Then there are the fatalities, animals that get hit by cars, are abandoned or get into fights they lose, whose deaths might be quick or lingering, depending on the circumstances. The latter are painful to for us to deal with and we're lucky to our gardener Félix to help us.
Along with a preternatural memory, and acute senses of hearing and vision, Félix has a unique link of affection and kinship with animals—a vibe—that's rare for someone who has lived all his life in rural Mexico where animals mostly are for food and trade.
I've asked Felix how he developed his instincts for animals but he's never given me a good answer. I remember, though, that when he found his favorite dog Chupitos dead near our ranch, the victim of feral dogs or coyotes, he was near tears as we buried her. Other times he has angrily muttered about people being cruel to animals by mistreatment or neglect.
Felix can pick out the distant chirping of baby birds hanging precariously in a nest on a tree, or the frantic rustle of rabbits through the brush—or the pitiful sound of puppies abandoned by the side of the road.
Once, he found a grocery bag with seven puppies, barely a week old, only four still alive. Separated from their mother so early, there was no alternative but to take the survivors to the vet to be euthanized. Félix couldn't understand the cruelty of someone abandoning the puppies.
|Félix tending to the burro.|
What do you think? So we spayed and patched her up, named her Felisa (after Félix) and three years later she's still with us, a beat-up runt not likely to evolve into a beauty.
Thanks to Félix we've also seen baby rabbits, injured birds and rattlesnakes, though the latter he quickly decapitates with a shovel. I've tried to show him how to dispose of snakes humanely, put them in a bucket and take them out to a nearby field, but even softy Félix has no use for rattlers.
Yesterday after lunch Félix reported finding a nearly dead burro. We went to check and indeed found it lying by the side of the road, breathing laboriously, blood coming out his mouth, his eyes wide open, frozen in uncomprehending terror.
We brought a bucket of water which Felix fed the burro with a plastic bottle, as he rubbed and caressed the animal's head and ears.
Then what? Even Félix said the animal was beyond saving, so it was a matter of how to put it to sleep. He, and later a neighbor, suggested finding a gun, except we couldn't find anyone who had one. None of us knew how to use a gun either.
|Felisa shortly after arrival.|
Ricardo confessed he didn't know much about large animals but after some insistence by Stew—we couldn't allow a long agonizing death for the animal under the blazing sun—he agreed to come by in forty-five minutes.
While we waited for Ricardo, Félix knelt by the dying animal and kept caressing its head and nose and pouring water into his mouth, which it seemed to lap up eagerly.
This was an old though small donkey, guessing by the yellowed and stained teeth. Like so many animals of burden around here, it showed signs of a life of hard labor. It had lacerations all over his body and particularly on his front feet as the result of its owner tying the front legs together to keep it from running away—a common practice.
|Ricardo administers a few final rubs.|
Ricardo arrived with his girlfriend, also a vet, checked the animal gently and pronounced him beyond help. He'd brought a long needle and two bottles of medication, the first a relaxant, the second a poison to stop the heart, a common sequence when euthanizing dogs and cats. He injected them on an artery on the neck of the burro and rubbed gently after each shot.
As expected, the donkey first quit moving and after five or six minutes its heart gave out. As a farewell he took a long pee.
So was the case with Ricardo and his assistant who were stone-faced and silent as we all stood around the dead animal. He confessed he had never had to put a large animal to sleep and was nervous. His fee for the visit and the euthanasia was fifteen hundred pesos or approximately seventy five dollars.
Lack of alternatives quickly answered the question of what to do with the dead burro. The garbage truck wouldn't come until Thursday and probably wouldn't pick up a two- or three-hundred-pound animal anyway.
So Ricardo suggested, and we agreed, it was best just to leave the dead burro there to serve as food for the wild dogs, coyotes and vultures that wander around these parts.