A Portrait of Survival

Vivi jumps down from the dump to nose out our offering.

“The smallest feline is a masterpiece,” said Leonardo da Vinci. And such precious works of art can be found in the most unexpected places. Like a dumpster. That is where, a week ago, we discovered a tiny kitten, scruffy and scared, tossed there like the trash she was picking through, desperate for food. Barbara was the first to spot the little critter, along with three of its siblings. She managed to rescue two; no one knows what became of the other one (or her mama). We nicknamed this remaining little ragamuffin Vivi, short for Sobreviviente, Spanish for survivor.

We started feeding little Vivi, leaving a paper dish under the dumpster. She quickly nosed it out and gobbled it up. We had no idea where she went at night, and worried endlessly during thunder and lightning and rain. Was she cold? Was she wet? Was she afraid? Was she being stalked by predators? But each morning we’d leave a fresh plate of food, and within minutes she’d creep out from behind the bags of garbage or a hole in the tree.

Vivi peeks out from behind the ferns. Warriors are not defined by size, but sheer will to survive.

We took to watching the bin during the day, looking for her, hoping she was okay. One day as we were watching, some guy on the back of a motorcycle roared by and hurled a huge bag of trash into the bin, narrowly missing Vivi. We decided we had to get her out of harm’s way. She made it easy. One afternoon, returning from our walk with Kahlua, out from the ferns in front of the house poked a little white face, followed by a tentative mew. Vivi had found us.

Horatio and Kahlua spot a tiny invader.

So we relocated her dish to the front stoop and she immediately settled in, believing she’d found her fur-ever home. She never came inside, and we never invited her to because, well, it’s not our house. She was content to huddle in the ferns while she got accustomed to her new surroundings, occasionally sneaking through the front entrance for a closer look. When Kahlua spotted her, she got so excited she took to spending hours gazing at the little kitty through the glass door. When we’d leave and return from walks, she would rush over to the ferns, trying to sniff out Vivi. Where’s my new toy?! Vivi was just as curious, and the two nearly touched noses before she lost her nerve and scampered away. When Horatio and Trixie caught sight of her, they stared for a few minutes, yawned and sauntered off, back to the business of snoozing.

Seeing no strings attached, Vivi finally trusts.

It took a day or two before Vivi would let me touch her, then she was all over me, rubbing against my legs, somersaulting over my feet, meowing in my face. She’d found her mama. Unfortunately, I could not be her mama. We were caring for other pets, and with our itinerant lifestyle, there’s no way we could take her, as much as we would have loved to.

Barbara told us at least one of her siblings was still at Dr. Julio’s, the local vet, but he really doesn’t have the space or resources to keep strays (we would learn later the little guy had been adopted and is en route to California). And since the town was stretched to its limit with abandoned cats, nobody would likely take her. Just as we were losing hope, we heard about a no-kill feline rescue shelter, The Purr Project, near Puerto Vallarta. Brilliant, we thought. But then we discovered they charge $100 US to bring them a cat. That’s $130 Canadian cash rubles. We don’t dispute the fee; it goes toward food, shelter and health care for sick, injured and abandoned cats, and without these fees and donations the place would not exist. Still, for us it was a fair chunk of change that we just didn’t have at the moment. So we got the idea to crowd-source on Facebook. We would come up with half if enough kind hearts could chip in $5 each to make up the other half.

Vivi meets her new mama but Kahlua doesn’t want to give her up so easily, as Dr. Julio tries to restrain her.

We had barely posted the story on FB when we heard from the cat ranch that they were over-full, so crowded they could not take little Vivi. We were crestfallen. But, in a testament to the speed and power of social media, we heard from Kimberly, a town realtor, who offered to give the wee warrior a home. Then another volunteered, and another, and another. Out of darkness came light. I almost cried. As I did when we met Kimberly at Dr. Julio’s, where we took Vivi for a check-up, vaccinations and de-worming, for the hand-over. We were all emotional, especially Kahlua (there for a haircut), who was so thrilled to see her blue-eyed beauty again she tried to nudge her out of Kimberly’s arms.

There’s a special place in hell for people who would throw away a living being like garbage. There’s no excuse, especially with so many big hearts in this town who would go out of their way to give that being a fighting chance. And they did for this smallest of masterpieces.

Throw me to the wolves and I’ll return leading the pack . . .Click on this image of little Vivi to see more.

I know this is just one story of one lucky kitty among a bazillion others that were not so lucky. But at least it’s one. We shudder to think what would have become of this small survivor in a world without compassion, and just in the nick of time.

To quote another great mind, Ralph Waldo Emerson: “You cannot do a kindness too soon, for you never know how soon it will be too late.”



Life and Limb

We’re back in San Pancho, about an hour north of Puerto Vallarta, to pet-sit for the summer. We’ve been coming here just about every year since 2010 to care for Kahlua, Horatio, Valentino and Pico (to read previous posts, click here, here and here).

The only thing constant is change, as the saying goes. The sleepy little town, for better or worse, has been discovered. Shops, restaurants, and hotels are sprouting up like weeds. There are even plans for a sprawling, six-story beachfront resort. The beach we once claimed for ourselves, so empty it was in summers, now hops year-round.

Horatio (left) with his trophy wife, Trixie, chillin’ in the backyard.

While the town gallops ahead, the pets have slowed. Los gatos are seven years older; even perennial baby Valentino spends more time snoozing in the sun than stalking in the yard. Wild cat Pico has mellowed and can’t even summon the energy to hiss; he’s instead become a bit of a cuddle bug. I guess he figures, “If these humans haven’t murdered me after seven years, it’s a safe bet they won’t now.” Deaf, monkey-tailed Horatio still settles behind the fan to cool off, and his trophy wife Trixie actually comes out and spends time in the same room with us (when she’s not slumbering behind the TV, which is roughly 12 hours a day).

The biggest change, however, has come to Kahlua, Bill and Barb’s beloved golden doodle. After two serious leg breaks, followed by a cancer diagnosis, they faced the difficult decision to amputate. Kahlua is now a tripawd.

Kahlua, down but not out, catching the breeze.

People, as is their nature, tend to react with horror and anguish when faced with such a life-altering step. Animals, as is their nature, tend to react with a shrug and a “what’s the big deal, I have three others”. That’s been Kahlua’s response, for the most part. Younger, smaller amputees bounce back quickly and resume their normal lives with slight adjustments (some are up and running a day after surgery!). K.’s only problem is that she’s 12 years old and a little too fond of snack time, so she’s packing too many pounds.

Nearly a month after her surgery, she’s still figuring out her balance, especially while doing her business. She has a sling and harness that we use to keep her upright but the hope is, with a little practice and a trimmer figure, one day she won’t need it.

Kahlua trying to steer us to the beach. Not yet, K., not yet . . .

Amputation, while life-saving, causes extra wear and tear on the remaining joints, often resulting in arthritis (or exacerbating it). So it will be a while before we can take K. to her happiest place on earth, the beach. Not that she hasn’t tried to steer us there already during bathroom breaks. We’re just taking it poco a poco, going a little farther each time, and turning back when she starts to tire. We’ve promised her, though, before we leave in two months’ time, she will feel that soft sand between her 12 toes!

A New Dawn, a New Dog

“Her name was Zola, she was a street girl . . . “   I can’t help warping Barry Manilow’s Grammy-winning ditty about a showgirl shimmying and shaking at the famous Copacabana nightclub when talking about Judy and Lee’s new pooch, but the melody just sticks in my head.

Mind if I stay? Zola on the welcome mat.

And this new girl just sticks in your heart, she is so sweet. She was found wandering the plaza, likely shown the door for having the audacity to birth a litter because, well, she had not been spayed (the local animal group eventually had her fixed and returned her to the streets). No one knows what became of her offspring, but the mother herself, a mere two or three years old, was, like so many abandoned animals, shocked and bewildered by her new homeless status. It’s hard to know how long she would have lasted on the mean streets, competing with other, more seasoned dogs for scraps and shelter. But Judy and Lee started feeding her just before Easter, then, one day she just followed Judy home, invited herself in, and has never left.

Safe and sound asleep in the garden.

Like many street dogs, she has issues, but they are mild and she will most certainly overcome. She’s quirky, seems to have a sense of humour, and even shows interest in play. Judy and Lee bought her a nice comfy bed to recline on in the sun, but she prefers to lie next to it, as opposed to on it. Maybe she doesn’t believe she’s worthy of such a cushy life. But then she’ll insist Lee taste-tests food before she’ll eat it, so who knows about her pedigree?

Which one’s the wild dog of Africa?

Even though she’s a Mexican mutt, she’s what you call a brindle. The term describes not a breed, but a coat colouring. You’ll see the tan/brown/black, sometimes tiger-like, streaking pattern on Greyhounds, bull dogs, Corgi’s, Great Danes, Dachshunds, but also, oddly, on cows, horses, guinea pigs, even lizards. The coats are also worn by the wild dogs of Africa. It’s not all that common, but there’s another stray dog who lives on the plaza who’s also a brindle, and Zola loves to run up and kiss his face. Brother? Father?

Without the burden of survival, Zola learns to be playful.

Judy and Lee were originally going to name her Zorra, the female equivalent to Zorro, that famous masked man in the TV western series of the 1950s (black markings on Zola’s face look like she’s wearing a mask). But a friend told them Zorra is a Mexican slang term for prostitute. A quick Google search, however, turns up only that Zorra is of Slavic origin (or Arabic, depending on the source) and means “dawn”.  That would have been pretty, but another search says the name Zola means either “earth” or “tranquil”, depending on the source.

Either way, Zola is as fresh as a new day; a tranquil, down-to-earth pooch who gives love freely, but not loosely. Even Tai would have liked her.

R.I.P., Talyn

“If the kindest souls were rewarded with the longest lives, dogs would outlive us all.” My sister’s golden retriever, Talyn, was a beautiful, big boy with an even bigger heart. Cancer slowly dragged him from us, but he will be remembered always as one of the kindest souls.

R.I.P., Tai. November 2, 2016

Amid the hubbub of Mexico’s famed Day of the Dead, when families celebrate and remember their dearly departed with graveyard vigils, parties and parades, Tai quietly slipped away. Drained and depleted by cancerous tumours he’d been battling for about a year, his strong, sturdy body finally broke down and gave out. We were by his side, along with Judy and Lee, and as heartbreaking as it was to watch him wither, he was one lucky boy who lived one long, lucky life, and he knew it.

Judy and Lee had rescued Tai some 10 years ago when they found him abandoned on the beach. Scars across his face and neck led them to suspect he’d been kept as a fighting dog. They took him in, tamed him, pampered him, and loved him like a child. He repaid them with love, loyalty and devotion. He was our first pet-sit, and his fierce façade was intimidating, a kind of trial by fire. But over the years that we cared for him, we grew to love this special dog and his quirky ways. Not one for play or affection, when he did snuggle or plant a wet one on our face, it was an honour. We’ll miss you, amigo, but we’ll also celebrate and remember you. Always.


Click on this image of Tai to see some photos of the times we spent together.


Click on this image to read the”Mexico Momentos” blog recounting our first meeting with Tai in 2010. It remains one of the most popular posts Robin’s ever written.