Agradecimiento (Gratitude)

For me, part of learning to live in Mexico has been learning to live with sadness. This is a truth that’s hard for me to admit because there is so much to love about this country. In the spring, Mexico City is a riot of the most beautiful flowers: bright purple Bougainvillea, deep lavender Jacaranda, calla lilies, geraniums. Some drape over walls painted in the richest colors of blues, yellows and reds. In springtime, the streets also come alive with fruit and vegetable vendors….they sell fresh artichokes door to door, and lychees, and strawberries so fragrant they seem like flowers themselves.  I love the man who parks at the busy intersection near my house in a battered wreck of a car and posts a sign on the roof   “4-leaf clovers for sale.” His little clover plants spill out of the open trunk. I love the informal markets, the used clothes bazaar, the lady who owns the corner store and feeds my children dulces after school , the street sweepers who brush the sidewalks clean with brooms made of twigs. I love the hidden shrines to the Virgin Mary tucked into stone walls. I love the sound of the steam whistle each evening as the  comote  (sweet potato) cart passes by. Mexico takes my breath away. It is like living inside a grand work of art.

Because this country has so much beauty, the  lack of compassion for animals is somewhat incomprehensible. I cannot understand how people can walk past a dog lying on the ground with a broken leg without any inclination to help. I can’t understand how people so often ignore the animal so weak from hunger its body shakes. Or those who put their dogs on roofs and leave them there for years without even a shelter to escape the rain. I have no idea where this cruelty comes from. Many people here still maintain that dogs “have no souls”. Maybe that’s the problem. I just don’t know.  What I do know is that I come face to face with cruelty and suffering everyday. It’s exhausting.

One day not long ago, I stopped to feed a small group of street dogs I care for. One, a very old yellow dog, couldn’t get up. His leg was so badly fractured it  curved forward. The break had been left untended and  infection  had spread into the bone. I picked my friend up, howling in pain, to take him to the vet. A passerby yelled that the dog had an owner and I was stealing him. I just shook my head. This dog wasn’t owned, wasn’t loved, wasn’t fed. It was simply dying a slow and awful death. At the vet’s office, before he was euthanized. I stroked his head and hoped his passing was gentle. That’s what I could give. One last moment of love and affection.

my friend with fractured leg

For awhile I had two puppies at the house. There were three others living in the street . I wanted to help but first I had to find homes for the ones I already had. It didn’t take me long but two of the street pups died in the road during the wait. I pulled one of the bodies off the pavement and put it under a tree. It was all I could do. This is my life. For every dog I help, thousands more are left to suffer alone. My heart gets tired.

What keeps me going are moments of happiness as powerful as a strong embrace. They come from connecting with people who believe, as I do, that to help even a little is better than doing nothing at all. They come from the those who’ve helped me find homes for the dogs I’ve taken in. And they come from the simple knowledge that sometimes a life can be transformed, and a creature once considered worthless now has a place in someone’s heart.  Love, a home, is there anything better?


Maggie and Emile

Maggie  the adorable. That’s what I called her.  Maggie looked like one of those funny stuffed animals with the enormous, sad eyes.

Maggie  once lived in the mountains near Mexico City. Her family was so  poor they could hardly feed themselves. Their cinderblock dwelling didn’t have a roof, only some sheets of tin and plastic to keep out the cold and rain. The floors were dirt. The family cooked outside at an open pit. The only water they had was hauled up in buckets. There was no toilet. There wasn’t much of anything nice except for the sweet dogs that roamed the area.

This is where Maggie came from

At one point, six dogs lived outside the family’s shack. The dogs were part of the landscape but I don’t think the family felt  they were “theirs.” They all just lived together as squatters. I met this family. I liked them. They were kind people. But they couldn’t take care of the dogs. They didn’t have money for luxuries like dog food. So, I began bringing up bags of kibble to help, hoping eventually they’d be able to support the animals themselves.  Then one day the family was gone. A neighbor said they’d returned to their village. They’d come back, she promised, but didn’t know when. In a few weeks, maybe more, she said with a shrug.

The dogs were left behind. It was winter and cold. They were hungry. One old husky had a mangled and twisted leg. It could hardly walk let alone scavenge for food. Another, a gorgeous young black lab, Loki, kept wandering away onto the highway below. I’d pick him up and bring him back to the shack.  I brought more food. Each time, the dogs swarmed me, desperate to eat.  And then I saw Maggie.  She was a tiny little thing, shaky from hunger. Her belly was like that of a starving child, enormous, worm-filled, hollow. Pus ran from her eyes.  She didn’t have much life left in her.  So I brought her home. Slowly, she  healed. When she felt better, Maggie began to charm us with her joy and happiness.

I have always liked big sturdy mutts. Maggie was little but she was a truly a big dog in a small body. She was a gift.  When she was healthy and ready for a home, my heart rebelled. The idea of giving her away was unimaginably hard.  I felt the only way to let her go was to carry her into even greater happiness. But how could I find a home where Maggie would be wrapped in a love more powerful than the love I could offer?  And so I turned to a friend, a lover of  lap dogs, who worked hard to find Maggie’s perfect place. She was spotted by a family with lots of kids, two other dogs, and more love to give. When they saw Maggie’s photo and a video of her wiggling happy body, that was it.  It was Maggie they wanted. When I arrived at the airport after a 12 hour journey from Mexico City, Maggie’s new owners literally pulled her from my arms. They couldn’t wait to have her, to take her home.

Maggie and her new family

So Maggie left to her new life and I was happy. That’s how it should be.


Phinney (now Bendito)

My son Finn (whom we call Finny) named the little brindle pup. He called him “Phinney.” I liked that.

Phinney came from the same shack as  Maggie. A few days after I picked up Maggie, I went to check on the other dogs. I’d seen Phinney before, hungry but okay. But on this day, he was lying in the dirt, unable to move, covered in bloody wounds from this throat to his belly. It took a vet nearly three hours to repair the gaping holes. After surgery I carried the limp pup to my house and put him in a kennel to rest. For nearly two weeks, he wouldn’t leave the kennel. He’d  slip out to pee but never when I could see him. He was traumatized and I wondered if he’d  ever be okay. But dogs have a resilience I find hard to comprehend. They forget and forgive. Eventually, Phinney’s desire to be with us overcame his fear. Day by day he ventured farther from the kennel. Sometimes I could see him watching us from the corner of the garden. Then he was peeking into the house. And finally, he was just part of the family, pressed up against the other dogs, claiming a small spot on the cushion in the living room.

We had Phinney for almost two months.  He was a shy spirit with a gentle way about him.  Like Maggie, it was hard to let Phinney go. I worried that another change would send him back into the dark place of his fear.  I worried at the way he followed me around, counting on me to be there for him. I felt like giving him away was letting him down. But love comes. A kind woman, Susan, saw his photo and was intrigued. She saw something in his eyes that moved her. She offered to“foster” Phinney and find him a home in Albuquerque where she lived. That home, in the end, was hers. Susan helped Phinney finish healing, and in turn, Phinney became a friend to Susan’s lonely dog, Kichi. Today Kichi and Phinney (renamed Bendito, “blessed”) are inseparable. They seem meant to be together.

The list of people who helped Phinney and Maggie get a chance at a better life is long. To all, thank you. For me, these two dogs are a constant reminder that sometimes we are blessed. We, who love our dogs, may take it for granted that we can always care for them, feed them, give them a warm place to sleep.  I have learned that poverty can get in the way of our desires. I believe the family in the mountains that first had Maggie and Phinney would have cared for them if they were able. But they were not.

I say this because they did eventually return to their shack. The remaining dogs, the broken down husky, the old mama, were there waiting . The wife of the family seemed happy to see them. She even put old t-shirts on two of the weakest dogs.

But that’s all she had to give.  I still bring the food.

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5 Responses to Agradecimiento (Gratitude)

  1. Jo Anne Assini says:

    Wonderful to read, sad to think of Mexico’s dogs without you there….

    This morning I took my 3 to the dog park…Lily ran with joy and strength…everyone who sees her falls in love. Her spirit is so strong and beautiful. And that is how every dog you touched will live….

  2. PAMELA ZILLY says:

    I lived in Mexico and have experienced the love of the people and culture but could also not fathom or explain the cruelty. All I can say is that the poverty is such that dogs are no more wanted than flies and unfortunately breed like them. The only reason to have a dog in Mexico,is if you are poor, it’s for protection. Only the rich in Mexico, the “uber rich”, would have a dog as a pet and then it would be an expensive breed with a pedigree. In one day I watched in horror, a bus driver intentionally swerved in the street to try and hit a dog…thank God he missed! In the next hour, I watched as a very old woman saw a dead dog on the side of the road and found a sheet of cardboard to cover it with. Then I had to grab some small children by the scruff of their necks to stop them from hitting a street puppy with a rock. I tried to shame them in my broken Spanish…..this is the Mexico I know, the side of Mexico I don’t love, except for the compassion of the old woman. I did have the wonderful experience of adopting a street dog on my own..she followed me home one day. I named her Pulga..the sweetest dog, ever and an American GI family took her. My beloved Leica, a German Shepherd guard dog of my apartment complex that I befriended, was poisioned by the monthly sweep of street dogs in Cholula and poor Leica had gotten out in the street the wrong day….so, this blog has opened up the flood gates of memory of my remarkable years in Mexico. I am in awe of you hard work and compassion and hope you can not only rescue Mexican dogs but the hearts of their countrymen.

    • Pamela,

      Thank you for your thoughts. You are right, what needs to happen here is a cultural shift. I keep thinking that if only the government a some big group would sponsor an educational campaign about animals and compassion it might make a difference. Maybe I’m dreaming but my hope is I’m not.

  3. Amanda Espinosa says:

    Thank you so much for doing what you do. I bought my dog from a lady who was selling her and her brothers in a plastic bag in puerto Nuevo. She was such a cute puppy but she was so malnourished she was throwing up and had diarrhea. We. Ought her puppy food and fresh ham and a warm blanket and she slept with us for the remainder of our stay in Mexico. When it came time to head back to California we had to smuggle her over and she was just such a great puppy from the start. Soon after she became situations in our home in California we noticed she had mites and her health just deteriorated from there. She was diagnosed with demodex mange. For 2 years we did mitaban dips, ibromectin, antibiotics, home treatments with apple cider vinegar and baking soda, hydrogen peroxide, everything. My mom spent about 3,000 dollars from her savings & I helped pay whatever I could with my dog walking money, and it just broke our hearts to see her in such pain. But even then, with all the treatments she went through Goofey remained optimistic and happy and loving and trusting of us. Now, 3 years later. She’s free of mange and happy and has about the cutest, most lovable personality ever. She has bald patches and dry skin which I’m currently trying to find a solution for (originally, how I stumbled across your story). 3 vets told us to put her down but as she was so young, and still had such life in her eyes, we couldn’t do it. I absolutely applaud you for what you do, and I am so glad people like you exist in this world. I am in tears while I’m typing this and I just hope you continue doing what you’re doing. I wish nothing but the best for you. Goofey and I appreciate it more than words can explain.

  4. Leroy says:

    Oh that brings tears my eyes, thankyou for being so amazing.

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