Hmm, do these campo dogs, as locals call these roaming countryside mutts, sleep in on weekends?
Those who show up mob Stew, who lugs a bucket of dry dog food, as if were a savior which indeed he is, because without his handouts many of these dogs would starve or get run over on the busy nearby road. Just as important as food, Stew doles out affectionate pats on their heads and a bit of conversation that is much appreciated though neither side understands a word.
|Benji: Howl are yoo?|
Did some gringo lose—or cut loose—this beautiful, gentle dog to fend for himself? If you met Benji and shook his furry paw, the cruelty of someone abandoning him, if that's what happened, would gnaw at you.
Brief bouts of barking and snarling erupt occasionally over who gets which pile of food. But so far not one in this scruffy gang has tried to bite either one of us, though their individual friendliness quotients vary.
We can pick up and hold Malcolm, a fidgety fifteen-pounder, with short, orange fur and a tail perfectly curled like a doughnut, and he'll return the affection with frantic licking. Others, like Whitey, an elegant, long-haired fellow so perfectly white that at first we mistook it for albino, is friendly but not ready for a close-up.
|Food call, and Stew forgot to comb his hair.|
In addition to about $50 dollars a month for food; spaying and neutering of anyone we get a hold of; plus occasional emergency trips to the vet when one dog shows up sick or injured, the costs are mounting. Our fifty-pound bags of food come from an animal feed store, with one of the most festive facades in town, called "La Vaca" or "The Cow." Appropriately, its business motto is "Muuu," or "Mooo," for those of you who don't speak Spanish
|A storefront you won't soon forget.|
|Brenda, one of the old timers.|
The two pack elders are Brenda and Osita. Brenda is the quintessential mutt, black with orange spots, and possibly related to Chucha and Negro, who were the original members of the pack but have since died and are buried in our pet cemetery on one corner of the ranch.
All told, twelve animals reside at the cemetery, including our late cat Ziggy that came with us from Chicago, one of Félix's dogs, and a litter of seven days-old puppies he found in a plastic grocery bag by the side of the main road, about a kilometer away. Of the puppies, four were alive but even those had to be euthanized after the vet said they couldn't live without their mother.
After each arrival at the cemetery (or departure, if you will), Félix paints the decedent's name on a rectangular tile we buy from a building materials yard. The puppies' grave he simply marked "Los Hermanos."
|Malcolm: Mighty mini mutt|
Osita is a another survivor. Her black-and-white, longish, wiry fur earned her the name, which means "Little Bear" in Spanish. She's been around almost since we moved into the ranch, about six years ago. She showed up pregnant one time and Félix heard she'd later given birth to a litter of eight. Shortly after that she showed up pregnant again and between malnourishment and the burden of caring for her second litter, Osita almost didn't make it.
We asked her nominal owner, a neighbor, if we could have her spayed but he dithered. We suspect he was selling the puppies at the Tuesday flea market in town. So when Osita seemed to have recovered, we quietly loaded her in the truck and took her to be spayed. She's transformed from scrawny and scared to chubby and somewhat affectionate. She'll sit for a rub on the head or a quick backrub but otherwise keeps to herself.
|Stew ready to offer some counseling to the Doofus Sisters|
|Osita: Dowager and veteran mother.|
Stew has reasoned that a daily ration of dog food, and a relatively safe place to hang out away from the busy highway traffic a kilometer away is not a bad deal for "our" campo dogs. We certainly don't want any additions to our private reserve of five dogs and two cats, plus Félix's dogs, Palomita and Luiso, who come to work with him and also get fed.
And we surely don't want an encore of one of our stupidest stunts in animal welfare when we first moved to the ranch. As the winter months ground on, and the green pasture turned to brown stubble, the flocks of sheep and goats wandering outside the fence looked ever
Whitey would be more so if he had a bath
Bad idea, kiddo. Shortly afterward, seemingly every cow, goat and sheep in the county was munching on the stuff—and mooing, bleating and harrumphing for more. Sorry guys, we told them, but there's only so much we can do.