Monday, March 31, 2008

Ticky Joins The Party

Just a quick heads up - there´s going to be a pretty gross picture later in this entry. Nothing bloody or graphic just disturbing. But a heads up anyway as I put the picture on my myspace and someone complained that they almost vomited.

Toughen up kids, the world is a rough place.

Back on track: I am now the proud owner of the best $10 duct-tape engineering Nicaragua has to offer. I bought a bike. It is an enormous pìece of shit, enormous. It has no suspension. One of the links in the chain is bigger than the rest so about every six or seven seconds you get a spine crunching, grinding jolt as the big link goes through. It is hideous. It suffers from some sort of bike epilepsy that causes the rear end of it to wiggle all the time. The kickstand staunchly refuses to stay up.

But it has a banana seat. And I adore it. A banana seat!

Nothing in Nicaragua gets thrown out, really - it just gets cobbled together and re-used. There are no thrift shops here. You fix and mend things until they are no longer fixable or mendable and then you grudgingly sell them for scrap metal or whatever. My bike is a veritable Franken-bike, reconstructed from pieces of a million dead bikes by the bike repair guy around the corner. The frame is probably a 1960´s or 70´s children´s bike. It has enormous motocross tires. God only knows where the hell the seat came from.

Maybe you could paint it, Noel suggests. In my bad spanish I tell him that all the paint en el mundo is not going to help this.

When I am locking it up outside the internet cafe the other day the woman who runs it comes out. I don´t think, she tells me, you really need to lock that thing up.

I do anyway. Bikes here are stolen all the time. Part of my goal in buying the ass-ugliest bike in Nicaragua was to avoid the hassle of having a bike stolen. No one is stealing this piece of shit. No one.

And the bell works, too. Ding ding.

I´m still on work break, now in Leon with my friend Kristen. A few days back we were on Ometepe Island. I cannot stress how bad the dog problem is in this whole country, not just Granada. This dog below was hanging out on the main street. While we were there we kept buying him food - hot dogs, ham, leftover chicken. But this dog sleeps in the dust next to the bus station off the ferry docks where a million tourists walk by him every day. Even though Nicaragua doesn´t have enough money or resources to deal with it´s animal issues, there´s something about the situation that makes me angry. How has this dog been allowed to get this bad? How can all of these well-fed white eco-tourists walk by this every day and do fucking NOTHING? I´m sure some of them do what we did - buy food or what-have-you but I saw tons of them walk right by it again and again and do nothing. When we were walking around a restaraunt owner came out to try to chase it away by hitting it with a chain. A CHAIN. Kristen and I said something and he stopped. The other gringos on the porch - and there many - did nothing.

Conversely the Volcano Tour Guide company people - all Nicas - save all their lunch leftovers to feed this dog every day. Johan, the Nica guy who owns the company, was feeding him some empanadas while I was waiting for Kristen. 'This dog', he tells me, 'it probably will not live much longer. But every day we give it some food and think maybe today, it will have another day. It is a nice dog. It deserves more days.'

There are times when animal welfare in this country feels like rearranging deckchairs on the Titanic. There are so many - so very many - all over the country and so little organizations that do anything about it. It's tough. Picture below is another street dog running around Granada. This one is too squirrelly to even get close to. It looks a lot worse closer up.

On a happier note, though, we did do another spay/neuter clinic here last weekend. Dr. Tom is in town. Or at least Casa Lupita did another clinic. I was only in town for a brief few days so I stopped in. And Toni, Nick, Claudio and Tom are like a finely tuned machine. They've done a bunch since I was here last year and as a result they just ROLL through it. A bunch of other ex-pats showed up to help with the surgery stuff, too, so as a result I was sort of human clutter. I hung out, washed a few instruments, ran some errands with Donna and then took off again to get ready for this leg of the trip.

Dr. Tom had a neighbor who wanted their cat spayed but didn't have a way to get it over there. When Donna and I went to pick it up we spotted one of the neighborhood street dogs - an older looking dog with funky eyes that hangs out near the pulperia near my house. I went in and asked Esperanza, the woman who owns the pulperia, if the dog belonged to anyone. Perro de calle, she said. Dog of the street. She said it didn't so we scooped it up and tossed it into the back of the truck, too, and I jumped in the back to hold it while we rode back. More the merrier.

I actually know this dog - I did a few weeks of ivermectin laced hot dogs with it when I got here because it had some sarna which cleared up. It's a friendly enough thing but I'd never patted it, just tossed it the dogs and went about my way. I noticed it's ears were kinda funky, stuck up at odd angles, but never really thought about why. When we got back to the clinic we figured out why.

This is where it gets graphic, kids.

Yes, that is exactly what it looks like. Ticks. Thousands of them. Every single bump you are seeing there is a tick. So many that it's ears were sort of forced sticking up from them. They were also all over his body, clustered around his eyes, between his toes, everywhere. All the different species. Some engorged, some not. Some actually feeding off the engorged ones.

Donna and Joyce got some tweezers and a glass of alcohol and started picking. They filled and emptied the glass fourteen times in eight hours and he was still covered. They bathed him and a billion more came off. They were covered in ticks. Everything was covered in ticks.

Meet Ticky, the newest clinic resident.

Of course Donna gave him a nice name - Ramon. Of course I will call him nothing but Ticky.

For over seven hours Donna and Joyce did nothing but pick ticks off this poor dog. I'd like to say I've never seen anything like this here before but we have. If anyone wonders why I was begging, borrowing and stealing any Frontline plus, Advantage, all that crap, before I left this is why.

They went ahead and neutered him and checked his blood. Surprise surprise, like eighty percent of the dogs here he has erlichia, a tick born disease. But he is friendly and sweet and gregarious and has moved into the clinic for the interim. Now that he has started to regain some of his strength we figured out he is actually a younger dog. All the ticks make dogs weak, anemic. In the absence of his tick infestation he jumps around, plays, runs. He and Porsha dig each other. It's cool.

I would love to post more pics of him now but I'm actually back from Leon now - again, only for a few days, more on that later. But I have no pictures. Because my camera got boosted in Leon. Luckily I downloaded the pics in this entry prior to leaving for Leon.

In all the time I've spent in this country I've never had anything boosted. And whoever took it out of my bag took only that - they left all my cash, my passport, my credit card. All of which I would have rather have had stolen than my camera as I use it so much for this blog. I hope karma bites someone in the ass really badly for that. I really do. May they get scabies - sarcoptic mange/sarna. But tomorrow I go on a camera hunt to buy another one.

Porsha had her eye removed and got spayed and looks great. Once I get another camera - and I will but it will cost me out the ass here - I'll put up new pictures. The puppy is the size of a small car. Again, hope to have pics later.

Only one more week of me being here and there and everywhere and then I will return to my normal posting schedule. In the interim I should have another odd interlude post about travels, odd coincidences and other non-animal related events.

To Karen Foster, the other Karen, all the people who sent money to the Building New Hope site but didn't mention this blog - I thank you. They thank you. Ticky thanks you. Porsha, Freda and the enormous puppy thank you. Though the fifteen million ticks we assassinated while cleaning Ticky up probably aren't grateful. But honestly, you rock.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Spud-Hunting And A Few Updates

It’s a good thing I injected myself with dog penicillin this morning, I tell Donna, it will help with the tuberculosis.

The great thing about Donna is that she pays absolutely no attention to my odd bouts of rampant hypochondria. A few weeks back when we were returning The Potato to the lakeside she took a corner too fast and I, riding in the bed of the truck with The Potato, was thrown hard into a bar in back of the cab. For hours afterwards I bitched about my shoulder. Despite my repeated bitching that it was sprained, she never acknowledged what I was saying. She just talked about The Potato, the clinic, the fifteen million other projects she was working on. It wasn’t sprained, incidentally - just an ugly bruise.

I don’t know if she’s amazingly single minded, doesn’t listen, or just has an awful lot of experience with volunteers who turn into crazy hypochondriacs when confronted with tropical third world countries with over-the-counter antibiotics.

We are on a Spud Hunt. It’s Semana Santa, the holy week, the biggest vacation week of the year for Nicas and we are driving down a very crowded lakeside trying to find The Potato. Not to bring him back in, just to check on him, give him some food and water and some meds I’ve secreted in hot dogs.

For the record I did not inject myself with dog penicillin - I pricked myself with the needle while drawing up the drug for a feral cat neuter Toni and Nick were doing. And I don’t have tuberculosis. We just had this bizarre detour that involved taking a guy who just drank Clorox to the hospital along with a cop who came along for the ride. It was one of those incredibly odd only-in-the-life-of-Donna things - you go looking for a dog and the cops flag you down to drive a guy to the hospital. At the hospital they had a big poster about tuberculosis thus convincing myself that the chest cold I cannot shake is actually tuberculosis and not the result of insomnia issues, an iffy diet, a refusal to take care of myself - let myself rest and get over it.

Donna is talking about the who guy who drank Clorox. How the hell do you do that by accident? She asks me. As a woman who just injected myself with dog penicillin even I don’t have irony enough to make a snarky comment about a guy drinking Clorox. Who turned out to be fine, incidentally. While we were driving to the hospital Clorox Guy was making calls from his cell phone.

We go by the restaurant where the night caretaker occasionally feeds The Potato. Lo and behold, there he is, lying under a tree. And surprisingly he looks great. Or if not great at least better. Great is a long ways off for The Potato. But his face is fuzzy, as are his paws - he’s actually growing fur. And the crust is starting to come off of him. His feet seem less swollen. All the drugs we pumped into him during his brief clinic stay as well as the antibiotic laced hot dogs we’ve given to the night caretaker seem to be doing something.

The fur on his face to me, though, is the real story. I have never been so glad to see peach fuzz in my life. Now along with the four forlorn hairs sticking up off his shoulder he has the beginnings of actual fur - fur.

There is a little girl and boy sitting on the outbuilding next to The Potato’s tree. The little girl - maybe about seven - is staring at me. When I look up at her she doesn’t look away. She meets my eye, smiles shyly. While we hand The Potato his medicated meat and fill his food bowl she continues to look at me.

The owner of the restaurant comes over. My daughter - he tells Donna - has been feeding him. She makes sure he has food. You should give her a little reward.

The little girl looks away.

Donna goes back to her car for something and I go talk to her. Como se llama? I ask her. Daniella, she tells me. Something about her strikes me. Yes, she’s a beautiful little kid but her humanity, her compassion kills me. No one wants anything to do with this ugly scaly thing and she’s been tending to him. Sometimes, like with Corissa, there is amazing courage in compassion. This is not only a sarna dog but the grossest of the sarna dogs, a pariah. And little Daniella is not afraid or repulsed.

Me llamo Finn, I tell her. Feen, she says. Si, Finn. Mucho gusto Danielle. The man introduces the little boy, Luis, and himself. Donna comes back. You should grow up to be a veterinarian, she tells Daniella. We have a veterinarian coming to our clinic. You come and watch for a day, help out.

Luis could be a veterinarian too, his father insists. Yes, Donna agrees. But the real story here is this beautiful, compassionate little girl.

The Potato finishes his food and toddles off. Donna goes to get more to leave with Daniella. Only half tonight, she tells her. We’ll be back in the morning with more medicine for him. Daniella listens to Donna so seriously, nodding her head.

We go to leave and I come back for my water bottle - I left it there. As I’m coming back I see Daniella carefully carrying a bucket of water over to the food tray we left for The Potato. She empties out the old water, refills it with the new water.

Mucho gusto, Daniella, I say again as I leave. Her father smiles, no, no no, mucho gusto por todos. Si, por todos, I say. But Daniella is smiling shyly at the ground, proud to have been noticed, picked out as special by Donna and I.

What a good kid.

Poltergeist Part II - The Real Bad Ass.

I didn’t even hear the trap hit last night. I set it, went to bed. When I get up in the morning I half remember and go to check it. It seems to have moved a few feet from the alcove but is still covered. I lift up the towel and immediately a paw swipes at me, hisses, growls.

We got a feisty one.

It’s a gray and white cat, rangy, male, with some old fight wounds. In some spots the fur on it’s face is rubbed off - probably the result of trying to get out of the cage. Apparently in it's fight to get out of the trap it actually managed to move the whole 15 lb contraption. And it is pissed, furious in a way the other cat wasn’t. When I try to move the cage it makes frenetic attempts to get at my hand, slams it’s head into the wire walls, frantic to get out. It looks like a housecat, it’s the same species as anyone’s housecat but this thing is a wild animal, cornered and desperate.

There is no way I’m getting this one in a cab. Someone will get bitten. Or several people will with me being first in line.

I call Toni and Nick. Got another one. Not going to be able to get this one in a cab or carry it the six blocks to the clinic. They agree to come over with their bicycles and we’ll try to figure something out. Nick balances it on his crossbar and walks, pushing the bike. In the cage the cat cowers, eyes huge, ears pinned.

They do a sedative shot through the cage but this one doesn’t want to go down. Too much adrenaline. Toni hits it again. A few minutes later it gets wobbly, pliant. They put it on gas.

Five minutes of surgery and kitty is ready to go. Toni carefully puts antibiotic cream on some of the fight wounds, treating it as respectfully as if it was an owned cat. We put it back in the cage, take it to an upper level kennel outside, drape the door with a sheet for shade and privacy and let it recover.

When I go back that night it is awake, wide eyed, furious at the universe. Donna comes and picks me up and we drive it back to my house, re-release it in the courtyard. It’s still drunk from the drugs and it staggers around the garden, cowers behind some trees. My roommate and his friends come in. I point it out. Don’t try to pat the kitty, I tell them. It’s the devil. When it sobers up it will find it’s way back up to the rooftops.

A few hours later I hear a few muffled thumps coming from the roof. Satan Kitty has found it’s way back up there again. Over the next few days we catch glimpses of some new roof cats in the kitchen - an a long haired black one, an eerie eyed grey cat lurking on the stairwell. Neither the rough older one we did or the original black and white poltergeist is seen again. Apparently we’ve been crossed off their list of places to go through the garbage and other ones are moving in to claim the territory.

Time to bust out the trap again.

Some Updates

My friend Kristen arrived with a new cat trap and a box full of toys and leashes. All the clinic dogs now look stylin’. Quixote and Freda immediately fell upon the tug of war toy and had a blast.

Quixote left this morning for his new home outside of Rivas with a Peace Corps volunteer. Apparently he loves his new people and was psyched to begin life as an actual house dog. Godspeed, Quixote. We left the toy for Frida but I’m sure someone there will have a coke bottle to throw for him. He was a goofy bastard but I’ll miss him.

Porsha continues to improve in leaps and bounds, physically. She never had any attitude issues - she’s heartbreakingly submissive with the other dogs and loves people. But to date she’s put on ten pounds and looks almost like a normal dog, give or take some scarring and a missing eye. Dr. Tom will be here this week to spay her and look at the eye, see if we can at least sew it shut or something. She will always have some scars - a cord grew into her neck at some point in her earlier life and she’ll wear that scar for life - but she’s about three weeks away from being a normal dog. A normal homeless dog. Have I mentioned enough that we can ship dogs?

Right before I left on my little jaunt I gave her and Freda baths. Someone in the States really needs to adopt Porsha if for no other reason than she can teach a class for American dogs on How To Handle A Bath With Dignity. The whole time I was scrub-brushing off her dead skin she stood stock still, occasionally wagging her little half tail. No theatrics, no squirming, no fussing.

Freda is lonely without Quixote but doing well, putting on weight. She’s become quite attached to the toy Kristen brought and carries it around with her trying to get one of us to play tug of war with her. Because of her baby she can’t really be treated so she’s lookin’ a little bald but good. Think Bruce Willis as a lactating, sarna infested street dog.

The good news is that the puppy now has it’s eyes open and is walking. The bad news is that it’s some sort of freakish mutant puppy that doubles in size every day. It is ginormous. Huge. Still much beloved, still adorable but porky.

Spud-hunting has become a regular occurrence. Despite her eighteen million other obligations Donna goes out every morning looking for him. While she has not seen him, Daniella has and continues to feed him. Last week when my friend Kristen first arrived we spotted him out by the lakeside, hanging out with a female dog with some sort of back injury. I was able to pat The Potato but couldn’t get near his girlfriend. I was also able to confirm that he is continuing to grow some fur.

I’ll be in El Salvador avoiding potential future deportation when the vet is here but the plan is to bring The Potato in briefly so Dr. Tom can get a look at him and possibly neuter him if he’s well enough. I really doubt the world needs any scaly little Potato Babies. Hopefully he’ll also be able to get a look at the Esso Station dog.

In preparation for the vet’s arrival cat trapping is going into high gear. Additionally signs are posted all over Granada advertising the free sterilization clinic.

Dr. Tom also does a lot with horses so they’ll be a one day clinic for the working horses while he’s here. Apparently a farrier from the states will be in that day as well. So they’ll float teeth, deal with some of the parasites and work on their feet. It’s a tough, tough life for the working horses here. Last year I was here for one of the horse clinics and it was really interesting even if I am crap-terrified of dealing with horses.

There’s a tentative plan for me to have breakfast with a woman in San Salvador during my jaunt up there to do a little recon mission. Apparently she’s interested in doing something similar in the city and wants to talk about logistics. I am probably the least qualified person to do this except a) I’ll be in El Salvador and b) I’m willing to do it. But it’s an exciting idea. Maybe sometime in the future bring up a bunch of cat traps and some equipment and do a blitz there.

Onwards and upwards. And all that crap.

**A few notes on this blog entry - part of it was started prior to me going out of town - the Spudhunt and trapping the second feral occured days before I left. The rest of it I just wrote. I am only in Granada for a few days before taking off again for five more days. Then home to Granada for the forseeable future. But there's a couple more entries I'm working on about stuff that happened either directly before I left or while I was gone or in the few days since I've been back. We saw The Potato again today and he's still getting better. So the next week will be more choppy posting before I get back to the regularly scheduled program.

And the pic at top is for the spay/neuter clinic being held the next few days while Dr. Tom is here. I won't be here for most of it but since I was last here they've trained better surgery assistants than I could ever be. When I was here last year I was the only game in town, surgery assistant wise. Now they've got a bunch of other folks trained and a great system. It's a little sad to be on the sidelines for it but I'm so glad that they're rockin' it out. And I'm better at the mangy-street-dog-and-daily-clinic-and-meds thing anyway seeing as most of my vet tech experience involved killing things.

Horse picture is from my last trip here.

And I am over my chest cold. Or tuberculosis. Or whatever it was.***

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Honestly, There Will Be An Update Tomorrow But In The Meantime A Porsha Pictorial

I is typing my little fingers to the bone and hitting our gossip network for what's been going since I've been out of town. I have to go to El Salvador next week. Visa stuff, gotta check in and check out of the country so I don't overstay my visa. Plus Donna has a woman up there who wants to do something similar in San Salvador so I might go have breakfast with her. I am not a vet and as I have said before, I am a cog in the wheel of the heroes who do this day in and out but I can run a recon, if need be.

In the meantime, though, I wanted to show you all something insane.

This is Porsha, AKA One Eye as she appeared when we brought her in about three weeks ago. Not about to win Westminster. Short-listed for Most Pathetic Creature To Still Have A Pulse.

And this is Porsha now:

Yes, Westminster is still a ways off. But she's put on weight, she has hair, the amazing Dr. Tom will be here Monday to spay her and check out the eye. In the states she would have been an immediate euth at the shelter - too far gone. Here, with nothing but some invermectin tablets, some antibiotics, buckets of dog food - we have a real, actual, sweetheart of a dog on our hands.

Go figure.

Real entry tomorrow, as I said, as verbose and wacky as my usual ones. But I did want to post that. And also to do a quick name check to my BFF, my Baby Doll of Evil, Sheena AKA The Food Lady. A goodly percentage of the people who don't know me and are reading this found me through her blog. It's also her blog that made me get my own as opposed to my usual myspace-ing. She's my hero. Rock on, sista, and get your ass and your camera down here. We's got some work to do.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

A Brief Moment of Extreme Humility

I'm still out of town and out of the loop but I just wanted to take a minute to say thank you. I am blown away by all the people who have contacted me to compliment me or ask me how they can help. Thank you. All of you.

If you do want to help the most obvious way is donations. A little money goes a long way down here and anything helps. You can donate via paypal on the Building New Hope website - The website also has a mailing address where you can mail a check. I'm pretty sure you can specify that the money be used for the clinic, Casa Lupita.

Additionally you can use Goodsearch - - for your web searches. Where it allows you to specify what charity where you want the money to go just select Building New Hope.

One of the other biggest needs is homes for these guys. Both Porsha and Freda are needing homes. Both are great dogs, both would adjust well to just about any new home. It's an expensive proposition to ship dogs to the States but it has been done by us before. It would mean a lot to me if we could start finding some options for these guys. Plus as one leaves it opens up another space in the clinic for another dog that needs our help. Think on it.

But all pleas aside: thank you. I am humbled and honored.

New updates on The Potato, Freda, Porsha, the pup coming this weekend. We also have the amazing Dr. Tom in to do a spay/neuter blitz. Plus a farrier to work with the carriage and hardware store horses.

Monday, March 24, 2008

On The Road...

I´m taking a few days off and doing a little bit of travelling so there´ll be no posts for about a week. But watch this space...


Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Another Interlude: La Vida Absurd

I love this country - God knows I love this country. Currently I’m on my third time here. I have spent a substantial chunk of the last year here. I have given up jobs, cars, etc to come back here time and time again. So please don’t take what I am about to say as a condemnation of this country that I love.

This place is fucking ridiculous.

It is. It’s a ridiculous country. As an American I am used to certain things - efficiency, quiet, predictability. One of the things I love best about Nicaragua is that these are not priorities in this country - through the rabbit hole, Alice, straight through the bunny hole. Every now and again, though, I have my horrific-Gringa days, my Ugly American days where I would kill for a government agency with an actual computer system, a noise ordinance, a vague idea as to when it is the garbage might get picked up or when the power is going to cut out.

Case In Point, The Popularity of the Relojeria.

Time is a very loose thing here. Everything runs on Nica Time which means things happen when they happen and there’s really no sense in getting upset about it. Appointments are sort of suggestions - no one actually turns up on time.* Posted hours are approximate if they even exist on stores or cafes. The closest internet and call center to my house is painted with a big sign: 9 AM - 9 PM. Sometimes they open at 8 AM, sometimes they don’t open until about noon or so. Some days they don’t open or they close at 6 PM or 11 PM. The woman who runs the Pulperia closest to my house - a sweet, wonderful woman who is enormously patient with my crappy Spanish - doesn’t have posted hours. But she takes a nap every day and closes the store for a few hours. She takes her nap when she feels tired. On several occasions I have found myself fiending for a Coca Cola light, a piece of her pineapple pie or desperately needing a bottle of water and found myself standing in front of her locked door.

For a while I attempted to predict when she would take her nap. I finally gave up.

Herein lies the irony: around the Mercado are several relojerias. You see them all over Nicaragua. Reloj is watch. Relojerias are stores and stands that do nothing but fix and sell watches. Apparently they are popular and successful enough here that several can stay in business within blocks of each other.

Who is buying these watches? Why? What are they doing with them? Who in this country needs a watch? I see people wearing them but for the love of God, why?

Exhibit B: Mail/Everyone Loves A Receipt.

Before I say anything about this I would like to say how grateful I am to once again have American conditioner. Don’t get me wrong. I am swimming in gratitude. And aloe vera. Swimming in gratitude and aloe vera.

One week before I left I sent myself a package of stuff. Toiletries, primarily. At the US post office they told me it should take 6-10 days to get here. As I am currently up on week four sans moisturizer choices, I finally started inquiring about this. Nothing has shown up at Santa Lucia Social Club. I ask Rina, who is minding the place, about it. Have you gone to the post office? She asks me. I hadn’t. We hadn’t gotten a notice that there was a package. It’s probably there, she says, go ask.

Today I go to the post office and explain the situation. They are so nice - so very nice. They have a whole room full of packages and they basically have me go through them to see if I can find mine. I can’t. They open an ancient file cabinet and start handing me packages out of that. None are mine but I think I probably could have signed for any of them.

Eventually it is decided: my package is not there. Again, they are so nice, so polite and apologetic about it. They have me write down my name and phone number in case it turns up. I go up to the front office to buy stamps when they call me back. The woman is proudly clutching my package - unharmed, intact. I have to sign for it. When they look it up to have me sign for it I see the date it arrived at their post office: ten days ago.

Quick moral to this story, kids: if you mail me anything more than an envelope LET ME KNOW. My conditioner would have sat back there for all eternity had I not known it was coming.

It costs me 5 cords - about .27 - to retrieve my package. Again: twenty seven cents. I pay and go to leave and the woman flags me down - senora, una momenta. She is writing something. I assume I will have to sign something else. I wait. A minute later she hands me a handwritten receipt for my package fee. They don’t keep a copy of it or anything. Did she think I was going to return my package and want my .27 back? She doesn’t write me a receipt for the 40 cords worth of stamps I bought, only the 5 cord fee.

When I walk to the Malecon, the Lakeside area, I am always given a little receipt for my five cord entrance fee, a little pre-printed thing that probably costs more to print than it costs to get in.

They love receipts here. Love them. And they have weird little systems that are completely indecipherable to anyone else that they adore as well.

The Weird Little System Issue.

I am in a children’s store buying a ball for one of the clinic dogs. You cannot get dog toys here and I’m sick of throwing empty diet coke bottles for Quixote to fetch. By the third or fourth throw he‘s always eaten them.**

It’s a little store - the size of a large storage closet, maybe. There are two people working in it, two women. I point to the ball behind the counter - 30 cords. She takes it off the shelf, pulls out a receipt book and writes me a receipt for it. I go to pay her and she shakes her head vehemently and points to the other woman, who is literally two feet away from her. I lean over and hand the other woman my receipt and the 30 cords. She beams at me, stamps it with a ‘paid’ stamp and hands it back to me. I then hand it back to the first woman who hands me my ball and gives me the stamped receipt back with it.

I do not take a step to do this. I just pass the receipt between one woman and the next.

Quixote never even gets the ball. On the way home a dirty little street kid in Parque Central, maybe five years old is, following me. I have a can of juice and they follow you to get the can for a deposit. If you have leftovers, if you’re coming out of a restaurant, they’ll ask for those as well. I give the kid the can and the ball. He is delighted.

I’ll buy Quixote another one. In the meantime he’s never had anything but a bottle to fetch so he doesn’t know he’s missing out on anything.

But I’ve had the two party receipt thing happen to me in a bunch of stores. In pretty much every case the store is almost empty and the two people I have to hand things back and forth to are literally right next to each other.

Denouement: Do They Have Reggaeton in Heaven? And if they do, can it be counted as Heaven?

My room is painted bright yellow with a huge high ceiling. Bright yellow. The picture below was taken in my room with the light off and no flash. Just the yellow wall. Towards the ceiling is a big grated window. When the sun comes up every morning it bathes the room in an otherworldly yellow glow.

I am not a morning person. Not at all.

Most days if it wakes me up I’ll fumble around for a shirt, throw it over my eyes and go back to sleep looking like a hostage. If you throw another variable into the mix the shirt-over-my-eyes trick doesn’t work.

This morning, six am. The sun wakes me up. Sometimes I forget where I am and it’s a creepy thing to wake up to, this yellow glow. Am I dead? Should I be heading towards something right now? The grate, maybe, with all the light? It can be a little disorienting, particularly if I wake up thinking I’m still in Denver.

So I wake up thinking I might be dead, throw the shirt over my face and……it’s reggaeton time! My neighbors are doing some sort of home construction project that requires an early start and lots and lots of loud reggaeton. Reggaeton, as far as I can tell, is any pop song with a bad dance beat behind it. I heard a reggaeton version of ‘Every Time You Go Away’ - that 80’s song. It’s annoying enough in mid-afternoon. At 6 AM it can almost make you cry.

Again, let me reiterate: I love this country. Some of the things I love most about this country are the same things that drive me insane. But yeah, reggaeton, 6 AM. Brings out the Ugly American in me.

Though conditioner and a moisturizer selection do make it better.

As well as the fact that you can buy a machete in any hardware store for about $3. Not that I've ever bought one but surely that can be counted as a plus.

* I am just as guilty of this as anyone else is. It's not my fault, though. Granada is a city but it's also a small town and everyone walks or bikes everywhere. You cannot get from point A to point B without running into someone you know and winding up in a conversation. It does not matter if points A and B are five feet from each other and you just got here yesterday. This is a fact of life here.

** Whenever I do this all I can think of is telling my own spoiled dogs with their chicken wrap treats and tons of toys “You know there are dogs in third world countries that have nothing but empty bottles to play with”.
Top picture is one of the flowers in my courtyard with fallen mangoes under it.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Roof Cats & The Esso Station Dog

It sounds like a frickin’ poltergeist, my housemate John says. That’s some scary shit.

We are sitting at the table in the courtyard eating food from one of the chicken ladies on the street. John is the person to go get food with - he’s been here since October, speaks flawless Spanish and works with a primarily Nica organization. He was the one who showed me that the chicken ladies - women who set out huge grills on the sidewalk at night and sell food - have more than chicken. So I probably shouldn’t call them chicken ladies anymore.

Upstairs the yowling and growling continues, creepy and unrelenting. It’s one of the roof cats, a black one. It’s gotten particularly bold and when it smells food it starts making scary noises, probably to scare the other roof cats away. Once we leave it’ll come in and knock the garbage over to go through it for the scraps.

A horrible gurgling noise is coming from the stairs. It’s not even waiting for us to finish. It’s come off the roof and is hiding in the stairwell.

There’s whole colonies of feral cats that live along the rooftops in Granada. All the houses are connected so the cats just go up and down the street. Most houses, ours included, have courtyards in the middle with open air kitchens. The roof cats exist off the garbage, steal anything left on counters, fight and scream and yowl all night. You can hear them running back and forth on the clay rooftops.

Lest anyone think these could be made into happy little pets, don’t. These things are terrifying. Feral cats in the states are scary enough to handle - their Nicaraguan counterparts are monsters. Generation after generation of them have never been touched and they’re tough enough to fight off domestic cats, dogs that people might have in the courtyards they raid. No one is making friends with these things. Believe me.

In the past Casa Lupita has trapped some roof cats in other neighborhoods, brought them in and fixed them and re-released them. If you kill them more just come in to take their place. If you can fix them and release them, it mellows out some of the fighting, the amount of kittens running around. It also lessens the likelihood that it will contract FIV. Neuter them and they live longer.

It’s time for the roof cats of Calle Santa Lucia to be emasculated. Starting with the snarling black poltergeist on the steps.

The next night I bust out the one remaining humane trap Casa Lupita has - the other one got stolen. I explain to the other people in the house what I’m doing. Allen has tuna for lunch and donates part of the can to the cause.

I stay up late that night, don’t set the trap until around midnight to minimize the amount of time whatever winds up in it will have to stay in there. By tomorrow night it will be back on the rooftops, just a little mellower. We have a dark little alcove under the counter and I put the trap there, bait it, cover it with a towel.

Twenty minutes later I am lying in bed when I hear the sound of the garbage being knocked over. Five minutes after that I hear the snap of the trap being triggered.

We have a winner. Ding ding ding.

I throw on some clothes and go out to look. It’s like Christmas morning - everyone who is still up wants to see what’s in the box. When I reach for the towel it swipes out a paw, tries to get me. Hunched in the back of the trap, it snarls and hisses. One of my housemates notes that it’s smaller than he thought it would be. Everything is smaller here - animals, people. We recover it with the towel, go to bed. That night the other roof cats get into a screaming match on the roof. The one in the cage never makes a noise.

Early the next morning I call Toni, let her know I got one. She and Nick meet me at the clinic. Since the last time I was here Toni has not only been trained to assist in surgery, she can do neuters. The cat has mellowed significantly, probably from being awake in the cage all night, terrified. Nick holds him while she does an intramuscular shot of sedatives. Five minutes later he’s out cold.

The surgery itself literally takes minutes. Despite how tough it is it’s a young cat, barely an adult. Afterwards she nicks a corner of it’s ear off so if we trap it again we know it’s already done and will just let it go.

We put it back in the trap and leave it, trap and all, in an upper kennel to recover from the anesthesia. When I come back tonight it is awake, crouched in the back of the trap, furious. I start to walk home with it to release it but neighborhood kids keep running out to see it, trying to stick their fingers in the cage, ignoring my pleas of 'no no no, es gato malo'. I have to get a cab.

In the courtyard I open the cage. It hesistates a second and darts out, up the stairs to the second floor and then back to the rooftop. I rebait the trap, put it back in the alcove.

Whoever was fighting on the roof last night might like some chicken.

The Dog

Lilly is in the States and the woman she’s left in charge, a Nica woman who lived in the States for a while, comes over to chat. You hear about that dog up at the Esso station?

I haven’t but she tells me. Apparently it belongs to a family that owns a little refreshment stand next door at the stop for the Managua bus. A few nights back some guy brought a pit bull, a fighting dog, over. For amusement he loosed the pit bull on the family’s dog. It tore it’s jaw open, busted it’s teeth out.

It’s horrible, she tells me. The poor thing.

While Toni is doing the neuter I tell her about it. We might be able to help, we have some antibiotics. It’s too late to stitch it, since it happened a few days ago and the wound needs to drain. But someone should go have a look.

We aren’t going to bring this dog in - it’s owned - we’ll just see if we can offer assistance.

The only thing that qualifies me for this errand is a deep and abiding love of fountain soda, hard to find in Nicaragua but available at the Esso station. The Esso station is an odd thing to begin with - it’s actually an On The Run convenience store, the exact same ones we have in Colorado and it looks exactly the same as one in the States, complete with air conditioning, soda fountain, American style fast food, everything. Weird.

I walk out later that day, about a mile walk. I get my soda and look around but I don’t see the dog. The Esso station is on the main road to Managua and Rivas and it’s Saturday so it’s packed. I walk around the neighborhood, don’t see any dogs at all. I’m about to walk back home when I notice someone tending to the perfect American looking lawn around the store. In my horrible Spanish I explain who I am and ask if he knows about the dog. He immediately knows what I’m talking about and hurries me over to the stand, a little wooden shack that sells some bottles of Central American soda, some snacks, but is primarily a place to lock bicycles up. Twenty yards from On The Run, a universe away.

More horrible Spanish, more explaining - I’m a veterinary nurse from a clinic here, we heard what happened here, we wanted to know if you needed help. We might have medicine or something. I need to take a picture of the dog to show it to my coworkers. Immediately the whole family mobs me. Pobrecito Lolo, the kids, say. Their poor dog. They thank me for coming.

Someone is sent for the dog. It’s a typical Nica dog of no determinate breed, medium sized and prick eared. I don’t see anything wrong with it until the man picks it up. And then it’s horrible.

There is no actual open wound left, but the jaw is broken and just hangs, leaving the dog’s mouth open permanently. Most of the teeth are gone. It happened a week ago, the man tells me. They took him to the vet and are got some antibiotics. He shows me the bottle and I write the name of the drug down.

An infection we could treat. This I don’t know. I have no idea. I take some pictures.

I ask if he can eat or drink. The man answers but I have trouble understanding. I don’t know that I was clear enough when I asked- my accent makes it hard for Nicas to understand me - and he’s talking quickly. Something about water and milk. While we’re talking the dog manages to pick up a bag of garbage. I get the feeling he can drink and pick things up but can’t chew or swallow food because of this jaw.

To the best of my ability I explain that I don’t know if we can do anything but either me or one of my co-workers will return in a day or two to talk to them. We don’t have a vet but we will have one in two weeks and maybe he can do something.

The vet they took Lolo to doesn’t do surgery and even if could do it, I doubt the family could afford it. The dog is eight years old, ancient for a Nica dog, and the family obviously cares about it. They are furious about what happened. We called the police, the owner tells me, they did nothing, nothing.

I go find Nick at the email café and show him the pictures. He’s stumped, too. He doesn’t know if Dr. Tom would even be able to do anything about it. But he’ll go talk to them, explain to them that if they can keep it alive until then they should bring it to us. He’ll also tell them that if they can’t they should bring it to us anyway to humanely euthanize. It’s not a cruel thing, it’s a poverty thing: if you can’t save something here most people will just slit it’s throat. Not a nice way to go. It’s not done to be mean it’s just the quickest way most Nicas know to kill something. We can at least do a humane euth if need be, a barbituate overdose.

You do what you can, even if it doesn’t seem like much.

To end on a happier note, Freda’s puppy continues to do well. It’s not quite walking yet but it wobbles around, dragging itself like a little black and white seal. We are all pretty cynical but we are all enchanted by the chubby little thing.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Another Mostly Non-Animal Daily Life Interlude

A quick note on the nature of what is vs. what could be. This is Scabby, the first dog we brought in last year when I was here. He was the single most disgusting thing I had ever seen in my life. And believe me when I say I had seen a lot of disgusting in my life.

And this is Scabby now, only his name is BB now. And he is fat and happy and likes to play with the woman's other dog . He is just like anyone else's dog. The only difference is he's still missing that part of his ear. But none of us are super model material, really, so you can't fault him for the half ear.

Now on to the non-dog portion of the blog. And I don't have pictures for it so I'm just sort of peppering it with other pictures of Granada that I have because they're interesting. And we all know it's more fun to read things with pictures.

The Ganga Guy

You get used to the noises and the catcalls. There’s no harm meant, really, it’s just a cultural thing: men say things. Sometimes they hiss, sometimes they make kissing noises, sometimes they just yell ‘hey’ or ‘hola’ or ‘muy bonita’ or whatever. You just ignore it, sometimes with the elderly men I’ll smile or wave back, just keep walking, no harm meant. Every now and then you get one who has a few words of English just for heckling women. It’s never anything lewd - I doubt that half of them even know what it is they’re saying. ‘Hello you are beautiful good morning’. The best one I ever got was some guy in a business suit who, in passing me, said in one gigantic breath: “you are beautiful you are my life you are all I have ever wanted please come home with me right now.” He didn’t slow down or anything when he said it, just blurted it out like one big long word while walking by me. It’s kind of funny.

Sometimes I get followed, that’s annoying, get questions: what’s your name? Usually I’ll ignore them, if they’re particularly persistent I’ll say something nonsensical back to them - ‘en los estados unidos no tenemos nombres‘. Or I’ll just answer with ‘tengo un novio’ which shuts it down.

Occasionally, though, oh occasionally you get the ones who speak some amount of English and are unrelenting. Walking down La Calzadera one day some guy starts following me - I own a bar, you come to my bar, you don’t pay for anything, I have ganga, you like ganga? What’s your name? I take you to the volcano, you like volcano. I keep walking, say nothing, stare straight ahead.

I keep seeing the ganga guy everywhere. And he does not give up. No matter how often I keep walking and absolutely ignoring him, he does not take a hint. I have never said word one to this guy about ganga or booze or volcanos or food or anything but the assumption is because I am an enormous tattooed gringa I must love drugs and booze and need huge amounts of food and touristy amusement, all of which he wants to provide for me.

The other day I’m grocery shopping. I have a ton of crap - vegetables and fruit from the Mercado, some groceries from Pali, the grocery store. Usually I walk but it’s worth the sixty cents to take a cab, not do the mile walk back to my house with all this crap. Cabs in Granada are fixed rate - 10 cords - and shared. What that means is that they’ll pick up more fares with you in the car if they can. Because I flag down the cab outside of Pali, it’s unusually packed. Everyone doing their shopping. The driver, a guy in the passenger seat with a little kid on his lap, two elderly men in the backseat. I squeeze in next to the old men and am arranging my bags when I hear the voice.

Tattoo girl! Tattoo girl!!

It’s the guy from La Calzadera. Fuck. The driver, thinking he might be able to smoosh another person into the cab, stops. Vamos, I say, vamos. Por favor. Ahorita.

The driver isn’t budging.

And then ganga guy is leaning in the window yelling at me: I HAVE TWO OUNCES GANGA!! YOU COME SMOKE GANGA WITH ME!!! I HAVE HASHISH!! I OWN BAR!! YOU EAT, DRINK, FREE!!!

In front of all five people in the cab. Luckily the driver figures out that ganga guy is not getting in the cab and drives off, him trailing behind on foot, still yelling about two ounces of ganga and free food. Meanwhile everyone in the cab is staring at me. It is dead silent. I don’t think anyone spoke English but ‘ganga’ and ‘bar’ mean the exact same thing in Spanish and English.

Everyone is staring at the alcoholic drug-crazed gringa. No conozco ese hombre, I say quietly. I don’t know that guy.

Everyone looks away but I can tell. No one believes me.

The Best Spanish Teachers Ever

I started Spanish classes today. I was going to go to a regular Spanish school, the kind where you get a one-on-one tutor, a textbook, a lot of grammar - the same sort of thing you get in high school but never remember. There’s a billion in Granada, it runs about $5 an hour. I figured I’d do a few hours a week.

I mention this to Donna.

Oh no, she tells me, don’t do that. Have one of the chavallos teach you. They can teach you useful stuff, conversational stuff, teach you the way they learned English. There’s a guy who cooks at the café who speaks English well and is also Donna’s quiador. He’d be happy to do it, Donna tells me. He’d love it. And he’d charge you like half what the school would.

A week and a half later I find myself sitting in Donna’s living room with two of the chavallos - the one that Donna suggested and his friend who came along to come along. I recognize both of them from when I was here before. One used to teach at the school, the other has been Donna’s quiador forever.

Brief interlude here to introduce the concept of chavallos. Chavallos are gang kids, teenage thugs. Donna runs a couple of programs here that help chavallos get out of the lifestyle, teach them job skills. The two guys I’m working with are success stories. Ex drug pushers and pimps, they both now cook at the restaurant.

This is an odd situation. First of all, there’s a weird dynamic between men and women here, an awkward one. The idea of a platonic make/female friendships here is unheard of. Second of all I am fifteen years older than these guys and it’s their job to correct me, to talk to me like friends and correct me, help me with my language, my ability to comprehend regular conversations.

In the first ten minutes I can feel every second tick by. They are unsure of what to ask me to get me talking, a little shy about correcting me. I’m unsure of what to talk to them about, they’re posturing a little bit, doing the cool-kid thing.

I don’t know what broke the barrier but something did. We went from a stilted conversation about how to tell the laundry people I needed my clothes today to Why Costa Rica Sucks . It’s the sort of conversation that would give Don Vicente, my very good but very traditional Spanish teacher in San Juan Del Sur, the vapors.

They correct my pronunciation, teach me new verbs but in a totally different way than a regular teacher. We talk about my life in the states, their lives prior to being in the café and teaching programs, how Donna got them a teacher to teach them English. We do this all in Spanish with them correcting me. They teach me some slang. Don’t use this, they tell me, then they rattle off something I’ve heard before on the barrio streets but never understood. So that’s hello, I ask them? Sort of like ‘what’s up?’. I ask. No, not for normal people, they tell me, but it is for us, it means ‘yo motherfucker, what you been up to’ in Spanish. I probably will never use it but they teach me it, anyway, all of us laughing.

I mention the ganga guy. You need to tell him off, one of them tells me. You need to call him a son of a bitch. The other chavallo nods gravely. Si. Hijo de puta, they say. Hijo de puta, I say back. No no no, I’m not saying it fast enough. They make me practice again and again. Hijo-de-puta. Hijodeputa. You have to like, spit it out.

The same way they make me practice the phrases about laundry and being late, the same way they make me repeat past and present tenses on a bunch of verbs, they make me practice ‘son of a bitch’ until I cannot only say it, I can say it vehemently and with a Nica accent.

These guys are reformed, they are success stories. Both of them are accomplished cooks, one of them was a fantastic teacher and is now an amazing pastry chef. Even still, they are chavallos. I am not only learning Spanish I’m learning How Not To Take Shit In Spanish.

The Belgians

They are one of the single most attractive groups of people I have ever seen in my life. Not attractive handicapped people - attractive people, period. And in some odd parade they are coming down Calle La Libertad as I am walking up after locking up the clinic.

There’s a truck in front of them filming them, one in back, a bunch of people racing around next to them with television cameras and boom mikes. And then there’s the ten of them - a few people in wheelchairs, one guy with a prosthetic leg, another guy on arm crutches, a little person, a woman with a backpack of oxygen who occasionally puts the tube in her mouth. None mentally handicapped but all with physical handicaps. And they, with their retinue of cameras, are hauling ass down the street.

All white. All devastatingly attractive. Seriously. The guy on the crutches and the woman in the three wheeled wheelchair could be models.

I am trying not to stare but I’m the only one trying not to. School has just let out and all the Nica kids in their uniforms are streaming home, staring, following this group. As I walk by one of the guys in the wheelchairs hollers at me ‘ingles?’.

Yes, I say, I speak English.

Immediately I am swarmed, not only by the disabled people but by the camera crews, a mike is shoved in my face. The guy with the artificial leg, who looks infinitely more vigorous and athletic than I could ever be, asks me if I know where Rancho Major is. I don’t, I tell them, I’m sorry. Did you ask cab drivers?

Yes, they tell me, but we don’t speak enough Spanish and they keep sending us in opposite directions. Can you ask for us?

My spanish sucks but I can do directions.

I ask one of the school kids who tells me it’s next to the Malecon, near the lakeside, walk down to the lakeside and ask the police there. I translate for them. Well then how do we get to the lake?

Calle La Libertad ends at the end of the block and the road to the lakeside, while close, can be a little confusing - there’s a little fork there. I offer to walk them down to the fork, a few blocks away, and point them in the right direction. Just get the cameras off of me.

As we walk the guy on the crutches and the woman with the breathing tube explain it to me. They’re a group of handicapped Belgians and they have to make it from the Atlantic coast of Nicaragua to the Pacific coast in ten days, stopping to do all these challenges.

Yesterday, the crutch guy tells me, we climbed Mombacho. He indicates the woman in the wheelchair - she literally hauled her self up it on her ass with just her arms.

Holy fuck. Mombacho is a huge volcano. I wouldn’t, fully functioning, climb it.

Honestly - that's it. Look at it. It's gigantic. And hot.

It’s a reality show, the girl with the breathing tube tells me. The British did it last year on the BBC. Now we’re doing it. She pauses to take a breath off her tube. And we need to kick some British ass.

We get to the fork and I leave them there, amidst some very quick handshaking and a few hugs. There’s a ton of tourists at the lakeside, they won’t have a problem getting someone to translate for them.

As they haul ass down the street the rear production truck stops next to me, wanting to know if I smoke and if I do, if I have a lighter. It’s three guys, all younger. We smoke a cigarette together and they give me a bottle of water out of their cooler. We were walking really fast and it’s super hot out.

Those people are ANIMALS, the production guys tell me. They’re nuts. You have no idea. They have all these tasks they have to do that able bodied people would have trouble with and they are just whupping ass at them. There’s nothing they can’t do. I ask if they have a hard time with people heckling or anything. No, lot of staring but where ever they go everyone thinks it’s awesome.

I ask if they have a website or something that I can track their progress on. They don’t but they give me the website of the Belgian television network that’s making it. It won’t air until October and there probably isn’t much up about it until then. They ask me if I want to come along, ride down to the lakeside with them, see what’s going on, see where they go next. I’d love to but duty calls. They head off down the road in the truck, speeding to catch up to the group.

***The last of Bolsita's puppies died the other night. She is doing well, Freda and her pup are doing fantatically but we did lose that last Bolsita pup. And no, I don't want to write about that.***

****Other note: I enabled comments on this. I got some emails about people not having blogger accounts wanting to comment so I changed the setting - you don't need to have a blogger account to leave a comment now. But be nice, kids, be nice*****

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Potato Drama And Freda's Surprise.

I am not fully awake when the phone goes off at 9 AM. Knocking everything off my desk while I fumble for it, I answer it anyway. It could be someone calling from the states. It could be an emergency. And while I don’t have to be at the clinic until 11, I understand most people get out of bed substantially earlier than this. Usually I do, too, here but I’m fighting off a head cold, it’s Sunday morning: I am still asleep.

It’s Donna. She’s going to the Lakeside to hunt for The Potato, the horrifically detiorating sarna dog that she’s been keeping an eye on, feeding now and again. With Tyson moving out and Bolsita, the pregnant dog, at Karen’s, we have space to bring him in. Do I want to come?

Usually I am the girl that never says no. But today I hem and haw - I have not even begun the caffeine and nicotine infusions necessary to get me okay. Can we do this later? No worries, Donna tells me. I’ll go check it out by myself.

I haul myself out of bed and am digging around for a soda - forget coffee in this country, unless you go out for it, just forget it - when the phone goes off again. I am still in my pajamas.

Get your ass in a taxi, sayeth Donna, I found him and he’s on his way out. Get down here now. And bring a sheet.

I throw on some jeans, grab my slip lead, a sheet (sorry Lilly) and run out the door, still in the tank top I slept in, flag down a cab.

Donna is by the side of the road in the tourist area where all the bars and restaurants are. She’s going to move the car down closer to us. Keep an eye on him. Toni and Nick are on the way.

Staggering like a drunken sailor, looking like something designed by Pixar to terrify small children, there is The Potato.

I don’t understand enough Spanish to get the gist of the whole thing, but something about his gray color, the white crust that covers a lot of him, reminds a lot of the local restaurant owners of some sort of potato dish I can’t translate. Toni, Nick and Donna refer to him as Papas Fritos - fried potato. I call him The Potato. And he does look a bit like a potato. A flaking, crusty, bald potato with the four random hairs he has left sticking out of his shoulder.

With Donna gone The Potato finds his second wind and starts trotting - trotting - off in the opposite direction. I follow him for a bit, get farther and farther away from where they left me. This isn’t going to work. I need to stop him. I do the unthinkable: I loop the slip lead over his head.

Predictably, the Nicaraguan Street Dog Slip Lead tantrum ensues. He flails, whirls, bites at the lead, yowls like he’s being ax murdered. I remain calm, let him have his moment. He’ll get over it. All the park goers are watching with some interest. White people are crazy.

The good thing about half dead street dogs is that they tire easily. After a few seconds he gives up, slumps down. I half lead, half drag him back towards the meeting spot. Every now and then he has a miniature tantrum, howls, drops to his stomach. I wait it out and he gets back up and keeps going. Eventually we find Donna, Toni and Nick, Kit who has come as well. We drop the sheet over him, jerry rig a muzzle from some twine and haul his ass into the back of the truck.

Time for another mini-tantrum. The Potato tries to get over the tailgate. Nick, Toni and I ride in the back with him, Toni bracing one side, Nick standing and leaning against the cab, keeping a grip on his back end, me on his other side, kind of bracing him, kind of taking pictures.

At the clinic the dogs are all running loose except sweet, shy, Freda who is hanging back in a kennel. She slowly gets up to greet us and dead shock ensues. There in the kennel with her is one tiny little black and white newborn puppy.

Freda’s state has been in debate for a while. She’s been here since before I got here. She is small, not swollen but with enlarged nipples. Yes she’s been getting bigger but she’s been getting food. Food will make you bigger. Heat, I said. Toni, who knows substantially better said pregnant. No way, said I. Look at the size of her.

Should have listened to Toni. Toni is infinitely brighter than I could ever be. And Toni has been doing this day in and day out in Nica for years while I’ve spent the past two years essentially being office furniture in the pet supply industry.

The puppy is small but perfectly formed, black with white markings, like a Boston Terrier, bigger than Bolsitas puppies and wiggly.

We are all in shock.

We check Freda over. She is calm, her vulva is dry. Whatever has happened during the night - the labor, the birth, she has handled entirely on her own and it’s over. I’ve always gotten this vibe off of Freda that she doesn’t want to be any trouble, that she’s just grateful for the food and the care and the affection. While Quixote and Tyson and One Eye will cluster around you, begging for attention, Freda holds back, shyly approaches when the other dogs have fallen back. The way she’s done this - her pregnancy, delivering her puppy - is all in character.

We move her from the outdoor area into a crate inside the kennel with lots of blankets, privacy. She immediately curls up with her baby.

Then we get back to the matter of The Potato, who has no such compucture about being a problem. Two of us have to hold him for the ivermectin injection. Toni stands over him with the needle. It takes her a second to even find a place in what passes for his skin to get the needle in. Then we have to wrestle him into a kennel where he sets forth to howling his brains off. Later in the day Donna will come by and, seeing him still hepped up and noisy, let him into the yard with the other dogs. He will promptly dig himself a hole and stay there. When I come at night to feed and medicate he will stubbornly refuse to move, prompting another 20 minute wrestling match to get him back into a kennel for the night followed by more vocal doggy histrionics.

The Potato is a drama queen. Spunkiness wise, this is a good sign. Yes, he is going to be a big pain in my ass for a while but he’s going to be just fine.

Before she leaves Kit calls her friend at the Laguna who is interested in a puppy. The friend came out earlier in the week and met him, thought he was cute. He’s home and wants Tyson, is willing to take him today. Kit will drive him out. We pack him a bag of food, say our goodbyes and less than a week after being half-dead in a ditch, he trots out the front gate to his new home, ready to raise hell and eat furniture. We’ll see him again in a few weeks when he comes back for a brief visit to get fixed. Godspeed, Tyson. Try to behave yourself long enough for them to get attached to you .

Tomorrow Quixote leaves for his new home, somewhere around Rivas.

That will leave us with One Eye - now named Porsha, Freda and her baby, and The Potato. Something tells me The Potato will more than make up for any work load lost by the departures of Tyson and Quixote.

Postscript: The next day I get to the clinic to do food and meds and find a note from Toni: call me, major Potato problems, is the essence of it. I talk to Nick - Toni and Karen are taking Bolsita and the remaining puppy to the vet in Managua. The Potato screamed all day, interrupting classes at the school, harassing the neighbors no end. He may not be aggressive but he is nowhere near tame. She injected him with a mild sedative but he is still screaming his brains out.

It is decided to move The Potato to Donna’s patio. We get him over there and he immediately tries to get out the gate. Donna calls a handyman to construct a barrier there. The patio has two stories and we block off the stairs to the second story.

While we wait for the handyman there is a Potato Bathing interlude. This is so completely grotesque I will spare everyone the details. But we get a lot of the crust off. And the new volunteers, a 14 year old girl and her mom, are troopers about restraining The Potato while I scrub bits and pieces of crust off of him.

We leave. I go back to my house for the most needed shower in the history of bathing. As I’m getting cleaned up I get a frantic call from Donna: The Potato is on the loose. Apparently he broke through the barriers to the stairs, went over the broken glass on the security wall and jumped the two stories to the ground. She’s got him in her sights, please, get a cab.

When I get there he is ambling down the road to the lakeside, bleeding from cuts from the glass. As we follow him in her car we talk. There is no humane way to contain this dog. If we tie him up, he will hang himself trying to get out. He wants nothing to do this.

The other street dogs we have taken have been eager to be off the streets. We were joking the other day about how One Eye would sign a lease for her kennel at the clinic if we would offer her one. For other dogs this is the only life they know, the only one they want. We are doing nothing but traumatizing and hurting him. He doesn’t want to go to Maine. He wants to stay at the lakeside. He needs help, yes, but on his terms.

We decide we will make sure that he makes it safely back to the area he hangs out at the lakeside, bring him medicine for his skin and the new cuts in meatballs, hope he doesn’t get poisoned and leave him be.

It’s all we can do.

Halfway back to the lake he tries to wander into someone’s yard. We decide to drive him back to where we found him, where we know he’ll be as safe as he possibly can be. For the last time I wrap him in a sheet, wrestle him back into the bed of the truck, restrain him as best I can. The blood from his cuts leaks onto me.

At the lake we leave a bag of food with one of the restaurant owners. Today I go back with his meds. He’s not around, the restaurant owner tells me. But he was this morning, he had some water. I leave some more food, laced with medicated meatballs for him. Tomorrow morning the other volunteers will go back over with more food and medicine.

Es vagaro, the restaurant owner told me and Donna of The Potato. A vagrant. He always has been.

Quixote leaves today or tomorrow, a new home near Rivas. That will leave us with Freda and her puppy and One-Eye (nee Porsha). As those two improve, with the puppy there, I’ll continue to treat the dogs in the market but we won’t bring any new ones in.

This will lighten my workload some. Hopefully, as these guys get better a home can be found for One Eye (not that Porsha isn’t a nice name but she will always be One Eye to me) and we can bring in someone else.

One Eye is appallingly sweet, loves people, loves other dogs, passionate about food, surprisingly playful. Anyone? Anyone? A Nica Street dog of your very own….

With these guys the trick is not to see what it is but rather what will be.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

The Puppies.

The next morning Donna and I are out at the lakeside looking for an incredibly bad sarna dog when Donna tells me: the pregger dog had a pup this morning. At six am.

We finish what we’re doing - another horrific case we can’t bring in because we don’t have room for - and Donna drops Carissa and I off at Karen’s.

Instead of a birthing party, there are three incredibly exhausted females. Karen, who’s been up with the dog since six, Heidi, another Granada patron saint of the street dogs, and Preggers herself, nurturing four pups but still looking gigantically pregnant and stressed.

Another one was born dead, they tell us. It was awful. It came out with the sack but it was gone.

The puppies look like tiny, homely guinea pigs, blind and rooting around. Mom looks exhausted.

While we’re talking she starts to strain, pant, again. Another one is coming. Like the dead one, this one is still in it’s amniotic sack. Heidi doesn’t stop to think - as it comes out she pulls the sack open, pulls the puppy out. It’s gasping , not really breathing. We all hold our breath. Breathe.


Heidi rubs it’s chest. It’s chest heaves a few times, catches. It breathes.

There are a million street dogs, a billion street puppies, but in this one minute there is so much victory. Karen, Carissa, Heidi and I are between laughing and crying. Preggers is cleaning her new baby enthusiastically.

It was, unfortunately, the last victory of the evening. Time and time again she would start to labor again and time and time again, more stillborn puppies. It is a marathon that never ends - by the time all was said and done it would be twenty six hours. The five live ones. The one that died between numbers two and three. And then another stillborn. And another. And another.

It’s heartbreaking. We take turns digging the grave in the back of Karen’s garden for the stillborn ones.

I go home and pick up some stuff.

That night I sleep in the spare room outside of Karen’s house, within the locked courtyard, feet away from mother and babies. I have a yoga pad, a sleeping bag. I get up every hour to check on her while Karen and Heidi, who have been in with it since the beginning, get some much needed rest and Carissa gets a cab back to her hotel.

Sometime between four and six am the last one is born, a big one, also stillborn. And then, it seems, we are done. Five live ones. Seven dead. Mom - who is nicknamed Bolsita for the bag she had sticking out of her butt - is exhausted and stressed but fine.

It’s decided to go to the vet in the morning, Karen will get a truck and we’ll drive to Managua to make sure everything really is over, there is nothing left inside Bolsita that will kill her. Heidi has to do work stuff. Carissa stays to do clinic duty. We load Bolsita and the pups into the front of the truck and get halfway down the street. There is no air conditioning in the truck. The road is bad and rutted. It’s hot and Bolista is stressed, I’m struggling to keep the pups on the seat with her while Karen drives.

There is no way this is going to work. No way. We turn the truck around and go back to Karen’s.

Donna knows a vet that will come to the house, a decent one. He shows up and says he thinks it’s going to be okay, gives her an antibiotic shot for any infections from all the stillborn ones. Tells us to try to bottle feed the pups to give them extra help.

The surviving pups are so small, so fragile. There are two that we are smaller than the rest of the already way too tiny pups. From the get-go they have trouble latching on to a nipple, seem limper, less energetic then the rest.

We lose the first one a few hours after the vet leaves. One minute he is alive, wriggling with the others in the pile of naked-hamster looking babies. Then he is cold, gone.

The next day we lose another one, the other weak one. One of the stronger ones, one we called Little Hazel because it has the same markings as Karen’s pit bull, starts to get weaker. Heidi and Karen bottle feed frantically, warm them constantly.

I am at the clinic, working on the other sarna dogs. When Carissa, who is leaving, stops by to say goodbye to Karen she gets the news: Little Hazel is gone now, too. A bad blow for all of us, but for no one as much as Karen who has poured heart and soul into this. If there is any justice in the universe, they will survive just because Heidi and Karen, who have done so very much, deserve that.

At this writing, one is left. Heidi and Karen continue to labor around the clock trying to keep it going. Bolsita, though stressed, continues to do well. Eating, being a good dog mom. After twenty six hours of labor with not one bathroom break, Bolsita finally takes the worlds’ longest pee.

On Karen’s $5000 Turkish rug.

Highly disheartened over the pups, we take the pee as a good sign for Bolsita, carpet aside.

Karen is a saint.

To end on a slightly higher note: Tyson the ditch puppy is going to a new home very shortly. Like within the next few days. A good home, nice people out on the Laguna. This means we can probably squeeze one more into the clinic. Potato, Donna says, the horrible one out at the lakeside. A woman in Maine says if we can get him in and rehilibitate him, get the sarna taken care, of, she will take him, ship him to her home in the states.

The tourism people have been poisoning dogs out at the Lakeside. Potato hasn’t been seen in a day or two but we remain hopeful. Tomorrow we go out on a Potato hunt, to bring him in.

Tomorrow I also get another volunteer, to help since Carissa is leaving. Our first task: bath time for One Eye.

And because it would be disingenuous of me to not say anything: Carissa will be sorely missed. Sent over for a six day volunteer stint with her school, she had no idea what the hell she had gotten herself into. As her classmates read stories to school children, Carissa dug graves for the puppies with us, gently washed the infected amniotic fluid off of Bolsita, worked ten hour days with me. On her very first day we picked up One Eye. Two hours into this first day she finds herself standing next to the pick up truck with me trying to pass One Eye over to her from the bed, where I rode in the back holding the dog. She looks at One Eye - the gaping eye socket, the scabby, hairless, flaking skin, the smell. This is where most people would have made an excuse, backed away, called their advisor, done anything. I worked with career shelter workers who would have refused to touch this dog. Carissa hesitates for only a second, reaches up her arms, takes her, clutches her tight and places her carefully back on the ground, leads her into the clinic.

The girl can roll with it.

Godspeed, Carissa. Thank you for everything.

It would also be disingenous of me to point out something that kind of should be a given: I am not the clinic. I am not barely one tenth of a cog in the wheel that makes this run. I show up every now and again and get to play full time mangy dog wrangler for a while. What makes the clinic - what the clinic is - is an incredibly amazing and dedicated group of people who do this while holding down full time jobs and lives, the people who set this all up, make it run, do absolutely everything against overwhelming odds. Handle the main action of the clinic - spaying and neutering. Requistioning. Bringing in dogs like Quixote and Frida - half dead - and doing awesome work with them. Toni. Nick. Kit. Heidi. Karen. And of course Donna Tabor. And the amazing Dr. Tom who comes in often and just blitzkriegs these surgeries. I have the blog, I have the time, I get to tell the stories but it should never be assumed that they are just mine. Every single day here I am humbled and awed by these people.

Friday, March 7, 2008

The Pregnant Street Dog Saga Begins

The dog had been enormously pregnant for as long as anyone could remember. A small, long haired brown dog with floppy ears - maybe some spaniel parentage - it lurked around Parque Central and Calle La Calzadera, eating trash, trying to beg off people eating on the outdoor patios. It was skittish, everyone knew about it and it was one of the big goals when I got here - bring the pregnant dog in.

I failed miserably twice - got close and then had her take off. Every night we couldn’t get her was another night for her to die giving birth under a car.

Tuesday I am working with Carissa, a short term volunteer, a college girl who only has a week. We’re dispensing sarna meds in hot dogs to the market dogs, much to the amusement of the locals who have no idea what the fuck is going on, only they we keep buying hot dogs for scaly monsters.

Two other market dogs we're medicating but cannot bring in.

We stop in an area with benches to rest and lo and behold, there she is, hugely pregnant and rooting through the trash. And me with only a quarter of a hot dog left. I lure her over but don’t try to slip lead her. I throw some cordovas at Carissa. Please, I'll sit with her you go get meat. Meat. I don’t care what, any. Just get us enough meat that I can bribe her once I get a lead on her. She’s probably going to go batshit when I get the lead on her and raw meat might keep her quieter. Carissa takes off into the maze that is Granada’s Mercado Central in search of raw meat. I sit with the dog. For a while she stays with me, then she wanders off. I follow her and lose her around a corner, under one stall in the midst of a billion. Fuck.

Poor Carissa is waiting where she left me, 2 lbs of beef in her hand.

For the rest of the day it’s hide and seek. We see her, get close, and then she’s off again, around a corner, under a bench, gone.

I am killing poor Carissa who is not used to walking for hours in this heat, through the fragrance of the meat market, stuck with the woman who always forgets to eat. She’s exhausted and her blood sugar is about to give out. The girl is a serious trooper but this is a little much to ask on day one from her. Particularly as we're also doing clinic duty on the dogs in care twice a day.

We decide to call it a day. Right as we’re walking towards a café, there’s Preggers. She appears out of nowhere from around a corner. We take off in her direction. I throw some beef at her. She comes over. I give her more, she relaxes and eats. I slip the lead over her head. She tenses for a second. More beef. She relaxes. Slowly we lead her through the market, towards the street.

Occasionally one of the vendors will ask us what we’re doing. Carissa, who speaks Spanish, explains. Instead of the usual amusement I expect everyone’s reaction is the same: Oh good, how nice, God bless you.

She is no one’s dog, no one feeds her or calls her theirs but they don’t want to see her die in childbirth in front of them.

Carissa runs recon as I lead the dog through the market.

By some miracle of shitty timing we find the only two blocks in Granada with no goddamn cabs on them. The dog is being incredibly good and sweet but I can tell she’s exhausted. Carissa manages to flag down a cab. In a miracle of a different kind the driver agrees to take her. No cab will take dogs. None. I'm going to pay out the ass for this kindness but I don't care.

I am trying to haul her enormously pregnant ass into the back of the cab when a horse driver passing stops, gets down, pushes me aside and lifts her into the cab. The stars are aligning for this dog. No one will help with the street dogs - no one.

Karen and Paul, an expatriate couple who have noticed her and tried several times to get her have volunteered their back house for her. We move her in. She has a bag sticking out of her ass - something she ate and can’t pass. I give her some mineral oil.

The next day I take a much deserved day off. She apparently is acting distressed and Donna and Heidi, another woman, take her to the vet in Managua. Very constipated, though she passed the bag, full of parasites but mostly okay. A goddamn miracle considering how she’s been living. She could go at any second , the vet tells them. Any time now.