Sports Talk: Beloved ‘personal trainer’ will be sorely missed

My personal trainer died of congestive heart failure at home Tuesday morning.

Poncho, a 13-year-old Chihuahua, will be missed terribly by his family and his many canine and feline friends. He was such a joy and comfort to be around.

In early June, Poncho suffered and survived an arrhythmic episode, according to Williamstown veterinarian Teresa Essig, D.V.M.

Wikipedia reveals that “Chihuahuas are prone to some heart-related disorders, such as heart murmurs….”

Poncho had been diagnosed with a heart murmur by Dr. Essig a few years ago.

Thanks to Dr. Essig and her staff, Poncho was able to live an additional five weeks. For that, my wife and I are eternally grateful. Every day, every hour, every minute was a precious gift.

“So, how is Mr. Poncho, today?” Dr. Essig would invariably say to him on office visits over the years.

A few years ago, I did a column on Poncho, “Getting in shape with the “King of the Chihuahuas.” The theme of the story was exercise, and how Poncho kept me from becoming a couch potato. In essence, he became my personal trainer.

Poncho loved to run and take walks. No matter what the weather was, whenever I picked up his red leash, he started jumping in place. He just loved to be outside and in the world. Sometimes it was a real challenge to stay with him. Mostly, though, he’d go several paces, sniff the air, and then stop and literally smell every blade of grass.

“Can I pet your dog?” a little girl once asked me in a park near Harmar Bridge in Marietta.

Poncho, personable and gracious as always, adored children, and loved his smooth, light brown fur being stroked by their little hands.

“He doesn’t bite, does he?” a little boy asked.

I almost had to suppress a laugh.

“No, but he might lick your hand,” I said.

The little boy and other children just giggled.

Tail wagging, Poncho reveled in the attention, and was a real rock star. I almost felt like his bodyguard.

If he’d been able to give out “paw-graphs,” I’m sure he would have.

“How’s Poncho doing?” the late Marietta Times sports editor Bill Robinson always asked me when we rode to any Marietta College games. Robinson of course was a great lover of dogs, especially Collies.

“Poncho’s doing great,” I would always say. “He keeps me in stitches all the time.”

Poncho and his four little legs took me pretty much everywhere on short stretches on Front Street and Colegate Drive to walks on Fifth Street and in The Marietta Times parking lot. But mostly, the journeys were on Mount Tom Road and Mitchell’s Lane, where there wasn’t much traffic or people around.

In the yard, he loved to run with my son’s Bordie Collie Tara. What a dynamic, humorous pair they were.

Not far from our house is a wooded area with a path to a small pond. Often the grandkids and I would take Poncho, who always walked the point, there to take in the scenery. Fall always seemed to be best time for that little jaunt.

With Poncho, you had to keep moving until he stopped. He was a Chihuahua always in motion. He kept me going.

Shortly before he died, Poncho, who hadn’t been able to walk much since early June, was “bathed” by one of our cats. It was a touching and emotional scene. It was almost as if the cat was saying, “We all love you, Poncho. You’ve been such a big part of our lives.”

On Sunday night, my wife was in the kitchen when she noticed out of the corner of her eye Poncho, who had been in the living room, dragging his little body on the floor with all of his might to be with her. It was pure will power on Poncho’s part.

“I’m coming mommy,” his expressive brown eyes seemed to be saying.

Simply, as a personal trainer, Poncho was the best.

Ron Johnston is the Marietta Times sports editor, and can be reached at 376-5441, or at