Dogged Determination

Sun, sand and sloth can’t last forever, so it was with a mix of sadness and gladness that we said so long to our hedonistic haven and trudged down the beach about 15 minutes or so to our next pet-sit. As we approached Gary and Zoe’s funky little beach house, a work in progress still, we spotted Coffee standing sentinel outside the gate.

Readers of my book and previous blog will know the story of the poor wretch that he once was, languishing in the street, pretty much left for dead until Zoe came along to save his life. The Mexican mutt, who could easily stand in for The Simpsons’ Santa’s Little Helper, has shown his gratitude every day, with a grin that rivals his new pack mate, the lovely Tessa. Dedicated to guarding his adoptive family (and good fortune), Coffee barks at anything and anyone who dares venture within a half-mile radius of his “territory”. As soon as he locked eyes on us, he launched into a cacophony of yelps and yowls. When, still about 100 feet away, we quietly said, “Hola, Coffee,” he stopped mid-yap, almost like Scooby-Doo’s “ruh-ruff, huh?” He squinted, sniffed, then thumped his tail and bolted toward us, bouncing up and down as though on a trampoline.

Coffee on guard.

We continued up the beach a short distance with him tearing circles in the sand around us, his tongue lolling through a loopy smile that stretched to his ears. A year is a mere blip in a dog’s memory; to him it was as if we had taken this same walk just yesterday. We were amazed at the strength he had regained in his lame back leg. Last summer he left three footprints in the sand; this year there are four, albeit one fainter than the others. He was fully recovered. When we returned to the gate, Coffee leading the way, we saw Tessa trot tentatively forward through the yard. She too stopped, sniffed, then swished her tail and smiled, hopping up on hind legs to greet us. Then came Clinker, barking like a madman. It took him a bit longer to recognize us because, alas, Clinker is now Winker. Since we’d been gone, he had suffered a serious retinal infection, which required surgery

The lovely Tessa, ready for her close-up.

to remove his left eye. He didn’t seem to miss it much, except when he bumped into furniture on his left side. As soon as he caught our scent, he too began leaping and bouncing. With all three dogs whirling around us in an excited scrum we felt like rock stars.

Clinker, now Winker, doesn’t seem to miss his left eye, except when he bumps into furniture.

The three-week sit stretched into five weeks as Gary and Zoe were unexpectedly delayed in the US, but as soon as we settled into a routine, the days fell away in a blur. Clinker still had obsessive-compulsive tendencies, but he was a hundred times better than last year. We were no longer required to ritually bind his tail to prevent him from chewing it off — it was actually covered in fur now! — and his spinorama act during meal prep was stopped instantly with a finger snap. He did, however, still attack his food like it would surely skitter away, wolfing down every morsel before Tessa and Coffee had eaten three bites. We began taking his dish from him half-way through just so he would swallow, then giving it back, but this appeared to backfire when he started eating even faster. Knowing the intestinal damage gobbling can cause, we emailed Gary and Zoe to bring back an anti-gulping dish. We later learned it did the trick, as the little porker now had to snuffle for his grub.

On the beach, Coffee snuffles for lizards, crabs, mice — anything that moves.

After breakfast we’d walk the beach. At first, it was a free-for-all, with the three dogs bursting through the gate like fox-hunting hounds, fanning out in different directions while we tried to keep up. Coffee would tramp onto private property, nose to the ground, leaving indignant roosters in his wake. Tessa would sprint down the sand in pursuit of shore birds, leap into the surf, then roll in dead things.

Got poop? Clinker looks to hoover up anything in his path.

Clinker, meanwhile, would hoover up anything in his path. We often had to pry open his jaws and shake out a mouthful of bird bones or dog poop. One day Tessa came back smelling like a corpse. Even after a thorough shampoo, rinse, repeat, she still stank. Five washes later we were no longer gagging, but she still carried a faint whiff of decomp. From that point on, both she and Clinker were leashed, and walks were infinitely more pleasant.

The rest of the day was spent with siestas in the shade as the temperatures simmered in the high 30s and the humidity soaked our shirts to the skin. No air conditioning put the fans into overdrive and we barely moved until dusk.

Tessa dreams of the foulest of the foul dead things to roll in.

The rains seemed to come late this year, but when they did the skies let loose a fury of thunder and lightning. One night it was so loud both Clinker and Tessa leapt onto our pillows and stayed there, paralyzed with fear while the storm cracked and rumbled around us. The house had no glass windows to stop the rain seeping through the screens and collecting in small puddles on the floors, so the morning after would be spent in bleary-eyed clean-up mode. While we hunkered down, the fishermen thumbed their noses at wild nights like that. We could see the lights on their skiffs bobbing on the horizon as they were jostled by the choppy waves. We were told later that not all of them make it back to shore when a bolt of lightning has so easy a target in its sights.

When the rains come, some enramadas get flooded and appear to float.

With the rains came the rising of the lagoon, submerging the floors of a few enramadas. When the sand bar dividing fresh water from salt finally gave way one grey, wet day, tons of shrimp from the farms up stream were carried along on the outflow. This lured the fish closer to shore, and the fishermen hot on their tails. The occasional crocodile also gets swept along and out to sea. We were told of a huge croc that washed ashore a few meters away from us, and of a woman who was swimming off Zihuatanejo’s popular La Ropa beach when she noticed one of the reptiles dog-paddling alongside her.

Catch of the day, drying in the sun at the lagoon.

What we thankfully did not see many of this year were dead turtles. Three years ago we were shocked to see dozens of Olive Ridleys rotting in the sand, casualties of careless fishermen. Supposedly they’ve been making more of an effort to use the required nets with turtle escape hatches, and it’s showing.

We continued to make our Friday-night treks up the beach for shrimp at Brisa Mar or down the road for tacos in the village. We tended to avoid the enramadas because it was just so depressing to see the steady stream of begging dogs. While we always carried a baggie of kibble with us, it was just never enough. The need is so overwhelming that one small meal hardly makes a difference, and we could never shake the image of their hungry, hollow eyes.

Adios, mi tres amigos. Hasta pronto.

Back at Gary and Zoe’s, the gulf between the haves and the have-nots was shamefully obvious: over the weeks I had inadvertently fattened our three amigos. Clinker in particular, with inkblot-shaped blotches across his round pink belly, looked uncannily like a pig. Already solid and dense in his compact frame, picking him up now was like lifting an anvil. And the thoroughbred-sleek Tessa had the beginnings of a paunch. Even the naturally rail-thin Coffee had a pot. But he, more than any of them, would never forget he was one lucky dog.

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