Downtown Eastside: Chico and the man whose life he changed

“Nice dog, man.”

“Hi Chico. He’s so cute with his little coat on.”

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“I love that dog Chico.”

It’s hard to walk more than a few steps along East Hastings Street without at least one person stopping Rob Dumas to compliment him on the multi-coloured shih tzu wandering along the sidewalk at his feet.

On a street notorious for its open-air drug dealing, and sometimes public intoxication, the fluffy brown and white dog got a smile or a pat from many passersby on a recent sunny Tuesday afternoon in the Downtown Eastside.

And the shih tzu took it all in stride, sometimes gracing a man or woman with a quick stop as if to say hello. Sometimes not.

“Chico has attitude,” explained Dumas. “But he makes people smile.”

The person Chico brings the greatest joy to is Dumas, who admits he was not in a good place a year ago, just months before buying the dog off a fellow tenant in Tellier Tower on East Hastings Street.

Dumas still feels the pain of his girlfriend’s death a year ago, which prompted him to give up drugs. He lost his job around the same time.

“I was so depressed,” said Dumas. “I lost my job, I was sad about my girlfriend and I had to give up all my friends because I was trying to stay clean. Chico came at the right time in my life.”

Chico had belonged to a man who gave the dog away to another tenant in their building because he was heading to jail. Not long after Dumas saw the mop-topped shih tzu and offered the new owner “a couple of bucks” for him. Man and dog have been inseparable ever since.

“I knew when I saw him that we needed each other. He saved me and in return I promised him I would never abandon him,” said Dumas, who’s taking part in a methadone program. “That means I can’t steal or do drugs because I might go to jail and I can’t leave him.”

Dumas moved to Vancouver from Montreal in the 1990s to get away from the drug scene there. He’s lived in Tellier Tower for one year.

He says Chico is the reason he gets so much exercise these days, whether he wants it or not. Their first walk of the day is at about 9 a.m., an activity they’ll repeat every three to four hours of every day. If it’s raining, Dumas carries Chico to a covered grassy area in Chinatown just behind his building. “Chico doesn’t like the rain,” said Dumas. “He’s also taught me a lot about patience, something I’ve never had before.

Despite his dislike for inclement weather, on Tuesday Chico sported a plaid raincoat, one of four randomly given to Dumas. He noted one was offered by a complete stranger who called out to him on the street.

“She said, ‘Sir, sir, here’s a coat for your dog,’ for no reason,” said Dumas. “He likes his coats.”

He described Chico as “self conscious,” adding the dog won’t eat if anyone’s watching.

“When I had him shaved in the summer he didn’t talk to me for four days,” said Dumas, laughing. “And sometimes when I call him he just stays where he is and stands his ground. But I love him for that.”

sthomas@vancourier.com

twitter.com/sthomas10

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