Tuesday, December 15, 2009
Clara's love offensive
In a blog a couple of months ago I told the story of an emaciated Doberman we had inherited and named Clara, as in Rancho Santa Clara.
She had been abandoned by her owners in the fields somewhere near our new house. So Clara joined a pack of dogs who followed Luis, our young velador, or watchman, who came to our house late every afternoon and stayed the night. Clara came along and we started feeding her.
Luis was later fired for stealing. On his way out he handed me Clara on a leash and told me she was now mine. His wife didn't want another dog around, Luis explained, and anyway, he was taking off for the U.S. to find work. "It wouldn't be fair to abandon her," he said.
Indeed. Despite her miserable life and sorry appearance Clara retained a cheerfulness and trust of people that was as disarming as it was disconcerting. As I took the leash, Clara just went over and started licking Stew's face, as if that was the next natural thing to do.
We couldn't adopt her and instead took her to the Sociedad Protectora de Animales, the local humane shelter. I'm the shelter's director and I plead guilty to running roughshod over the long list of abandoned dogs waiting to be admitted and getting Clara into the shelter on a Saturday.
She received the usual care: A period of isolation in case she had some contagious disease, and over a few weeks, some vaccines, followed by sterilization--and lots of food. Her body naturally filled in and her dark brown coat started to shine. A dog trainer at the S.P.A. remarked how unusually cheerful and clever she was, even to the point of quickly learning some basic commands.
For all her charm offensive, though, it took about six weeks before she was adopted. I suspect that people who wanted a gentle dog were afraid of adopting a Doberman with a long snout and what seemed like 150 sharp teeth.
Those looking for a menacing-looking junkyard dog were put off by this specimen of a supposedly fierce breed that somehow couldn't stop squirming and licking strangers.
Someone finally adopted her but the odd details left me worried. Clara was adopted by two school teachers and would live at a school in the tiny town of Corralejo, only a couple of miles from our new house.
How could a dog be adopted by a school? Who would take care of her after school hours? Would she become one of those dogs, all too typical in Mexico, who spend their lives on a broiling rooftop barking all day long, sometimes tied to a post by a piece of wire? At the S.P.A., abused dogs, and abused dog tales, are daily fare so my mind was imagining the worst.
The S.P.A. manager tried to reassure me that the two middle-age school teachers seemed like responsible people who even bought some flea medicine and shampoo for Clara. She would live at the school but there was a janitor who stayed there after hours and make sure nothing happened to her.
I waited another month but finally couldn't contain my morbid curiosity. I asked for the phone of one of the teachers who had adopted Clara and that turned out to be upsetting news. The phone number didn't exist.
So Stew and I took off for Corralejo to check on all the public schools to see if one had adopted a dog. The principal of a grammar school said he didn't know about any dog or recognized the name of the teacher. Likewise no one knew anything about Clara at a nearby kindergarten.
By now Stew and I were concocting nightmare scenarios of what had happened to "our" dog. Why would someone give the wrong phone number in the adoption application? There was no school in Corralejo with an adopted Doberman.
I went back to the S.P.A. and someone remembered something about a Telesecundaria in Corralejo de Arriba vs. de Abajo (in effect, Upper versus Lower Corralejo, an odd distinction for such a micron of a town.) Telesecundarias are public schools in Mexico, usually in rural areas, where some of the instruction comes via televised programs from a satellite network.
After an amazingly good lunch at a tiny restaurant--in what must have been Corralejo del Medio, or Middle Corralejo--the owner told us there was in fact a Telesecundaria in Corralejo de Arriba. It was off the road to our house.
This was the place. All the kids, mostly early teenagers, knew about Clara and took us to see her. She kept her name but in typical Mexican fashion it has been turned into "Clarita" or "Little Clara."
There was nothing little about her--she's on the verge of chubbiness, perhaps 60 lbs. She also seems to have grown, her legs no longer so disproportionately long in relation to the rest of her body.
She jumped on Stew and dispensed her usual slobbering. Stew thinks she recognized us, but I doubt it. That's just Clara.
One of the teachers who had adopted her showed me Clara's house, a small concrete bunker that the janitor had created for her. Dog food was plenty, as well as tortillas and other human fare. Clara posed for pictures with some of her school fans but only briefly, before going off to a fenced-in backyard to attend to something apparently more interesting than all this adulation.
The teacher, Lic. Guillermina Torrecilla, a smiling, pudgy woman in her 40s, said "security concerns" had prompted the adoption of Clara. Someone had broken into the school and stolen not the television sets or the satellite dishes--but the copper plumbing off the bathrooms.
As for the wrong phone number, she doesn't understand what happened.
The teacher hopes that Clara's imposing presence and the reputation of the Doberman breed will scare off any other intruders.
"But she is pretty worthless as a guard dog," I whispered, as if I were telling the teacher a confidential bit of news.
Lic. Guillermina laughed out loud. "I know, I know. We can't even get her to bark."