Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Return of the Velador



The departure of Luis, the velador or watchman, at the construction site several weeks ago was disappointing and upsetting. For some reason we felt like we'd been had.

Initially he seemed like a hard-working guy, with a pleasant wife and a lovely baby daughter, all of them living in dire poverty. We tried to help him by giving him some additional work and made other small gestures, like buying gifts for his baby. He seemed interested in my suggestion that perhaps he could stay on as a gardener and handyman after the house was finished.

Then Luis got fired for supposedly stealing some equipment. He denied it but I was never fully convinced, certainly not enough to demand that the architect give him his job back.

Following that came, through the architect, what sounded like a threat to take legal action against us unless we gave him some money. I don't know if he was serious but stories of gringos getting sued by their domestic workers make the rounds periodically in San Miguel.

The severance pay didn't bother us that much. The amount was small, about $100 dollars. He had worked for several months and probably deserved some payout even if he got fired for cause. If someone, maybe the architect, had explained the situation to us we would have just paid him off.

Yet the suspicions of stealing combined with his threat to come after us legally didn't go down well. We took it as a bit of ungratefulness by someone we had tried to help.

Last Saturday, when we were poking around our new house, Luis showed up with one of his dogs and handed me the leash: "If you don't take her I'm going to abandon her, which doesn't seem fair," he declared.

He had no job or money, he said, and couldn't keep the dog. His wife complained about the dog pestering her while she cooked.

The second part was not hard to believe. The animal clearly was starving, suffering from the kind of serious malnutrition that makes bones poke through the skin and the body seem uncoordinated and fragile, as if it were about to come apart. It's the sight that in humans you associate with a concentration camp.

We had seen the dog before when Luis was still working and had brought her some food and a red collar which we had to adjust to the narrowest setting so it wouldn't fall off her scrawny neck.

Even so, if you could look past her pathetic condition she was a beautiful Doberman with a reddish-brown coat, and the svelte body and disproportionately long snout you associate with the breed.

The dog's oddest trait was her disposition. Dobermans have a reputation for meanness and aggression, but this one seemed unable to stop licking any friendly hand or face, or wiggling like a delirious bag of bones. Why would a creature who obviously had been treated so badly be so trusting and cheerful?

In fact it was probably her seemingly congenital sweetness that did her in. Luis, and later a vet who examined her, told us that it's quite common in these parts for people to get Dobermans as guard dogs, banking on their aggresiveness.

This specimen clearly had failed the mean junkyard dog screen test and had been abandoned by her owners. Luis, who always arrived at his velador shift with three or four mutts in tow, said the Doberman had just casually joined his canine conga line one day.

Stew and I started feeding her, and eventually brought buckets of dry food to the construction site for her and Luis' other dogs which didn't seem so well fed either. The Doberman never reached anything near a normal weight but the depressions between her bones appeared to be filling in.

When Luis got fired the Doberman disappeared.

Standing looking at him now, holding the Doberman's leash in my hand, I was speechless. I was grateful Luis hadn't abandoned this starving animal for a second time. That was kind of him. Whatever weight the dog had gained before was gone. She wouldn't have survived another week on her own.

But I also felt manipulated by a guy I now regarded as somewhat creepy if not outright dishonest.

We took the dog, which Stew promptly named "Clara" (as in Rancho Santa Clara) to the Sociedad Protectora de Animales, a humane shelter where we volunteer. She was examined by the vet, got a deworming pill, and joined the 30-odd other dogs awaiting adoption.

Because of her size--she's only about two-thirds the size of a regular Doberman--we assumed she was a puppy. The vet instead calculated her age at about 18 months, old enough to be a fully developed adult. She weighs about 10 kilos or 22 pounds, or half of what would be considered normal.

An unexpected mercy brought by such gross malnutrition is that Clara doesn't seem to have ever had a litter. According to the vet, bitches don't ovulate when their bodies are so distressed. Her front feet also seem uncommonly large and slightly splayed, like those of a Basset Hound, due to a lack of food and proper bone development.

Feeling guilty for leaving Clara there I blurted out to the S.P.A. manager that we would probably take her if she hadn't been adopted by the time we move into the new house, sometime toward December. She probably had never been confined in her life and I felt the adjustment to life in a kennel would be tough, even with a guaranteed two square meals a day.

Not to worry. We went to see her today and Clara's cheerfulness hasn't left her. Several days of steady meals seem to be filling out her body.

Kathi, the woman who handles and trains dogs at the S.P.A., says Clara is smart, gentle and should be a good candidate for a fast adoption.

As for Luis, his parting words as he walked toward the gate of our property were that he was heading to the U.S. to find a job. It was hard to tell by the tone of his voice if he was angry or sad.

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