Billie Holiday kept chihuahuas. Her first was Chiquita, who would have her nails done in the same color as Billie's, and for whom Billie personally knitted a sweater.
But it was Pepe (in these photos), given to her by Ava Gardner, whom she had longest and loved best. He became her primary companion in her last days of drug addiction. She kept him with her even at niteclubs or on stage, even in church, and insisted restaurant owners permit him at the table. She got away with it because, well, she was Billie Holiday.
Lady Day had once been an imperious, physically imposing woman, but toward the end was so pitiful. When she was quite properly refused a child adoption, to soothe her depression and disappointment she began coddling Pepe and feeding him from a baby bottle.
She unfortunately allowed Pepi to get drunk with her. Her Doubleday publisher Lee Barker reported a night out in Harlem when Lady Day was on heroin and Pepi drunk from gin. "The dog drank out of a shot glass and got plastered." Maya Angelou's memoir also mentions having watched Pepe and Billie drinking gin from the same glass.
In the photo at the right, Billie and Pepe are leaving the police station after her release on bail from Philadelphia jail, after her arrest for narcotics possession.
This was 24 February 1956. She'd refused to be parted from her dog while in lock-up. In front of her strolls her husband and road manager, Louis McKay, who was arrestted with heeer. Peering from behind them is Captain Clarence Ferguson who led the police raid the night before.
Sad times for a great woman whose voice has more than proven Billie's immortality. If there's a place in Heaven for sinners who enriched the world during their lives, then I've no doubt she's with Pepe even now.
Billie also had a Boxer named Mister, before her life had quite gone all to hell. Mister became well-known after a photo was published of him waiting beside Billie in her Harlem apartment as she fried him up a steak. This and one other photo of Billie and Mister is appended below.
Sadly, as her health and addiction took their tolls, Lady Day could not care for Mister and gave him to her friend, jazz great Bobby Tucker, and Mister had plenty of love from Bobby's children. Billie could not long bare to be without a dog however and soon had a chihuahua.