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.

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.

The Joy Fuck Club

Warning: In case you missed the title, the following post contains adult content and coarse language not appropriate for children or prudish wankers.

A surfer buddy of mine who shall remain nameless sent me a joke yesterday about a materialistic woman and a fairly typical guy.

So this evening, after spending ALL day in front of the computer, I’m out running on the beach at low tide with my blind dog Zee zigzagging along behind me and I see a guy coming out of the water who’s a real jackass. I start thinking, “Oh great, Jackass is back…” when I catch myself and say, “Now Dawn, turn that shit around…” and I start telling myself he doesn’t mean to be a jackass and he’s just like the rest of us and, no, I’m no better than Mr. Jackass. Then because I’m not believing myself, I know I’m better than that jackass, I abandon reason and go with my loving kindness mantra (yeah, I really do that shit). It goes like this, “May all beings be filled with loving kindness, may they have compassion, may they be filled with joy, may they feel at peace and at ease…may all beings be filled with loving kindness…” You get the idea.

I’m running along, my breathing in sync with my internal mantra chanting and I decide to make myself smile to increase the positive vibe I’m starting to feel. That’s when my mind wanders off in a totally different direction, as it tends to do, and I start thinking about the joke my friend sent me. Suddenly, it dawns on me that following the reasoning of the joke my name would be Surffuck, as in a knighted Japanese guy, Sir Fuk. An even bigger smile breaks out on my face, and my chest inflates as I’m filled with pride at my great show of wit (delayed though it may have been). I soaked in that glow for a few seconds before returning to my mantra.

At times, when I really get into my mantra, I leave all the extra words out and just chant, “Loving kindness, compassion, joy, peace…loving kindness, compassion, joy, peace,…” So tonight I was running along and on autopilot. I wasn’t even thinking consciously about the mantra, the words just continued flowing through my mind in a stream. At one point though, when I turned my full attention back to my inner voice and this is what I was chanting:

Loving-kindness, compassion, joy, fuck, loving-kindness, compassion, joy, fuck.

Well, I started laughing right there on the beach in the dark. That last mile was over before I knew it and Mr. Jackass was completely exorcized from my mind. Then I realized I’d abandoned more than the mantra, I’d left my poor blind dog in the dust about half a mile back.

Paradise Lost

A couple of the healthier dogs living at the dump.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

http://www.almacares.com