Dogs

The Familia Has Grown!

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Figaro has arrived!

I was awakened at five a.m. this morning by the sound of our neighbor’s dog barking, once again. This miserable dog barks constantly at night; everyone on the street complains to each other about it but no one wants to approach our neighbor about it. The fragility of the peace we enjoy on the block is apparently worth the molestia of this poor dog’s incessant barking. But it also got me to thinking about dogs, what makes them happy and what turns them into neurotic messes, and it reminded me also that in my attempts to once again post something here every once in a while, I have neglected to note the arrival of our newest animalito, who certainly at least hasta la fecha (up until now) counts among the really happy ones.

Indeed, our most significant domestic news is that we have now a wonderful new family member, a rescued Standard Schnauzer puppy we named Figaro after our last schnauzer, who died way too young and was a lovely dog. He has given Reina a new lease on life and the two of them have been inseparable from the moment they laid eyes on each other. Their antics playing and running around the house and garden have had us in stitches much of the time. I had been thinking for quite awhile that it might be a nice idea to look for a second dog to be a companion for Reina – somehow she had severed a ligament in one of her hind legs, and ultimately needed surgery to repair it. While she had recovered perfectly well from the surgery and two nights in the fancy orthopedic veterinary hospital in Guadalajara, she was a bit tentative in running around and had become a lot more quiet. Also, hard to believe, but she is nine years old now….not a puppy herself anymore! So I had been thinking that maybe a second dog might be just the trick to perk her up. But with everything else going on, the usual stream of houseguests and our own travels hither and yon, I never had time to get really serious about it.

Until, one day glancing through Facebook, I saw a post from a woman who was fostering what was apparently a quite fine Standard Schnauzer who had been running loose on the carretera, then had been hit by a car. She and another good samaritan ran to rescue the dog and take him to a vet – it turned out his injuries were minor and after a week of observation and a bath and a proper schnauzer haircut (apparently he had been out there for awhile, and was matted and filthy and pretty miserable) he was now ready for adoption as no one had stepped forward to claim him. When I showed the Facebook post to Arnold he was as curious as I was and – well, it was indeed a schnauzer, his favorite breed. I wrote back to the lady immediately and said we were interested in meeting this dog. It seemed like potentially the best of both worlds: while we both had loved the idea of having another schnauzer, there is no way you can live in Mexico and not rescue a stray. There are just so many in shelters and loose on the streets who need homes. This solved that ethical problem and from the picture he also looked like a particularly fine dog. I just had a funny feeling looking at his pictures, you know, one of those very powerful sensations, that this dog might well be the one for us and I determined to move heaven and earth if I had to, to at least get to meet him. He looked wonderful, cheerful and intelligent, in the Facebook photos. Somehow it just seemed like we had to pursue it.

The lady said “well, there are two people ahead of you who have expressed an interest in him, and I am going to interview them and check out their situations, and if neither of them works out for any reason, I will let you know.” We were of course crestfallen thinking that surely one of those petitioners would work out – it seemed as though quite a number of people had seen the photo of this doggie and suspected that he was something pretty special. The vet had estimated that he was somewhere between six and eight months old; he still had several of his baby teeth. I loved the idea of a younger dog we could train and socialize ourselves. I told her that we were very seriously interested, that we’d had two schnauzers back in the States, and please to keep us posted. Sure enough, the following day she phoned to say Potential Adopters #1 and #2 hadn’t worked out, and were we still interested and available to see the dog? #1, it turned out, was about to depart for a six-week trip leaving this puppy in the care of a housekeeper (or someone) and no, that isn’t the way to bond with a puppy who is newly rescued from what was obviously a terrifying experience out on the streets. #2 was a sadder story – a lady who already had two dogs, a younger one who would have been a fine companion to a new, younger dog, but also had a 15-year-old second dog who was dying of cancer. There was no way the couple fostering Figaro were going to “do that” – e.g. sic an exuberant and playful puppy – on a dog who was clearly in need of as little external stress as possible. So that left us.

It turned out that the dog’s foster parents had a lunch club meeting that day at a restaurant literally a block away from us, so I suggested that they drop the dog off here, see our setup, meet us and our other animals, and then come back after their luncheon and we’d all see how Reina and the new dog were getting along, and take it from there. When they arrived soon thereafter, they could see that our property is totally walled and safe, and it was pretty obvious that this dog was going to have a pretty cool life here.

They brought him in, took his leash off, and we brought Reina out. They sniffed each other, touched noses while all four of us were watching them anxiously for any signs of aggression or discomfort. After two or three minutes of sniffing and investigating, they took off playing and chasing each other across the lawn; then they played and played for a couple of hours until they both just collapsed in a heap for doggie naps; then they woke up and started in again until the foster parents came back from their lunch. When they asked “how is it going?”, all we had to do was point to the black flash alternately chasing or being chased by the white flash across the lawn and then both of them on their backs rolling around on the grass or nuzzling one another. To say they were getting along was the understatement of the century.

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Simultaneous sleeping, after a morning of running around.

So the lady said, “Well, looks like we are just going to leave him with you!” with the caveat that if anything changed they would of course come back and pick him up. It turned out that in her pre-retirement life she had been a dog breeder and exhibitor and she knew dogs and terriers, in particular, very well. She knew this was a special dog and if no suitable new owner had turned up she and her husband were actually planning to keep him themselves.

But he stayed with us; that first night we dragged out Reina’s old crate and he calmly went right into it. He seemed to know what to do; we’ll never know, of course, but we could tell he had been well socialized and how he got out, got lost, escaped, was dumped, and ended up loose on the highway will forever remain a mystery. We have showered him with love and attention; began to “touch up” his housebreaking a bit – there were a few accidents in the house – and get him used to the cats. He is just thriving, of course. He is very smart and easy to train, and Reina continues to think he is the greatest thing since sliced bread. Luigi and Missoni got used to him very quickly; we have had more trouble with Tabitha who for some reason is terrified of him – he runs around and barks a lot and he is much bigger, of course, than Reina. But even she, gradually, is a bit calmer now around him now and we are hoping that in a few more months she’ll be back to normal. We have a lot of training to do; he barks a lot and jumps up on people, the usual puppy stuff. But for the next month we are home, no travel, no houseguests – so aside from me wanting to get into my studio and finally spend some time in the art world, we’ll have time to work on his training without so many interruptions.

Arnold & Figaro

Arnold and his new best friend on his office sofa….

So now, our little domicile is populated by two humans, three cats and two dogs. All of them, whether originally from Santa Fe or here, are rescues. We are doing our bit for the dog and cat overpopulation problem and having a lot of fun with them all at the same time. To Rosa and Mirella, he is “Figarito”.  ¡Bienvenido!

Inch by Inch

Reina, Purebred Mexican Street Dog, guarding her favorite toys on our lawn..

Reina, Purebred Mexican Street Dog, guarding her favorite toys on our lawn..

We are just slogging through this construction phase in the new house – every day the crew has their breakfast on a portable comal (a round metal sheet for warming tortillas) which they can plug in upstairs in my half-built office now that they have electricity up there. They sit around in a circle on the unfinished cement floor, as though the comal were a campfire, eating freshly warmed tacos, chat and joke for awhile, then they get up, get their tools and go to work – straight through till they break for lunch at 1 p.m. They fix their lunch and rest, sometimes really conking out and going to sleep on a pile of cement sacks or under a tree somewhere, until 2  p.m. Then they resume work again, without stopping, till 6.

The front part of our garden continues to be a sea of mud, our section of the cobblestone street is filled with sand and rubble which the yellow truck comes and carries off once a week (to Reina’s continuing delight), and there are always pieces of brick and rocks and rebar all over the place. The carport is stacked with cartons under tarps, bags of cement and tools. It is really a mess out there, and noisy as all get out while they are working, between their hammers and chisels, their radio, and their cheerful (terrible) singing and bantering back and forth. Arquitecto Roberto shows up every so often to check on their progress, and Saturday afternoon he stops by to pay them, after Arnold has made a bank transfer to cover the week’s expenses. Once they’re paid they head off and calm descends all too briefly upon the place until Monday morning. I keep thinking I’ll be able to get things a little more organized on Sundays with some peace and quiet and without the constant interruptions, asking if I want this here or there, dealing with deliveries, and other distractions. But as a practical matter, we can’t unpack much more than we have because there’s no place to put x thing yet, so the house is still stacked with boxes and art still leaning up against walls pretty much everywhere. And by the weekend I am so exhausted that I just want to lie around and do nothing. Still, in spite of the mess, we can see that inch by inch, centimeter by centimeter, week by week the addition is getting built and from my perspective, at least, it will have been well worth the chaos of these few miserable months. But miserable, right now, it most certainly is.

Reina has of course, as would any sensible Mexican street dog, figured out when the guys are going to be eating and she begs to be let outside so she can scrounge bread or tacos or tortillas from them. These she carries around in her mouth for awhile until she finds a place to bury them. The first time she did this I saw her scratching around under a hedge and was sure she had found some awful dead thing under there, till I saw what she was doing. We try not to let her into the house with these unearthed treasures once she digs them up (to enjoy them at leisure, I suppose), but sometimes she sneaks them in and stretches out on the living room rug with this disgusting piece of taco or whatever…but this is doggie heaven I guess so what can we do? It’s devoured soon enough so we leave her alone.

With the 4 gatos and Reina it is sometimes hard to tell when something goes wrong with one of them. The floors in the house are white tile and the least little bit of mud or anything shows up pretty dramatically. We’ve all noticed little spots of dried blood on the floor over the past couple of days and Rosa’s oldest daughter Mirella, who is now helping Rosa with the housecleaning, worked for years as our vet’s assistant and she thought we should take Reina in to be checked out – maybe something is going on with her rear end. So she and Rosa walked over to the vet’s office with Reina and the vet suspects that she may have a kidney infection. He has run some blood tests and we will have the results on Monday. She seems to be none the worse for wear, if that is what she has, because she is still eagerly eating her hoarded garden treats in addition to her own dog food and running around. Maybe a teensy bit droopier than normal but now we think maybe we are seeing things. We will soon find out what, if anything, is going on with her. If it isn’t her, it’s one of the cats and that will be really complicated to track down. We looked sequentially, under all the kitties’ tails to see if anything looked amiss, but they seem fine to our laymans’ eyes. But, as Arnold says, one step at a time.

In any event, I am really worried about Tabitha, my parents’ tabby cat, who eats nonstop and is becoming enormous. We have tried limiting her food but it is very hard with three other cats in the house and she cries for more if we cut down her rations. The house is so open that it would be difficult to keep her away from food but I am beginning to think that the “free-feeding” thing with the feeder is not working with her. I am terrified that she will get diabetes and have to be be put to sleep the way our much-loved Korat, Achille, was, after a year of insulin injections and a declining quality of life. The vet, who is very practical, had suggested, when the second two cats arrived, that our lives would be a lot easier if we just let them have a feeder and eat whenever they wanted and it has worked well for three of them, but poor Tab just can’t stay away from the food and I am afraid that ultimately it will kill her. And the saddest part is that she is now so happy here with us, she’s like a whole new cat. Purring, contented, not aggressive any more the way she was when we first brought her into the household. We finally get things right for this unfortunate kitty, who was scheduled to be put to sleep the day after we first saw her in the shelter and adopted her, and then she has this lifelong weight thing which will probably be the cause of her demise. It echoes my own fears about myself, and my inherited predisposition to diabetes. What an ongoing battle the whole fending-it-off thing is for both man and beast.

With Achille, we gave him his insulin shots at 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. promptly. This played havoc with our social lives (hard to go out to dinner with friends or to concerts, etc.) To make matters worse, the easiest way to test a cat’s blood sugar is with a pin prick to that big vein in their ear which you can pretty easily see. This hurts them and it makes you feel awful and soon they are running away from you and the whole situation is dreadful until finally their kidneys fail and you have to put them to sleep anyway. So I am wrestling with what to do about her weight, and since I have been struggling with my own weight issues since I was a little kid it is not a happy or easy topic for me. And like so many things in life and death, there may just not be an answer to it except to live through it and do your best as things unfold.

On the other hand, I guess I have to weigh (pun sort of intended) how crazy I am going to get over the whole four-cat situation. They are doing so much better now in the new house – there is the occasional hiss here and there but basically now they are all getting along reasonably well, and one really could say, since three of them are shelter cats who, once adopted, have led long and happy lives, that at their present ages it wouldn’t be surprising if bit by bit they start to get sick or at least to begin to show some signs of aging. And if Tab gets diabetes, the vet’s attitude is, don’t let her suffer with insulin shots and constant pricking and poking for blood sugar readings, just put her to sleep before it gets awful. I don’t know that an American vet would have that attitude, but here there are so many mistreated animals around, dogs running around loose in the streets, just the barest beginnings of a public consciousness about spaying and neutering; these vets deal with things differently than they did back in the Ancestral Homeland. Maybe you give them the best life that you can and when it’s time for them to go, they just have to go without the heroic measures one could try. Was Achille better off because we delayed euthanizing him for that year? Maybe the vet is right, the second he began to react badly to the whole shot ritual we should have put him down and spared him all that suffering, though we felt, at the time, that we had done the right thing by giving him the insulin as long as we could. But attitudes are different here.  We got Reina in the first place as a two-month old puppy because she had been dumped in front of a vet’s office and his kids found her there. He of course took her in and tried (and succeeded) to find a home for her. She’s been a great dog, too, smart and loving and fun.

Meanwhile, on a cheerier note, we are definitely planning to escape to London and Paris for a couple of  weeks – it should be a great trip and Arnold is looking forward with great anticipation to getting out of here  for a reapite from the incessant noise and invasion of the construction. For my part, I am looking forward to all the wonderful food and art, and being able to revisit both cities, neither of which we have been to in many years. My sister will join us which will be fun, and I know I’ll do at least a little bit of retail damage over there!  When we get back from the trip, I’m guessing that the worst of the banging will be done, and they will be at a quieter stage – installing light fixtures, plugs, flooring and even starting to do some finishing work and painting. My new office will be just wonderful; I can’t wait to move into it and unpack my books and other things, which now are stacked up in storage in huge cartons. And when the office is done and the cartons moved out, the casita will be liberated to be turned into a little art studio for me, and I am already thinking about some ceramics and other projects I would like to tackle.

But who knows – right now it seems like a long way off and life mostly consists of getting through each day, waiting for six p.m. when the relentless chiseling, drilling, cutting through cement, stop at least for the evening. Sundays continue to be the best – they’re off for the day and the house and garden are quiet, and I can indulge in imagining what it is going to be like when the whole thing is done, and what will I really do with myself? I had been warned that when my mother died six months ago, there would be this huge hole where the worrying about her and dealing with her illness and her maintenance would have been. The hole is there for sure, but I don’t feel it as a cause for depression, just this sort of quizzical “and now what?” sense; made more complicated by the fact that I won’t really be able to move into this new house and settle into it for a few more months. It is just a time of waiting and going off on a European jaunt to look at art, see some opera, and eat some really great food may be just what the doctor ordered.

The Dog Show

We had our first bit of tentative rain last night – it was just enough to tamp down the dust and break the cycle of heat and oppressive humidity, bringing in a gorgeous cool morning with bright sun and fluffy clouds. We are in the weird in-between period with the new house purchase where almost all the papers are signed, or at least enough of them are signed so that we are reasonably certain we have a deal.  However in typical “mañana” Mexican fashion, the real estate agent representing the seller has gone off to Spain on vacation for a month and a half, and our own agent (who is also a good friend) is off to Mexico City for a couple of days of business and pleasure, right in the middle of the wrapping-up of these house-purchase negotiations. With my American sensibility and knowing how insanely compulsive I used to be about my clients back in the old days, it is absolutely unfathomable to me that anyone would just leave with a purchase contract sort of hanging there in limbo and take off for six weeks, but I guess he figures we’ll still be here when he gets back, ditto the seller and the house itself, so what’s the big rush? It’s hard to relax about it but I think that is what the real estate gods are telling me to do at this point.

It’s going to be probably two months till we really do get in to the new house – too early to start packing things in earnest – why live in chaos? – but obviously we are done with any new projects here at our old house, so we are just finding things to amuse us locally and we’ll just bide our time till everything comes into sharper focus. Right now we aren’t sure exactly WHEN we will move, it’s all sort of blurry. It is hard for me to live with blurry, either physically or mentally (I just went nuts getting new glasses and contact lenses!) but that also seems to be the lesson of the day.

In the area of things we CAN do while we sit here in limbo, we have been on a campaign of finding new homes for things we no longer think we need or want – on Mother’s Day after seeing all the moms being feted in town Arnold impulsively threw open the doors of the armario (armoire) in his office and gave Rosa his old television set – she had been complaining that her next door neighbor had gone up on the roof and illegally stolen her cable signal by rewiring the cable to his TV; and she’d been paying for it for months now, thinking her tele was broken since there was no reception. The entire family had been bashing away on this poor television set, poking it, hitting it, fooling with its knobs and wiring, to try to get it to cooperate and show some sign of life, till they finally did destroy the TV and then when the mystery of why the cable wasn’t working was discovered, the poor thing was by then truly muerto.

Arnold of course has his heart set on something newer and fancier for the new house, so it all worked out. Rosa was thrilled, her whole family has TV now and a flat screen even! The little stand that holds the set upright had broken awhile back, but Carlos rigged up a new stand with some wood and screws and god knows what so it was good to go. Rosa said the old TV that had been wrongfully accused of not working was twenty years old anyway; she had purchased it when she was pregnant with Gaby who is now 22 or 23! Now Rosa is battling with the cable company to reimburse her for all the time she paid and paid and got no service, but she is resigned to the loss of her money as it turns out the neighbor’s kid works for the cable company and she suspects that’s how he knew how to rewire the roof connection to from hers to their TV in the first place. Could be Mexican paranoia but she might be right. Anyway her cable is working again now and the new TV is being venerated by everyone over at her house.

Meanwhile this afternoon we decided to check out the dog show they’ve been advertising. This was supposedly a dog show sanctioned by the Mexican equivalent of the American Kennel Club and since we are avid Westminster Dog Show watchers every February (luckily we have figured out a way to watch it down here) we love seeing all the dogs, so off we went to see what we could see.

Well, as Arnold wryly pointed out, Westminster it ain’t. But the handlers and judges were very serious about it all; they had set up a series of big tents where the judging took place sheltered from the blazing Mexican sun, and off to the sides were the grooming areas with all the dogs’ crates set up. There were plenty of us ex-pats there, along with the Mexicans, enjoying the afternoon’s activities. Just like dog shows everywhere, many of the dogs had fans – family and friends – who applauded their every move with great gusto. We stayed to watch some of the judging – mostly  bulldogs and the labradores – the labs. The men mostly wore suits and ties which is quite formal attire in Mexico; the dogs were like show dogs everywhere- some of them amazingly well behaved and “into it”;  a few who you could tell would much rather be chasing a ball somewhere. But all beautifully groomed and turned out.

As with so many things Mexican, they had their own stamp on it – everywhere there were children, picnics, babies, and grandparents. There were kids who were “junior handlers” just like they have in the States and doting parents showing them the ropes. People brought out coolers with all sorts of things to eat and as much as an excuse to see the different dogs, it provided a chance for yet another gathering with friends and family and scarfing down a few tacos. No alcohol allowed on the grounds though, so it was all rather civilized and – excuse the pun – well-bred.

Then we came home to discover that Pedro the pool guy had left the hose running to fill the fountain and forgotten about it and taken off; of course it had overflowed so there were huge puddles all over the garden. Arnold turned the hose off in disgust – a dumb waste of water. Then after dinner our neighbors started up their dreadful high-powered stereo again for some awful party; then on top of that, there is wedding up at the evento place – we know it’s a wedding because at one point the Mendelssohn wedding march came crackling over the loudspeakers and the sound carried down to our house easily, a block and a half. In self-defense, I have retreated to the comfort of Corelli aided by my ipod and excellent noise-cancelling headphones which block out most of the external din. As long as I can escape it, nowadays, it doesn’t make me as much of a nervous wreck as it used to. I am getting used to it, just in time for us to leave.