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.

Rats in the Barbie

Mickey MouseI’m a little high on caffeine as I write this. In fact, I’m so high on caffeine that my computer can’t keep up with the rate at which I’m typing (or at least it didn’t for that first line, now it’s apparently figured out that I’m hepped up on speed and it needs to put it in hyper-drive). I’m not supposed to drink coffee or caffeinated beverages of any type. They are too hard on my body, I am too sensitive to their effects, and my adrenal glands can’t keep up with caffeine’s adrenaline-induction demands. I tax my adrenals plenty with long surf sessions and an unnaturally high degree of self-induced stress and anxiousness.

So despite all that sensitivity and taxed adrenals, I’ve had two caffeinated beverages today. I’m allowing myself these normally forbidden drinks because I was up late last night. I stayed in town later than usual so that I could enjoy an incredible gourmet meal. I’d gone to town in the first place, to buy much needed groceries and to hit the hardware store where the following items were purchased: a rake, a brass hose bib, a large plastic rat trap, and three little sachets of red rat poison pellets. I find it interesting that unlike the brand I’m used to which is light blue, this rat poison is blood red. It’s like they are sadistically illustrating the fact that the little bugger is going to bleed out when he eats those things. I hate using poison. I know it is cruel beyond measure, but the reality is that I live in a place where the rats and mice will take over if you don’t keep them in check, especially after the rains we’ve had two summers in a row. All that rain means lots of grasses, grasses mean seeds, and seeds are the delectation of rodents.

Here’s the thing: for the second time in a period of less than two months, a rat has moved into the barbecue. It’s a big rat, measuring between six and eight inches long, head to butt, twice that measured head to tip of tail. It’s coat is the color of coal, its eyes jet black. I know this because it doesn’t run away when I open the lid to the barbecue. It scoots under the grill and lies there thinking I can’t see it. And I didn’t see it the first time I opened the grill. It’s almost exactly the same color as the char-encrusted grill under which it squeezes, but on closer inspection my eyes register what they are seeing and I invariably and instinctively jump back a bit and feel my heart clench in my chest.

I can’t have a rat living in the barbecue for so many reasons: Hantavirus, rabies, neither I nor my guests like the flavor roasted rat shit gives to meat, and the aesthetics of the situation, including the fact that the bugger is tearing up the barbecue cover to add to the nest s/he is building inside. Then there’s the whole potential for a family of rats to result from this single individual and the chaos they could wreak in a very short period of time. So no, no, we cannot have a rat living in the barbecue or anywhere else on the property for that matter. No matter how cute s/he is.

It’s worthy of note that not one of the dogs have taken matters into their own paws. They’ve done bupkis about this or the previous rat despite three of them being expert mousers. At the height of the mouse outbreak we had this spring, I found at least one mouse, dead, but intact, with fur soaked in slobber, left by the pantry door much as you would expect a cat to do. I think Millie was the most successful of the bunch, but I know she had help from Peanut and Friday corralling the little buggers. So with that in mind, I lifted Millie up to see the first rat that moved into the barbecue. I figured as soon as she smelled or saw it she’d go nuts and that she would hold vigil by the barbecue until that pesky rodent showed his face and she could bound in for the kill. It was only a matter of time, right? Well, she didn’t go nuts. She didn’t respond at all. It was like she had no idea what I was showing her and couldn’t smell it either. Like she had no experience whatsoever with anything bigger than a field mouse. That’s when I realized, with great disappointment, I was going to have to take matters into my own hands.

The first course of action was to borrow a live trap from a neighbor. I’d looked into that rat’s eyes and wasn’t comfortable killing her. I figured it was a her because she appeared to be making a nest and that is pre-natal behavior. Another neighbor, Dave, admonished me for referring to her as a “her.”

“How do you expect to kill it, if you assign it a sex? What next? Are you going to name it?”

He had a valid point, but I couldn’t help myself. I’d looked into her eyes and saw the soul within. She meant no harm. She was just doing what rats do. And she was kinda cute. Nothing like the sewer rats in the 70s horror movie Ben or the paper mill rats in a city near where I grew up that surely inspired Bowie’s Future Legend lyrics “fleas the size of rats sucked on rats the size of cats.”  I’m pretty sure that the image of Mickey Mouse was inspired by this particular species of rat, so cute are they with their big Mickeyesque ears.

The next time I checked on her, hoping beyond hope that she’d moved on, she rammed her head between the grill rungs trying to dive beneath, did her best to wriggle through the small space, but couldn’t. She backed off and tried diving under a couple more times before giving up. Then she just sat there and looked at me with those big black eyes. That’s when I realized she was getting too fat to fit below the grill and her death sentence was commuted.

Rather than kill her, I decided to relocate her. I hatched a plan that involved grabbing her with tongs and putting her in a bucket to be transported several miles down the road.

I got my tools together: leather gloves, a towel to throw over her, tongs to pick her up with, bucket with lid. The next morning I stood there tools at the ready, psyching myself up and visualizing how it was going to go down. Lift lid, throw towel, grab with tongs, plunge into bucket, place lid on bucket. I took a deep breath and opened the lid.

She wasn’t there.

Later that same day I went back and looked again. This time she was there and she didn’t even try to run away. She was lying on her side, panting.

The thought flashed through my head, Jesus, she’s in labor.

I pictured little rattlings falling out of her as I grasped her with the tongs. I shrugged, and picked her up anyway. To my great relief, no little pink, hairless rodents spewed forth from her nether regions. I placed her in the bucket and put the lid on.

Off we went for a ride on the ATV. I found a culvert and carefully dumped her inside, figuring that here she would at least have some protection from winged predators. I continued on down the road to surf, feeling a pulse of good karma wash over me.

On the way back from the surfbreak, I stopped to check on her and half expected to find her there, tending her brood. But I also had a sneaking suspicion she might be dead. I’d begun to wonder if perhaps her “labor” wasn’t in fact a sign that she’d found some of the poison I’d placed carefully around the property in places frequented by mice and rats. My conscience demanded that I determine the end result.

Nada. Nothing. No rat in sight. I figured she either crawled away to a hole somewhere to give birth or was eaten by a predator. Either way, she was no longer in my barbecue. I breathed a sign of relief and within a couple of days stopped torturing myself with the lyrics to that annoying UB40 song that goes, “There’s a rat in ma kitchen, what am I gonna do?”

Three weeks later, I had a group of people over to my house for an impromptu dinner party. A couple of the guys took a bunch of meat out to the barbie and out hopped another rat. I’m assuming it was another rat because I don’t think there are homing rats and I doubt whether one could find its way back from a little over two miles away. (Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong.) This one does, however, bear a striking resemblance to its predecessor.

I’ve been trying to extirpate the little bugger ever since. It’s been a couple of weeks. This time I’ve resorted to traps, figuring it’s the most humane killing method and allows me to feed the corpse to the local vulture or owl population. But it springs the trap without getting caught every time regardless of what I bait it with. I’m at a loss. How do I get rid of it without using poison? There’s got to be a solution. One friend suggested I pour myself a good shot of Don Julio Añejo and wait by the barbie with a BB gun. Based on my experience with Angeles’ cat, I’m not convinced a BB will do the job. And furthermore, how do I prevent this from becoming an ongoing issue? I can’t be exterminating rats with regularity. The karma’s too heavy. And UB40 playing over and over in my head is gonna drive me crazy. What can I do to prevent this from continuing dear readers? I need your help!

Stole My Heart

I came upon a pathetic sight on the way to town yesterday. Right after the turn off to the municipal dump stood a little black puppy on the edge of the road picking at something mashed into the dirt. I quickly brought the car to a stop and got out to see if I could catch her. I didn’t move directly towards her because typically these little ones run away in fear. Instead I stood about 15 feet away and called to her. Her attention pulled from the questionably edible thing on the road, she looked up wagging her skinny tail and trotted over to me. As I reached down to pick her up, she urinated submissively. Up close, I saw what a mess she was – her skin was grey and black with a leathery texture and was only sparsely covered with dry, dusty black hair. Her skeleton, clearly visible, poked at it from beneath. The leathery appearance of her skin I knew meant she had a bad case of mange. I picked her up gingerly – she weighed almost nothing – and carried her at arms length to the truck, where I placed her on the passenger side floor. As I put the car in drive, I tried to remember if I had any dog food in the car and wondered if I should stop to feed her, but I was late for work now, so decided to keep motoring. As I drove to town, she just sat there looking around curiously with what were surprisingly bright, amber-colored eyes. At one point she stood up, put one paw on the shifter between us, and looked at me questioningly, as if to say, “Hey, what’s going on?” I leaned over and pet her lightly on the head and she returned to sitting on the floor. She did not utter one sound the entire drive to the vet’s office. Her silent composure was impressive and a bit unsettling.

I have to admit I started to imagine what she’d look like when her hair grew back and planning how I would find her a home. I even went through a catalog of names that might suit her. I settled on “Pria,”  by shortening “prieta,” which means dark or swarthy in Spanish. An internet search this morning would strike me as significant – Pria being the Hindi word for “beautiful.”  At each of the stoplights in town, I leaned over and pet her bald little forehead with the back of my index finger. In response, she closed her eyes, apparently enjoying the feel of my touch. I wondered how long it had been since she’d received any affection from beast or man.

Carrying her into the vet’s I got a good whiff of her. I wrinkled my nose at the unmistakeable odor emanating from her. She smelled like some kind of excrement – probably cow or dog and I figured the poor darling was probably subsisting on a diet of crap. The female veterinary assistant greeted me, took one look at my companion and contorted her face into an expression of disgust. I asked her if they had some food we could give her, but she just shrugged her shoulders weakly. I asked if it was okay to put her on the floor and let her walk around so I didn’t have to smell her and she thankfully said yes. The pup wandered around sniffing and quickly found the area where she was most at home, out on the cool dirt near the entry gate. Had she ever been inside a building?

When it was our turn, I carried her into the examination room and placed her skinny body on the stainless steel examination table. Felipe the vet regarded her and I quickly sensed my optimism may have been misguided. He touched her ears, where the mange had reduced them to scaly, hairless flaps, looked in her mouth briefly and then picked up her tiny front paw and examined it closely. That’s when he said, “I am afraid that this dog has a serious and chronic type of mange. This is demodectic mange. Unlike sarcoptic mange which causes them to itch profoundly, is very contagious, and treatable, demodectic mange does not cause itching, is not very contagious, but it is chronic and very difficult to treat.” He paused, regarding her sympathetically and continued, “She probably got it from her mother and, sadly, in a puppy of this size, the treatment can do irreversible damage to her liver. The mange also compromises the immune system of the dog and makes them more susceptible to other illnesses. She could very well succumb to parvo-virus or distemper after we put her through several unpleasant treatments…it will be hard on her and it may not even work or, like I said, cause her harm. So we must weigh the benefits with the potential difficulties.” I knew where he was going. “In cases such as this, I think we must be philosophical. There are so many puppies that are healthy that need homes…” I nodded, unable to speak because I was already attached to this little waif standing Zen-like on the table in front of me. I knew what we had to do, but just then the image of Zee entered my mind and I croaked, “Do you remember my dog Zee? The blind one?” He said he did and I told him then how she had died. “You won’t stay here then while I give her the injection?” he asked already knowing the answer. I shook my head no. “She will not feel any pain,” he said, “I’m going to give her an injection to help her relax first. Then once that has taken effect I will give her the injection that will make her sleep and she just won’t wake up.” My eyes started to tear up. Felipe filled a syringe with the relaxant and smoothly injected it into the skin between her shoulder blades. She didn’t even seem to notice. The only thing that stopped me from losing it was that she did not make eye contact with me the entire time we were in the examination room. That would have been too much. Felipe carried her out to one of the little cages then and I was left in the exam room to gather myself. I was, I believe, in shock that my optimism had been so far off the mark.

Felipe returned and I asked him if anyone was working to help the dogs that are always dumped at the municipal landfill where I’d found her. I could tell that he was sensitive to how emotional this had become for me and didn’t want to turn me out of his office without giving me some time. We discussed what was being done and how the Los Cabos Humane Society regularly goes there to pick up dogs. Not wanting to take up more of his valuable time and aware that I was now very late for work, I asked him what I owed him. As I reached into my wallet I realized I only had 24 dollars. I handed it to him and he thanked me and said, “It will go towards paying the man who will bury her.” The word “bury” stabbed at my heart. I thanked him for his kindness and quickly exited the building past a group of people waiting with a strapping, big, black dog. The contrast between this dog’s glistening coat and that of the little girl I’d just left seemed a cruel final blow from the Universe.

On the way home that night, as I approached the turn-off to the landfill, a group of adult dogs lay gathered together for warmth and companionship on the road. As they got up and scattered in response to my approaching car, I thought, “At least they have each other…” Then I pictured the little girl as I drove past the spot where she’d stood alone and hungry earlier in the day. No longer could I contain the emotions that had been building since that morning  – the floodgates opened letting them pour forth.

Adios To A Dear Friend

In perfect understanding I shall come
And lay my hand in yours, and at your feet
Sit, silent, with my head against your knee.

                       Edna St. Vincent Millay

I wish I didn’t have to write this blog. I wish that I could turn the clock back, make different decisions, do something to make this a happy post. But I can’t. My buddy Zee, the dog I’ve mentioned in this blog more often than I have any other, died two weeks ago. The circumstances are too painful to describe, but my worst fears were realized when I took a trip to Maui to visit a friend. I’ve left the property and the country many times since Zee went blind, but this time was different. This time, I knew that she needed me more than before, this time I sensed that she was starting to lose her hearing and was not as aware of what was going on around her. And this time, there were people that were going to come and work on the house while I was gone. People who don’t know her like I do, who don’t love her like I do and who clearly didn’t realize, despite my admonishments, that they needed to be extra careful when they drove down the driveway.

Despite her passing so many days ago, I haven’t been able to write this until now. It’s been too emotional, too raw and each time I’ve tried my eyes have misted over so I can’t see the computer screen. As the days have passed though, I’ve tried to accept what I cannot change and comforted myself with the knowledge that she will not suffer any more.

While it’s impossible to know how difficult it was for her to be blind, how much she suffered as a result, I know that she was frightened more often than before. At times she’d get so excited – dinner time and when I said, “Wanna go to the beach Zee?”- that she’d run headlong into solid surfaces. That had to hurt. Despite her blindness, she never lost her love of joining me on the beach for a walk or run. She would brave the steps down to the beach, me guiding her with my voice and once we hit the sand, she would exhibit the same exuberance she did as a younger dog – rolling in the wet sand, trotting along with her head and tail held high. She used her nose to follow me and, if she lost my scent, when I called to her, she’d cock her head in the most adorable way, her ears held erect, as though she was thinking, “Is that you?” She’d zone in on the origin of my voice and come loping along until she caught up.

I hadn’t met Mr. T yet in 2002 when she arrived on his property, wrapped in a towel, tiny, dehydrated and nearly dead. Found in the Santa Catarina arroyo, she was left to die in the hot Baja sun along with the rest of her litter mates. She was the only one strong enough to survive. When he took her in his big hands, her eyes were white and her little body was stiff, but T hand fed her milk for several hours and by morning she was standing up in the cardboard box where she’d been placed, looking around curiously and wagging her tail in hopes of getting more nourishment from the nice man who’d nursed her back to health. The very next day she began wreaking havoc on everything and everyone, especially Doobie and Ruby, the two canines in residence. Not long after, he dubbed her “Crazy!” when he looked on in amazement as she ran down to the beach and launched herself into the shorebreak in a  somersault that would give Aly Raisman a run for her money.

In 2005 I was here alone for the first time looking after the dogs when she nearly succumbed to the tick-borne disease Ehrlichiosis. Zee was never one to turn down a meal, so when she refused to eat, I took her to the vet. To my great consternation, after giving her an injection of antibiotics and potassium to counteract the effects of starvation, he sent us home. That night as I fretted about being her only caretaker, her eyes turned white again. Convinced she was dying from hunger, I resorted to force feeding her a mixture of milk and raw egg using the plunger from a syringe to draw the liquid up and squirt it into her cheek. The first attempt failed as she wouldn’t swallow it, so I had to hold her mouth shut and her head aloft while massaging the fluid into her throat. I prayed a lot that night, asking God not to take her. But the main reason wasn’t because I was afraid of losing Zee, I honestly didn’t think it would do my relationship with T any good if she died on my watch.

Afterwards I sensed that she knew I’d helped her and a bond began to grow between us that was only strengthened when she began to lose her sight. I believe the disease left her permanently weakened and likely caused her blindness.

Before she lost her vision, at night I locked Zee in the garage along with a couple of the other dogs, where they had comfy dog beds and I knew they couldn’t get into trouble. In the desert, “trouble” can take many forms including skunks, coyotes, rattlesnakes and barking at nesting sea turtles. Once everything went permanently dark, Zee began freaking out when she was locked in the garage. One morning I discovered she’d clawed a big hole in the door frame and then the next she tore it off the wall completely. That’s when I knew I was going to have to make an exception to house rules and let her sleep inside with me. I brought first one and then, in time, two dog beds into the house – placing one in the living room, the other in my bedroom. From then on, she spent most of the time lying on one of those beds, content to be near me. If I walked anywhere on the property, she followed with her nose to the ground. If I left the property and didn’t invite her along, she trotted up the driveway and lay near the gate awaiting my return.

She got into the habit of quietly absconding with one of my flip-flops in the middle of the night. In the morning I’d find it in her bed, often under her chin. Thinking about it now, I find it hard to believe that the smell of my feet could be that comforting.

After the first few tentative descents, she figured out that the stairs in the house were evenly spaced, unlike those to the beach, so each morning she would navigate the stairs confidently, bouncing down from step to step two feet at a time. While visiting my friend in Central California last week, my heart lurched when I heard that familiar rhythmic clicking sound as her blind dog “No-Cow” used the same technique to go down the stairs.

Now that I’m home again the reminders are everywhere. The places she liked to lay, the toys she cheerfully carried up the driveway, the eye drops that relieved the pressure in her eye. Even the big fuzzy grey balls of her hair gathered in corners and under the couch choked me up enough that I made sweeping an unusually high priority when I got home. I don’t have the nerve to go look at the place where Felipe buried her. Just seeing her collar, the one covered in brightly colored peace signs, lying next to where she died made me cry. That collar was perfect for such a peaceful being. Even as a younger dog, when the other dogs chased cars, ATVs, cows and other dogs, she never joined in.

When I brought Peanut home, Zee was the only dog that would put up with her young exuberance.

Zee was the sweetest dog in my world, a constant reminder to be patient and loving, to live every day to the fullest, to choose quiet contentment over anger or complaint. If you were to tell me, as someone once did, that dogs are incapable of feeling emotions, let alone expressing them, I would have introduced you to Zee. You’d be hard pressed to dispute that her bark in response to, “Wanna go to the beach Zee?” was filled with enthusiasm or that she was smiling when she appeared at the barbecue, a paper plate held carefully in her mouth.

With any luck that corny poem that never fails to reduce me to tears, Beyond the Rainbow, will turn out to be true and she’ll be there waiting for me along with Soweso, Kipling, Fletcher, and Jinny when I leave this planet too.

Tropical Storm Hector: Day 2

The Vinorama Arroyo began to run on Aug 15th.

August 15, Day 2 of rain compliments of Tropical Storm Hector

Last night the wind picked up tremendously, same hour as last night, 2am, but this time the whole house shook and the windows were flexing and groaning in a way that made me uneasy. No naked patio forays this night. Instead I said a little prayer and tried to go back to sleep. No dice…too much wind, too much noise. It was probably close to 5am by the time I fell back to sleep. At 7am I was groggy, but awake, and discovered it’s still raining with little indication of letting up! I get up, excited to see if it rained enough for water to penetrate the crust that’s been baked solid over the last four years. But first I check the bucket out in the driveway to see how much rain fell – just short of one inch. It’s a good start.

Downstairs I inspect the rooms and discover that some rain has managed to come in under a few doors. I retrieve the mop and return to the North bedroom when suddenly something scuttles behind the door. I let out a small cry as I instinctively jump back. It must be a mouse, so I call Peanut, but expert mouser. She ignores me and so I take a closer look. It turns out to be a sand crab! He’s holding his pincers high in defence and has shoved his large, for a sand crab, body between the doorstop and the door, using the stop as armor I suppose. Apparently I wasn’t the only one unsettled by the storm’s surge last night. I get a bucket and after several attempts to coral him into it, I’ve got him. Back to the beach with him.

Do you suppose he’s going to EAT that cockroach?

I decide to take a drive down to the arroyo and see if it’s flowing. Zee and Lobo follow me down the driveway, so at the gate I tell Zee, “Stay home Zee.” She’s such a sweet and obedient dog, unlike Dakini and Lobo, she never follows me – even when she could still see. At the arroyo, the water is running slowly in a narrow rivulet, making large pools here and there, turning the fine dirt of the arroyo into sticky mud. I drive out to the beach and marvel at the colors of the waves – sandy brown, aquamarine and then deep marine blue closer to the horizon. The sky is light grey closest to me, but there is a dark, grey-blue cloud bank marching towards us from the Northeast and I can just make out the sheets of rain at its leading edge.

That’s my house on the hill off in the distance.

It’s best to get going if I don’t want to get caught in the downpour and turn to see Dakini and Lobo, followed by a caramel colored male Pitbull I’ve never seen, crossing a large pool of water in the middle of the arroyo. Silly dogs, I think.

On my way home I stop to say a quick hello to my neighbor’s Cris and Dave. On my way up the hill to their house, I notice a heavy-set Mexican man with unkempt curly hair in a white t-shirt carrying a heavy chain in his hand with a white and brindle female pitbull. I nod in his direction and figure that the other pitbull is his and he’s going to retrieve him (the chain being his version of a leash).

Cris greets me as I pull into their driveway and before we finish our greetings, David yells something unintelligible from inside the house. We look at each other curiously and then David comes charging out the door and gasps, “There’s a dog fight on the road down in front of the house!” I picture Lobo or Dakini in a pitbull’s vice-grip jaws, jump back on my ATV and tear down the hill to see what’s happened, my heart in my throat.

Curly already has the two pits behind the now closed gate of the property he looks after. There is a third short white dog, not mine, limping and holding his right front paw up, blood trickling from a small wound on the back of it. I ask the caretaker what happened and who attacked who. He points up the road and tells me there is another dog that was attacked. I take off down the road and turning the corner, see Zee zig-zagging into the bushes on the side of the road. She is clearly confused and limping, holding her rear left leg up. I choke on the emotion that tries to bubble to the surface and drive over to her. I give her a quick once over and see that she has several puncture wounds on her leg, but the rest of her appears to be intact. Relief floods through me, but is quickly overtaken by anger, anger that I could be looking at an uglier situation, anger that this is not the first time this has happened. Only two days earlier, Lobo lost a chunk of ear to one of these dogs.  I realize that this is going to be an ongoing issue and decide I’ll have to talk to the owners about letting these vicious animals run loose in our neighborhood. Ugh, village politics, I think.

I put Zee on the ATV and drive her slowly home, one arm around her to keep her from jumping or falling off, one on the throttle. Rather than drive in first the whole way home, I shift into second using the big toe of my left foot – thank goodness for flip flops. At home I do a more thorough review of Zee’s wounds – several are deep punctures, the kind that like to get infected – and douse them in rubbing alcohol, making her cry and bark in pain. I detest causing her pain, but it’s imperative that we get these wounds clean. Who knows if we’ll be able to get to a vet tomorrow? And I’m leaving on Friday. I must prevent infection from setting in. I give her an antibiotic that I have stored in the fridge for just such an emergency. Thankfully, Lobo’s injuries at this point appear to be healing nicely with minimal inflammation.

As I finish with Zee that front finally arrives and the rain finally starts coming down hard. It’s such a unique event that I am filled with gratitude and sense that the whole desert is giving thanks as the large drops fall faster and faster until I can barely see to the other end of the property. This is what we’ve all been waiting for.

Finalmente bastante lluvia!!

It rains on and off for the rest of the afternoon and I alternate between mopping and trying to write a review of a local hotel, but I can’t concentrate on it (probably because I am bored by such things). Instead I decide to research the book 50 Shades of Grey to figure out what all the fuss is about. At this point, all I know is that it is erotica that focuses on a guy that’s into S&M and three of the men in my life are reading it! I thought it was chick lit. Apparently, I was wrong and because it’s captured their interest and the imagination of the entire planet, I figure it’s time I stop resisting the flood. I read what I can online and become frustrated because they have conveniently removed all of the juicy bits.

As night descends, I have to take Zee by the collar to get her to go outside to pee. She’s not putting any weight on her leg and it’s quite inflamed. The worry and anger rises in my chest again. I check the bucket before heading to bed and find we’ve received 3.5 inches of rain throughout the day. That’s more than we’ve had in the last four years. !Que milagro! Puddles of water have reformed inside two of the doors, so I mop before heading upstairs to bed, Zee tagging along as best she can, blind and on three legs.

Check in tomorrow for Day 3 of rain from Tropical Storm Hector.

Morning Miracle

Olive Ridley sea turtle hatchlings await their release to the Sea of CortezYesterday as I walked back from my morning ritual on the beach, I was treated to a bit of a miracle. There, in a small depression on the sand, sat two pint-sized, grey-skinned turtle hatchlings.

I’d been expecting this miraculous event because late in April, I’d witnessed a large Olive Ridley sea turtle laying her eggs in a nest she’d dug right in front of the property. I watched as she finished laying and began the arduous task of covering up the clutch of eggs, leathery flippers flapping, throwing sand to and fro. I marked the calendar and wondered if the nest would hatch out successfully.

Sea turtle nests face so many challenges to realize the goal of 100 or so odd hatchlings emerging and scrambling to the ocean. The first night is critical, during which the scent of the liquid surrounding the eggs is still present and detectable by keen-nosed predators – coyotes, foxes and dogs to name a few. From my observations, once the nest is exposed to high daytime temperatures, the threat of discovery appears to drop significantly. However, often the nest is laid too close to the ocean and is inundated by a high tide, which drowns the developing turtle fetuses in their eggs. All it takes is for one of the eggs to begin rotting and the nest becomes detectable. Sand crabs dig into the nest and have a feast and by morning are joined by seagulls, vultures and feral dogs. If the nest makes it the 45 to 60 days it takes for the eggs to develop, once the eggs begin to hatch, a strong odor is released making the nest detectable once again, even before its diminutive inhabitants emerge.

I knew that there was a good chance that if I didn’t intervene, the nest would be discovered by local dogs, sand crabs and sea birds, so I set to work gently digging down into the sand to see if there were any more hatchlings making their way to the surface. As I dug down I first encountered the empty shells of eggs that had been vacated earlier. I looked up and saw hundreds of tiny flipper prints in the sand leading towards the water’s edge. Most of the hatchlings appeared to have left the nest overnight. Several inches below surface though I felt something hard with a tiny point on the end. As I scooped the sand out of the hole a wee black head was revealed. I carefully removed the sand from around his (or her) miniscule body. His mini flippers flapped about as I lifted and placed him next to his two clutch mates. Gradually I uncovered more and more of the little guys.

Near the bottom of the nest I uncovered what always makes my stomach lurch – dead, but fully developed, hatchlings being eaten by maggots. Now a smell emanated from the nest that made my nose try to squeeze shut and I did my best not to breath it in. Felipe, my caretaker, dug a hole where I could dispose of the writhing miniature corpses. Even though most of the eggs I encountered at that depth contained dead turtles, I continued to find the odd hatchling that was alive and thriving. One little guy’s shell was deformed on the bottom, folded as though it hadn’t had room enough to grow, leaving me to wonder if he’d survive out there in the expansive ocean.

We counted 19 in all, as they scooted around knocking with their sharp little beaks the sides of the plastic bucket I placed them in – beaks perfectly designed to let them scrape open their eggshells when the time was right. We walked them closer to the water’s edge and I began to place them, one at a time, on the damp sand. As though prompted by a starting gun, they began to scramble towards the water immediately, their flippers flapping in a mad frenzy, their bodies rocking to and fro. We stood vigil over them as they made their way to the sea, keeping an eye on a lone seagull standing just down the beach, watching for sand crabs that might in a flash pull one down their hole. We lifted and righted them as they were caught in deep foot prints or flipped over by uneven terrain. And we felt their bodies pulsing with the energy of new life.

One by one they were swept out to sea by the shorebreak, one by one the cool life-giving water embraced them.  Watching their tiny black heads poke up to gasp for air between the crashing of waves, I prayed the fish and pelicans would not find them, that they would make it out into the deep sea to drift, surviving on algae and zooplankton, until one day,  their long journey may bring them back here to my home on this isolated beach.

Mercy

Artword by Erika Ashley

The following is an excerpt from the memoir I am writing about my first three years living in Baja, Mexico.

It was a cool April evening in 2002 and I was visiting with Kani and Barry in their palapa-covered living room when the bell at the gate announced someone’s arrival. Out of the dark Angeles, the woman from the palapa restaurant on the beach, appeared, an anxious expression on her face.

Buenas noches,” she said, a little out of breath. “I am sorry to interrupt you,” she said making eye contact with me, and then to Kani said, “But do you have an injection I can give my cat?”
Kani and Barry looked from Angeles to each other and back again with confusion. “An injection?” Kani said, “what kind of injection?”
“You know, the kind that will put it out of its suffering. Juanito’s dog Chaquira got my cat and I think he’s broken his back. He’s suffering and I want to give him an injection to stop it.”
“Oh!” Kani said, understanding that she wanted to euthanize her cat, “oh no, we have nothing like that. It isn’t legal for us to have it.”
“Oh,” she said, disappointment clearly written on her face, ”someone said you had it, from when your cat was bit by the snake.”
For some reason I interjected, “I can come and look at him for you if you like. Then we can decide if he can be saved or not.”
A look of hope flooded her face and she smiled, “Would you? Yes, please I would appreciate your help.”
Angeles and I walked back to the lot where her family’s house sat, unfinished grey concrete, the lot defined by a barbed wire fence with posts made from the branches of native trees. The moon was almost full that night and lit our way. When we entered the property Chaquira brought Juanito out of the house with her barking. He carried a flashlight and called to ask who was there, his eyes not yet adjusted to the semi-darkness. Angeles responded and he joined us next to a pile of old tires covered in tarps and some pieces of old carpeting. Angeles pulled back a tattered blanket to reveal her cat beneath it. Even in the poor light I could see he was very old. His bones were visible under his dull coat and he felt fragile like a baby bird when I reached out and touched him. I asked them to describe what the dog did and with some gentle prodding and manipulation I could feel where his spine had been broken two-thirds of the way down his back. He moaned a couple of times, the deep pathetic sound of an animal in great pain who can do nothing to retreat.
I asked Angeles if anyone in the village had a gun. While it is illegal to possess firearms in Mexico, there is an exception for ranchers who need them to protect their livestock from the ubiquitous coyotes and occasional cougar.
“Yes, my uncle – he has one.”
She wrapped the cat in the blanket taking great care as she lifted him into her arms and together we retraced the path we’d just covered a few minutes before.
At El Caballero Angeles called to her uncle and spoke to him in Spanish. Pelon, as he was known, or Baldy, had a coarse face with a crooked and hooked nose, presumably the result of run-ins with bulls, horses and perhaps, I thought, the occasional man. He wore blue jeans, a white collared shirt, cowboy boots and a belt with a shiny silver belt buckle. In one hand he held a can of beer and, I noticed as he came to the doorway from which Angeles had called him, he was not too steady on his legs using the door jam to steady himself. He regarded me suspiciously, with a look that I interpreted as, “Who the hell are you? And what are you doing in my backyard?”
Angeles explained why we were there and he barked an order to a young tall boy in the restaurant, who scurried off and quickly returned with a rifle. We were soon joined by another man, with a greasy and pitted complexion and a soft chubby body visible under his ill-fitting white t-shirt and cotton pants. Pelon remained in the doorway appearing strangely aloof in his drunkenness and continued to bark orders at the two men and Angeles. I had no idea what he was saying.
It occurred to me that as the owner of the cat Angeles should not be present when the men killed her cat. It would be too traumatic and it suddenly occurred to me, what if they weren’t successful with the first shot? I suggested that she leave and promised I’d stay there until the deed was done and would return with the cat so she could bury him. Her face flooded with relief. She related the plan to her uncle, placed the cat in a curved depression on a broad tree trunk that was growing along the ground and left.
Pelon issued another order to the young man standing there in the semi-dark who now looked overwhelmed and intimidated by his charge. He held the gun out to the chubby man, who sat on the crooked tree trunk next to the semi-conscious cat. The chubby man shook his head drunkenly and dismissed this idea with his right hand. Then he said something that sounded like words of encouragement and pointed at the cats head.

The young man cocked the gun and pointed it gingerly at the cat’s head. The muzzle moved up and down uneasily. Pelon barked at him again and laughed. His laugh was a harsh and cutting sound. Bullied to proceed, the young man pushed the muzzle up against the side of the cat’s head. I steadied myself for the retort, stepped back in anticipation of the noise.  He pulled the trigger.

Pffflluut! came the flaccid sound of air pressure released. The cat moaned. This was not the loud bang of a rifle cartridge.

It was nothing but a pellet gun.

The realization horrified me, but before I could try to intervene, Pelon was issuing more commands. And by the way he was waving his arm toward the cat, he was telling the young man to shoot it again. The look on the young man’s face indicated he was as horrified as I, but Pelon persisted and the cat moaned again. Perhaps out of compassion for the cat, he hunched his shoulders and cocked the gun, pushed the muzzle against the cat’s head, and pulled the trigger. Another moan, this one slightly higher pitched – the cat was clearly in great pain and each attempt to put an end to it was only making matters worse. Pelon and the chubby man were now both egging the young man on to try again. I couldn’t let this continue and begged them to stop. “Alto! Alto!” I pleaded. They regarded me like a fly. The chubby man now stood and took the air gun, cocked, pointed it, and pulled the trigger, three times in quick succession. The cat moaned and then began to yowl a wail that pierced my heart. I was on the verge of tears. The poor animal was still not dead despite the five pellets sitting somewhere in its head. The men shrugged, Pelon turned, and with the chubby man in tow, walked back into the light of the restaurant. Only the young man remained, looking uneasy, but with a hint of compassion in his dark eyes. That’s when I knew I had to do something to put the poor animal out of its misery. How much more life can it have left in it? I thought.

As gently as I could, I took his skinny neck in my hands and squeezed. The young man regarded me curiously. I’d expected the cat to go limp in my hands, for the life to drain from him effortlessly, for his body to jerk slightly as he gasped for the breath I denied him. His neck felt so skinny, I could have used one hand. But I miscalculated. This cat, despite a broken back and head riddled with pieces of metal, still had life in it. He did not “go gently into that dark night.”

As I tightened my grip, his muscles contracted, and his neck seemed to expand against my hands. The cat sputtered. Had his body not been destroyed, it was clear he would have fought me, but he had no body to fight with. I knew I couldn’t stop. It had to be done. After what seemed like a very long time, the muscles in his neck relaxed and I felt him go completely limp. I didn’t release my hold on him right away. When a good minute had passed and it was clear he was truly gone, I finally let go, relief washing over me. My hands and fingers ached with the effort and I squeezed them closed and open again. As I did so, I looked up saw the young man looking at me with concern. He said something quietly that I interpreted to mean, “It’s done.” I nodded and proceeded to wrap the cat in the blanket. I stood and walked back into the darkness along the dimly moonlit path towards the road that would take me back to Angeles’ house.

I called to her out of the darkness when Chaquira’s barking made me stop short at the gate. In response to Angeles’ wrinkled brow, I told her it was done.

“Do you think he suffered?” she asked.

I lied. “No, it was fast. He didn’t feel any pain.”

It was a cool April evening in 2002 and I was visiting with Kani and Barry in their palapa-covered living room when the bell at the gate announced someone’s arrival. Out of the dark Angeles, the woman from the palapa restaurant on the beach, appeared, an anxious expression on her face.

Buenas noches,” she said, a little out of breath. “I am sorry to interrupt you,” she said making eye contact with me, and then to Kani said, “But do you have an injection I can give my cat?”
Kani and Barry looked from Angeles to each other and back again with confusion. “An injection?” Kani said, “what kind of injection?”
“You know, the kind that will put it out of its suffering. Juanito’s dog Chaquira got my cat and I think he’s broken his back. He’s suffering and I want to give him an injection to stop it.”
“Oh!” Kani said, understanding that she wanted to euthanize her cat, “oh no, we have nothing like that. It isn’t legal for us to have it.”
“Oh,” she said, disappointment clearly written on her face, ”someone said you had it, from when your cat was bit by the snake.”
For some reason I interjected, “I can come and look at him for you if you like. Then we can decide if he can be saved or not.”
A look of hope flooded her face and she smiled, “Would you? Yes, please I would appreciate your help.”
Angeles and I walked back to the lot where her family’s house sat, unfinished grey concrete, the lot defined by a barbed wire fence with posts made from the branches of native trees. The moon was almost full that night and lit our way. When we entered the property Chaquira brought Juanito out of the house with her barking. He carried a flashlight and called to ask who was there, his eyes not yet adjusted to the semi-darkness. Angeles responded and he joined us next to a pile of old tires covered in tarps and some pieces of old carpeting. Angeles pulled back a tattered blanket to reveal her cat beneath it. Even in the poor light I could see he was very old. His bones were visible under his dull coat and he felt fragile like a baby bird when I reached out and touched him. I asked them to describe what the dog did and with some gentle prodding and manipulation I could feel where his spine had been broken two-thirds of the way down his back. He moaned a couple of times, the deep pathetic sound of an animal in great pain who can do nothing to retreat.
I asked Angeles if anyone in the village had a gun. While it is illegal to possess firearms in Mexico, there is an exception for ranchers who need them to protect their livestock from the ubiquitous coyotes and occasional cougar.
“Yes, my uncle – he has one.”
She wrapped the cat in the blanket taking great care as she lifted him into her arms and together we retraced the path we’d just covered a few minutes before.
At El Caballero Angeles called to her uncle and spoke to him in Spanish. Pelon, as he was known, or Baldy, had a coarse face with a crooked and hooked nose, presumably the result of run-ins with bulls, horses and perhaps, I thought, the occasional man. He wore blue jeans, a white collared shirt, cowboy boots and a belt with a shiny silver belt buckle. In one hand he held a can of beer and, I noticed as he came to the doorway from which Angeles had called him, he was not too steady on his legs using the door jam to steady himself. He regarded me suspiciously, with a look that I interpreted as, “Who the hell are you? And what are you doing in my backyard?”
Angeles explained why we were there and he barked an order to a young tall boy in the restaurant, who scurried off and quickly returned with a rifle. We were soon joined by another man, with a greasy and pitted complexion and a soft chubby body visible under his ill-fitting white t-shirt and cotton pants. Pelon remained in the doorway appearing strangely aloof in his drunkenness and continued to bark orders at the two men and Angeles. I had no idea what he was saying.
It occurred to me that as the owner of the cat Angeles should not be present when the men killed her cat. It would be too traumatic and it suddenly occurred to me, what if they weren’t successful with the first shot? I suggested that she leave and promised I’d stay there until the deed was done and would return with the cat so she could bury him. Her face flooded with relief. She related the plan to her uncle, placed the cat in a curved depression on a broad tree trunk that was growing along the ground and left.
Pelon issued another order to the young man standing there in the semi-dark who now looked overwhelmed and intimidated by his charge. He held the gun out to the chubby man, who sat on the crooked tree trunk next to the semi-conscious cat. The chubby man shook his head drunkenly and dismissed this idea with his right hand. Then he said something that sounded like words of encouragement and pointed at the cats head.

The young man cocked the gun and pointed it gingerly at the cat’s head. The muzzle moved up and down uneasily. Pelon barked at him again and laughed. His laugh was a harsh and cutting sound. Bullied to proceed, the young man pushed the muzzle up against the side of the cat’s head. I steadied myself for the retort, stepped back in anticipation of the noise.  He pulled the trigger.

Pffflluut! came the flaccid sound of air pressure released. The cat moaned. This was not the loud bang of a rifle cartridge.

It was nothing but a pellet gun.

The realization horrified me, but before I could try to intervene, Pelon was issuing more commands. And by the way he was waving his arm toward the cat, he was telling the young man to shoot it again. The look on the young man’s face indicated he was as horrified as I, but Pelon persisted and the cat moaned again. Perhaps out of compassion for the cat, he hunched his shoulders and cocked the gun, pushed the muzzle against the cat’s head, and pulled the trigger. Another moan, this one slightly higher pitched – the cat was clearly in great pain and each attempt to put an end to it was only making matters worse. Pelon and the chubby man were now both egging the young man on to try again. I couldn’t let this continue and begged them to stop. “Alto! Alto!” I pleaded. They regarded me like a fly. The chubby man now stood and took the air gun, cocked, pointed it, and pulled the trigger, three times in quick succession. The cat moaned and then began to yowl a wail that pierced my heart. I was on the verge of tears. The poor animal was still not dead despite the five pellets sitting somewhere in its head. The men shrugged, Pelon turned, and with the chubby man in tow, walked back into the light of the restaurant. Only the young man remained, looking uneasy, but with a hint of compassion in his dark eyes. That’s when I knew I had to do something to put the poor animal out of its misery. How much more life can it have left in it? I thought.

As gently as I could, I took his skinny neck in my hands and squeezed. The young man regarded me curiously. I’d expected the cat to go limp in my hands, for the life to drain from him effortlessly, for his body to jerk slightly as he gasped for the breath I denied him. His neck felt so skinny, I could have used one hand. But I miscalculated. This cat, despite a broken back and head riddled with pieces of metal, still had life in it. He did not “go gently into that dark night.”

As I tightened my grip, his muscles contracted, and his neck seemed to expand against my hands. The cat sputtered. Had his body not been destroyed, it was clear he would have fought me, but he had no body to fight with. I knew I couldn’t stop. It had to be done. After what seemed like a very long time, the muscles in his neck relaxed and I felt him go completely limp. I didn’t release my hold on him right away. When a good minute had passed and it was clear he was truly gone, I finally let go, relief washing over me. My hands and fingers ached with the effort and I squeezed them closed and open again. As I did so, I looked up saw the young man looking at me with concern. He said something quietly that I interpreted to mean, “It’s done.” I nodded and proceeded to wrap the cat in the blanket. I stood and walked back into the darkness along the dimly moonlit path towards the road that would take me back to Angeles’ house.

I called to her out of the darkness when Chaquira’s barking made me stop short at the gate. In response to Angeles’ wrinkled brow, I told her it was done.

“Do you think he suffered?” she asked.

I lied. “No, it was fast. He didn’t feel any pain.”