She Feels Like Home

Kipling on Guard

Kipling

In my previous life, back before I discovered Baja and surfing, I shared my life with two Rhodesian Ridgebacks (and a husband too, but he’s a whole other story). Their names were Kipling and Fletcher. I got Kipling in 1994 when she was eight weeks old, after visiting the breeder and meeting her “mom” and “dad” and being thoroughly impressed by their quiet strength and nobility.  I took raising Kipling seriously – some who knew me then might even say obsessively – because knowing she would become a large and very powerful dog (brushing up against 100 pounds), I didn’t ever want her to get out of control. The result was a dog that was a pleasure to walk on leash, who came to work with me every day and slept quietly under my desk until something was amiss or I pulled out my lunch, who sat nobly beside me in the passenger seat of my truck, buckled in with her special doggie seat belt. And because I socialized her to within an inch of her life, she also loved everyone and greeted them with an adorable full-body wag that caught most people off guard. If she really liked them, she would try to go through their legs while doing the body wag, lifting shorter people up off the ground and giving several woman in skirts an unexpected thrill.

The best thing about Kipling, and I’m told Rhodesian Ridgebacks in general, is how discerning she was. She loved everyone with two exceptions. In both cases, they were strange men who proved to be up to no good. In both instances, she put herself between me and the man and growled so menacingly that it was clear they were not to come near me. A Ridgeback conveys that they mean business like few other breeds. I’ve missed the sense of safety that comes from knowing your best friend has your back.

When I left my husband and moved into my bachelorette apartment, Kipling came with me. But when I made the decision to move to Mexico I was faced with a dilemma – should I bring a large dog on a journey across two countries and on into a third where I didn’t know precisely where or how I would live? I wrestled with that question for some time before deciding that the best thing for Kipling was to return her to the home she’d shared with me, Fletcher and my ex for several years. I’ve always wondered if I did right by her, if we would have done okay down here together. I’ve missed her and every time I think about leaving her and the fact that I’ll never see her again, I tear up.

In the past two years, I’ve lost four dogs to old age, two of them medium to large dogs who were excellent guards, barking what seemed like vicious warnings to those on the outside of the gate. They weren’t vicious dogs, but they did a good job acting the part and I believe took protecting me and this property seriously. Of the remaining three dogs, one is too old and infirm to fend off much more than a pesky fly; Peanut barks a good game when I’m home, but she purportedly stays in the garage if I’m gone; and Millie, while she might bark and nip at strangers when I’m home, like Peanut, does nothing if I’m away. I miss having dogs on the property who defend it consistently.

So about a year ago, I started thinking about my Ridgebacks and how they are such excellent, discerning guards, and just big and scary looking enough to get people’s attention. A couple of months ago I went so far as to contact a RR rescue organization to see if they could help me adopt a Ridgeback that needed a home. No dice, they said, they can’t adopt out of country. I put the word out with friends and on Facebook in the hopes that someone would know someone who knew of a Ridgeback that needed rescuing. I even went so far as to consider the possibility of traveling to Jeffreys Bay at some point in the future to visit my buddy Derek Hynd (more on that later) and find a Ridgeback while getting some epic surf. Where better than the land where they originated to find one?

And then, last Tuesday, I was at the veterinary clinic buying more meds for Doobie, when at the end of the transaction, I said to the vet, Dr. Felipe, “I’m looking for a dog…” Before I could say another word, he replied, “Follow me.” So I did.

He took me to the shaded kennel area behind the clinic and from about 15 feet away pointed at a medium to large red dog in one of the dog runs. When we entered the area, she barked at us three times – a deep, resonate bark that would make anyone sit up and take notice. The cage she was in was under heavy shade, but I could see that she had a black muzzle and black-rimmed dark amber eyes, a large white blaze on her chest and white socks on her front feet.  I held my breath a little and listened as Felipe began to tell me about her.

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Kali

“She has just started to bark when people come back here. She will make a good guard dog.” He said he believed she was part Mastiff. I was dubious because of her size and relatively fine facial features. He said, “and she has some Boxer in her,” and then he said, “And some Rhodesian Ridgeback.” My heart did a little leap.

I tried to remain objective, so I asked him, “What makes you think she is part Ridgeback?”

He took me over to inspect her. “Look, she has a ridge,” he said.

I looked at her back and saw nothing, but he directed me to look at her neck. And there it was –  a circular whirl of hair just below the occipital ridge and a length of hair growing at odds to the rest of her coat that runs the length of her neck. While it might not be up to breed standard (the ridge is supposed to start between the shoulder blades and run the length of the back), it most definitely is a ridge.

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“Kismet,” I thought.

I had to leave and return for her, so he had his staff bathe her, and when I returned and they brought her out to the waiting area, I was surprised to see how beautiful she was. I gave her some barbecue chicken I’d brought along as a bribe and was impressed at how gently she took it. Her friendly nature reassured me. The fact that she made it all the way home on the bumpy, windy road without any “incidents” further made me think I was doing the right thing by adopting her. To prove me further right, she promptly relieved herself when I let her out of the car.

That night walking with her and the other dogs down the beach, I was astounded at how much she looks and moves like Kipling did. She has the same long, strong, sinuous body, beautiful deep red coat, and graceful gait. While she may be a little long and masculine in muzzle and her ears may not hang in the proper “houndy” fashion, I think there’s more Ridgeback in this baby than either Mastiff or Boxer. The hair on her head is as soft as velvet, just like Kipling’s, a tactile memory I’d long forgotten.

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Kali and Mochi checking out a horse grazing just outside the property.

She’s fit into our home almost seamlessly, behaving like this has always been her home. After one night and a morning in the dog run outside (as much to give my dogs a chance to get used to her as the other way around), I quickly gave her run of the property. Her second night here I let her sleep inside because it was clear from the way she stayed so close to me that she wasn’t going to spook and take off. She lies a few feet away on the floor as I write this, legs outstretched, eyes half closed, trying, like the rest of us, to find some cool in the oppressive heat of a tropical summer afternoon.

And I don’t know if she senses it, but to me, she feels like home.

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Hope and Little Man

This has been, overall, a strange and emotional month when it comes to dogs. More friends have had to deal with the loss of a family pet than I’d care to relate. And at the risk of turning this into a blog about dogs, I have one more story to relate that almost manages to turn the tide around. Unlike my previous two entries, this is a story of hope.

IMG_8773It’s funny the way the Universe operates. One day I was grieving for two dogs – one of the sweetest dogs I’ve ever known and a tiny black puppy I barely knew – the next I am presented with two more in need of help.

A couple of weeks ago, my neighbor Chris told me about a puppy whose mother kept bringing him to his house. Chris isn’t much of a dog person. He said his contractor knew someone who would adopt the pup and he would be relieved when he finally took him to town. I know Chris’ contractor and through my own interactions with him have decided he’s not particularly trustworthy, so I was tempted to say, “You really trust that guy not to just dump the little guy?” But like a good recovering codependent, I kept my opinion to myself.

The day after I’d found little Pria, I stopped by Chris’ house to say hello. He and his girlfriend Joan had visitors, a couple from California who’d driven down the peninsula. When I arrived, Joan seemed to be distressed and I soon discovered why.

Their friends Jill and Brandon, while driving down the dusty Palo Escopeta Road, somewhere near the middle of nowhere, had come across a tiny puppy. They couldn’t believe it at first because there wasn’t a home or a ranch for many miles. The poor little guy was in poor shape – hungry and dehydrated. They gave him food and water, which he gobbled up voraciously. He was covered in ticks and had a bad case of mange, but Jill kept him on her lap where he quickly fell asleep for the last leg of their voyage.

Arriving at Chris and Joan’s house, Jill climbed out of the truck and held up the pup for them to see. “Look what we found!” she exclaimed. Chris and Joan looked at each other in disbelief. It was the very same puppy they’d said “adios” to three days earlier!

As they related the story to me, we all asked the same question, “How did he survive out in the desert for three days?” It was a miracle he wasn’t eaten by a coyote, a bobcat, a cougar, an owl or hawk. He was weak from his experience, which topped his already compromised state. Chris and Joan described how his mother, living in an abandoned building nearby and too skinny to produce enough milk for him, brought him there, apparently in the hope that they would take care of him. Each time they returned him to her and each time she would turn around and bring him right back. Eventually they gave up and started to feed the little guy. It turned out that the mother dog had been left, tied up, at an abandoned construction site nearby without food or water. Some other neighbors heard her plaintive cries and set her free. They put food out on the drive by the house where they found her so she wouldn’t start hanging around their house. We all wondered if she’d had other pups and if this was the only survivor.

When Joan pleaded with me, “Can you take him please? If you take him to the vet we’ll give you the money to have him fixed and whatever else he’ll need to be adoptable.” I told them of the experience I’d had the day before with Pria. I said, “What are the chances? Two puppies in two days? I’ve gone years without finding any.” Chris pushed me by adding his support, “If you transport him, we’ll pay.” I thought about it. I had to go to town the next day anyway and could drop him off with my vet. “Okay,” I said, wondering what I was getting myself in to.

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Little Man on arrival at Casa del Amanecer

On the way home, I drove by a paint job that I was managing, with the pup wrapped carefully in a blanket on my lap. The contractor waved me down – the very same contractor who ran over Zee by mistake. I pulled to a stop and held out the pup. “Mira que tengo,” I said. “Look what I have.” His eyes widened and he asked me if I was going to adopt it. “Oh no! No! NO!” I said emphatically. “I’m just taking him to the vet tomorrow and leaving him there.” He looked more closely at him and I recognized true interest. Then he told me how his dog had been killed on the road a couple of months earlier (the irony did not escape me). I considered my options. “Do you want him?” I asked, amazed that I might find this little guy a home so quickly. “Si,” came his reply. I laughed and, then suggested I get him well and strong before he took him home. He agreed.

Relieved to have found a home for the pup, my thoughts now turned to his mother. She was there at that house all by herself, abandoned. I couldn’t just leave her there. The next morning, on my way to surf before heading to town, I loaded up a big dog bowl with lots of kibble and a can of wet food and stopped at the house where she lived. The house is a large unfinished grey concrete two story structure with gaping holes where windows and doors will one day be installed. There she was, skinny and white with a black patch over one eye and dotted with small black spots looking grey amongst the white of her coat. She watched curiously as I pulled up. Peanut, who always joins me on my trips to the beach, chose this moment to get dog aggressive and in response she took off like a shot up the stairs, tail between her legs. I yelled at Peanut and left the bowl of food to continue on to the beach. I’d have to come back alone if I hoped to gain her trust enough to bring her to the vet.

The next day I returned to the abandoned house, this time with the puppy in tow and another big bowl of food. I pulled up and saw a flash of white as she ran into the house. Leary of how she would react, I carefully followed her to where she hid on the roof. She cowered at one end, while I stood at the other holding the bowl in one hand and her puppy in the other. Moving slowly, I placed them in the middle of the roof, then returned to the top of the stairs and watched to see what she would do.

She ignored the food completely and as the pup began gorging on it, she sniffed him all over, as though she couldn’t believe it was him. The way she danced around him and sniffed him gently made it clear she was overjoyed to see him. To my amazement, she couldn’t have cared less about the food. After a few moments, I picked the puppy and food back up and took them downstairs, hoping she would follow, but she was too afraid and kept her distance. Every time I put the food down, she ignored it completely, watched me warily as she sniffed and licked her pup. I decided I should probably leave her and the food for the time being and loaded the pup in the basket on the front of the ATV. As I pulled away from the house though, Mama Dog (after my Pria experience I refuse to name them) bounded along next to us barking frantically. She did not like that I was taking her pup with me. She jumped and ran in front of the bike, spinning in circles while she barked in high-pitched anxiety. The pup, sensing her anxiety, jumped up and put two paws on the edge of the basket and before I could reach over to pull him back in, leapt off into the void. Horrified, I jammed on the brakes as he let out a squeal. I prayed that he be okay as I ran around to pick him up. Thankfully he was fine (I guess puppies bounce). It was clear what I had to do. I gathered the pup in the blanket on my lap and slowly drove towards home. Mama Dog followed us enthusiastically, stopping only once to take a big dump in the middle of the road.

At home I had to be concerned about my own dogs’ reaction to the second stranger in two days arriving on the property. Hackles were up on all fronts, but I warned them with my deepest, most authoritative voice that they had better leave our guest alone. I led her to the dog run built in a vain attempt to contain Dakini (Houdini would have been a more appropriate name) and left her and the pup to get reacquainted.

Mama Dog surveys her new digs.

Mama Dog and Little Man relaxing on the patio.

It’s been 10 days and gradually Mama Dog and Little Man have integrated into our home. They are filling out, their coats are looking healthier – signs that three feedings per day and multiple wormings are working. Little Man still hasn’t grown the hair back on his belly or the little patches on his head and back that a bad case of sarcoptic mange and malnutrition caused, but I think I see some sparse fuzz trying to take up residence there. His haunches have filled out and he sports a fat little belly that is full of puppy food instead of worms. Mama Dog plays with him and puts up with his puppy hi-jinx. Despite their beginnings, she and Peanut have become great playmates – chasing each other wildly every morning and evening. Peanut even tries to play with the pup, but hasn’t quite figured out how to be gentle enough with him so that he doesn’t just yelp and cower in fear.

Happy and relatively healthy!

Happy and relatively healthy!

The day after tomorrow, Mama Dog will be spayed and Little Man will get his second exam and bath thanks to the generous support of my friends and neighbors. The painting contractor will be there to pick up Little Man. It will be a bitter-sweet goodbye for me. I have not yet found a home for Mama Dog, so she is going to the Los Cabos Humane Society. She is a wonderful, affectionate girl who would make a great family pet. Surely there’s someone out there who would like to be the object of her undying affection?

MILLIEUpdate: In a classic serendipitous turn of events, my flight to Canada for Christmas was cancelled the day that Mama Dog, now known as Milie, was scheduled to be picked up from the vet clinic by the humane society. The night before I found out that there was a chance she would be euthanized if she failed a distemper test. I took the flight cancellation as a sign and drove directly to the vet clinic to pick her up. She has been here with me ever since. I’m now working with Baja SAFE to find her a home. She has proven to be a sweet, affectionate dog, who is very responsive to training. She takes her job as guard of the me and property seriously. She is high energy is probably a Spaniel/Labrador mix, and needs a home where she will get lots of exercise. She would make a great running partner!

Six is Enough

Mexico is not an ideal location for animal lovers. Compared to the US, Canada and particularly Europe, where dogs join their owners in restaurants, Mexican dogs, cats, birds, horses, donkeys, cows, rabbits and iguanas have a pretty tough life. Perhaps this is why we have had as many as eight dogs at one time.


Doobie and Ruby were dumped off on the road above the property. Zee was brought to the house by a friend who found her in an arroyo the only surviving (barely) member of her dumped litter. Lobo was abandoned as an adult when his owner went into rehab for a bad cocaine and crack habit and his wife took the kids to the mainland. Peanut was found on the side of the road near the dump after a tropical storm. Dakini is the only one here who was adopted as an eight week old puppy.

There have been many others:

Lieka
Pachino
Brown puppy under the big tree by the Santa Cruz arroyo
Spot
Amigo
Saweso
Perla & Una
The mom with five pups at the dump
Eight puppies in a box on the side of the road


There is an endless supply of abandoned and abused dogs that need to be taken care of. Driving through town it is unusual not to see at least one neglected or abandoned animal. And people like to drive out here to the middle of nowhere and dump off their unwanted dogs.


We are currently holding steady at six dogs. At least we were until a week ago. That is when a short little beige dog was seen lurking around the property near the road. He was discouraged from hanging out, but nevertheless he continued to appear. Soon he was seen trotting after Lobo, our lone male. A Jeff to his Mutt.

Lobo is a big dog, with what appears to be some German Shepherd and a little Husky in him. His thick double coat insulates him well in winter and in spring he goes through a molt like none of our other dogs. I can fill bags and bags with his hair when I brush him. He has penetrating and expressive eyes.

This new dog is short coated and short-legged, so they make a funny pair as they trot around the property and down the beach. Wherever Lobo is, there is Chapo. Ya, he’s got a name now. I know. That’s probably not the smartest move, but Felipe is convinced that’s his name.

Lobo and his little buddy

Chapo is for “chaparito,” which means short in Spanish. And he is a Chapo. He knows his name. Felipe speculates that it must have been his name for him to respond so instantly to it. He is quick and smart and likes to be pet. It took a few hotdogs to win him over, but now he’ll run over for some love if I get real low and call him. He won’t come near me if I’m standing up tall.

Chapo is also sporting a pair of balls. At least for a few more hours. He’s going to the vet today to be “fixed.” I’m sure if he were given all the details he’d argue about the appropriateness of the term. “Sounds more like broken if you ask me Señora,” he’d say sounding a bit too much like the Taco Bell chihuahua.

Despite the fact that he is slowly pawing his way into my heart with his adorable short-legged trot, spunky nature and soft coat, he is not staying. There is a humane society celebrity golf tournament planned for the second weekend in April and Chapo is going – with none other than the former Governor of Minnesota Jesse Ventura and his lovely wife. Where we hope he will be adopted by one of the lovely attendees. So in the meantime, we’re taking care of business and getting him ready for the big event.

I’m pretty sure Lobo will be crushed.

Paradise Lost

A couple of the healthier dogs living at the dump.

Half-way between the coast where I live and the city where we shop sits the municipal dump. El Basurero Municipal. Before the miracle of garbage collection came to Vinorama, we used to take our garbage directly there on our way to town. But we had to stop. The trip to the dump had become too much for us. I’d often leave the dump in tears.

As we approached the dump, windows were rolled up, air conditioning turned on. Flies, moscas, increased in number the closer we got. Entering, we made our way to the area for domestic refuse. Here the flies buzzed in huge clouds everywhere, seemingly flinging their little black bodies at the car windows in a frenzy. Despite Tony admonishing, “Don’t look, just look straight ahead, don’t look around!” I could not help myself.

On this occasion there were several people climbing about, over, and through the mounds of garbage. Right in front of where we parked our vehicle, a chubby man sat in a large pile of garbage. I watched in horror as he opened a bottle of yogurt drink, sniffed the contents, and, cocking his head, gulped it down. The scavengers were naturally filthy, but what was unsettling was that they appeared to be asleep, moving about like the walking dead. Hunger aside, I wondered what possessed them?

Dumbfounded by what I’d witnessed, I got out of the truck and put myself to the task at hand. While Tony unloaded the garbage, I opened several cans of dog food and poured them onto paper plates. Together we walked to where a large group of dogs waited and laid the plates on the ground. The dogs did not run over, despite the fact that their noses detected something other than rotting garbage on the plates. And if we moved too fast, they retreated in abject fear.

I focused on a brindle-coated puppy of about seven months, old enough to already be fearful, but still more trusting than the older, wizened hounds. Satisfied that we’d done what we could, our supply of dog food almost exhausted, we departed the tragic scene. We could only take so much.

But this time, just outside the gates of the dump, we were assaulted by another sight. A large honey-colored dog trotted down the road towards the dump. She held her head low, a furrow on her brow and, in tow, were eight puppies. They were carbon copies of their mother, the only variation being a small white patch here or there on a foot or chest. They couldn’t have been more than seven weeks old and were skinny, so skinny. Their mother was skin and bone too. Her teats hung flaccid and empty.

Stopping the truck, we jumped into action. “Get the food open! Get the food open!” Tony urged, “so they smell it before they run away!” The mother had already retreated into the dust-laden bushes, a look of horror on her face. Several puppies followed her, scrambling over mounds of dusty garbage that hadn’t quite made it to the dump. A few of the braver pups were looking at us curiously, their noses moving, heads perked and ears turning this way and that, conscious that mom was telling them it was not safe.

They detected something…something that smelled too good to ignore. A bowl with clean, fresh water and a plate of canned dog food were placed as close as possible, but well off the road. Encouraging noises were made. Thankfully no trucks had come and we worked as quickly as possible, while trying not to frighten the wary dogs.

One pup made contact with the food and dug in, energized by the realization of what heaven was. Her litter mates, sparked by her reaction, came running. Pushing, jostling for position, they gulped the food down in great bites, barely pausing for breath. A second plate was prepared and the puppies encouraged to eat their fill.

Mama dog watched, clearly still very frightened, but her pups were now oblivious to her fear. A truck was coming, we had to move. Reluctantly we departed, leaving them there, on the side of the road, mother watching, not eating, staying a safe distance away.

We pulled away slowly and the tears welled up. Through them, I expressed my dismay. Tony was angry and upset too. Frustration came from understanding what could and couldn’t be done, from knowing that the mother would not be easily caught, that the pups would run away too. Homes for puppies were getting scarce and fewer still were willing to take a feral dog like the mother. And we already had eight dogs. This situation had played itself out far too many times over the course of our stay in Mexico.

More and more organizations crop up with the goal of making a difference in the lives of animals here, but at the cultural level the issue of animal overpopulation and mistreatment gets little attention. Among Mexicans, there is great resistance to animal sterilization based on traditional religious and cultural beliefs. And it is not purely the uneducated and simple who resist. Even some well-educated and wealthy Mexicans revile the act.

I’m thankful that we no longer have to go to the dump, but the images of the frightened mother and countless other abandoned animals are imprinted indelibly upon my memory. It is in images such as these that paradise is lost.

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For information or to make a donation to one of the animal welfare organizations working in San Jose del Cabo, Cabo San Lucas or Los Barriles, please click on the following links:http://www.bajasafe.com/donate.htmlhttp://www.humanesocietycabo.com

http://www.almacares.com