The Little Black Dog of San Pancho


The Story of the Little Black Dog of San Pancho

By Robin Roberts

A dog’s life in Mexico can be a miserable existence. He usually comes into the world coddled and cuddled, fussed over and spoiled. What he can’t possibly predict, however, is that all this love and affection diminishes in direct proportion to how fast he grows. As he loses that puppy cuteness he begins to cause a strain on his owner’s space, patience and finances. More often than not, he’ll be kicked to the curb like so much trash. Lost and confused, he’ll roam the streets, scavenging for food and a safe, dry place to sleep. If he begs for scraps, he may come under fire from rocks and sticks — or worse, someone will offer him a nice piece of meat, marinated in poison. There’s also the chance he will be taken in and put to work as a roof dog. He will literally be taken to the roof of a home or business and left there, often with no shade and little food or water, as a cheap form of security. Whatever fate awaits the unlucky hound that was either tossed out or abandoned at birth, the odds of him ending up as man’s best friend are slim. And, despite free spay and neuter clinics in many towns, the cycle repeats itself at a shockingly high rate, with hundreds more unwanted pups born every year.

Last summer, when we were in town to pet-sit three orange cats and a golden doodle, we came upon a sweet-faced little black puppy that was doomed to become just another dead dog walking. But she didn’t know that. She blithely roamed the beaches of San Pancho, and was so cute, so friendly, that she charmed just about everyone she approached with her tongue lolling and her tail wagging wildly. Including us.

When we took the golden doodle, named Kahlua, for her beach walk, the little black dog would bound up to us like a long-lost friend. She would trail us all the way to a beach-front palapa restaurant, then flop under one of our chairs and fall asleep in the sand. When we were ready to leave, she’d leap up and follow us home. But we couldn’t take her in. We already had one dog and three cats to care for (and it wasn’t our home). It broke our hearts to close the door on her innocent little face. Whenever we saw her latched on to someone else, we were relieved, hoping she would eventually find someone who could take her in. One of those she favored was an Arizona woman named Joslin, who’d come to San Pancho with her two young daughters, Summer and Starlie, to volunteer at Grupo Ecológico de la Costa Verde, aka the Turtle Project. The girls fell in love with the pup, and dubbed her “Kenya”. They fed her, played with her, and made sure she had shelter from the storms. When we returned to Canada, we thought of Kenya often, wondering whatever became of her. Perhaps she had found a new home in Arizona?

When we found ourselves back in San Pancho the following summer, we looked for Kenya on the beach, but there was no sign of her. As luck would have it, the Arizona family had also returned, so we asked them what had happened to her. They told us that, as much as they had wanted to, they could not take her back to the U.S. with them. In fact, despite all the fans Kenya had made over the year — and there were many — no one was able to give her a home. But Joslin and others had continued to feed her and treat the occasional skin infection whenever they saw her. After Joslin and her daughters had returned to Arizona, Pat and Peter Riley, a Canadian couple who had spent the summer in San Pancho also volunteering at the Turtle Project, took over her care. One morning, Pat found Kenya bleeding and badly injured. She had been attacked on the beach by two German shepherds. Pat rushed her to a vet in Sayulita. This is where the story could have taken a tragic turn, but there is a happy ending to the saga of the little black dog. Turns out she’s stronger and more resilient than her scrawny frame would indicate; under the personal care of Pat and Peter, Kenya survived the mauling and finally charmed her way into a home. When they prepared to head north, the Rileys could not imagine leaving her behind. Along with their luggage, they packed her up and took her home with them to Vancouver Island, where she’s literally living the life of Riley.

A happy reunion with Kenja (Spanish spelling) in her new "forever home".

“She weighed about 28 pounds when we left San Pancho at the beginning of April, and now she weighs 42 pounds,” Pat tells us in an update. “She had a lot of dental and medical problems, all resolved now and she is doing well. She still has moments of anxiety, especially if we have to leave her for a couple of hours. I think she has been loved by so many people who really cared for her but couldn’t take her with them that she is still scared she will be left again. Time will be a big healer for her. She has brought so much love and happiness into our lives that we could just never be parted from her and will never let her suffer again. She has adapted to her new life as though she has done it all before and is just such a happy little dog. Everyone who meets her falls in love with her. She has certainly captured our hearts.”

Kenja (with her newly spelled name to reflect her Mexican heritage) is one lucky dog, because somebody cared. Fortunately, there are others who also care. But those who do, like the people in San Pancho, and organizations like Sayulita Animals ( in neighboring towns, who facilitate regular free spay and neuter programs, who work tirelessly to educate the local population, who personally rescue abandoned and abused dogs and cats, simply can’t keep ahead of the burgeoning animal population without more help. In the case of San Pancho, the organizers struggle with funding issues just to maintain a regular spay and neuter clinic. The animals left abandoned on the street lead horrific lives, and eventually succumb to injury, disease and starvation (and you don’t want to hear the stories of what becomes of their puppies). They also fall victim to those who would train them as fighters for fun and profit.

With every happy ending like Kenja’s, there are dozens more who meet a gruesome end to their short lives. And for what reason? Unlike a human, a dog doesn’t care about your looks, what’s in your bank account, whether you’re a success or failure, a liberal or a conservative. He will love you anyway. As Andy Rooney once said, “The average dog is a nicer person than the average person.” The people who rescue dogs like Kenja, the people who organize spay and neuter clinics, who start programs like Sayulita Animals, are not average people. They are exceptional people. The day they are the rule rather than the exception is when every dog will have his day.

Here’s the link to the story as published in San Pancho Life:


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