The Messenger

And here’s another one that is a personal favorite. I still tear up when I think about Zee and reading this was bitter sweet. She was such a good dog.

Dawn Revealed

Our dog Zee is going blind. The vet informed me that she has glaucoma and an auto-immune disease that’s making her body attack itself. Yes, not one, but two diseases affecting her eyes. One at a time, her eyes swelled up into big, bulbous, blood shot orbs with milky irises at their centers. The first to swell then shrank to a fraction of its size, sank back into its orbit, where it now sits wrinkled like a raisin and useless as the tit on a boar. Then the left eye followed suit and blew up to twice its normal size. We’d already taken her to the vet for the right eye, so when the left started expanding I squeezed in the same drops and shuttled her off to the vet with great trepidation  – I knew that the news would not be good. He kept her for observation for three…

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She Feels Like Home

Kipling on Guard


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.



“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.


“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.


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.

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.


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!

The Messenger

Our dog Zee is going blind. The vet informed me that she has glaucoma and an auto-immune disease that’s making her body attack itself. Yes, not one, but two diseases affecting her eyes. One at a time, her eyes swelled up into big, bulbous, blood shot orbs with milky irises at their centers. The first to swell then shrank to a fraction of its size, sank back into its orbit, where it now sits wrinkled like a raisin and useless as the tit on a boar. Then the left eye followed suit and blew up to twice its normal size. We’d already taken her to the vet for the right eye, so when the left started expanding I squeezed in the same drops and shuttled her off to the vet with great trepidation  – I knew that the news would not be good. He kept her for observation for three days (it broke my heart to leave her there, wondering why I’d abandoned her in a strange-smelling cage). When I returned he gave us more drops and told me to keep applying both. At this point, he was convinced that she was completely blind, that the pressure in her eye caused by the glaucoma had ruptured the connection between the retina and the optic nerve, but I hold out hope none-the-less. I continue more than thirty days later to drop the clear liquid medicine into her left eye twice daily.
I knew things were looking bleak when she walked off the retaining wall one afternoon. We’d just been to the beach and she seemed to be doing pretty well, when I watched, dumbfounded, as she walked along the edge of the retaining wall and then stepped right out into open space, falling a good four feet to the ground below. I’m somewhat relieved that from my vantage point I couldn’t see her land because when I ran the hundred meters or so around the wall to see if she was okay (silently praying please be okay, please be okay) she clearly had landed on her face, poor dog. She was spitting sand and dirt, closing and opening her mouth and shaking her head as she stumbled to and fro about the yard. I checked her for serious injury, somehow she’d managed to escape with nothing more than a mouth full of dirt (mind you, I suspect the next day, if she could have, she’d have requested an Advil or two for the pain in her nose, neck and goodness knows what other body parts). Then I noticed a thick branch of one of the bougainvillea shrubs I’d just pruned was broken through. I said another prayer, this time of thanks, that she hadn’t poked one of her failing eyes out altogether.
After the fall from the wall, I took extra care to make sure she wasn’t going to pull a similar stunt while I stood idly by. My heart ached when she started walking into walls, cabinets, stone columns and wooden posts. I started yelling the command, “CAREFUL Zee!” every time I saw her approaching a solid upright surface. Slowly she learned that this meant danger and pain were imminent. She fell a couple feet off the side of the stairs to the beach one day, again ending up with a mouth full of dirt and sending my heart squeezing down upon itself in empathetic pain. I began walking her on a leash up and down the long uneven stairs and issuing commands as we approached each step, “Step Zee,…Big Step,…Step.” I’d become a seeing-eye human.
On the beach I worried about her getting carried away in the beach break that she’s always loved to roll around in. It is her habit to trot down into the white water as it rushes up onto the sand, flop onto her side and then onto her back, her legs waving back and forth as she gets wet and her coat becomes a sandy mess. She rubs her head into the sand, flops around a few more times and then gets up and shakes it all off, refreshed, renewed. I imagine it’s like a mini spa treatment – exfoliating and invigorating.
“Zee” is short for “Crazy,” a name she earned when she first arrived in Vinorama and turned the then two-dog household upside-down with her high energy hi-jinx. Most evenings, as the sun sinks towards the horizon, the dogs and I like to walk or run down to a place where there are several rocky islets out in the water.  The rocks are too often inundated by the waves at high tide, making them poor nesting grounds, but Pelicans, seagulls, terns and petrels use them as a resting place. Up until a few years ago Zee, seeing the birds, would swim the 30 or 40 yards out to the rocks and, with the tide and swell tossing her about, somehow manage to scramble up to chase those birds with all the energy and gusto of a pup.
It’s astonishing and, yes, a bit depressing what a difference a few years make.
She has always been and, in spite of current circumstances, remains a happy dog. More than any of our other five dogs who are given to bouts of worry, fear or bad temper, Zee has always been content. Even in the haze of pressing darkness, she trots down the beach head held high, tail wagging. She still enjoys a snack of sun-dried porcupine fish – her nose clearly unaffected by what it is that ails her eyes – and a good roll in the surf. But I watch her closely now, tuning in to her mood, acutely aware that in time she may be given over to bouts of depression or confusion. I see concern wash over her face when she ignores my cries to be careful and walks headlong into a wall of granite where just a moment ago it was smooth sailing over soft moist sand. We give her extra treats and let her lick the dinner plates as compensation.
Watching her struggle I am acutely aware that this is beginning of the end for her. She’s ten years old and on the high side of a slippery slope. We used to call her “Zee the Intrepid” for her adventurous nature with the sea. Now I think “Zee the Messenger” might be more appropriate. She serves to remind me every day that we are mortal and have little say in when our time here is up. I feel the volume on the urgency to leave behind some legacy I’ve been feeling in recent years get cranked up full bore. What have I done with this life of mine? What of value will be left behind?
So I keep writing in the hope that it will mean something to someone.

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:

Brown puppy under the big tree by the Santa Cruz arroyo
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.

Animal Insight

The day before I leave Mexico to go somewhere there are several preparations to be made. The packing must be done, the dog food moved to the bed of the pickup truck outside so that it is accessible, but not too accessible.

While I am gone, our caretaker, Felipe, will keep a large food bowl full, so the dogs can eat whenever they want to. Of course, what actually occurs is that the most dominant dogs eat to their hearts’ content and the lesser dogs must be content to steal a bite here and there when the others are not looking or are off hunting desert hare in the hills nearby.

Interestingly, even though I only just started preparations, yesterday the dogs already knew something is afoot. Normally, they are content, even happy throughout the day, lazing about near or in the house. Yesterday, this behavior changed and more time was spent hanging out at Felipe’s house. And today Zee, arguably the most intelligent of the group, lays in the garage looking quite depressed. Of course, as soon as they see the suitcase, they will all turn despondent and anxious.

Anyone who has spent enough time with animals will agree they are quite capable of feeling and expressing deep emotions. Thanks to people like Jane Goodall awareness is increasing that the intelligence and emotional capabilities of animals are far greater than the bulk of humans gives them credit for. It is actually pretty damned arrogant to think that we are the only ones capable of feeling emotion and possessing intelligence considering we all share a common ancestor.

Stacey O’Brien, in her best-selling book Wesley the Owl, explains that there is increasing evidence that animals use telepathy to communicate with and understand humans. She tested this theory when she realized she would have to trim the talons and beak of the owl she had raised from the time he was four days old. Due to years of prior experience with Wesley, Stacy knew that an owl, being incredibly sensitive to change and strange objects, wouldn’t submit to having ANY of its parts trimmed without a great struggle. The struggle, in turn, could lead to the death of the owl – anxiety can be deadly to these birds.

So, instead of using force, over the course of three weeks Stacey visualized what she wanted to do with the trimmers and beak file. She also demonstrated to him what they were for by using them on inanimate objects and herself (filing her nails for example). She reasoned that he had learned other behaviors from watching her, why not this one? At the end of the three weeks, when she approached him with the beak file, Wesley literally closed his eyes and let her go to work without a struggle. He remained calm throughout both procedures. Now anyone who has tried to trim their cat’s or dog’s nails knows what a feat this is, especially on an older animal who has never experienced it.

Afterwards, Stacey says that their bond had obviously deepened and he exhibited new behaviors indicating his increased trust in her. He even slept with his head tucked under her chin and his wings open and laid over her shoulders in a kind of “owl hug.”

In my personal experience, I have discovered that by talking to animals they gradually learn what the phrases mean. If I say “who wants chicken?!” they all come running, tails wagging, saliva running out the sides of their mouths. If I say “wanna go to the beach?” they similarly get excited and start heading out the door and down the path to the beach. On the other hand, if I say “watch the house puppies,” they know that I am leaving and they are supposed to stay home. The more I talk to them, the more they understand and the more mutually satisfying is our relationship. Treating animals with kindness and compassion, like the sentient beings they are, allows the depth of our relationship to grow.

Now I better get outside and explain to the dogs that I’m only leaving for a week.


To buy a copy of Stacy O’Brien’s book Wesley the Owl CLICK HERE.


Money Talks, Vick Plays

Former NFL quarterback Michael Vick is a free man. He was released on Monday after serving 20 months of a 23 month sentence for engaging in illegal dog fighting and for related acts of animal cruelty. He served 18 months in a prison facility. The last two months were fulfilled through home arrest during which he was allowed to leave the house to work.

To get up to speed and see some of his victims, please CLICK HERE. Go HERE to see the real face of dog fighting (WARNING graphic content).

Michael Vick didn’t just fight dogs, he electrocuted, shot, beat, drown and made dogs endure the pain and stress of fighting. He put family pets in the ring with vicious pit bulls and laughed at the spectacle as they were torn to shreds. And the only plausible reason he could have done it is because he is an aggressive, angry, stupid and psychotic man. And still, despite the evidence that the man needs psychiatric care, not more time on the field, people are screaming to have him reinstated to the sport of football.

At no point in the course of his being arrested, cutting a plea bargain and serving his sentence has Michael Vick expressed true remorse for what he did. He has apologized to lots of people, especially his team and notably NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. But he has never publicly apologized to or made mention of the countless animals he tortured. Instead of expressing embarrassment or shame, he has accused the media and judicial system of unfair treatment and racism.

He hasn’t talked about the impact of his actions on other people either, especially his fans and young black men in America. He is a role model. Before he was caught, who do you think a young black man would rather have been? Michael Vick or Barack Obama?

The question in the press, ever since he was suspended from the league, has been whether Vick will be allowed back in the NFL. A question that weighed heavily on the shoulders of commissioner Goodell. Goodell has been reported as saying that Vick must show true remorse in order to be granted that priviledge. It’s been over two years and we haven’t heard a peep from Vick in that respect. Isn’t it a little late for that?

The reality is that Goodell has been telling Vick exactly what he wants to hear in order to let him back in. All Vick had to do is read the papers and figure out what the right answers were.

Vick might be stupid, but his handlers aren’t and you can bet they are doing everything it takes to get their man back on the field, back in the money. An example – Vick reportedly started working with the Humane Society of the United States recently in a program designed to reach “at risk” American youth in their campaign against dog fighting. But this comes after PETA walked away from negotiations with Vick because they did not believe he was sorry for what he’d done. They agreed he needed his brain scanned and therapy.

Of course Vick is going to do whatever it takes to get back on the field. He is jumping through their hoops.

And today Goodell did what any good politician would – he ruled that Vick can be reinstated to the NFL and join in training for this fall’s season, if he gets picked up by a team. Goodell’s abdicated his responsibility and completely passed the buck. ARRRRGGGGHHHH!!!!!!

In reality, Goodell has handed his responsibility to the public. The only way that Vick will be prevented from rejoining the ranks of the NFL, sending a terrible message to the American public and his supporters, will be if he is prevented from playing professional football for the rest of his life.

On the contrary, the American public needs to send a message to Vick and to the world, that 18 months of prison time does not cut it.

I say, Boycott the NFL.

Contact the NFL directly and tell them what you think.

Sign a petition that will be sent to all NFL sponsors.

Sign as many of the following petitions as you can.

The Knight and the Princess

She lay there unable to move. Her puppies took most of what she had left as they grew. She had little shade and some days the angle of the sun was such that it burned her pink skin, exposed by the mange that ate away at her.

The dirt around her was full of her feces and urine and she was made to lay in it day in, day out, without respite. It irritated her swollen raw skin and her eyes, leaving them sore and infected much of the time.

The pups at least were free to wander about the yard, but not her. She was tethered. Tethered on a short piece of wire that was put there when she herself was still a pup. The wire was wrapped around her neck and twisted at the back. It took her only a few attempts at pulling free to realize that this wire could and did tighten when she pulled at it. And no one came to loosen it. So it was tight almost as soon as it was placed around her neck, making it difficult to swallow, to drink and eat on the rare occasions when food or water was offered.

Unlike the wire, she grew. Despite the cruel circumstances of her life, she managed to grow.

A young boy would come regularly, but not often enough, and throw her scraps. At first he was too frightened to get close, but in time he would bring water as well. He looked around furtively every time, she guessed, to see if her captors were there and watching. Afraid maybe, that he would be treated similarly if caught in the act of kindness.

Gradually, the mange ate away at the rest of her coat and her skin was a mosaic of open infected sores. Her eyes could not open some days and she lay there alone in the dark. The puppies were all gone, she hoped to somewhere far far away and very different from this place.

In time, she grew into a medium-sized dog and the wire did not grow with her. It remained taut around her neck creating a deep impression there. Sometimes the wire would cut and wounds were created. Her voice became more plaintiff as it squeezed her larynx. She would call and call, begging to be released, but if anyone came, they only yelled and left again.

She imagined that she must have done something terrible and that this was her punishment, her hell. And she almost submitted, gave up and moved on.

One day, when he came he was more nervous than usual and his movements were quick and deliberate. He did not bring food or water, but something else was in his hands. She knew he was a friend and her bodied wiggled at the sight of him, but she was confused by his new movements. She heard a strange sound and felt him raise her up off the putrid ground. Then they were moving, quickly, and away!

She saw things she had never seen before; a large tree in the yard next door where they passed and the boy said something to a woman there. She sensed that they were co-conspirators in this thing that was happening.

He laid her upon a soft uneven surface and spoke to the woman who had followed them. A metal door closed next to her and then another and another. A strange noise began and the container began to vibrate and then move. But she wasn’t afraid because he was there and she was no longer lying in the dirt without hope.

A tall man with dark hair and a kind voice was speaking to the lady now, and she was carried into a strange building. They laid her on a shiny metal table and the man began to run his hands over her body and to look closely at the place where the wire remained around her neck. She sensed their shared sadness, but they touched her with such tenderness that she felt safe.

She awoke from what seemed like a very long and deep sleep. She did not know where she was but there were other dogs nearby. Curled up on a soft surface, she sensed right away that something was different. The tension around her neck seemed to have been released. In its place a sensation of cool moisture. Still tired, exhausted, she slept.

Upon waking again, she saw there was water. Clean water. In a bowl within easy reach. She lifted her head and drank. Water had never tasted so sweet. And swallowing seemed easier.

Over the next several weeks, this sweet dog was treated for her mange and given antibiotics and ointments to cure the open wounds on her body. The wound made by the wire that had been cutting into her neck her entire life was almost an inch and a half deep and at least an inch wide in places. It was a great challenge for the veterinarian to remove it without causing serious damage to life-sustaining arteries and veins.

Evidence of the cruel wire, so carelessly wrapped around her young neck would always be. But she could wear a harness and the kind lady and her young male savior would teach her to walk on a leash.

On the way home, her new home, with shade trees that were tall and full of flowers this spring, he whispered to her his promise that she would be forever free in her fenced yard with all the food and clean water she wanted. That she would NEVER again be tied or tortured. She didn’t know what he was saying, but liked the way it sounded. She wiggled her entire body and licked his face.


Please do what YOU can to help prevent animal cruelty and to rescue mistreated animals like this one. Click HERE to help.

Poon Poon’s Shame

A litter of eight puppies was born in Cabo Pulmo. One looked like Bravo, Ricardo’s brindle pit-bull, another like Charlie the rottweiler, one looked like Kiri, Juanito’s old golden retriever cross and so on. A clear example of the infidelity of dogs and that “littermate” does not translate to full brother or sister.Poon Poon was the handsome, sandy colored puppy apparently fathered by a beige pit bull owned by Señor Jesus Castro. El Pelon (Baldy), as Jesus was known, lived with his blue-eyed wife Clotilde and their two children in what was the original ranch at the heart of Cabo Pulmo. He kept horses, chickens, cows and peacocks. And there were dogs for security and cats to keep the mice and rats at bay. El Pelon was a locally renowned horseman, a caballero or cowboy in the literal sense of the word. It is not without irony in the case of Pelon that caballero also means “gentleman.”

Pelon adopted Poon Poon and presumably gave him his odd name, a common practice in this part of Mexico. Shortly thereafter, Poon Poon’s presumed father disappeared from the ranch and, when I asked one of the ranch hands where he was, they explained that Pelonprobably took him out to the dump and killed him. Pelon had done this before.

Out with the old, in with the new.

Like I said, while he may have been a horseman, a gentleman he was not.

Poon Poon grew into a big strapping, muscular dog. Despite his macho appearance, he was everyone’s friend and spent more time on the beach with tourists than he did at the ranch. He was a people dog and wanted to be where the action and attention was. Gradually he became the constant companion of one of the more gregarious dive instructors, Roger. As far as I could tell it was generally understood that Roger had formally adopted him.

Maturity and musculature, a sign of testosterone coursing in the veins, meant that Poon Poon became a fighter. Each time one of the village’s many female dogs came into heat, great dog fights were inevitable. Formidable adversaries in these fights were Bravo the pit bull and Charlie the Rottweiler. Even Kiri the old golden retriever would get his licks in where he could, but more often than not he came out on the losing side. Poon Poon typically returned from each battle with minor wounds, a scratch here, a puncture hole there, but one day I walked into the dive shop and was horrified to see him with large holes ripped into his neck.

“Wow Roger, those are serious wounds!”

“Ya, I know, but what can I do? He likes to fight.”

There was a spay and neuter clinic coming up and I was already taking two dogs to have them fixed. I figured it was worth a try.

“If he keeps up like this he’s going to get killed. That wound could have been fatal. You know he’s fighting over bitches don’t you? He’ll stop if you have him neutered. Why don’t you let me take him to the free clinic this week?”

The last line was said hopefully, but with the knowledge that most Mexican men abhor the idea of neutering a male dog. They see it as a direct reflection on their masculinity and as something unnatural, even sacrilegious.

To my surprise, Roger agreed. “Okay, do it. I don’t want him to fight any more.”

A couple of days later, Poon Poon, his brother Lobo, and a little black bitch named Nookie were loaded into the back of my truck and were off to Los Barriles and the free clinic.

The operation went off without a hitch and Poon Poon returned to Roger that evening showing little indication of the life-altering operation, his usual happy, energetic self despite the transformation his testicular sack had undergone, which now hung flaccid between his legs, empty as a poor man’s wallet. Roger’s eyes betrayed the regret and shame he felt for his dog. I asked him to keep the dog quiet and at home for the next 48 hours.

The next morning, as my tea steeped, there was a knock at the door. “Who could that be at this hour of the morning?” I thought.

At the door stood Clotilde, Pelon’s now widow. She looked perturbed, angry perhaps.

I began, “Buenos dias, Señora Clotilde,” but the words were barely out of my mouth before she cut in, “Can you please tell me who had my dog fixed?!”

Confusion. Shock. Misunderstanding because of my limited Spanish? No, I heard right.

“Your dog? Which dog?”

“Poon Poon.”

A very bright light illuminated above my head, a blindingly bright torch.

“Oooooh…Poon Poon?…uh, yes, um… I did…uh, Roger gave me permission.”

At the mention of Roger’s name, her eyebrows shot skywards and she replied “That is what I thought!” She spun on her heel and strode away. For a second I thought, “Is that it? Aren’t you going to yell at me?” But then I realized she was reserving her wrath for Roger. I tried to intervene.

“No wait! Clotilde. Why are you angry?”

She turned to listen, her blue eyes cold as steel. I continued, “Didn’t you see the wounds on his neck? He was going to get killed. Now he won’t fight with the other dogs.”

Lifting her head high, she glared down her nose and revealed my ignorance, “No! Now he will be lazy and wander. And he will not protect the property. He is ruined!”

I tried to explain that he would stay closer to home now and be a better watch dog, but she had made up her mind. She shook her head, turned, and headed off, a woman on a mission.

“Oh God! Roger! She’ll be on the war path for him and out for his manhood!” I gulped down my tea and ran to the dive shop to warn Roger.

His downcast face told me I was too late. We shrugged it off, recognizing there was no going back, comforted by the knowledge that Poon Poon was better off.

A little later that same day, as I bicycled past the ranch, a curious sight caught my attention; Six Mexican caballeros dressed in jeans, cotton shirts and cowboy boots, some in white cowboy hats, stood in a loose circle, with hands cupping chins thoughtfully, attention directed at something on the ground. They wore serious expressions – disappointment, pity, maybe shame. Some heads shook disapprovingly. Then as I rounded the corner, the focus of their attention came into view. It was Poon Poon. There he lay, on his back, in the middle of their circle, tail wagging contentedly, begging for a belly rub, innocently exhibiting to all present what was evidently considered his shame.


Thousands of innocent animals are killed every day because of uncontrolled animal breeding. Click here to donate to PETA’s SNIP program.

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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.


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: