Still, it taught Stew and I how little we know about the ways of rural Mexico and also about the perils of hubris, that mythological Greek sin of arrogance—in this case how things can go awry when foreigners here presume to impose their perspectives on the environment around them.
To recapitulate, Benji—who turned out to be a female—is one of friendly pack of anywhere from five to a dozen dogs that hang around the gate to our ranch begging for food.
They are a discordant choir whose voices change daily, except for a few regulars like Benji, who's been coming around for three or four years. In addition to feeding them, we took several to be sterilized when a spay-and-neuter mobile clinic came to a town near our ranch, and occasionally also others to the vet when they appeared sick.
|Benji after her date at the vet and the groomer.|
We took her to the vet, who stitched her up and also groomed her to get rid of her matted, flea-infested fur. She spent two nights at the vet, plus another eight or nine days recuperating at the home of friend nearby who keeps dogs and had an extra kennel. The total tab for Benji's redo came to four thousand pesos or about two-hundred and twenty-five dollars.
At that point Stew and I figured that Benji, whom we thought was a stray, didn't have much future running around loose in the campo.
For these free-range mutts, life is indeed nasty, brutish and short.
Félix's first dog, Chupitos, was killed by other dogs and partly disemboweled by the time he found her. Negro, a big black and very sweet dog was poisoned. Osita, possibly Benji's mother, one day disappeared.
On the nearby roads, carcasses of dogs and cats killed by cars are almost as ubiquitous as household trash. The hungry neighborhood mutts clean-up the fatalities swiftly and matter-of-factly: We've seen dead burros and horses disappear within forty-eight hours.
So we advertised for people who might want to adopt her and found a guy who lived in downtown San Miguel and was delighted to take Benji, which coincidentally looked very much like a dog he had recently lost.
We exchanged handshakes with the new owner in the parking lot of the vet's office, he took Benji, and Stew and I mentally patted ourselves on the back, proud of our good deed.
This feel-good story, however, quickly unraveled. Benji who seemed docile and friendly to the new owner decided she wanted to go home—back to the old pack of mangy dogs outside our ranch gate.
In an incredible feat of instinctual navigation that stills boggles my mind, just a few hours after her arrival at the new home, Benji escaped and over a period of no more than thirty-six hours, walked eighteen kilometers, through busy San Miguel streets and highways and other life-defying obstacles, almost to the gate of our ranch.
More precisely we found her on the road about one kilometer or so from our house, exhausted but walking determinedly home. When we called her name, she happily came and jumped into our car. We were going to town but turned around to our ranch, fed her and left her just outside our gate.
The prospective new owner, who was very upset and apologetic, by now was running ads for missing pets on the San Miguel radio station and was delighted to have Benji back, or so he thought.
But when we went to collect Benji the next morning to bring her to her new owner, I ran into Vicente, a farmer across the road.
I chirpily told him that we had found a home for Benji. Not so chirpily he informed me Benji was his dog, a member of his family.
Gotta be kidding, was my first thought. This skeletal wreck of a dog without a name, a collar or any sign of human care or affection is a member of your family? Presumably one of the ten or twelve dogs that come to our place begging for food almost every day?
I pleaded how Benji would be much healthier and happy in her new home. He should be glad that someone is adopting her. Vicente wasn't moved.
I assumed he was angling for some money—another error on my part—and I offered him five-hundred pesos, or approximately twenty-five dollars.
But Vicente, stone serious, wouldn't budge and I certainly wasn't going to get into a bidding contest, over a dog that could have ended up costing us close to three-hundred dollars.
So it was so long to Benji and my arrangements for a better life for her. We've only seen Benji once since her return. I suspect Vicente might have her permanently tied up after my rescue attempt.
Over the next few days, I started walking back the Benji story in my mind and parsing what went wrong. My two grievous sins, it seems were ignorance of the reality of how rural folk treat their animals, plus my assumption that I could, or even had the right to, intervene and make life better for one of them.
Vicente and for that matter just about all my Mexican neighbors have vastly different ideas about the worth and proper care of household pet. But for Benji's amazing trip back, I doubt Vicente would have missed her.
Indeed, the nearby towns of Biznaga and Sosnabar teem with nameless, collarless dogs, many in awful condition. That might look to us like gross animal neglect but most of those dogs probably belong to someone.
I've attended the local church for baptisms and first communions, and it's not unusual for mangy dogs to amble in and park themselves somewhere to scratch their fleas as if they were part of the service.
Vicente wasn't kidding about Benji—our moniker—being a member of his family, not some stray animal for me to rescue much less buy.
For her part, Benji dramatically made her choice to return, against all odds, to where she hangs out, squalid as precarious as her living arrangement may seem to us.
Essentially she said to me, "Alfredo, thanks but no thanks. I'd rather stay here."
Ron, a dear friend of ours from Texas who used to be a Roman Catholic priest, and who now lives even deeper in the campo than we do, once gave Stew and me a piece of advice about dealing with the often illogical way—or so it seems to us—that Mexicans around us navigate through life.
It's a nugget Stew and I keep repeating to each other at least once a day.
"Life in Mexico, " Ron counseled, "is what it is."
Not what we think it ought to be but what it in fact is. Foreign do-gooders with big ideas: Proceed with caution.