Sunday, January 22, 2012

A Day That Seemed as if It Would Never Come: Uncle Chichi’s Last

Uncle Chichi, a toy poodle whose unusual longevity led to fame and an appearance on “Good Morning America,” died on Tuesday after a yearlong battle with cancer. He was 26. Or 24. Or maybe 25.

The imprecision over his age led to debate over whether Chichi, or the Cheech, as he was sometimes known, had been the world’s oldest living dog.

He was remarkably old; that much was agreed upon by veterinarians, his owners and the animal shelter in Charleston, S.C., that offered him for adoption more than two decades ago.

But when his owners considered seeking a place for him in Guinness World Records in 2010, after he had had a brush with death, the proof required — like puppy photos and veterinarian records — turned out to have been lost to the ages.

Chichi began showing signs of advancing age more than a decade ago and suffered from cataracts, glaucoma and a corneal ulcer. After treatments at the Animal Medical Center on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, he always bounced back to promenade down Morton Street in the West Village, where he lived. He continued to fetch — even though he could not see or hear — and even attended his owners’ wedding in Croatia in October 2010.

When the cancer became too advanced, Chichi’s owners, Frank Pavich and Janet Puhalovic, said they had no choice but to euthanize him. They notified friends of the news in an e-mail on Sunday.

“We just feel completely empty; the whole apartment’s empty,” Mr. Pavich, 38, said in an interview. “That little 10-pound guy fills up not just your apartment, but your life.”

He was adopted from the John Ancrum Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in Charleston 24 years ago, Mr. Pavich said. Shelter officials indicated at the time that the dog was between 1 and 2 years old.

With Chichi ailing in the later months of his life, Mr. Pavich, a television producer, took him to Italy, Slovenia, Switzerland, Germany and France. They snapped souvenir photos in Gruy√®res, Switzerland, the birthplace of the pungent cheese, Chichi’s favorite indulgence.

“There was so much bonus time,” Mr. Pavich said. “It’s weird because the more time we spent with him, the more and more we loved him. We didn’t know that was possible.”

While the dog seemed unfazed by fame, others benefited from his star power: after Mr. Pavich revealed on “Good Morning America” that Chichi was particular to a dog food called Spot’s Stew, the manufacturer donated 10,000 meals to the Charleston animal shelter through the charitable site Chichi presided over the ceremony.

In December, Guinness’s official oldest living dog, Pusuke, a 26-year-old Japanese mutt, died. Representatives from Guinness did not immediately respond to an inquiry about the identity of Pusuke’s successor.

Mr. Pavich was not concerned. “He wasn’t your average dog,” he said of Chichi. “He kind of transcended that.”