Sunday, December 13, 2009

It's a Dog's Life - Loreto style!

While I sit bundled up in a sweater looking out the window at fresh snow and billowing white clouds of condensation coming out of neighboring chimneys, Loreto seems a long way away! But, I am enjoying my return visit to Calgary and sharing the Christmas spirit here with friends and family. As promised, however, my absence from Loreto will not interrupt your weekly “fix” from that very special (and much warmer!) place I call home, thanks to the generous contribution of this week’s “Guest Blog” from my friend and neighbor, Dee.

This is Dee’s third offering to Living Loreto; she has written about an amazing Burro trip into the mountains, and also a memorable experience she had on a trip to the neighboring town of Mulege. This time she has chosen to write about a very important part of her life in Loreto – her dog Sophie, and how they came together. So, as I sit back with a mug of hot coffee, join me in reading about how a dog can become a woman’s best friend, thanks Dee!

Exactly one year ago today I woke up to eight puppies born in my downstairs shower. Yes, eight! But first, let me begin at the beginning - - -

Previously, during the fall, my neighbor Maria had been feeding three stray dogs, two males and a female, on a construction site near the Punta Nopolo condos. The English-speaking kids who played nearby were calling the female “Cinnamon” while the construction workers were calling her “Timida” because she was so shy, but for some reason Maria called her “Milagra” (Miracle). One evening Maria decided to bring Milagra back to her home and the exhausted skinny yellow dog stayed in a dead sleep on a rug by the front door for twenty-four hours straight. At the beginning Maria had no intention of keeping Milagra, she just thought that she was such a sweet dog and so she wanted to rescue her.

Shortly after this “rescue” Maria’s plans called for her to leave for LaPaz for a few days and now she needed someone to take care of this dog. So she started asking around, and was advised by various friends that I was a likely candidate. We hadn’t yet met and she didn’t know where to find me, but fortunately she started asking people at the yoga class at the Inn and - Jackpot! - one of my friends was in the class that day and gave Maria my address.

Without having seen the dog, I told Maria I’d be glad to watch Milagra for a few days - but probably no longer. I was not sure I was ready for another dog in my life. You see, I had lost my perfectly wonderful collie-dog, Laddie just about two years before. He had died suddenly of a brain tumor and I was still struggling with mixed feelings. Of course I was still missing him, but I also was enjoying my freedom, especially with the frequent trips back and forth between the US and Mexico.

I went to Maria’s to meet Milagra, who looked to me just like any other sad, malnourished street dog. Actually, she looked kind of like a goat with her docked tail that stood straight up and her saggy stomach from giving birth recently, or so said Maria. Did I think to ask,”Well, then, where are all those puppies?” - Nope. But I was suspicious, so I took the dog immediately to the vet who said, “Si, she is pregnant. She will have four to five puppies in ten days.” That was on Dec. 3. Well, he was right about the 10 days but that was all. December 13 was the day I awoke to eight puppies, born in my shower.

That’s right – in my shower. In hindsight I suppose that the outcome was inevitable, but once the dog moved in with me, it quickly became hard for me to part with her. So, after I’d learned she was pregnant I made a cozy nest of old blankets and towels in the downstairs walk-in shower, which I rarely used and figured would be the perfect place for the new nursery. (Sometime during this process of getting her settled for the arrival of her puppies, Milagra had become Sophie, and since it had become pretty clear that I was going to be keeping her, I had decided she seemed more like a Sophie to me. No, this was not the dog of my dreams, but it was obvious that she needed a home and she was so quiet, gentle and doggone sweet!) In the final days of her pregnancy, after I had made the nest in the shower, I started making her sleep in the downstairs bathroom, and she took to her new birthing suite immediately. Each evening I would take her for a little walk and then put her back in the bathroom for the night.

On the fateful morning, I went downstairs at about 7:30 and opened the bathroom door and there was Sophie in the shower with eight quiet, tiny puppies happily nursing. WOW! What a surprise! I hadn’t heard a peep, and had slept through the whole thing. Which I now believe was a good thing, because if Sophie had had any problems, I would have been so stressed I’m not sure I would have been of much help! In any case, she apparently had managed things very well on her own, because the new pups were all clean and calm and snuggled up to her.

I don’t remember who I called first, but all my friends were keen to see the pups and the biggest challenge was keeping the visitors down to a minimum, especially in the first week or so. I had already made plans to go on a trip for ten days at the beginning of January, so I was thankful for all the visitors as they quickly became scheduled dog walkers and puppy nannies. My neighbors were impressed with the steady stream of puppy fans taking care of Sophie while I was gone. (Thank you Ana, Susan, Michelle, Jesse, Cathy, Sue, Grace, Chandler, Alison and everyone else!!)

At the beginning I thought that I would try to keep the puppies for six to eight weeks because it was important for their health. But after four weeks, it was clear the Sophie had had enough of being a mom. She had performed her maternal role brilliantly in the beginning, but as the little ones got bigger it was becoming harder for her to nurse eight rambunctious puppies. To help her manage the growing litter I started feeding them dry food soaked in warm water and only let them nurse four at a time, in preparation for their life away from mom.

Fortunately for Sophie, by week five the vet said they were ready for their new homes. During all this time I had been lining up permanent homes for the puppies and so I started letting them leave the nest, two at a time. As they started to disappear, Sophie was not very alarmed. Whenever a couple of puppies would leave, she would run to her food bowl and start eating - I am sure it was out of pure relief!

So now there are five boys and three girls living happy canine lives in homes in Loreto. It was not hard to find homes for them, but I did my best at giving their people the old lecture about making sure they get spayed or neutered and never tie them up in a yard. So far I know that at least half of the puppies have been to the local spay and neuter Animalandia Clinics. As for Sophie, she was spayed two days after the last puppy left our home. It was fortunate the way the timing worked out with one of these free clinics scheduled when we needed it!

Sophie has turned out to be a darling, easy, happy dog. She continues to be so sweet and curious….so curious, in fact, that she has earned another name, my friend Paula calls her “Dora” after Dora the Exploradora. Paula has a standard poodle named Mika whom Sophie considers one of her many friends along with; Cailie, Mac, and Baxter. Sophie has other dog-friends that are also adoptees from the streets; including Charlie, Lola, Quapo and Pacha. Sophie seems to have an usually close connection to Charlie and we suspect they knew each other in the old days before they found their new homes.

Thanks largely to the Animalandia organization here in Loreto, there has been a huge decline in the population of street dogs since I started coming here in 2003. Through several free clinics over the course of the past year, Animalandia has spayed/neutered almost 700 animals in Loreto. BUT there is still a huge need to support the organization in their clinics and in their education of the general public. For any animal lovers reading this story you can find out more at and for those of you here in Loreto, the next Clinic is Jan. 9th, 10th and 11th so please mark your calendars and tell your friends - it does make a difference! I can’t imagine little Sophie or her friends, Charlie, Lola, Quapo or Pacha still living on the streets, not since I have seen them settled in their homes and I have seen the way they are loved and the way they love back!