect, Laz just has to hear a few syllables of Spanish, and he will drag me over to the source of the sound. Sometimes, if Latin residents of my building are awaiting the elevator, Laz puts on the brakes and won’t move until one of them gives him a pat. If a nearby bodega plays Latin music, Latino Laz will pull me over to the storefront for a closer listen.
I did not realize any of this four years ago, when I adopted the dog formerly known as Shorty from a gassing shelter in rural Texas, or I would’ve named him Lazaro. Back when we lived on the Upper East Side of Manhattan — prime Sex and the City territory — Laz would stare longingly at the quartets of high-heeled, miniskirted young ladies awaiting cabs along Second Avenue, wagging his tail in hopes they might mince his way. This habit earned him another nickname: Inspired by the Concrete Blonde song, I’d refer to him as my “Ghost of a Texas Ladies’ Man.”
When I had the opportunity to do a sit-down interview with Cesar Millan, I told the Dog Whisperer about my dog, and how Laz would have probably died of joy to meet him. “My dog Lazarus loves Latin men,” I told Senor Millan, who replied knowingly, “Yes, we have something!”
Had I known he was a Latino dog and that he would’ve felt most at home in a Spanish-speaking household, I would’ve worked hard to place Laz with a Spanish-speaking family, rather than permitting him to become another one of my foster fails. So I’ve resolved to try and make up for my oversight. I’ve discovered, time and time again, that dogs can inspire an old Dogster to learn new tricks; last year, mine motivated me to tackle swimming. This year, I’ll be studying Spanish.
Sarah Wilson is my go-to dog training expert. I asked her if this is good idea or es stupido. “Not stupid,” she says. “Loving and kind, actually, though I would bet not necessary. Teach new words with enthusiasm and glee — buen perro! (good dog!) — and he’ll be bilingual in no time. He is reacting to the familiar. Give him a new ‘familiar.’ If you want to learn Spanish, bien hecho! But it’s probably not the language itself which is the key to his delight, but what it has meant to him. He can make new associations.”
Dios mio. I defer to Senorita Wilson in all things behavioral, but with all due respect, I’m afraid nothing — I mean, nada –- could possibly make Lazarus as happy as living la vida latina every single day, er, dia. His other ultimate fantasy is, I suspect, a slice of pizza at every meal, which would really not be at all bueno for him. It’s not even Spanish food. And even in a fat, unhealthy, pizza-bloated state, he’d still want a Latino family to beg crusts from.
I want all of my rescued dogs to live their happiest lives, even if that means not living with me. So I hereby announce that if a Latino family would like to adopt mi Lazaro, I’ll be all ears. He’d be the happiest dog in Dogsterdom. In the meantime, to make up for the cultural deficiencies in this poor, deprived dog’s life — I have zero Latino in my Hungarian ancestry, and my second language is French — I’m proceeding with Operation Habla Espanol for his sweet sake.
Although I’m a fan of @ElBloombito on Twitter, who tweets hilarious Spanglish in the “voice” of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, I don’t want to sound laugh-out-loud loco to mi perro when I attempt to address him in the lingo he loves.
Bombarded with subway and Internet advertisements for language-learning courses, I checked out Rosetta Stone, which offers a fun, easy course that’s very visual. Plus, I got to choose between European (aka Peninsular) Spanish and the Spanish of the Americas. I chose the former, figuring that my dog and I may as well rock this project the old-school way in the spirit of one of my favorite authors, the “Spanish Shakespeare” Calderon de la Barca (and also in the spirit of one of my favorite web sites, La Guia del Perro, based in Calderon’s hometown, Madrid).
Wouldn’t you know, the trial lesson I took online centered on little Lazaro’s favorite topic: things to eat and drink. Matching up photos of this mujer and that hombre dining and imbibing was easy and fun. El come pescado. Ella bebe agua. El come pan. Now we’re talking! Food, la comida, is the universal language todos mascotas love to get their tongues around — and under, and on top of — is it not?
I’m saving up to afford the monthly fee for Rosetta Stone. In the meantime, I’ll be keeping my eyes peeled for inexpensive books and pamphlets, and my ears open on the street and in the subway for key vernacular phrases to try out on mi perro Latino-Americano. Our grande experimento in canine linguistics has only just begun, so I’d be grateful for input from you, dear readers, especially if espanol is your forte.
What do you think? Would you learn a new language to communicate with your perro precioso? Please share in the comments! And muchas gracias!