Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Chucha Comes Limping Home


Ever since we bought the land for the ranch, almost five years ago, even before we broke ground, a wreck of an old mutt named Chucha became our constant companion. It was love at first sight you might say, at least on her part. We already had two dogs, who weren't too keen on a third one moving in, and we also figured Chucha already belonged to someone else. So we didn't encourage her entreaties much, other than a pat on the head and a kindly word whenever we saw her. 

But Chucha wouldn't give up. Indeed she was relentless: Our new house would be a great place for her to live, she'd decided, and her charm campaign continued even after the fence went up around the property and she ended up on the outside. 

No matter. No hard feelings. Chucha still showed up at the gate every morning and often late in the afternoon for what became a routine of a dollop of food, and most important, ecstatic, feet-in-the-air belly rubs by Stew or me. If we came back late at night, we could count on Chucha and two other "campo dogs," Negro and Brenda, which we suspect were her progeny, to be waiting by the gate. No food was expected at these late-night trysts. Just a little more petting and a sort of group hug Stew had developed.

Don't ever give up.
A campo dog in Mexico is the countryside equivalent of a stray dog in the city, a free agent with no particular owner or home that lives by its wits and whatever food it can scrounge. 

But really, campo dogs is a too-easy euphemism for the lives these animals lead. Cars, other dogs, predators, hunger, human cruelty, disease and other mishaps almost guarantee a short, lonely and miserable life. It’s a miracle--and a testimony her sharp intelligence and instincts--that Chucha lived to be a scarred and grizzled ten- or twelve-year old bitch. 

For the past two weeks Chucha's visits had become irregular and we'd noticed a worsening limp. After missing her feedings and belly rubs for several days, she finally showed up yesterday, noticeably thinner and hardly able to walk. We loaded her into the pick-up where she laid placidly on the back seat on the way to the vet. 

The vet showed me her right leg was badly swollen, the result of an infected insect or snake bite, or a possible tumor. He diagnosed some antibiotics and Chucha finally got her wish: We brought her home and set her up on the back terrace with bowls of food and water and a cushion. She ate a bowlful of food canned food and swallowed her pill but looked muy triste, "very sad," as our gardener Félix describes ill or injured animals. 

Oddly, or because was so obviously weak, our dogs didn't bother her at all. Last night Chucha died quietly, saving herself the agony of a slow, painful death and us the misery of having to put her to sleep. This morning Félix, Stew and I gave her a tearful burial in our ranch. 

We don't know for sure the time of death, but suspect it was 12:30 a.m. That's when our dog Lucy, who normally sleeps by the side of our bed with the other two dogs, started barking and jumping on the bed to wake us up. Stew thought she was agitating to go outside but instead she led him to the kitchen door that opens to the terrace where we had left Chucha. 

Not knowing what was going on, Stew put Lucy outside anyway. Not until the next morning did we figure that Lucy somehow--don't ask why--had sensed that Chucha had died and had tried to let us know. 

Our sadness about Chucha dying is partly soothed by the thought we gave her five very good last years, splendid, in fact, by campo dog standards. She received veterinary care several times, steady food and water and most of all affection, including those delirious belly rubs she so much appreciated. And in the end she got her one wish: To move in with us. 

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