Clinker, blinker, winker, blind. Poor Clinker, aka the Colonel. Over the years that we’ve been back in Barra de Potosi to care for him, he’s gone from a cute little pup with skin issues to a whirling dervish who chases and shreds his own tail, to the loss of an eye and now, the complete loss of his sight.
Like most dogs, however, he’s a study in resilience. He doesn’t sit around moping about his blindness. He walks by feel, bumping into walls, trees, furniture. But he’s cool with that. He lives for his treats and his meals, and sleeps the rest of the day. It’s all good.
Yes, a few things had changed since we last cared for the Colonel, the Contessa (aka Tessa) and the 10,000 mile front yard in 2010. Clinker losing his sight from infection was just one. Poor, beautiful Tessa dragged herself home one day with part of her ear and a third of her tail missing, and half the fur on her back gone, revealing a massive, open wound. The vet was flummoxed as to what had caused it, presuming a snake bite. The fur on her back never grew back, so Zoe had pretty little dresses custom-made in bright yellow, red, blue and green that Tessa now wears to protect her exposed skin from the sun. But, like Clinker, she’s also miraculously adaptable; she still has that winning smile, and still, for some strange reason, loves Rick to death. When we first arrived, Gary whistled for her to come see who was here. She tentatively made her way out from under the shade of the car, focused her eyes, sniffed the air, and, Yes!, It’s my boyfriend! He’s back! She raced to Rick and bounded into his arms, licking his face, nuzzling her head under his chin, gazing dreamily into his eyes. For the next half hour, she sat on his lap and refused to budge. What’s up with that?
Sweet, goofy Coffee is no longer with us, having succumbed to mysterious seizures. In his place is sweet, goofy Roxi. As an orphaned puppy, she’d roam the dirt road, snuffling garbage and begging scraps like other mutts in the ‘hood. Short-term renters in the house next door to Gary and Zoe took pity and began feeding her. Well, that’s a contract to a stray. She thought she’d struck pay dirt, happily hanging with her new owners. Then the renters left. And left her behind. Confused, she’d lay in the driveway day and night, waiting for their return. Ultimately, Zoe and Gary took her in. Now she’s part of the pack. She’s got a face only a mother could love, alternately scary and cute. If not for her goofy smile, scary would win out.
We were also babysitting a dog called Nudge, who belongs to Laurel of the ecological park, El Refugio de Potosi, up the road. She had been nursing an orphaned baby coatimundi, and needed him out of the way. Nudge and coatis don’t mix: his last encounter left his face and body chewed up, the scars on his nose still visible.
At sunset, we and the pack would hit the beach, which Clinker particularly loved: the wide-open, obstacle-free sandy world meant he could roam to his heart’s (and head’s) content. After a few outings, he actually began to trot, something he never did around the house and yard. There, the faster he’d move, the harder he’d hit. But on the beach, there was nothing in his way but miles of soft sand. Like humans, when one sense is lost, the others sharpen. Clinker confidently oriented himself by the sounds of the waves and the feel of the sand beneath his feet — wet or dry told him which direction (and how close) he was veering. At dusk, we’d all troop back inside and, while all the other dogs sat for their bedtime snack, Clinker stood with his nose twitching. We only had to wave the treat under it and keep our fingers clear.
We learned a lot about how to care for a sightless animal, which is pretty much the same as a sightless person. Keep furniture and rugs in the same area to help orient them; place certain smells, like soap or air fresheners, at particular points, such as door or kitchen, so they know where they are. At dawn, Clinker would let loose a low growl, a signal that he needed to pee. So, in the grey light, one of us would groggily carry him outside, put him down with his back feet on concrete and his front paws on grass. This told him where he was, and off he’d go like the Energizer bunny. And he’d be fine, other than knocking into the occasional palm tree. If we’d catch him heading for one, we’d yell “tree!” and he’d actually veer away at the last minute, as if he understood.
Other than a few changes in canines, life at Casa Gary and Zoe was pretty much the same as years past. They’d done a lot of work on their little beach house, even installing A/C in the bedroom, making it an ever more wonderful place to spend a few weeks. For a break, every Saturday night we’d peddle our bikes up the dirt road to Brisa Mar, our favourite shrimp shack on the beach. Almost always the only ones there, we’d plop down at a wobbly plastic table, stick our feet in the sand, and sip a cerveza fria while our shrimps sizzled on the grill and the surf pounded at our feet. And, with a wink and a nod, we’d toast, as always, la vida loca.