Bibliographic Information (best version for telling):

Holt, David, and Bill Mooney.  “The Mexican Pet.” Spiders in the Hairdo:  Modern
            Urban Legends.  Little Rock:  August House Publishers, Inc., 1999.  35-36.

Ethnic Origin:  United States (beginning in the early 1980’s).  There are versions that have been popular in Europe, too, describing “Dutch tourists in Egypt, Germans in Spain, Italians in Thailand, or other such combinations” (Brunvand, Encyclopedia 260).  Most versions describe a tourist or tourists from California, visiting Tijuana; some versions place vacationers in Acapulco or another tourist destination in Mexico.  Other versions describe New Yorkers in Florida.  Several versions take place in U.S. coastal cities like San Francisco, New York, Miami, and Baltimore. 

Running Time:  Approximately 9 minutes

Power Center(s):

The progression of emotions is as follows (the main ones are in bold print and are accompanied by an asterisk):


-Sympathy for the jilted, heart-broken woman

-A sense of the fun, found in her adventure to Tijuana

*Joyfulness in her finding a dog to ‘care for’
*Nervousness during the border crossing/smuggling
*A sense of the silliness/desperation of the woman’s excessive fawning over the pet
-A sense of the dog’s newfound luxury and comfort and of his bringing his new caretaker     comfort, too
*Worry over the sick dog
-A bit of nervousness as the veterinarian interrogates the woman
*Disgust upon discovering that the dog is a rat
-A certain ‘superiority’ over the naïve woman, with her far-fetched phobias and ‘freak-out’s’


My friend
The woman who went to Tijuana
Chi-Chi the Chihuahua (rat)

Border patrol officer
The veterinarian



-My friend in Los Angeles:
            -Temporary work--office
            -Woman he is replacing
-Woman visits Tijuana
            -Shopping, gambling, dancing, drinking
            -Outdoor restaurant—dog appears; she feeds it
            -Dog follows her the rest of the day
            -She decides to smuggle cute dog across the border
-Border crossing/Woman’s car
-Woman puts dog in her handbag
            -She converses with border patrolman, passes through with dog unseen      
-Woman’s home in L.A.
            -She feeds, bathes, brushes, combs dog
            -She makes him a bed and several costumes/outfits all in one night
            -They go to bed
            -Next morning—dog looks sick
-Veterinarian’s office
-Woman takes sick dog to vet, pleads for his help
            -Vet questions her—he wants to know where she got this animal
            -She admits to the smuggling
            -Vet reveals the ‘dog’ is a Mexican sewer rat
            -Woman is horrified, runs out of office
-Woman’s subsequent ‘freak-out’s’
-She breaks out into a cold sweat when she hears mariachi music; the sight of piñatas gives her hives; she has sworn off what she considers ‘nauseating’ tortilla chips and salsa; she will never set foot in Chi-Chi’s Mexican restaurant or Taco Bell ever again!
Synopsis:  A friend of mine moves to L.A.  He finds work as a paid actor, but he mostly does temp work.  He tells me of filling in at an office for a woman who became so distraught after visiting Mexico that she has not returned to work.  He tells me of the woman going to Tijuana for some ‘therapeutic shopping,’ drinking, dancing, and dining after her boyfriend breaks up with her.  While dining outdoors, she feeds a few scraps to a hungry stray dog—a Chihuahua.  It subsequently follows her around, and she, in turn, is ‘charmed’ by it.  She decides to smuggle it into the U.S.  She welcomes it into her home and spoils it, showering it with much attention.  The next day she wakes up to find her beloved new pet, Chi-Chi, foaming at the mouth.  She takes her new pet to the veterinarian.  After interrogating her about where she got the dog, the vet reveals that Chi-Chi is a rabid Mexican sewer rat.  The woman is horrified.  She develops phobias of many things “Mexican” like mariachi music, piñatas, tortilla chips and salsa, Chi-Chi’s Mexican restaurant, and Taco Bell. 

Contemporary Legend scholar, Jan Brunvand, gives the following synopsis of the legend:  “… tourists on vacation in Mexico … ‘adopt’ a cute little stray dog and smuggle it back to the United States, only to learn from their vet that it’s actually a sewer rat” (Brunvand, Curses 158-159). 

Urban Legend expert, Barbara Mikkelson, gives this synopsis: 
“A tourist visiting a foreign country adopts a stray dog, only to learn that it’s really a vicious sewer rat” (

Rhymes/Special Phrases/"Flavor":

-The ‘flavor’ should be quite conversational and chatty, as if I’m just recounting a ‘true,’ factual anecdote, told to me recently by a friend.

-More ‘flavor’:  As with most urban/contemporary legends, this one is outlandish and ridiculous; it is a mix of humor and disgust.  The disgust occurs near the end with the entrance of a surprising twist.

-Special phrase:  “Please, help my little doggie.”  “Please make my Chi-Chi well again.”

-Special phrase:  “Lady, …” (repeated several times by vet)

-Special phrase:  “This is not a dog, it is a Mexican sewer rat, and you should be glad that you got him to me before he got to you!”

Audience (why is this story appropriate for the audience? developmental characteristics?):

            I think this story is appropriate for adolescents, teens, and/or young adults (YAs) for several reasons.  First, this account is told as if it were an anecdote, heard from a friend.  It resembles gossip, a form of communication, popular in middle and high schools.  Likewise, gossip often prompts teens to engage in social comparisons.  This tale also inspires such comparisons, which, hopefully, leave the audience members, feeling that they are much more competent than the protagonist. 

            This tale deals greatly with the basic need for love and affection (ala Maslow)—a need that seems to take on more intensity during the teenage years.  Most of the action in my telling of this legend is prompted by the protagonist’s attempt to cope with lost love and to find another object of her affection, another being to love.  I think many YA audience members will be intrigued by the protagonist’s being dumped by her boyfriend, by her being left heart-broken and lonely and attempting to recover from this devastation.  Relationships take on a vital emphasis during young adulthood and are often quite volatile.  This volatility along with the fickleness and fleetingness of many young adults’ relationships, is addressed in this legend through the protagonist’s changing relationship with Chi-Chi.  One minute Chi-Chi is her sweet little dog, the next he is a disgusting piece of vermin.  One minute she loves the adorable Chi-Chi.  The next minute she hates him—or at least is horrified by him.  Hence, we see some of adolescence’s “antithetic impulses” (ala Hall)—particularly euphoria and despondence.  We also view a great disappointment, which is followed by one’s ‘freaking-out’.  The woman’s descent into phobias at the end of my telling seems related to the dramatic overreacting often seen in teens.  (Also, with a stretch of the imagination, one could interpret Chi-Chi’s overnight physical ‘transformation’ {becoming ill and turning into vermin} as reminiscent of the dramatic, rapid physical changes, experienced during puberty, while also being connected to the general instability that many experience as teens.)

            This tale also relates to the contemplation of one’s future roles.  This legend emphasizes two roles that are bound up in relationships—that of girlfriend and/or lover and that of nurturer and/or caregiver.  It also touches on vocational roles, which are of great interest to teens.  Similarly, these roles relate to Erikson’s ideas of identity and intimacy and to several of Havighurst’s developmental tasks—particularly those involving mature relations, gender, independence, marriage/family life, and career.

            “The Mexican Pet” also addresses the concern with image and appearance that often influences teens.  The protagonist is attracted to Chi-Chi, not only because she considers him in need of care (not unlike herself—this connects to the “antithetic impulses” of selfishness and altruism—both she and the ‘dog’ are needy and needed), but because she finds him to be so cute.  Likewise, the protagonist’s interest in appearances is found in her sewing so many costumes/outfits for the pet.  Some teens might actually relate to the ‘dog’ at this point in the story, as many teens probably feel that the clothes their parents or guardians want them to wear are as ridiculous as the apparel that the woman in this story makes for her ‘baby.’ 

            This tale touches upon a sense of adventure and risk-taking that is cultivated by many teens.  The protagonist in effect runs away from home.  She tries to escape her present situation and crosses into another country for some ‘shopping therapy’.  In particular, she visits Tijuana, a place with a seedy reputation, known for gambling, underage drinking, cheap alcohol, partying, dancing ‘til dawn, among other debaucheries that often attract teens.  Some teens might also relate to the woman’s decision to engage in an illegal activity—to hide the dog and smuggle it across the border, dismissing rules and regulations.

            Another intriguing element in “The Mexican Pet” is the gap between the woman’s ideals and reality.  This can be seen as connecting to the idealism that is a feature of Piaget’s formal operational thought, believed to come into play between ages 11 and 15.  The woman engages in an ideal fantasy about the cute dog, which in reality is a sick sewer rat.  Perhaps this also relates to self-deception—or to one’s eyes “playing tricks” on him or her. 

            While “The Mexican Pet” teaches the valuable lesson that ‘looks can be deceiving’ and conveys the age-old conflict of ‘man versus nature,’ it looks down disdainfully upon “unsanitary conditions south of the border,” expresses a fear of foreigners, and is essentially an anti-immigrant story with a xenophobic message. (Brunvand, Encyclopedia 259)  This ugly underlying message bothers me, and I seem to only be able to justify telling this legend to young adults in the context of a social studies or history lesson or workshop, in which participants discuss discrimination, prejudice, stereotypes, xenophobia, immigration, and the like.  I think that upon hearing “The Mexican Pet,” teens should be exposed to reflective interpretations, like that of Contemporary Legends expert, Barbara Mikkelson, who offers the following insightful commentary:

            Xenophobia is the key to this legend; the woman unwittingly brings
            home danger because she fails to respect what are seen as proper
            boundaries.  Just as in “Cactus Attacked Us!” (a cactus brought home from
            foreign travels erupts, spewing out thousands of deadly baby tarantulas), the
            message of “The Mexican Pet” is:  leave foreign things in foreign places;
            don’t attempt to transplant them to your home country.  One never knows
            what one is getting, after all. (

Mikkelson continues: 

            Myths like this one reinforce the idea that there really is an ‘us’ and ‘them’
            out there, and the two shouldn’t be mixed.  Suspicion of foreign cultures
            takes center stage, and the presumed danger of bringing one culture into
            another is turned into a graphically gory tale about a dog (a noble and lovable
            thing) that turned out to be a vicious diseased rat (hated and feared vermin). 
            You can’t draw your allegories any more clearly than that!

Analyzing the underlying messages of “The Mexican Pet” can prove valuable to teens.  Discussions can help YAs further determine their moral, ethical, and political principles (ala Stover).  Likewise, I hope that a thorough study of “The Mexican Pet” could inspire many teens to ponder responsible citizenship and to further cultivate respect for diversity (ala Carnegie Council on Adolescent Development). 

            In addition, contemporary legends like “The Mexican Pet” present librarians and teachers with the opportunity to provide the service of educating patrons and students further about what criteria to consider when contemplating an information source’s authority.  Many of these legends thrive on the Internet, a point made in The Web of Deception:  Misinformation on the Internet, edited by Anne P. Mintz.  This book exposes many web hoaxes, counterfeit sites, spoof sites, charity scams, and sources of misinformation, including sites, spreading legends about September 11, 2001.  There are also well-maintained Web sites that help users differentiate the false from the true.  These include the 2002 BUDDIE (Best Unknown Database) Award Winner:  Urban Legends Reference Pages, maintained superbly by Barbara and David P. Mikkelson and available at  This searchable database includes 1,500 urban legends in 37 categories and provides users with over 100 titles of books, featuring contemporary legends.  There’s also The AFU & Urban Legends Archive (, which contains posts from the Usenet newsgroup alt.folklore.urban.  The U.S. Department of Energy’s Computer Incident Advisory Capability (CIAC) provides a Web site that concentrates on e-mail hoaxes and chain letters, but also includes an urban legends category.  This site is found at  Other helpful sites are included in David Serchay’s “WebWatch” column within the January 2002 issue of Library Journal.

            Not only do urban legends like “The Mexican Pet” give librarians and teachers opportunities for instruction, they also provide them with opportunities for entertaining programs.  Several guide books and journal articles promote the value of urban legends-oriented storytelling events and programs for young adults.  These include Kirsten Edwards’ Teen Library Events:  A Month-by-Month Guide, Courtly Love in the Shopping Mall, published by the American Library Association, Mary B. Nicolini’s “Is There a FOAF in Your Future?  Urban Folk Legends in Room 112,” Gail de Vos’ Tales, Rumors, and Gossip:  Exploring Contemporary Folk Literature in Grades 7-12, Nann Blaine Hilyard’s “Assets and Outcomes:  New Directions in Young Adult Services in Public Libraries,” and Carol Littlejohn’s “Urban Legends & Other Scary Stories,” which offers suggestions for booktalks, related to contemporary legends anthologies.  Such programming seems quite appropriate for young adults, after all, “groups of age-mates, especially adolescents are one primary legend channel” (Brunvand, Vanishing 5).  In addition, these events give teens opportunities to display their cultural cache, to show that they are ‘in the know.’  They also provide them with opportunities to practice their public speaking skills.  In addition, when YAs are incorporated into the planning and organization of these events, they get to experience a sense of ownership and responsibility. 

            Of course, librarians and teachers must remain aware that collections of urban legends, with their emphasis on violence and gore, are targets for censors.  For example, Alvin Schwartz’s Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, and Scary Stories 3:  More Tales to Chill Your Bones are featured in the 1996 edition of ALA’s Hit List:  Frequently Challenged Books for Children.  Most challenges to Schwartz’s works relate to its being in elementary school libraries and focus on the depiction of violence.  However, all of Schwartz’s Scary Stories books have received rave reviews, and the first work won the Arizona Children’s book Award in 1986. (Pistolis 38)  Several other collections of urban legends have won awards or have been nominees.  Daniel Cohen’s The Headless Roommate and Other Tales of Terror was named a “Children’s Choice for 1981” by the Children’s Book Council.  (Cohen, Southern dustjacket)  David Holt’s and Bill Mooney’s audio version of Spiders in the Hairdo:  Modern Urban Legends was a 1998 Grammy nominee for Best Spoken Word Recording.  (Holt, front cover)  In addition, most collections of urban legends have been praised in book reviews.

Bibliographic information on other versions/variants (at least two)?

*Motif J1759.6 Sewer rat thought to be Mexican Hairless dog.
“Brought back from Mexico on trip” (MacDonald 238).
(Listed within J1750-J1849.  ABSURD MISUNDERSTANDINGS / J = “The Wise and The Foolish” of The Storyteller’s Sourcebook:  A Subject,Title, and Motif Index to Folkore Collections for Children 1983-1999)


Brown, Yorick, and Mike Flynn.  “Holiday Souvenir.”  The 500 Best Urban Legends
            Ever!.  New York:  ibooks, 2003.  68.

Brunvand, Jan Harold.  “The Mexican Pet.”  Encyclopedia of Urban Legends.  New
            York:  W.W. Norton & Compmany, Inc., 2001.  258-260.


Brunvand, Jan Harold.  “The Mexican Pet.”  The Mexican Pet:  More “New” Urban
            Legends and Some Old Favorites.  New York:  W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.,
            1986. 21-23.

Brunvand, Jan Harold.  “The Mexican Pet.”  Too Good to Be True:  The Colossal Book
            of Urban Legends.  New York:  W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1999.  38-40. 

de Vos, Gail.  “The Mexican Pet.”  Tales, Rumors, and Gossip:  Exploring Contemporary Folk Literature in Grades 7-12.  Englewood, CO:  Libraries Unlimited, Inc., 1996.      217-218.

Fiery, Ann.  “Good Dog.”  The Completely and Totally True Book of Urban Legends.      Philadelphia:  Running Press, 2001.  72-76.

Healey, Phil, and Rick Glanvill.  “ruff guide to Spain.”  Now! That’s What I Call Urban
            Myths.  London:  Virgin Books, 1996.  111-113.

Holt, David, and Bill Mooney.  “The Mexican Pet.” Spiders in the Hairdo:  Modern
            Urban Legends.  Little Rock:  August House Publishers, Inc., 1999.  35-36.

Mikkelson, Barbara, and David P. Mikkelson.  “Urban Reference Legends Pages:  Critter Country (The Mexican Pet).  (28 April 2002):  28 October 2003


O’Neill, Kevin.  “The Mexican Pet.”  The Big Book of Urban Legends: Adapted from the            Works of Jan Harold Brunvand.  Ed.  Robert Fleming and Robert F. Boyd, Jr.           New York:      Paradox Press, 1994.  35.

Schwartz, Alvin.  “Sam’s New Pet.”  Scary Stories 3:  More Tales to Chill Your Bones.     New York:  HarperCollins Publishers, 1991.  55-56.

Brief comparison of all versions/variants in terms of language, rhythm, "tellability," "flavor," content, etc. Stress the differences in style rather than those of content.



            I was most ‘taken’ with the version, found in the book and the audio tape, both of which are entitled Spiders in the Hairdo, by David Holt and Bill Mooney.  Perhaps the impetus for my preference comes from the fact that I was first introduced to the legend of “The Mexican Pet” by way of this audio tape.  While driving down a country road on a long trip, I listened to this audio tape, and particularly enjoyed the 2:22 minute version as told by Mooney.  It was a legend I had never heard before, and it has become one that is not easy for me to forget.  While other legends on the same cassette have not stayed so fresh in my mind, this one has.  In addition, this particular version is not so different from the other ones I’ve subsequently read—in content or in style, however I consider it the ‘best’ version.  Perhaps this is because of the influence of ‘authority’—the audio was Grammy-nominated, and Holt, in particular, is so well-known and appreciated as a storyteller, and the book’s publisher, August House, is so esteemed for its storytelling collections. 

            I also like Mooney’s telling—he is very matter-of-fact, if not ‘dry’ in his telling of this tale.  He’s not overly dramatic, not ‘pushing’ the woman’s initial attraction or eventual disgust too much.  Likewise, his characterizations for the woman, the border guard, and the vet are rather subtle, not incorporating over-the-top voices.  Mooney does seem to most enjoy the lines for the veterinarian, and he ‘punches’ these the most—after all, they build up to presenting the climatic disgusting revelation.  His veterinarian seems very demanding and strict.  His voice takes on more volume as he pressures the woman more.  Then he slows down to reveal that pivotal line:  “To begin with, lady, … this animal isn’t a dog.  It’s a Mexican sewer rat.  And it has rabies.  You’re lucky you got to me before it got to you!”  (Holt 36).  I particularly like how Mooney’s vet begins every statement to the woman with the word, “Lady ….”  This seems to emphasize his belittling her and helps to make the vet seem a bit like a hard-nosed, hard-boiled detective.  Also, Mooney’s delivery of the woman’s lines—along with the wording of the lines—makes her seem a little silly, impulsive, and overly emotional.  For example, before smuggling the dog across the border, she says to herself, “I can’t bear to be parted from this cute little thing.  I love it so much” (Holt 35).  The lines, “I love him so much” and “I couldn’t bear to be without him” are repeated by the woman during the visit to the vet. (36)  Mooney does a good job in contrasting the emotional woman and the dry, matter-of-fact male veterinarian. 

            I think I am most indebted to this version for the characterization of the vet, in particular.  And while I’ve embellished and lengthened this version for my telling, I’ve stayed quite loyal to the gist of Holt’s and Mooney’s version, particularly to their vet’s key line:  “Lady, you better be glad you got him to me before he got to you!”  I particularly like the parallelism in this line. 

            The only drawback to Mooney’s delivery is that he seems a bit rushed.  He does slow down for certain words and phrases like those of the pivotal last line and for “cutest dog,” “all day long” and “when she got up the next morning.”  This last phrase is followed by his speeding up his delivery for the action of the woman rushing the pet to the vet.  This is the only time that I think his rushing was appropriate.  It fit the content.  He rushed because the character rushed.  However, I also think he could have slowed down when she slowed down—for example, when she gets the pet home and fawns over him.  In addition, Mooney does not take many pauses.  Inspired by my few gripes with Mooney, I am trying to be mindful to pause and breathe in my telling and to vary my pace.  In closing, I’m also trying to incorporate a conversational, matter-of-fact style, which I admired in Mooney’s telling.  I am trying not to be so constantly ‘over the top.’


            Finally, the Holt and Mooney version has the woman smuggle the pet over the border in her blouse.  I think that makes for a very funny story.  It also adds to the horror when we discover that her pet is a rat.  We know that she held a rat close to her heart—in more ways than one!  While I find this choice hilarious, I have chosen to put the pet in the woman’s handbag rather than in her shirt.  I believe that putting the ‘dog’ in the handbag is more believable and certainly less awkward than putting it in her shirt.



            Alvin Schwartz’s version of this tale is called “Sam’s Pet.”  It begins with the information that Sam’s parents have left him at his grandmother’s house while they go on a vacation to Mexico.  I think that this aspect could resonate intensely for some children and YAs.  They might project onto Sam a feeling of being left to suffer boredom while the parents have an adventure.  They also might project upon the parents the need to ‘buy back’ Sam’s affection through bringing home a dog ---and a sombrero (which, incidentally, is never mentioned after the parent’s buy it).

            While Sam gets top billing in the title, he is left out of most of the dialogue. However, the mother and father are given quite a few lines, and the mother’s lines are the richest.  The storyteller is likely to have the most fun in characterizing her.  She gets gushy and says, “Isn’t he cute!” and repeats, “Sam would love him!”  (Schwartz 55).


            Mother’s prediction of Sam’s reaction is off.  Sam does not seem impressed with the “animal” (as it is called several times, thus, perhaps offering audience members a hint that it is not a dog, but some other sort of animal).  His reaction is:  “He’s a pretty small dog,” and when the Dad prompts, “But he’s nice, isn’t he?”,  Sam does not respond.  The son’s luke-warm (at best) reaction offers the teller fodder for characterization.  Perhaps Sam always wanted a bigger dog.  Perhaps he’s a jaded, cynical guy, who doesn’t want to show many emotions.  For example, when he wakes and finds the “pet … still there,” he simply calls, “Mother, the dog has a cold.” 


            The characterization of the veterinarian is rather weak in this version.  His only lines are “Where did you get him?” and “He’s not a Hairless, … He’s not even a dog.  He’s a sewer rat—and he has rabies” (Schwartz 56).  In addition, at the vet’s, the mother willingly admits that she got the dog in Mexico; there’s not nervousness or interrogation like in the Holt and Mooney version.  I believe that this lessens the dramatic tension that can make the ending such a fun twist.  Finally, this version ends with Stephen Gammell’s drawing of a creature on a leash—a creature than neither looks like a Mexican Hairless nor a rabid rat.  It is a rather ridiculous drawing of a creature that looks like he’s made of spores, roots, hair, and wax.  It does not fit the story.  However, I wish that the story did fit this ridiculous picture.  In my opinion, the story could have used more ridiculous elements.  For example, I would have enjoyed the parents being more numb-skulled and Sam being surlier.



            Jan Brunvand is known as “Mr. Urban Legend.”  He not only offers versions (and variants) of “The Mexican Pet” in several books, he usually accompanies them with analyses and commentaries.  Apparently Brunvand was so ‘taken’ with the legend of “The Mexican Pet” that he named an entire book after it—1986’s The Mexican Pet.  In this book Brunvand notes that he first began to notice the legend in Autumn 1983.  He adds that the settings for versions range from Tijuana to Mexico City to Acapulco and that upon bringing the pet “back home,” it is either found “drowned in the toilet bowl, and then taken to the vet for an explanation,” or it “fights with two resident pets, and then all three are taken for treatment,” but that usually “the tourist simply brings the new pet in for its shots” (Brunvand Mexican 22-23).  Brunvand explains that in some versions, the veterinarian grabs the rat and snaps its neck before explaining the problem.  Brunvand also notes that some versions have the tourist try to talk to locals in “broken Spanish” and to name the pet “Little Chico.”  All of these details offer a teller much room for embellishment and variation. 

            The version that Brunvand quotes in its entirety is attributed to “Mike Milch of Newport Beach, California, who heard it from his sister in San Diego, as she had been told it as a true story by a co-worker around February, 1984. (Brunvand Mexican 22)  I believe that this mention of a co-worker inspired me to invent an office gossip pool in my version. 


            Milch’s version starts in Tijuana and includes the line “As any visitor to this border town knows, the streets near the shopping areas are populated with stray dogs” (qtd. in Brunvand Mexican 21).  This seems to make the narrator seem like a bit of an authority on Tijuana.  This suggests that the teller try to seem like an expert on this tourist destination.  For this reason, I read several articles about Tijuana.  I think that Milch’s air of authority is the main advantage found in his version. 

            Milch’s version also benefits from his stating, “After arriving home, she gave the dog a bath, brushed his fur, then retired for the night with her newfound pet curled up at the foot of her bed” (qtd. in Brunvand Mexican 21).  This sets a cozy scene for a teller to embellish and shows what a good caretaker the woman is. 

            Milch’s vet is very much like that of Holt and Mooney—he interrogates the woman, repeating, “Where did you get this dog?” twice.  This adds tension as the nervous woman ponders what to say.  Milch adds, “The woman didn’t want to get into trouble” (qtd. in Brunvand Mexican 21).  He also states, “The woman nervously admitted having brought the dog across the border” (qtd. in Brunvand Mexican 21).  This gives the teller a definite emotion with which to work.  The teller must try to reveal nervousness and fear of being prosecuted for illegal activity. 

            Finally, Milch’s vet continually refers to the rat as “this dog”.  This is a bit awkward, for I assume that he knows it is a rat all along, but an advantage here is that this offers no hint to the audience that the ‘dog’ is not a ‘dog.’  Other versions have the vet refer to it as “this animal” or “him” or “this pet.”  Milch’s vet finally declares, “First of all, it’s not a dog—it’s a Mexican sewer rat.  And second, it’s dying.”  By having the vet refer to the animal as a “dog” up until the last line, the teller is more likely to have audience members discover the animal’s identity along with the woman.  Perhaps this makes the revelation of the rat that much more surprising and disgusting.  I also find ending with the words “it’s dying” to be a bit odd.  I think I long for more of a ‘tag line’ like in the version by Holt and Mooney.  However, both Milch’s version and that of Holt and Mooney just end at the veterinarian’s office with his last words.  In fact, hardly any of the versions I read go beyond the veterinarian’s office to explore the woman’s reaction.  This is in keeping with the fact that most urban legends are “resolved by a sudden plot twist, at which point the story ends abruptly” (Brunvand Encyclopedia xxviii).  For my version, I decided to extend a bit beyond the surprise twist and add a coda of sorts—wherein I explain the woman’s phobia of all things Mexican.  This allows me to reinforce the legend’s underlying xenophobic message and offers some humor to mix with the disgust.  (And, as you know, I seem to be drawn to the humorous and silly parts of stories.) 




            Brunvand includes another version of “The Mexican Pet” in his 1999 book, Too Good to Be True.  This version targets Haitian refugees and ‘boat people’ with its inclusion of a couple from New York vacationing in Florida and rescuing a “pathetic-looking little dog clinging for dear life to a piece of driftwood,” only to eventually discover from the vet that it is a “Haitian rat!” (qtd. in Brunvand Too Good 39). 

            This version includes the couple running an ad in the lost and found section of a local paper:  “Found—small dark brown hairless dog with long tail.  No collar.” (qtd. in Brunvand Too Good 39).  This version also has the vet ask the couple, “Have you ever heard this dog bark?” to which they reply, “… it never does bark exactly; it just sort of squeaks” (qtd. in Brunvand Too Good 39).  All of these elements seem to add up to pretty good hints, allowing the teller to spark speculation within some savvy audience members.  How much to hint at the ‘dog’s’ true identity as a rat is a key consideration for a teller.  One must ask him/herself how much he/she desires audience members to potentially be in on the secret and how much of a surprise is desired at the end.  A teller must ask him/herself, “Do I want to drop hints along the way or do I want the end to be more of a surprise?”  I decided to not drop many hints along the way.  I do borrow from this version the aspect that the ‘dog’ does not bark, but I only include this during the border crossing when I explain that Chi-Chi was well behaved and didn’t bark while the border patrolman questioned the woman.  


            Jan Brunvand’s expertise is the inspiration behind Robert Loren Fleming’s and Robert F. Boyd, Jr.’s The Big Book of Urban Legends.  Brunvand also wrote the introduction and commentary for it.  This book is full of cartoons.  That for “The Mexican Pet” was created by Kevin O’Neill.  O’Neill’s creation only spans eight panels across one page, but I believe that it is one of the richest versions of this tale. 

            The first thing I noticed is what an aging “wanna-be” “sex-pot” O’Neill’s tourist is.  She is drawn as a wrinkly old woman with hair piled upon her head in a bouffant.  She wears hot pants, tube tops, and very high heels.  She smokes a cigarette in a long holder.  Not only is her wardrobe supposedly ‘sexy’, but so is the description of her relationship with her pet, which she calls “My Pepito.”  The cartoon opens with the woman looking to be in mourning.  Tears fall down her face, and she is wearing a tight black dress and a locket in which sits the picture of what appears to be a little dog.  The woman is holding a photo album with a big heart, embossed on its cover.   She exclaims:  “See?  This is the alley where I first saw my Pepito!  I knew right away … sob! … that we were meant for each other!  But it was not to be!” (O’Neill 35).  Then the rest of the cartoon is a flashback to her meeting Pepito in Tijuana, smuggling him through customs, spoiling him at home, and then the horror of awaking to his illness, rushing him to the doctor, and learning “Pepito’s terrible secret” (O’Neill  35). 


            This version reminds me of a soap opera.  It is told almost entirely from the tourist woman’s point of view.  She is extremely exaggerated in her statements of affection for “My Pepito”—in fact, the cartoon presents Pepito almost as the woman’s new boyfriend.  There are definite elements of soap opera romance here.  For example, the woman states, “I was visiting Tijuana, Mexico, when Pepito entered my life!  He looked at me with such hungry eyes that I couldn’t refuse him!  We shared a sandwich and I lost my heart!” (O’Neill 35).  Next she says, “After that, we were inseparable.”  (O’Neill 35).  After she risks crossing through customs with Pepito peeking out of her jacket and takes him home, we see her in bed, looking at Pepito with bedroom eyes.  She is under the covers, while Pepito, with a big ribbon around his neck, sits atop her bed upon his very own little bed, across which is embroidered “PEPITO”—except the “O” is in the shape of a heart.  The text for this panel reads, “Our first night together was heavenly.  I ran a bath for Pepito, and gave him something to wear.  Then we went to bed early!” (O’Neill 35).  It sounds like a honeymoon to me!  I found this panel particularly inspirational.  For example, the inclusion of a personalized bed for Pepito plus his big ribbon inspired me to really go overboard in describing the industry with which the woman sews little costumes and PJs for Chi-Chi and fawns over him in my version.  In addition, the romantic elements inspired me to create the device of having my tourist’s boyfriend breaking up with her, and my having her subsequently transfer her need for love and affection to Chi-Chi. 

            Finally, O’Neill’s version presents the woman as quite out-of-touch with reality and as rather crazed.  Near the end of the cartoon she is “terror-stricken,” claiming, “As Pepito died, my life lost all meaning!”  (O’Neill 35).  When the vet says his one line, “Lady, that was no dog!  You’ve been carrying around a Mexican sewer rat!”, the skin on the woman’s face looks like it is slipping off or melting away.  Her eyes are huge.  Her hands are raised to her cheeks, and her mouth is agape.  She looks like she is in shock.  This inspired my decision to add the ‘coda’ of the woman’s phobias.  O’Neill’s woman seems damaged for life by this event.  I decided to do the same thing to my tourist.  In closing, O’Neill’s version offers a teller the opportunity to characterize the woman as such a silly, love-sick, airhead.  Her style of dress and the manner in which she is drawn—in combination with her word choice—seem to imply that she would have the breathless voice of a porn star or phone sex operator or perhaps the gruff voice of a chain-smoking, aging starlet!  Tons of fun!  O’Neill’s version definitely offers a strong and silly characterization. 



            Phil Healey and Rick Glanvill present a version set in Benidorm in Spain and then in England—or as the narrator says, “Blighty” (Healey 111).  This version includes a few phrases that seem rather English.  The narrator refers to his “gran’s old pal … on holiday,” “the old dear,” and “the elderly dame” (Healey 111-112).  These few phrases, coupled, with the setting of the version and the book’s being published in London, suggest that, ideally, a narrator will be able to present this with some sort of English accent.  This is a challenge for many non-English tellers. However, this version can be changed slightly and told with the narrator as an American. 


            What I find most interesting about this version is the emphasis on the age of the tourists.  They are described as a “bunch of senior citizens” (Healey 111).  The main tourist is called an “old dear, who loved animals” (Healey 111).  Her smuggling the ‘dog’ back into England involves the “diversionary tactics of the other senior citizens, involving a dodgy pacemaker and some Wintergreen’s ointment” (Healey 111).  One can pretty easily declare that this version is ageist.  Likewise, one can call this version, and most of the versions, sexist, portraying women negatively as naïve nitwits.  The focus in this version on the characters’ ages offers a teller—particularly a young one—the opportunity to experiment with voice and gestures in order to portray senior citizens. 


            This version also has a fight scene, in which the new ‘dog’ meets the old lady’s cat, and the tom attacks.  There are plants flying, curtains ruined, and an umbrella stand spilling over.  In addition, there is “blood everywhere” (Healey 112).  This fight scene offers the teller much to work with.  He or she can incorporate lots of sound effects to help flesh out (pun not originally intended) this scene. 


            Finally, this version ends with the narrator describing the veterinarian asking the woman what she thinks the animal is.  She replies, “What can you mean?  It’s a dog” (Healey 112).  The vet then declares, “I’ve got news for you ….  This, madam, is a giant gutter rat” (Healey 112).  Again, there’s no tense build up between an interrogating vet and a nervous woman.  Likewise, there’s no follow-up after the surprise ending’s twist.  Also, not stating that the rat is dying or rabid seems to lessen the level of disgust.

            “Holiday Souvenir” by Brown and Flynn has a family from Auckland, New Zealand on vacation in Thailand.  The children “fell in love” with a “small dog,” and the parents “decided to sneak it back home” (Brown 68).  The “puppy” makes it through customs in the mother’s handbag. (Brown 68)  Deciding how to get the ‘dog’ across the border can be a challenge for the teller.  I’ve decided to go for the handbag and forego the more humorous —yet awkward—border crossing that entails the dog in the woman’s shirt.  There’s a risk that one will offend his/her audience members by putting the ‘dog’ in the shirt.  It seems more acceptable and believable to have the ‘dog’ in a handbag. 


            Finally, this version ends with the following lines:


            A few days later, however, they were horrified to discover their
            next-door-neighbor’s cat had captured and killed their little darling. 
            The family were even more horrified when the vet told them that their

            darling puppy was, in fact, a giant Thai rat. (Brown 68)


Choosing to move the rat’s offensiveness into the neighbor’s yard is an interesting choice.  Not only does the family’s bringing the rat home affect them, the terror and tragedy also affects the neighbor.  I prefer to keep the tragedy within one household. 


            Finally, I think I’ve been influenced by the idea of a “darling puppy” turning in a blink of an eye into a “giant rat” (Brown 68).  In particular, this has mostly informed my analysis of the appropriateness of this tale for YAs—it connects directly to the idea of “antithetic impulses” (ala Hall). 




            Gail de Vos offers two very short versions in her book, Tales, Rumors, and Gossip.  The first version reads as follows:


            A couple on holidays down in Mexico fall in love with a cute Mexican hairless
            dog.  When their holiday is over, they can’t bear to leave it behind, so they

            smuggle it over the borders.  After a few days the dog becomes ill so they take

            it to the vet.  The vet takes one look at it and says, “That’s not a dog, that’s a

            RAT! (de Vos 217).


The other version, attributed to Veronique Campion-Vincent, goes like this:


            A very small, sweet dog was brought back from holidays in western Africa
            by a couple who were charmed by the animal.  It had followed them in an

            affectionate manner during their stay.  After smuggling it home, they find that
            the new arrival has cut the throat of the house cat.  The animal was not a dog,
            but a large, sick rat. (qtd. in de Vos 218)

            Both of these versions are so stripped down.  They are basically just plot synopses.  Therefore, little direction is offered to the teller, but he/she has the opportunity to imagine filling in the blanks.

            Finally, de Vos explains that she always dedicates this legend to the people in Alberta, Canada, who live in a “rat-free province” (de Vos 218).  I researched this on the National Geographic Web site, and I discovered that Alberta has for many decades employed people to keep rats out of the province.  I think this is a fascinating fact, and I considered adding it to my version, as this would allow me to throw in some actual fact with all of this fiction.  I considered having my distraught tourist deciding to move to Alberta because of its special rat-free status, but I ultimately decided to keep her in the USA, as this legend promotes fear of foreigners and warns one not to cross borders. 


            Ann Fiery’s version, entitled “Good Dog,” is, by far, the most fascinating.  It is told from the point of view of the rat (born “Franz” but named “Cody” by his new family).  It begins at the Ankara Continental Hotel in Ankara, Turkey, where Franz spies four blondes (a father, mother, daughter, and son)  Franz says:


            I could tell right away that they were Americans.  I mean, they could

            have been Swedes, with that hair, but there was something about them

            that screamed AMERICANS!  The way they walked, maybe.  Confident,

            one foot in front of the other, no sly looks to the left or right, no hunched

            shoulders.  Never a second’s suspicion that someone was about to toss a

            bomb their way or that a policeman was just around the corner waiting to

            arrest them. (Fiery 73)


Certainly the political aspects of this version influence a teller’s decision of where and to whom to tell it.  I could see one telling this to a left-leaning political group, perhaps at an anti-war rally.  It probably wouldn’t go over so well at Fort Bragg or at an American Legion Hall, where many would not warm up to the line, “Just like I’d always heard, the problem with Americans is prejudice” or to “Americans are limited, terribly limited” (Fiery 76). 


            This version also contains an intense sound effect, which, likewise, could startle many audience members.  When Franz’s “Mom” discovers he is a rat, she screams, “EEEEEEE, EEEEEEEEE.  EEEEEEEEEEEEEE” (Fiery, 76).  This shriek could be very fun for a teller.  One must wonder about pitch and whether or not to orchestrate a crescendo, etc.  A teller must also devise voices, for Mom, Charles (the father), Davey (the son), Sally (the daughter), the veterinarian, and of course, for Franz aka Cody.  This could prove very challenging, especially if one wants to do a Turkish accent for the rat.  In addition, the sequence involving dialogue between the vet and Mom is challenging in that it seems very fast paced, and staccato-like with quick oscillations between his “HUNH!,” her “What?!,” his “That!,” her “What!?,” followed by his whispering, “That’s the—that’s the biggest rat I’ve ever seen” and her subsequent shrieking.  (Fiery 76).  This sequence includes Mom initially misunderstanding the vet, thinking the rat is somewhere on the floor of the office and is not her loveable dog upon the examining table.  This comic misunderstanding suggests some pretty specific visualization and ‘blocking’/choreography.  This, too, could be challenging.


            A final challenge comes in the form of trying to convey Franz’s heartbreak, escape, and subsequent acceptance of his “new situation” in “the land of opportunity, flowing with hamburgers and french fries and big Dumpsters” (Fiery 76).  In the end, Franz declares, “I vowed to celebrate my rattiness, to luxuriate in my ratty qualities, and to develop my talents to their fullest.  With this in mind, I set out to find a mall” (Fiery 76).  So … one probably should not take this tale to a gig at the galleria. 





            “The Mexican Pet” is a contamination story, dealing with a mishap on vacation (it’s a tourist horror story, too); it also deals with a pet, the sewer, and being up close to a rat.  Many urban legends deal with these elements—for example, “The Runaway Grandmother,” “The Kidney Heist,” “The Microwaved Pet,” “Alligators in the Sewer,” and “Kentucky Fried Rat”.  Incidentally, most urban legends deal with some form of contamination. 

            “The Mexican Pet” seems to be most closely related to another urban legend, known as “The Pests in the Plant” in which a lady brings home a cactus plant or yucca (often imported from Central America) only to have it emit a strange creaking noise.  She calls a landscaper, botanist, horticulturalist, or even the fire department to check on the plant.  Eventually, the plant explodes, releasing thousands of baby scorpions or spiders.  (Brunvand Baby Train 280-281).  (By the way, the inclusion of thousands of spiders reminds me of the famous “Spiders in the Hairdo” urban legend.)


            I also believe that “The Mexican Pet” is related to noodle-head tales and numskull stories.  In particular, the versions that include a wife and husband seem related to Types 1380-1404 “The Foolish Wife and her Husband” or perhaps Types 1405-1429 “The Foolish Man and his Wife” or perhaps Types 1430-1439 “The Foolish Couple” (Aarne 410-423).  Also vying for kinship with “The Mexican Pet” are Types 1440-1449 “Stories about a Woman (Girl),” which seem to feature anecdotal joke-like misunderstandings, related to a woman’s ignorance and naiveté, not unlike most versions of “The Mexican Pet” (Aarne, 423-424).  





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