Over the five years we’ve been pet-sitting, we’ve cared for a wide assortment of animals, from purebreds to designer dogs to Heinz 57s, from pricey pedigrees to rough-and-tumble rescues. They’ve all had their issues, from minor to major, but one constant is that they’re all loved and well cared for. Their owners, almost without exception, consider them part of the family, their “kids”. At least that’s been our experience. Until now.
Summertime in Mexico brings some pretty spectacular storms, and in mid-September a passing hurricane whipped up some wild waves, so we wandered down the beach to get a good look — and, for Rick, photos, ‘natch. What we hadn’t expected was that we’d be taking photos of a seemingly dying dog. We had ended up down at the south end, where the beach restaurants are, to see if there were any surfer dudes crazy enough to be out hangin’ 10. Before heading back, we decided to set a spell, have a cold one and watch the action. It was Dia de la Independencia, and the beach and restaurants were abuzz with holidayers. Half-way into my cerveza, I noticed a dog going table to table, begging for scraps. Nothing unusual there, but this particular mutt was moving slowly, in a daze. I looked closer and noticed he was very thin. Again, nothing unusual (for Mexico). Closer still and to my shock, I saw a gaping gash, about an inch wide, that ran about 8 inches from hip to hip, exposing his flesh. I went over to him and saw another huge, bloody gash across his throat. I thought I was going to be sick. Others around us also noticed the dog, but with a kind of “poor thing” expression, and went back to eating their shrimp.
It was obvious this dog needed immediate medical attention, but not only was this a Sunday, it was a holiday Sunday. What were the odds a vet would even be in town let alone answer an emergency call? But we had to try. One couple who did seem genuinely concerned spoke a little English. I asked if they had a cell we could use once we found the vet’s phone number. They assured us they did and they would do whatever they could to help. So Rick borrowed a pen and piece of paper from the waiter and hoofed it up to the town plaza, where the vet’s office was located, to get the number on his door. In the meantime, I kept my eye on the dog so he didn’t wander off (although this loosely completed jigsaw puzzle of a pooch wouldn’t get far). My mind was spinning with scenarios: What if the vet doesn’t answer the call? What if we have to corral this poor thing and cart him off to Sayulita, the next town over? How will we get there, we have no car? Would we find a taxi? How would the dog behave in the cab?
After 20 minutes that felt like hours, Rick returned — along with the vet himself! And it was the one and only Dr. Julio Cesar Martinez Gonzalez, who had treated Rufus! Turns out he was still trying to find a place to live in San Pancho, where he had set up a new branch of AnimaLove, headquartered in Sayulita, so has been bunking at his clinic. What were the lucky odds? He knelt in the sand, examined the dog and declared the obvious: this mutt needs immediate treatment, particularly to close those wounds. His trained eye also caught what we didn’t: the dog had several puncture wounds on his side that were abscessing, and this was actually of greater concern to him. With thoughts only of this dog’s well-being front of mind, we assured Dr. Julio we would pay the bill and shelter the little guy. Of course, it would be a challenge to do either, but that didn’t seem important right then. The good doctor brushed off our promises as he slipped a collar and leash around the dog’s head and the two ambled off to his clinic. We stood and watched the town’s very own Dog Whisperer (who bears more than a passing resemblance to Cesar Millan, by the way) go, and exhaled in relief.
We trekked back down the beach, home to our own pampered pets, most of whom have horrific stories of their own before they were rescued. We posted on Facebook a couple of photos we’d taken of the miserable mutt in the hopes somebody knew his owner, who must surely be worried about him. By morning there were responses of shock and concern, but no lead on the owner. We enlisted the help of Judith, a friend and one of the organizers of San Pancho’s semi-annual Spay & Neuter Clinic, who met us at the vet’s office, to act as translator and transport back to the casa. We found the little guy stitched and bandaged and in surprisingly good spirits, seemingly oblivious to his own pain or plight. Dr. Julio theorized that the wounds were the result of a tussle with a coatimundi (a raccoon-like animal) or another dog.
By the time we got back home, settled our patient and checked Facebook, there were more responses: People knew the dog. He had a name, Mocho. But they also knew the owner, and, suffice to say, it wasn’t good. One responder said the owner was “not interested” in the dog’s predicament; another said, “this dog won’t last” if he goes back to the home. Wonderful. Now we have an ailing animal that needs twice-daily oral injections of antibiotic, twice-daily ointment applied to the wounds, dressings changed, and a subsequent discovery of a serious ear infection, which also required twice-daily antibiotic treatment. If Mocho’s owners didn’t seem to care that he’d been injured, they obviously wouldn’t care enough to ensure his recovery. So, he wasn’t going anywhere, at least not until he was healed. But he needed to be kept apart from the other dogs we’d been caring for, especially Rufus (who would likely finish him off if given the chance), which was a juggling act in itself.
Rick volunteered to stay with him, but that first sleep-over did not go well. As sweet and good-natured as Mocho is, as much as he craves attention and affection, he is, for all intents and purposes, a street dog. He doesn’t do well being contained by four walls; he keeps an alley cat’s hours: sleep all day, prowl all night. Not to mention he was injured and bandaged and in a strange environment with strange people. Between pacing and several bathroom breaks, one of which lasted a half hour before he finally let loose — at 3 a.m. — our invalid allowed Rick a total of two hours’ sleep.
As the days passed, however, Mocho realized he was safe, comfortable and cared for. So he relaxed, slept a lot, ate a lot, and rolled over on his back for belly rubs. His wounds healed along with his psyche. Meanwhile, we kept an eye on Facebook to see what the general consensus was, what could be done to help Mocho. Seasonal neighbours chimed in to say they had cared for him, paid for previous vet treatments he required, and generally watched over him while they were in town. The dog essentially spent more time with them than his owners, who, apparently, had allowed previous dogs to get so sick they would surely have died if not for the big hearts of these neighbours. But these people were not in town now, and wouldn’t be until winter.
So. As timed ticked away, as the end of his course of antibiotics and eventual stitch removal neared, we were faced with a dilemma: Do we seek out adopters, or do we return Mocho to the only home he’s ever known? As little as these people reportedly cared for him, they were his owners, and if they wanted him back (and he wanted to go back), that’s what we had to do. We could not just arbitrarily and unilaterally give him away if they wanted him. Besides, there was no one else to take him. Gringos (everyone told us that a Mexican would not want him) would not start returning until November. We were leaving October 10. What to do, what to do . . .
Yesterday, Mocho went for his final vet visit, for one last exam and to have his stitches removed. Dr. Julio declared him fit for release. So today, we washed him, combed him, got him looking his best, called again on Judith, who met us in his neighbourhood to show us where he lived, and . . . we let him go. His owners accepted him; Mocho didn’t cower from them, nor did he jump for joy.
At first, he seemed a little confused. He knew where he was going, but he also knew what he was leaving. He had become so attached to Rick that he followed him everywhere, and whined, whimpered and howled whenever he was out of his sight. He had basically kept us prisoners over these two weeks, as someone (and usually it was Rick) had to be with him at all times. But now, watching this patched-together little ragamuffin trot back to . . . who knows what?, we knew it was worth it. He will live to fight another day. And that’s as happy an ending as we’re going to get.
Still, as we turned for home, we were left to wonder: What would have happened if we hadn’t gone to the beach that day? What would have happened if people had seen him but gone on with their meals? What happens every day when people look the other way when they see an animal suffering?
The San Pancho Spay & Neuter Clinic graciously donated the money to cover Mocho’s vet bills. If you’d like to help the Mocho’s in your community, following are options for you to contribute to the Clinic, which steps in to help animals just like him:
- PayPal, San Pancho Animals https://www.paypal.com
- Hand cash to Bill Kirkwood, who will be back in the pueblo on the 1st of October.
- Send a check via mail to Betty McIntyre. If you choose to send a check, please make the check out to: BETTY MCINTYRE, and write “San Pancho Animals” in the memo line, then mail to: 261 Arlington Way, Menlo Park, CA 94025