Surviving to Thriving: An Update

After Kimberly took the tiny Sobreviviente (Vivi) under her wing last month, I missed that little furball every day. So did Kahlua. Every time we walked out the front door, she nosed through the ferns, looking for her. Every time we walked past the garbage bin, my eyes rested on the spot we first noticed what we thought was a rat. But it was a scruffy little kitten, scratching and biting through the trash bags for rotting food to fill a baby belly that should only have contained mama’s milk. I still shudder to think what would have become of her had Kimberly not opened her heart and home to the little ragamuffin.

 

I wanted so badly to see her again, but I wanted enough time to pass for her to get used to her new home and, frankly, for me to let go emotionally. So I waited. And then, finally, after about a month, I saw her again. Turns out, not only has this wee warrior survived, she’s thrived. And not only has she gotten used to her new home, she’s taken it over. Kimberly says Vivi rules the roost. The rest of the home’s menagerie — two big dogs, an aloof older cat and a benevolent bunny — not only welcomed her unconditionally, they’ve fallen in love with her. We watched as one of the dogs trotted over and licked her, his tongue wiping her entire face and nearly knocking her over. She’s even infused the senior cat with new life and the two actually play together.

I was so excited to see her again, to see her happy, healthy and fitting in so well, that I got on my knees and called her to me. But she ran away. This once frightened, helpless creature who had tentatively made her way to me, nuzzling my legs and somersaulting over my feet, gratefully devouring the food I brought to her, now ran from me like I was an ogre. I choked up. I eventually held her, but she didn’t know me. I set her down among her new mismatched pack, and left her. I’ve never been so sad or so happy to not be needed.

R.I.P., Chica

Another four-legged soul has crossed the Rainbow Bridge to join a magnificent menagerie of dearly departed pets we’ve cared for over the years. Curt and Cele’s beautiful Siamese/Himalayan-cross passed away in Puerto Vallarta today after a brief illness.

She was as eccentric as she was lovely. I wrote about her quirks while pet-sitting her and her bestie, Cana, along with canine companions Oro and Paloma, in 2014. She liked to drag rags from room to room, pausing only long enough to dip her paw into the gardener’s watering can for a wee sip. The rest of the day was spent cuddling up with Cana.

Curt and Cele rescued Chica, as they did Cana a month or so later, 12 years ago when they lived in San Miguel. The two cats quickly bonded and were bosom buddies for life, until the life left Cana in January 2015. Chica never seemed to fully recover from the loss of her fellow feline rescue-in-arms. Now the two blue-eyed beauties are reunited, to nuzzle forever. Small comfort, but comfort nonetheless. We’ll miss you, little girl.

Click on the first photo below for a slideshow of Chica and her odd drinking habits, and the second one of Chica nuzzling with Cana.

My Day at the Zoo

Confessions of a Future Pet-Sitter – By Rick

When I first told my dad about my day at the zoo, I had never — and still have never — seen him laugh harder in my life. I, on the other hand, failed to find the humour in the story. It has been many years since I told anyone else of the series of unfortunate events that unfolded that day at this unspoken place of horrors. Looking back, I suppose I can see the humour now, but it has taken a while.

Let me take you way back to that time, in the 1970s, when I suggested to my then new girlfriend, Robin, that we take a country drive to what was known then as the Aldergrove Game Park (now the Greater Vancouver Zoo). Since this was a beautiful sunny summer day and I had a new MGB convertible sports car, I thought this would be a nice way to spend the day. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Now, keep in mind this was a long time ago and some of the things that happened that day I may have subconsciously erased from my mind, but I swear the following events, as I recall them, are true. I don’t know what was going on with the cosmos that day, but the stars were not lined up in a good way for me.

I wanted to show Robin what a great rapport I had with animals of all sorts and this would be a perfect place to do that since there were many opportunities to get up close and personal with the lovely creatures.   Our first stop was at the primate cages near the entrance. After marvelling over their obvious intelligence and uncanny resemblance to modern man, we turned to leave. Suddenly one of the little bastards hurled something at the back of my head. “What the hell was that?” I wondered aloud. Had I known the nightmare had just begun, we would have left right then.

Our next stop was at a field of ostriches and emus. Great, I can show Robin how to properly pet an emu. Here comes one now. “Just rub its neck like this,” I demonstrated for her, “they love that.” Ow! Son-of-a-bitch nipped me on the arm! “Maybe it was trying to eat some of that stuff the monkey threw at me,” I reasoned as I rubbed my arm.

OK, over to the next enclosure. “Look at these llamas, they’re coming right up to us. Check this out, Robin, this one wants to have a staring contest with me.” As I followed the animal’s gaze, playing a kind of game of mirror, thwaap!, out shot a gross concoction of saliva and grass that landed right between my eyes. “Damn it!”

Mopping my forehead, we headed over to the hippo enclosure. One of the big fellas had made his way out of its muddy pond and was standing right up to the fence. Perfect, a close encounter. Except it was a little too close. At that precise moment, while I stood right next to him, he chose to relieve himself. He then turned and proceeded to swish his tail like a windshield wiper at high speed, spraying his stinky hip-poo all over my pants and shoes.

Undeterred, off we went to see the lions, my favourite animal in the world, King of the Beasts. I have nothing but respect for this beautiful cat. Look, the big male is making his way over! This is great, just look at him, he’s magnificent. A little kid was standing beside me also observing the lion and asking questions. “Why is he turning his back on you? Why is he lifting his tail?” “Why is it twitching?” “I don’t know,” I replied, just as — bullseye — he got me! “I guess he was pissed off,” giggled the kid as he scampered off. Right then and there, dripping with cat spray, I lost every ounce of respect for lions…

Struggling to contain her own laughter, Robin suggested that we go over to the kids’ petting zoo area, where they keep the friendly animals, as if I need some sort of safe zone. I reluctantly agreed. With my tail between my legs, we moved towards the kiddy area. What could go wrong? Well, for starters, before we even entered the zoo, I stepped in dog shit. While I was scraping the crap off my shoe, Robin went and purchased some food for the waiting animals. “Hey, give me some of that,” I told her, “I’ll go feed these guys over here, they seem hungry by the way they’re looking at me.” It was like they hadn’t seen food in weeks, I was under attack! They were coming at me from all directions. The sheep were stepping on my feet and biting at my fingers trying to pry the food from my hands, while a goat kept taking runs at me from behind like it was rutting season. Aren’t these animals a little too big and aggressive for a kids’ petting area?, I wondered, as a llama barrelled toward me, head down, a crazed yet familiar look in his eye. I tossed the food in the air, the animals scrambled to gobble it up, leaving me room to make a hasty retreat.

Failing to see a pattern, and determined to salvage this disaster of a day, I decided to hang out with the elephants while Robin fed the last of her food to a gathering of calm, well-behaved animals that surrounded her. Meanwhile, I stood face to face with this huge beast, who looked me square in the eye like it wanted to say hello. I suppose it did, in its own special way. I had turned away for only a moment to see how Robin was doing when I turned back to the elephant, but we were no longer face to face. We were face to butt, and before I could step back the magnificent fat bastard let go a fart that gave new meaning to the phrase “breaking wind”. More like breaking bad. My hair literally blew back from my face in a warm gust of putrefied smog. I stumbled away with my eyes running, gasping for air. “That does it, no more, I’ve had it!” I hollered.

As Robin finally came into focus, I wondered what she was thinking after having to witness this awful display of animal behaviour. Rather than sharing my horror, she was laughing hysterically. Mustering whatever was left of my dignity, I turned on my heel and declared, “We’re leaving.”

You may think it all ended there, but no. While I stomped back to the car, reeking from a fetid brew of animal excrement, Robin trailed behind, trying desperately to hold back her laughter. Not seeing any humour in the events of this bizarre outing, I proceeded to fold down the top of the MGB to allow for the maximum amount of wind to disperse the stench clinging to my clothes. But the park had one final parting shot in store for me. As we were driving out of the lot, a lone seagull let loose its load from above with stunning precision and landed a direct hit on the steering wheel, spattering my already abused face. Robin, at this point, could not hold back. Her eyes were filled with tears of laughter as she hysterically cracked up at my expense. I did not say a word, I did not smile. Instead, I calmly wiped the feces from my eyes, and drove away. In my wake, I could swear I heard a chorus of cackles coming from the direction of the primate cage…

And still there was more. On the way home, somewhere between the park and my decontamination shower, some sort of large (perhaps a crane or heron) bird opened fire with a massive amount of droppings on our car, spraying the hood and windshield. Ha! missed me. Triumphant, I turned on the wipers and we drove the rest of the way home in silence. I have never returned to the zoo.

Postscript: Not in my wildest dreams could I have imagined that, decades into the future, this beastly trauma would prepare me for years of adventures in pet-sitting. After my day at the zoo, nothing any four-legged furball throws at me will break me.

A Portrait of Survival

Vivi jumps down from the dump to nose out our offering.

“The smallest feline is a masterpiece,” said Leonardo da Vinci. And such precious works of art can be found in the most unexpected places. Like a dumpster. That is where, a week ago, we discovered a tiny kitten, scruffy and scared, tossed there like the trash she was picking through, desperate for food. Barbara was the first to spot the little critter, along with three of its siblings. She managed to rescue two; no one knows what became of the other one (or her mama). We nicknamed this remaining little ragamuffin Vivi, short for Sobreviviente, Spanish for survivor.

We started feeding little Vivi, leaving a paper dish under the dumpster. She quickly nosed it out and gobbled it up. We had no idea where she went at night, and worried endlessly during thunder and lightning and rain. Was she cold? Was she wet? Was she afraid? Was she being stalked by predators? But each morning we’d leave a fresh plate of food, and within minutes she’d creep out from behind the bags of garbage or a hole in the tree.

Vivi peeks out from behind the ferns. Warriors are not defined by size, but sheer will to survive.

We took to watching the bin during the day, looking for her, hoping she was okay. One day as we were watching, some guy on the back of a motorcycle roared by and hurled a huge bag of trash into the bin, narrowly missing Vivi. We decided we had to get her out of harm’s way. She made it easy. One afternoon, returning from our walk with Kahlua, out from the ferns in front of the house poked a little white face, followed by a tentative mew. Vivi had found us.

Horatio and Kahlua spot a tiny invader.

So we relocated her dish to the front stoop and she immediately settled in, believing she’d found her fur-ever home. She never came inside, and we never invited her to because, well, it’s not our house. She was content to huddle in the ferns while she got accustomed to her new surroundings, occasionally sneaking through the front entrance for a closer look. When Kahlua spotted her, she got so excited she took to spending hours gazing at the little kitty through the glass door. When we’d leave and return from walks, she would rush over to the ferns, trying to sniff out Vivi. Where’s my new toy?! Vivi was just as curious, and the two nearly touched noses before she lost her nerve and scampered away. When Horatio and Trixie caught sight of her, they stared for a few minutes, yawned and sauntered off, back to the business of snoozing.

Seeing no strings attached, Vivi finally trusts.

It took a day or two before Vivi would let me touch her, then she was all over me, rubbing against my legs, somersaulting over my feet, meowing in my face. She’d found her mama. Unfortunately, I could not be her mama. We were caring for other pets, and with our itinerant lifestyle, there’s no way we could take her, as much as we would have loved to.

Barbara told us at least one of her siblings was still at Dr. Julio’s, the local vet, but he really doesn’t have the space or resources to keep strays (we would learn later the little guy had been adopted and is en route to California). And since the town was stretched to its limit with abandoned cats, nobody would likely take her. Just as we were losing hope, we heard about a no-kill feline rescue shelter, The Purr Project, near Puerto Vallarta. Brilliant, we thought. But then we discovered they charge $100 US to bring them a cat. That’s $130 Canadian cash rubles. We don’t dispute the fee; it goes toward food, shelter and health care for sick, injured and abandoned cats, and without these fees and donations the place would not exist. Still, for us it was a fair chunk of change that we just didn’t have at the moment. So we got the idea to crowd-source on Facebook. We would come up with half if enough kind hearts could chip in $5 each to make up the other half.

Vivi meets her new mama but Kahlua doesn’t want to give her up so easily, as Dr. Julio tries to restrain her.

We had barely posted the story on FB when we heard from the cat ranch that they were over-full, so crowded they could not take little Vivi. We were crestfallen. But, in a testament to the speed and power of social media, we heard from Kimberly, a town realtor, who offered to give the wee warrior a home. Then another volunteered, and another, and another. Out of darkness came light. I almost cried. As I did when we met Kimberly at Dr. Julio’s, where we took Vivi for a check-up, vaccinations and de-worming, for the hand-over. We were all emotional, especially Kahlua (there for a haircut), who was so thrilled to see her blue-eyed beauty again she tried to nudge her out of Kimberly’s arms.

There’s a special place in hell for people who would throw away a living being like garbage. There’s no excuse, especially with so many big hearts in this town who would go out of their way to give that being a fighting chance. And they did for this smallest of masterpieces.

Throw me to the wolves and I’ll return leading the pack . . .Click on this image of little Vivi to see more.

I know this is just one story of one lucky kitty among a bazillion others that were not so lucky. But at least it’s one. We shudder to think what would have become of this small survivor in a world without compassion, and just in the nick of time.

To quote another great mind, Ralph Waldo Emerson: “You cannot do a kindness too soon, for you never know how soon it will be too late.”

 

Life and Limb

We’re back in San Pancho, about an hour north of Puerto Vallarta, to pet-sit for the summer. We’ve been coming here just about every year since 2010 to care for Kahlua, Horatio, Valentino and Pico (to read previous posts, click here, here and here).

The only thing constant is change, as the saying goes. The sleepy little town, for better or worse, has been discovered. Shops, restaurants, and hotels are sprouting up like weeds. There are even plans for a sprawling, six-story beachfront resort. The beach we once claimed for ourselves, so empty it was in summers, now hops year-round.

Horatio (left) with his trophy wife, Trixie, chillin’ in the backyard.

While the town gallops ahead, the pets have slowed. Los gatos are seven years older; even perennial baby Valentino spends more time snoozing in the sun than stalking in the yard. Wild cat Pico has mellowed and can’t even summon the energy to hiss; he’s instead become a bit of a cuddle bug. I guess he figures, “If these humans haven’t murdered me after seven years, it’s a safe bet they won’t now.” Deaf, monkey-tailed Horatio still settles behind the fan to cool off, and his trophy wife Trixie actually comes out and spends time in the same room with us (when she’s not slumbering behind the TV, which is roughly 12 hours a day).

The biggest change, however, has come to Kahlua, Bill and Barb’s beloved golden doodle. After two serious leg breaks, followed by a cancer diagnosis, they faced the difficult decision to amputate. Kahlua is now a tripawd.

Kahlua, down but not out, catching the breeze.

People, as is their nature, tend to react with horror and anguish when faced with such a life-altering step. Animals, as is their nature, tend to react with a shrug and a “what’s the big deal, I have three others”. That’s been Kahlua’s response, for the most part. Younger, smaller amputees bounce back quickly and resume their normal lives with slight adjustments (some are up and running a day after surgery!). K.’s only problem is that she’s 12 years old and a little too fond of snack time, so she’s packing too many pounds.

Nearly a month after her surgery, she’s still figuring out her balance, especially while doing her business. She has a sling and harness that we use to keep her upright but the hope is, with a little practice and a trimmer figure, one day she won’t need it.

Kahlua trying to steer us to the beach. Not yet, K., not yet . . .

Amputation, while life-saving, causes extra wear and tear on the remaining joints, often resulting in arthritis (or exacerbating it). So it will be a while before we can take K. to her happiest place on earth, the beach. Not that she hasn’t tried to steer us there already during bathroom breaks. We’re just taking it poco a poco, going a little farther each time, and turning back when she starts to tire. We’ve promised her, though, before we leave in two months’ time, she will feel that soft sand between her 12 toes!

A New Dawn, a New Dog

“Her name was Zola, she was a street girl . . . “   I can’t help warping Barry Manilow’s Grammy-winning ditty about a showgirl shimmying and shaking at the famous Copacabana nightclub when talking about Judy and Lee’s new pooch, but the melody just sticks in my head.

Mind if I stay? Zola on the welcome mat.

And this new girl just sticks in your heart, she is so sweet. She was found wandering the plaza, likely shown the door for having the audacity to birth a litter because, well, she had not been spayed (the local animal group eventually had her fixed and returned her to the streets). No one knows what became of her offspring, but the mother herself, a mere two or three years old, was, like so many abandoned animals, shocked and bewildered by her new homeless status. It’s hard to know how long she would have lasted on the mean streets, competing with other, more seasoned dogs for scraps and shelter. But Judy and Lee started feeding her just before Easter, then, one day she just followed Judy home, invited herself in, and has never left.

Safe and sound asleep in the garden.

Like many street dogs, she has issues, but they are mild and she will most certainly overcome. She’s quirky, seems to have a sense of humour, and even shows interest in play. Judy and Lee bought her a nice comfy bed to recline on in the sun, but she prefers to lie next to it, as opposed to on it. Maybe she doesn’t believe she’s worthy of such a cushy life. But then she’ll insist Lee taste-tests food before she’ll eat it, so who knows about her pedigree?

Which one’s the wild dog of Africa?

Even though she’s a Mexican mutt, she’s what you call a brindle. The term describes not a breed, but a coat colouring. You’ll see the tan/brown/black, sometimes tiger-like, streaking pattern on Greyhounds, bull dogs, Corgi’s, Great Danes, Dachshunds, but also, oddly, on cows, horses, guinea pigs, even lizards. The coats are also worn by the wild dogs of Africa. It’s not all that common, but there’s another stray dog who lives on the plaza who’s also a brindle, and Zola loves to run up and kiss his face. Brother? Father?

Without the burden of survival, Zola learns to be playful.

Judy and Lee were originally going to name her Zorra, the female equivalent to Zorro, that famous masked man in the TV western series of the 1950s (black markings on Zola’s face look like she’s wearing a mask). But a friend told them Zorra is a Mexican slang term for prostitute. A quick Google search, however, turns up only that Zorra is of Slavic origin (or Arabic, depending on the source) and means “dawn”.  That would have been pretty, but another search says the name Zola means either “earth” or “tranquil”, depending on the source.

Either way, Zola is as fresh as a new day; a tranquil, down-to-earth pooch who gives love freely, but not loosely. Even Tai would have liked her.

R.I.P., Talyn

“If the kindest souls were rewarded with the longest lives, dogs would outlive us all.” My sister’s golden retriever, Talyn, was a beautiful, big boy with an even bigger heart. Cancer slowly dragged him from us, but he will be remembered always as one of the kindest souls.