In a community known for its sunshine, celebrities, and canine companions, Taco Lee Maloney was the rare combination of all three.
Taco Lee passed away July 29 in Massachusetts at the age of 18. He suffered a seizure earlier in the week. He leaves behind hundreds of admirers in Palm Springs who followed his life of leisure in frequent posts on local social media pages by one of his companions, Barry Adams.
Pictures of Taco Lee lounging at his winter home in the Tahquitz River Estates neighborhood or resting after journeys back East were included along with reports of his daily routine, including nights capped off with his favorite ice cream. They were a welcome respite from the toxicity and negativity too often found on Facebook and Nextdoor.
“Who knows how many people had their days brightened by reading your account of Taco Lee Maloney?” asked William Christensen on Nextdoor in reply to the announcement of Taco Lee’s passing. “A tiny dog brought joy to so many.”
“Thank you for sharing Taco Lee’s life and journey with us,” wrote Colleen Kerr. “For so many, it meant so much. … He was certainly a symbol of all that is good in the world.”
Adams and his partner Kevin Maloney were Taco Lee’s constant companions for the past 16 years. Knowing their small family member had such a big impact in Palm Springs has been almost too much to take.
“The outpouring of comments, and tears, from Nextdoor, Facebook, as well as in texts from our many friends around the country has been overwhelming,” Adams said Friday. ”Although we have always known that Taco somehow delights everyone who meets him, and that he is loved and admired, we admit we are stunned today.”
Creating a canine celebrity of sorts was the last thing Adams had in mind when he first encountered Taco Lee in 2005 during a trip out West with Maloney.
“I was having coffee with a friend of mine in Hollywood,” Adams explained. “Suddenly, a disheveled, toothless homeless man strode up the sidewalk with an extremely emaciated, hairless two-pound puppy following him. I remember I cried out, ‘Oh, my God! What is that dog?’
“The man looked at me and said, ‘He’s been living under the freeway with me. He needs someone to care for him.’ … When I looked down at the little dog, he looked me right in the eyes, and wagged his tail. I will never forget it. I believe now, fate was sealed right there.”
The next several days may have been a blur at the time, but Adams remembers them in detail, recounting step by step how the rescue played out.
The couple took Taco Lee to a Los Angeles animal services center for treatment before continuing their trip in Palm Springs, hoping that he would be adopted. They kept in touch with staff at the facility, knowing time was ticking for Taco Lee.
“We were told he would be auctioned in four days, or when he was healthy enough to be released,” said Adams. “If he was not taken at auction, he would be put down. … Each morning, and before bed, I called Central Los Angeles Animal Services and referenced Taco’s intake number asking if he had been claimed. On the third night, the employee at the shelter said to me, ‘Look. You know you want this dog. Why don’t you just come and pick him up?’”
Fast forward a few days and the couple was now a trio driving through the Mojave Desert, with one of the party’s members still in recovery from the shelter, nearly unresponsive while resting on a pillow.
“We arrived in a roadside motel later and carried the pillow with Taco on it into the room,” Adams recalled. “When we got in the room I laid the pillow on the bed and Taco, still with unopened eyes, opened his tiny mouth wide and let out a very weak, almost silent scream. I told Kevin, ‘Dear God, we are going to have a dead Chihuahua out here in the desert. What will we do?’
“This was our first promise that he would never know a hard surface again. He never did. He has slept on down pillows and piles of polar fleece for the 16 years we’ve shared our lives with him.”
As for the name Taco Lee, that came to the couple during a meal stop along the way.
“Before we reached Denver we had stopped for Mexican food,” said Adams. “It was then that we noted that our new family member was not much larger than a tortilla chip we were eating, and the color of the little hair he had was white, like the chip. Thus, his name. We added Lee as it was my father’s name, and my middle name. We chose Kevin’s last name for Taco Lee’s last name.”
Though spoiled by Adams and Maloney, and admired by legions of online fans, Taco Lee never let the attention go to his head.
“He remained meek and gentle, preferring to stay in the background,” Adams wrote on Nextdoor. “He would even back away and give up his food to any of his brothers who approached his dish. Despite his humble and reclusive nature, he ruled our house. We all deferred to him, always.
“Anyone who ever met him was drawn to his mythical nature and gentle character. He was loved dearly by many, and he knew it.”
In memory: Anyone wishing to make a donation in Taco Lee’s memory is encouraged to do so by contributing to any no-kill rescue organization that exists to relieve homelessness, cruelty, abandonment, or neglect of companion animals. Locally, donations to Kittyland or the Palm Springs Animal Shelter are recommended. Nationally, two of the couple’s favorite charities are Phinney’s Friends and Pack Ethic Rescue.