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!

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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.

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

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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.