On Morton Street in the West Village lives a small poodle nearly the same color as the pavement upon which he takes his seven-times daily constitutional. He may very well be the oldest dog on the planet. But he may not live long enough to wear his crown.
According to a long string of people who have owned the little canine, he is at least 22 years old, possibly 24. The official holder of the title of oldest living dog, as recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records, is a mutt from Victoria, Australia, named Sako, born on Dec. 7, 1988 — a relative puppy at 21.
But last week, the West Village poodle fell ill with an as-yet-unidentified ailment, and the proof that he is in fact as old as his family believes may come too late.
He goes by Chichi, or Uncle Chichi, or the Cheech, though at this point what he is called is a bit of a non-issue: he’s almost entirely deaf. His vision is also obscured by cataracts. The loss of two senses, however, doesn’t seem to impede him from following his owner, Frank Pavich, 36, a television producer, or Mr. Pavich’s fiancée, Janet Puhalovic, 34, down Morton Street, where he stands out among the trendy French bulldogs.
As it grew clearer a few months ago that Chichi’s longevity might indeed be exceptional, Mr. Pavich, with some aid from this reporter, decided to look into getting him into the record book. The people at Guinness need several pieces of proof: documentation of Chichi’s age, or a veterinarian’s statement attesting to it, and pictures or videos that show him aging through the decades. These would then be reviewed by a Guinness board in London.
Mr. Pavich adopted Chichi in January 1996, when the human was 22 and the dog was perhaps 8 or 10. “His early life is shrouded in mystery,” said Mr. Pavich.
According to Celestine Lehmann-Haupt, a relative of Mr. Pavich’s whose mother, Laura Frost, was Chichi’s original owner, the dog was adopted from the John Ancrum Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, in Charleston, S.C., in the fall or winter of 1987 or 1988. Then, shelter employees estimated he was 1½ or 2 years old, she said in an e-mail message.
But the shelter shredded its old records when it moved three years ago, a spokeswoman said.
Similar verification hurdles arose further down the chronological chain. Chichi still has his tag (No. 2836) from Animal Medical West in Charleston, S.C. But Dr. Thomas Hentges, a veterinarian who has treated many tens of thousands of dogs since he began practicing in 1985, said he couldn’t recall the dog nor his then-owners. Dr. Hentges, too, has purged his records.
In 1992, when Mrs. Frost fell ill, Chichi was adopted by her granddaughter, Jane Maybank. (Ms. Maybank, who lives in Charleston, has dug through her grandmother’s old photos for pictures of the Cheech as a pup, to no avail.) She handed Chichi off to Mr. Pavich, who then lived in California, after the dog growled at her new baby.
In the late ’90s, Chichi developed cataracts, glaucoma and a corneal ulcer. At one point he required hourly eye drops around the clock. Mr. Pavich set an alarm and kept a checklist at his bedside to log every drop. “We’ve spent more than a college education on him,” he said. “When you love someone, you don’t care.”
Chichi’s vet in California, Kathleen Boldy, who first saw him in 1998, wrote in a letter to the Guinness Records committee that dogs tend to develop cataracts after the age of 8. His condition, she wrote, was consistent with the age his owners believed him to be.
Chichi is well traveled. Before arriving in New York in 2008, he accompanied Mr. Pavich on location around the country. In February this year, after rebounding from a mysterious illness, Chichi traveled with Mr. Pavich and Ms. Puhalovic to their native Croatia, where he posed for photos in front of monuments like the church of St. Donat in Zadar.