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!

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.

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

Please click here to donate food to abandoned animals.

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