Excerpts

Adventures in Pet-Sitting (Mexico) 2010 & 2011

Chapter 17 It’s A Dog’s (And Cat’s) Life – San Pancho, 2010

http://www.goodreads.com/story/show/268296-adventures-in-pet-sitting http://jaltembajalapeno.com/culture/books/adventures-in-pet-sitting-robin-roberts/

Chapter 28 Fleece, Flannel, Fog And Fire – Erongaricuaro, 2010

Before they left on their European vacation, Jon and Phyllis gave us the rundown on the routine: Luna sleeps on her cushion on the bedroom floor; Rigo sleeps on a blanket atop a hope chest at the end of the bed; cats curl up wherever they fancy. Oh, and their day starts at 6:30 a.m. We smiled and nodded politely, thinking, “Yeah, that ain’t gonna happen.” We’re not normally morning people, but with these pet-sitting gigs, we were fine with getting up early to ensure routines were uninterrupted. But 6:30?? It was still dark at 7:30, for crying out loud! Roosters were still snoring, stars were still twinkling, church bells were not ringing. It just seemed rude to the sun to rise before it did, so we aimed for what we considered to be a reasonable 8 a.m. Ha-ha. We quickly learned it was a luxury to stay snuggled under all that flannel until 7:30.

The first night, when we all trooped to the bedroom, Luna settled nicely into her cushion, Rigo took his place at the end of the bed, the cats were out prowling, as cats are apt to do. All was proceeding as predicted. An hour after lights out, the wind was knocked out of me. Without warning, Luna had belly-flopped onto the bed and landed with a heavy thud on my stomach. As I gasped for breath, Rigo clambered up and squished his wet nose into my forehead. Then, from under the blankets at the foot of the bed, a lump started moving stealthily toward us. Think Cato from The Pink Panther movies. It was Cosmos, and he was hell-bent on staying undercover for his sneak attack. We assumed it was first-night jitters with the new humans, and decided to relent just this once. So we settled back down, and tried to get comfortable in the middle of this three-ring circus, but it was just not working. Who can sleep with 60 pounds of chocolate Lab on your gut and dog breath in your face? And that furry thing making its way up my bare leg better be the cat. Finally, we decided, that’s it, everyone out. But even with the special midnight treats to placate them, the brood was not happy about being banned from the inner sanctum. The dogs pawed on the door and the cat squeezed through the slats in the French doors leading in from the living room. We awoke — before the sun — bleary-eyed and cranky. We needed a new plan. Meanwhile, the beasts were bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and revved up for breakfast.

Chapter 25 I Left My Heart – San Pancho, 2011

The first thing we noticed was the spanking new bridge. It actually looked strong enough to withstand a raging river, should it — and the need — once again arise, and we hope it does not. Other than a few new stores and restaurants here, a few closed down there, the town looked pretty much the same as it had last year. Even the “h” in the marker sign for San Pancho was still missing: “Welcome to San Panc o”. And, happily, Kahlua was the same and remembered us. She wagged her whole body, feather duster of a tail swishing back and forth, and flashed us a big wide smile as we came through the door. The cats, like all cats, were pretty much, “meh, who cares?” Behind them, taking it all in with narrowed eyes, was a ferocious-looking beast that went by the name of Rufus.

We had met the Thai Ridgeback briefly last year, when out of the blue one day he bounded down the stairs, pushed past us like he owned the joint and ambled inside to lap up a quick drink from Kahlua’s bowl. Then he was gone before we had time to realize who he was. If he’d worn a watch he would have checked it (“Mustn’t delay, late for an important date, you know!”). At first we thought it was Tai, who was in town from Patzcuaro with Judy and Lee, but when we looked up the steps to see if they were following, we realized this cowboy was traveling sans posse. And, even though he was a blur, we noticed he looked slightly different: Tai has a scar across his neck, Rufus has one branded into his side. The stories of “Rufy” vary in colour and drama depending on whom you talk to. One of the more theatrical is that, like Tai, Rufus was raised to be a fighter. When the cops busted the ring, they released the hounds, who had been hardened by abuse, into the streets. The theories of Rufy’s scar range from a bullet to a rusty garden tool used to get his dander up for the ring. Others speculate that he simply gashed himself on barbed wire or that it was the result of an old-fashioned dog fight. But that’s not nearly as sensational. In any event, the good news for Rufy is that he originally had a good home with an ex-pat. The bad news is that he was passed off when that owner didn’t want him anymore. The good news is, he found a new owner who did want him. The bad news is, his new owner couldn’t keep him long. The good news is, he found yet another owner who loved him to bits. The bad news is, that new owner soon had to return to the U.S. The good news is, Bill and Barbara took him in. News to us was: we’d now be caring for him, in addition to Kahlua and the three amigos.

Despite their vastly different backgrounds — Rufus as a foster dog lost in the system, and Kahlua as a privileged breed coveted for her pedigree — the two got along like BFFs. The cats, however, accepted him with varying degrees of distaste. Horatio, poor, funny, demented Horatio, plodded obliviously along through the hazy path of his peculiar existence, shouldering past the muscular beast as though he were a piece of furniture. Valentino, hunter of all things (small), gave Rufy a wide berth, eyeing him as though he were a fire-breathing dragon. Pico just ran. There must have been something in Pico’s demeanor or essence or pheromones, maybe his feral streak, that set Rufus off. Whenever the cat crept into the house, Rufy would tear after him. Theirs was the uneasiest co-existence of all.

Because of his unhappy history of being pawned off from one home to another, Rufus has some issues, understandably. He is not your typical tail-wagging, tongue-lolling, Frisbee-fetching mutt. He’s a serious dog. He doesn’t particularly appreciate being touched, especially before he’s gotten to know you and trust you. His steady, piercing gaze can make you gulp, and it will always be you who lowers your eyes first. For the first few days I took a cue from Pico and gave him his space, made no sudden movements and never, ever attempted to hold his gaze. After a few days, it was he who approached me. I patted his head firmly but tentatively and only for a minute. After that, I turned away. I decided not to fawn over him or baby him. He appreciated that, and we got along just fine. Besides, despite his freakishly frightening appearance, he turned out to be quite a sissy. He whimpered like a puppy when he wanted to go out, which looked and sounded bizarre coming from those bone-crushing jaws…

Chapter 12

The Colonel, The Countess & The 10,000-Mile Front Yard – Barra de Potosi, 2011

When we drove through their gate and opened the car door, Tessa, aka The Contessa, jumped right in and began licking my face. The dog with the dazzling smile had not forgotten us, even after a year between us. In the driveway, Clinker, aka The Colonel, greeted us with a whirling dervish of a spin. A bandage firmly attached to his stub of a tail told us he still suffers from a chronic case of obsessive tail-chasing. But who was that peeking out from behind a palm tree? Before we left Canada, Zoe had warned us that there was a new addition to the canine family, but likely not for long, as he was up for adoption. Coffee was his name (his colouring suggests more of a cafe con leche, but who’s quibbling), and his sad story echoes that of so many mutts in Mexico.

For two months, each time Zoe drove into town on errands, she saw a starving dog, covered in mange, lying in the street. And each time, the sight would bring her to tears. She kept dog food in the car with her that she would give to him. Then one day, he was gone. She thought for sure he had died. But on her next trip into town, she spotted him, again lying in the hot sun, passed by cars and people who appeared not to notice (or care). She stopped and approached him. His breathing was shallow; he was not long for this world. But his eyes met Zoe’s, and something in them tugged at her heart. He was hanging on for someone, anyone, to save him. She phoned some friends to come help her load him into her car. When she took him to the vet, she was told there was little hope. She also learned that one of his back legs was lame; he had likely been hit by a car, which broke his leg, and it had never been set. But she would not give up on him; there was something in those eyes. She instructed the vet to treat him for mange and dehydration. She then bundled him up and took him home. She bathed him, fed him, cuddled him and, with the exception of a mangled back leg that will forever hover above the ground, transformed him into what she calls “a real dog”, and a very grateful companion.

Once she was sure he was as good as he was going to get, Zoe posted Coffee’s profile on the local animal rescue website. Unfortunately, there have been no takers. So, in addition to Tessa and Clinker, we now had temporary custody of a sweet, handsome, slightly goofy rescue dog who actually looked and acted a little like Santa’s Little Helper, the dog from The Simpsons. He was endlessly fascinated by everything around him, and blithely occupied himself for hours lying on the grass gazing up at the waving palm fronds, watching pelicans cruising above the sea, and chasing lizards around the yard. He snuffled about the grass, digging at what only he could sense, and was ecstatic when let loose on the beach. Having been a town dog, however, he was in awe — and fear — of the ocean. At first, he was scared to get his feet wet, leaping away just as the waves reached him. After two weeks of watching Tessa body surf with abandon, he took his first tentative steps into the water, sniffing and licking it. He stared in horror as it lapped over his feet. When he survived that, he ventured in up to his ankles, a week later his knees, then, a week after that, his elbows, until finally he allowed the incoming surf to brush his belly. As the five of us trekked along a mostly empty beach, Tessa and Clinker would confidently run ahead, while Coffee hung back, as though in a Rudyard Kipling poem, three feet (prints) trotting behind. Unfortunately, the more confidence he gained the farther he’d roam. He’d bark wildly at other people and dogs on the beach and, his survival instincts still firmly in place, attempt to carry home dead birds. So, we leashed him. And, surprisingly, he took to it immediately, walking calmly alongside us. It was almost as though he welcomed the structure and security of knowing his place in the pack. Tessa, having a bit of border collie in her, could not be contained. She roamed far and wide, but, as the days and weeks stretched on, she knew to come when called. She even began trotting alongside us all, content to be part of a well-organized pack.

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