A Winters Tale: From Sicily with love

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I don’t know about you, but our dog has a passport.

It was applied for, signed and stamped and comes with a place for a photograph, though we have yet to insert one.

There is not a page for a paw print, but the issuing agency might consider it in the future.

It is an official Pet Passport, issued by the European Union.

It was required that we obtain such a document if our dog Mizzica were to be allowed to fly on an airplane within the EU.

She, of course, knew nothing of governments, airplanes, or of Americans.

Her world was a backroad outside a small town in Sicily, where she slept on a pile of old mattresses beside a garbage bin.

She had been abandoned, dumped at the side of the road, and was surviving on scraps of food from a local neighbor girl who took pity on her, and fed her leftover focaccia and pizza on her way home from work.

She couldn’t take her in, because she had already rescued four other stray dogs, and there was no more room at her house.

So there sat this tiny brown dog, silent and solemn, atop her mattress pile, patiently waiting for something to happen.

We were staying at a small farmhouse just across the road, and  spotted her the night we arrived.

Our friends told us that the dog had been dropped off days earlier.  Someone heard the squeal of tires in the night.  By morning, Mizzica had taken up her position.

I love my Sicilian cousins, but as a culture, many of them simply do not value dogs as we Americans do. Most importantly, they rebel against the idea of sterilizing the animals.

Sixty thousand stray dogs currently live in Sicily. They often roam in packs. Some are poisoned for being nuisances.  It’s a dark, shameful blot on an otherwise sunny place.

When we awoke the next morning, I walked to the garbage can and was pleased that Mizzica allowed me to pick her up and bring her to our house, where we were eating breakfast.

Judy decided then and there that she would be coming home with us once our work was complete. For the next five weeks, Mizzica never left our side.

Her life was instantly filled with marvelous new experiences: her first time in a car (other than the night she was dumped), her first time at the beach, her first time wearing a leash.

She wasn’t quite ready to live indoors, and the first few nights she cried. Only when I joined her on the stone floor one night did she finally sleep.

Through it all, her personality never disappointed. She was cheery, energetic, and up for anything. A genuine discovery.

We named her Mizzica for that very reason.

Mizzica is an expression in Sicilian dialect, with no direct translation in Italian, or English. The closest approximation is “Holy S–t!”–something one might happily shout upon spotting a 10 dollar bill on the sidewalk. 

 The name fits her perfectly.

Getting Mizzica home was an ordeal which was also purely Sicilian.

Not being citizens, we had to register her ownership with a local friend, who then filled out the forms needed to transfer her to us. This was a process replete with trips to several government offices, and completed with a flurry of stamps and signatures.

The town’s veterinarian administered the rabies vaccine and inserted a microchip.  Turns out we did this in the wrong order, but were able to fix things in typical Sicilian style.

The doctor simply doctored the documents.

With that, we were able to obtain the Pet Passport, so that she could board the plane.

Mizzica flew in the cabin with us, and behaved during the entire journey to Los Angeles, where I was worried that all of our foreign documentation would not be sufficient for Immigration and Customs here at home.

My stack of papers at the ready, we approached the officers, who 

simply waived us through. One of them commented, “Cute dog.”

There is much more to the story of Mizzica, how she has changed our lives, made us look at the world differently, how she’s taught us the value of pure unalloyed joy.

She loves living in Winters, whose climate and landscape must certainly remind her of her homeland.

We’ll bring her back to Sicily someday, but just for a visit.

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