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Complete and unabridged


by P.D.
17 May 1968

Guidepost cover, 17 May 1968

LAST weekend Madrid´s annual dog show was held in the Retiro Park again, and rather than give a rundown on the pedigreed pooches who competed for prizes and ribbons for their masters, we´ve decided this year to tell the tale of a famous Madrid dog. It´s not a shaggy dog story. Nor it is one known to many people, for the dog in question, whose name was Paco, lived at the turn of the century. However, in his day he was considered one of the most famous “personajes” in Madrid. There were pictures of him in the windows of every music shop of note, and waltzes and galops were written in his honor, while the confectioners’ shops had their windows filled with hundreds of sugary models of the dog about whom all Madrid was talking. A veritable Pacomania seized the capital and every day the newspapers featured the latest bit of Paco news, recounting the latest anecdotes and peregrinations of the dog.

Paco was not a pedigreed, aristocratic dog such as those that used to swagger down the Prado with their haughty masters—no, Paco was just a plain mutt, the kind you see sniffling along the gutters of the city, the kind that fends for themselves, seek food in the garbage cans and give birth to their puppies in the relative protection of building sites and abandoned wreckage.

Marques de Bogaraya, Paco’s eminent benefactor who named the mutt after San Franciso

But Paco was an exceptional dog. One day in October of 1879 he nonchalantly trotted into the popular Café Fornos and sniffed about from table to table for some scrap of food which a generous diner might slip to him from his table. Paco had a sharp eye for benefactors, for he went right up to the table at which the Marqués de Bogaraya was sitting. The nobleman took pity on the hungry dog and threw him a juicy bone. As it happened to be the day of the festivities of San Francisco de Asís, our noble marquis dubbed the dog Francisco, which in colloquial Spanish soon became Paco. Paco´s physical attributes were not exceptional: he was medium-sized, black and on the whole ugly by standards of canine beauty. His tail curled shamelessly and every now and then he would be known to chase an errant flea with his teeth.

Such bounty was, as might be expected, followed up by renewed visits, and as the marquis ate regularly in Fornos, so Paco too would drop in at dinner time and be assured of at least a modest meal and not a few pats on the head. His friendship with his protector increased. Meanwhile, others took a fancy to him as well, and within a short while he was practically a fixture in this most popular of all Madrid cafés. Even the waiters began to like him. No sooner did he stroll into the café than someone would remark, “Well, here´s Paco again”, or, “Come here Paco, there’s a good dog—here, have a bite of this”, or, “Give me your paw, Paco, nice Paco, good Paco.”

Soon Paco’s attachment to the smoky comforts of the café became such that he decided to bed down there for the night as well. Since Fornos never closed its doors, it was a perfect arrangement, for certainly it was cozier curling up under a divan at night than sleeping in some cold doorway.

Café Fornos

Each day Paco´s popularity seemed to grow with the habitués of Fornos; and as he had become chummy with not a few influential swells, and was well connected with the higher-ups of the cream of the Spanish aristocracy, he gained easy access to places denied his comrades. In fact, no doors were barred to Paco, he made his nonchalant entry into theaters, circuses, bullfights, gardens and just about any other place his masters went. No doorman, usher or guard ever denied the privileged pooch entrance, or booted him out once of the premises. Meanwhile, Paco would attentively watch the plays seated in the aisle between the seats. In the bullfights you would see him observing the goings-on with great interest, and so quick was he to learn, that his critical sense developed marvelously. When the performance was well done, the actors good, the toreros brave and skillful, Paco would remain silent and motionless. Sometimes his protectors would even observe him to nod his head in silent canine approbation of what was being presented before him.

But when Paco slowly started to growl and wound up barking wildly, woe to the performers who were hamming it up before him. For these were sure signs that Paco did not like what was being presented to him, and his discontent was invariably followed by the discontent of the public who would soon start booing and whistling and stamping their feet, all to the incessant barking of their mascot.

There were some people who tried to take Paco into their houses. But Paco was an independent-minded dog and didn´t take well to domesticity. What was life if he couldn’t come and go as he chose, if he couldn’t lounge about the tables of Fornos and sit in the Teatro Apolo on the opening night or some zarzuela, or bark at the bad bulls in the ring?

One of Paco’s illustrious protectors was the bullfighter Frascuelo, who, along with Lagartijo, was considered the greatest torero of this day. On Sundays when the great Frascuelo was to fight in the ring, Paco would be seated in the very same carriage, and they would drive together to the Plaza de Toros like old friends. In fact so important did Paco consider his friend´s encounters with the bulls that one hour before the corrida started, he would be sitting in front of Frascuelo´s house in the Calle de la Cruz, wagging his tail in anticipation. Besides, the bullfighter knew that Paco’s presence would bring him luck. The morning following the corrida the papers would announce Paco´s presence at the fights, just as they would the king´s.

“A glass of cognac for me… and another for my friend here”

On balmy summer evenings, after having had his meal at Fornos, Paco might toddle off to the Retiro Park, where he was always well received by his friends. He would let himself be entertained by a zarzuela or two, or by the circus performances held there. Between acts he would waddle down to visit his friends at the refreshment stands, and would inevitably receive a few nuts and sweets before returning to the performance. In fact, Paco ate just about anything you gave him, and was not beyond taking a drop of wine every now and then either. After the bullfight, Frascuelo would drop into the Café Inglés, faithfully trailed by Paco.

“A glass of cognac for me… and another for my friend here,” he would say.

The “friend” turned out to be Paco, who would lap up the liquor without spilling a drop of it. And more than once he was seen leaving the café with a suspicious swaying of his body as he zig-zagged to the door.

Paco might have continued his libertine life to ripe old dogdom had he not been the unfortunate victim of an amateur novillero. One day in May of 1882 a third-rate novillada was held in the plaza which Paco had condescended to attend. An amateur bullfighter, José Rodríguez, was making a mess of his bull. His fear of the animal was obvious and instead of making a clean kill, he hacked away at the bull like a butcher at a piece of meat. The spectators were indignant and Paco, almost hoarse from barking, finally jumped into the arena, as he did on many occasions, and ran up to the clumsy amateur and barked at him from closer range. So agitated was our Paco that he ran between Rodríguez’s legs. The matador, furious at the bull, the public and specially at the nagging dog, directed his sword at Paco and ran him through with one thrust.

So great was the fury of the onlookers, so loved was Paco in Madrid, that the clumsy amateur would have been lynched right there and then had he not been escorted out by the police and saved from the angry madrileños.

When Paco died, it was a veritable day of mourning. Women cried. Newspapers commented upon it at great length, and the subject of Paco´s death even filtered into the chambers of the Cortes

Paco´s body was taken up by the owner of a tavern on the Calle de Alcalá, but despite cures and treatment, poor Paco died a few days later. His death constituted a veritable day of mourning in Madrid. Women cried. Newspapers commented upon the event at great length in sentimentally-turned phrases, and the subject of Paco´s death even filtered into the chambers of the Cortes, the Ateneo, the learned academies and the Royal Palace. He was finally buried in a flowery plot in the Retiro Park where he had so often sprayed the trees and romped with his protectors, and where now, almost 90 years later, other Madrid pooches, most of them less picturesque, are exhibited by their masters once a year.



Featured image (mutt)/Matt Davenport, CC BY-ND2.0 via Flickr
Marqués de Bogaraya/author unknown, PD via Wikipedia
Café Fornos/author unknown, PD via Wikimedia Commons
Drunk mutt/John Mosbaugh, CC BY2.0 via Flickr, cropped
Day of mourning/Hans Splinter, CC BY-ND2.0 via Flickr