Hope and Little Man

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Little Man on arrival at Casa del Amanecer

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

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

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

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

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

Mama Dog surveys her new digs.

Mama Dog and Little Man relaxing on the patio.

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

Happy and relatively healthy!

Happy and relatively healthy!

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

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

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.

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