Homeless Ellis County Chihuahua finds match in Navy veteran

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Pepe was heartworm positive and barely making it on the streets of Bardwell before everything changed for the better.

No one knows how long Pepe was roaming the streets of Bardwell before a kind woman rescued him.

Last November when a woman who’d become Pepe’s only hope drove past a gas station southeast of Waxahachie and saw a large group of dogs gathering around a man outside the business, she stopped and asked if they were his dogs. He replied that they were strays and he was going to poison them, no doubt at wit’s end from the huge abandoned animal problem that plagues the Ellis County countryside.

The response alarmed the woman, but facing difficulties herself, she was in no place to rescue any of the poor souls. But, the little Chihuahua among them kept trying to get into her car and she simply couldn’t leave him behind. So, she took him, drove away and hoped for the best.

Photo of Pepe looking into car
Pepe peering into the car of the kind woman who just simply couldn’t leave him behind.

“I was online and a lady from Bardwell posted a picture of him and said, ‘He needs help and I can’t do it.’ She essentially lived in our car at the time. So I saw his picture and he had scratches all over his face. He looked pretty beat up and very skinny, long toenails — that’s one of the other triggers that you know they’ve been out there a long time: the toenails are way bad. So, I got him that night, defleed him and fed him — and he ate like a little pig — cleaned him up, put some Bactine on his little booboos,” says Ennis resident Jovetta Mach who fosters dogs for Hearts and Tails of Hope Pet Rescue.

Over the next few weeks, Jovetta cared for Pepe, started his heartworm prevention, got him vaccinated and noted all the details of his characteristics in order to get him ready for eventually being adopted into just the right permanent home. Jovetta noticed from the beginning, though, that Pepe was fully house trained and one of the friendliest dogs she’d ever met.

Photo of Pepe chewing on chew toy
Pepe recovering from the streets at Jovetta’s house.

Although the full fostering process usually takes several months, Pepe’s stay was shortened because of his demeanor and because a Navy veteran, who’d completed two tours in Afghanistan some years ago, fell instantly in love with the little friendly Chihuahua after seeing his photo online.

“Pepe has really been my saving grace — he keeps me sane,” says Emiko Board, Pepe’s new human companion who’d recently lost her dog to cancer.

Originally from Grand Prairie but now living in Georgia, Emiko was temporarily living back in the Dallas area to help her daughter, Malazia who requires hospitalization during her pregnancy. The loss of her furry companion she’d had for 11 years and her daughter’s hospitalization are stressful enough, but Emiko also suffers from PTSD brought on by her military experiences in Kabul, Afghanistan.

Photo of Pepe Emiko's daughter and Emiko.
Pepe with Emiko’s daughter, Malazia and Emiko.

“It’s just been a roller coaster,” Emiko says. “I take Pepe all the time to the hospital, and [my daughter] just lights up when she sees him. Pepe just provides that joy and comfort and is just such a good dog.”

Photo of Pepe sitting on someone's legs

“He was a stray, I guess, since he’s been a puppy, but it’s just heartbreaking too because he’s just so friendly. He doesn’t bark. He wants to play all the time. He jumps up on your lap. He’s just very friendly and very loving. And he just wants to be petted and loved on all the time. But, it’s just heartbreaking just to know that no one gave him a chance and he was just out in the street,” Emiko adds.

Emiko says Pepe helps her avoid panic attacks by giving her someone to focus on when anxiety creeps up on her or disturbing memories come to mind. Pepe’s winning personality and charisma have so far been just the right prescription to assist Emiko.

“I don’t even have to be thinking about anything, and a thought will come to my head. And if he’s in my lap, I’ll just rub on him and he’ll calm me down. I suffer from anxiety and panic attacks. I haven’t had any since I’ve had him,” Emiko says.

Before adopting Pepe, Emiko was mostly unaware of the huge population of dogs and cats packed into animal shelters throughout the country until their 72-hour waiting period runs out and they’re killed. She says she’s glad that she adopted her new friend from an animal rescue organization instead of buying from a breeder who only adds more dogs and cats to the overpopulation problem.

Her advice to anyone looking for a dog or cat to bring into the family: don’t shop — adopt.

“It just breaks my heart to see them in cages,” Emiko says. “There are just so many dogs that have never known love. I just want to adopt them all.

“I would just like to encourage people to really look at their local shelters. And if they can, adopt. I really encourage people, especially veterans with PTSD or emotional warfare issues — I really encourage them to adopt a pet, because they really can help with your emotional trauma.”

Photo of Pepe in hospital
Pepe melting the hearts of Nurse Chris, Malazia, and Emiko all at one time.

Emiko will live in the Dallas area at least until February and most likely even longer as she helps her daughter. Pepe will continue to learn his new family’s routine and fit into their daily life, emanating a charm that melts the hearts of everyone who meets him.

“He’s the light of my life,” Emiko says.

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