Friday, June 27, 2008

Another Pictorial/Before and Afters/An Interlude About Mugging

I really do win the award for crappy blogging lately. So much has happened - a bunch of clinics, a new dog at the clinic, an epic journey in which Finn gets waylaid by a sinus infection, a strike with burning tires on the landing strip at Corn Island and spends two days at the Managua airport with a shit-ton of medical equipment but misses the entire Corn Islands trip.

And I will actually hit those. Honestly. Part of the problem is that I start about fifteen different entries and then my writing ADD kicks in and I'm off onto something else.

Anyway, Donna got sick and missed the trip, too. But no matter how sick she is, every single morning she gets up and drives down to the Lakefront to feed the feral dogs.

To read this blog you would think Donna only has the clinic - she doesn't. She runs two schools, a restaraunt that's a job training program for street kids, a bunch of other projects. When I say she is the busiest woman in Central America I am not screwing around. And despite my occasionally quoting her colorful language - she drops the f-bomb as much as I do at times - this is a woman who actually won some ridiculously prestigous award for citizen diplomacy, is described in the Lonely Planet guides as 'Mother Theresa with the potty mouth'. In short, the woman WORKS. But she never forgets the lake dogs.

I think it started with the Potato - see below - but now there is a whole crew of dogs and cats that wait for her every morning. She pulls up in her truck and five dogs and three cats coming flying out for breakfast.

All of the dogs are ferals. We managed to trap and fix the females and Donna can touch a few of them but all of them are dogs that are not candidates for the clinic.
There's no real point to this, just that it's a cool thing to see. And one of the cats had kittens in a shed. The kittens don't stray out of the shed but they are starting to eat solid food. They hiss, they bat, they run but they wait for breakfast, too.

Interlude: In Which I Have The Obligatory Attempted Mugging In A Central American Country & A Juvenile Delinquent Gets The Shit Scared Out Of Him So Badly He's Probably Considering The Priesthood:

Something you should know about Nicaragua: according to UN statistics it is the second safest country in all of the Americas after Canada. People are scared shitless of Nicaragua - they forget that the Contra thing was twenty years ago. But this is a safe place. I walk around this city all the time and feel safer than I would walking around most parts of Denver. Yup, I've had the odd drunk guy pester me and people I know have had thier bags snatched. There's even been some awful, awful crimes here - a friend hit in the head with a rock during a botched robbery by a gang, a murder last years, some other friends mugged with a machete. That said, it happens less here than it does in the States.

Last night my friend Linda and I are walking down Calle Martirio on our way home. It was pretty late - we had gone to a work dinner and then out to a club. I walk down Martirio all the time. No hay problemas. Tonight, however, we are on a dark block. In a weird twist of it-never-happens-in-Nica, there is no one sitting out on their sidewalk. It's dark, it's quiet. Out of nowhere this twelve year old looking kid just appears next to us. He asks for a peso - slang for a cord.

I'm a bitch about this. I don't give out money to street kids or beggars. There's about a billion reasons I have for this, but I don't. No, I say. No, adios, vas. No, goodbye, go. He asks again, still following us. Linda and I move across the street and the kid follows a bit behind us. This kid, I tell Linda, is starting to freak me out.

Right after I said this all hell breaks loose. The kid grabs Linda's ass. I don't see this, I just see him rush up, grab and then back off. And then Linda turns around and makes the most horrific sound I have ever heard a person make. She doesn't run, she doesn't squeal, she confronts him and she makes the most terrifying noise I have ever heard a person make. The kid takes off down the street.

I have no idea what happened - it all happened so quickly. I see one pissed Swiss woman screaming bloody murder. I see the kid running down the street like his ass is on fire. So, in a move that makes absolutely no sense what so ever, I go after him. Don't ask me what I was thinking - I guess I just thought he had gotten something from her. Don't ask me what I was going to do if I caught him - if I have one religion it's pacifism. *

Either way none of this is what the little bastard expected. Whether he was trying to grab ass or get money, we don't know. But this is not how Scared White People behave. They run. They hand over everything. Instead I am hauling ass down the street in a mini dress after him and Linda is screaming 'Vamos a mortir ti!' - We're going to kill you. In Spanish. And then I think she might have yelled it in German and possibly in English as well for good measure.

About half a block down I realize I'm being an ass and I stop. The kid is running like he will never run again in his life, around the corner and down Calle Arsenal.

Linda and I walk the rest of the block down the street in hysterics, laughing so hard we almost wet ourselves, going over the incident again and again - Linda's hellish scream, we're going to kill you, me going after him. When we get home John is up watching TV and we tell him the whole story breathlessly, interrupting each other and laughing our asses off.

We be some tough bitches.

Before & After:

I know I've done this before but going with Donna to feed the Potato and the other Lakefront animals the other day made me think it might be time for a bit of a recap of how some of these guys started and what they wound up looking like by the time we were done.

The first photo I ever put up that actually made people email me telling me I was making them sick to their stomachs was The Potato - the original lakefront feral dog that we tried, unsuccesfully, to keep at the clinic. If you think looking at the picture made you sick, keep in mind I had to bathe this dog. But this was the Potato as he was originally found:

And the body shot:

I take no credit for this. After we realized we could not contain him and he needed to be returned to the Lakefront, Donna went down every single morning and fed and medicated him. This was the beginning, I think, of the Lakefront Feeding Crew. But Donna did this, single handledly, with probably $5 worth of ivermectin tablets, buckets of kibble, some antibiotics and a dedication to being there to take care of him on his terms every single morning. But this is the The Potato now:

And he looks nothing like a potato at all. In fact he looks like a golden retriever. He will always be feral, he will live his entire life by the Lakefront where he is happy. But he is cared for. And he is better. And he actually looks like a dog:
And of course Minnow, who arrived bald, terrified and looking a bit rat-like. Much healthier than The Potato but still bald:
Minnow was returned to his owner on Corn Islands last week. I wish I had a picture of him right before he left - he was totally hairy and looked just like any other pain in the ass adolescent puppy. But apparently he made a big splash on the Island and no one could believe the 'purple dog' was the same one we returned. But this is the Minnow a month before he left, looking like any other dog. Some daily ivermectin shots, some food:
And of course everyone's favorite standby, the dog originally known as One Eye. Porsha as she was found at the bus station to Masaya. Grotesque, pathetic, sad, practically bald, with an infected empty eye socket and barely alive:

And this is the Porsha, everyone's favorite dog, as she looked last week. There will be no more updates on Porsha for at least a month. Why? Because she left for her new home in Colorado yesterday. Godspeed, Porsha. If any creature in the universe deserved the turn of fate her fat, happy, one eyed ass recieved, it was Porsha. I can't wait to see her in Colorado:

* This is true. I made a vow a long time ago that I will not, under any circumstances, use violence against another human being. Even in self defense. Will I say horrible things? Yes. The ability to say horrible thing is a skill I have. But I will not raise a hand to another person. Violence, someone once said, is the weapon of the weak. I also won't hit animals, though I have broken that rule in defense of myself and my own animals. That said I've also taken some bites I could have avoided if I was more willing to react. And I eat meat and have humanely euthanized thousands of animals - we're all walking paradoxes, I recognize mine. But it is the nature of humans to be violent - to hurt each other and other things. A lot of people are willing to commit themselves to try to overcome other, what I believe are more innocous, parts of human nature - sexuality, the need for acceptance, healthy conflict - for some religion or some ideal. But as a species and particularly as a society we love violence, embrace it.

**Photo credit: I totally boosted the last pic of Porsha off of Mauren, another volunteer. She takes amazing photos and it is the last pic of Porsha before she left. **

Friday, June 20, 2008

No Time For A Real Post, So A Pictorial...

Prior to leaving for Corn Islands, three vets did two days of clinic in Granada. We did it as a dry run - not using the equipment that we wouldn't be able to bring with us to Corn Island. And because, well, Granada always needs more clinics. In two days with three vets, a small area and a whole bunch of vet techs over fifty animals were fixed. Additionally many dogs had veneral tumors removed, were dewormed, treated for various stuff. It was a wacky two days.

The rest of the team is already in Corn Islands. I got way-laid by a sinus infection and am joining tomorrow with forty-odd pounds (at least) of medical equipment. So far they've fixed over 100 dogs in two days, many with major health issues they've treated. And that was on the small island. But the next few days should be fun. In the meantime, though, some of my crappy-Nicaraguan digital camera pics from the two days of Granada clinic.
Dr. Tom - who I think was the founding vet of this project with Donna - and Dr. Terry Kane work on our make-shift second table that Dr. Tom built, MacGuyver style, from PVC pipe specifically for the Corn Islands trip.

Dr. Shayna and Vet Tech Pam have fun trying to get a feral roof cat out of a trap. Both of these guys are new to volunteering with the clinic and incredible - Pam is probably the most capable tech I've ever seen.
Claudio, a Granada native who trained as a tech and is now equally awesome checks post-surgery dogs.

Feral street dog with enormous testicular tumor awaiting surgery. Yes, he bites, hence the Hannibal Lecter muzzle. Not a mean dog, just a feral dog who really just doesn't want to be handled.

Dr. Shayna intubates the sedated tumor dog after he was anesthesized while Claudio holds. He spent three days in a cage at the clinic recovering and recieving chemo and mange treatment and was re-released into his territory.

And Now For The Cute Stuff. Because People Dig The Cute Shit.

When Donna was out looking for the tumor dog she found this pup wandering the streets. Into the truck she went. She, like the dog from Las Cruces, has some mange issues but is otherwise healthy and happy. Now we have the two puppies - the Las Cruces pup and this one. We named the blond Las Cruces pup Lucia and this one is called Isabella but they sort of formed a unit - they're the same age and the same size and equally bonkers. Hence they sort of are called, as a unit, the Scabies Babies.

It's a weird thing, though. Two pups in one week. Not that there aren't a million sarna puppies, we usually just don't get a melange of them at once. But these two, despite themselves, are endearing. Within a month or two their hair will be back and they'll be totally normal puppies. Plus Lucia, the Las Cruces pup, had taken over where Minnow left off in terms of hell-raising and flip-flop eating. Quite frankly I'm relieved we have another Scabie Baby to keep her occupied.

Their main source of occupying each other is chewing on each other. Or chewing on Porsha. But chewing on each other is more fun because the other one chews back whereas Porsha just sort of sits there, smiles, and acts like a large, fat, one eyed chew toy.

But yes, meet the Scabies Babies.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Almost Vacant - Or Things Go All Nicaraguan As They Always Do.

I’ve been a bad blogger. Or at least a less active one. So many updates and all I can blame it on is that my camera sucks and I hate to post blogs with no pictures.

First of all, Godspeed Freda. After more than three months at the clinic Freda finally found a great home. She left last Monday to go live with a family that wanted a quiet, calm dog that was good with their toddler. She met them and was a champ with the kid, as she always is. We had a night of suspense - she did her ‘I don’t want to be any problem to anyone’ shy thing when they came to meet her and they decided to go look at some other dogs and maybe puppies.

The next day they called and asked when they could come get her. The whole family showed up and Freda, dressed in a new collar and leash walked out the clinic gates for the first time since before I got here. I know the family that took her and apparently she’s doing well as I knew she would be. Even still I miss her quietness, her intellegent, alert eyes, her sweetness.

And Minnow leaves to go back to the Corn Islands on Tuesday. Huger, hairier, and more of a hell raiser than before. It will be so quiet without her though it will be nice to know whatever flip flops I wear to work will remain intact.

On June 26th Porsha flies to the States. I might cry when she leaves. Even though I know I’ll probably see her again - she’ll be living an hour away from me - my cynical, fourteen-years-in-animal-shelters self might bust out a tear or two when the fat girl goes to the airport.

In theory this would have wiped out our population. Unthinkable. No clinic dogs?

Yes, we have the Corn Islands trip next week, a clinic this weekend and lots to do but no orphans? No resident patients?

Funny How Things Never Work Out Like That.

We got a call last week from the person watching Bohemian Paradise while Lucy was out of town. One of the dogs she feeds had shown up in horrible shape, lied down and couldn’t get back up. The guy, who was incredibly nice and runs Lucy’s other hotel in Costa Rica, carried the dog inside - it was literally a monsoon out and he was out in the rain. This dog looked like death, was soaking wet and was covered in fleas. If there is a god, bless him for that guy ignoring all of that and carrying him inside to safety.

When Donna and I got there we recognized the dog immediately - he’s been on the streets forever, usually over by the Parque. He, like Teddy, is a known entity. One of the restaurants fed him on a regular basis and but it closed a while back. For him to be ranging so far out of his usual territory indicates he was literally starving up there. None of us had seen him in a while and we were shocked by the condition he was in - bones over skin.

Literally. Nothing but.

Oh and he’s ancient. And potentially deaf as a stump.

I have to admit that I held off taking pictures of him or blogging on him for a while because, well, I was sure he wasn’t going to make it. He could barely stand, even to eat, he would fall down and need to be hauled back up, he spent all his time holed up in a kennel and he had more fleas on him than I have ever seen on an animal in my life. But he ate whatever we put in front of him. We treated the flea issue.

Nick and Toni named him Lobo.

Then they put him on antibiotics. And he took those and ate. And then one day I came to work and there he was, standing at the gate with Porsha and Minnow, wagging his tail and waiting for dinner. Instead of sitting in his kennel waiting to have food put in front of him and then picked up and carried out to the yard, he was motoring around on his own.

The old man is going to make it.

Today we had a clinic - over thirty animals sterilized, some sick animals looked at, a couple of dogs with cancer treated. We locked up the other resident dogs in an upstairs area but Lobo stayed in the clinic, snoozed between the surgery tables. At the end of the day they neutered him. Everyone was a little concerned - he’s so old, he’s still skinny. But there are a lot of venereal tumors in dogs here so neutering was necessary not only for the sake of doing it but also to make sure he wasn’t cancerous. Of all the dogs we did today, he came back up from the anesthesia the quickest. Within a half hour he was wandering around looking for food, seeing what was going on.

Despite his amazing ability to hang on, though, one thing is for certain: despite having lived his entire life on the streets Lobo can never be returned to them. He has no teeth. He is deaf. He is ancient. And from the state he was found in, he is no longer able to fend for himself out there. Even in a home it’s uncertain how much time he really has left. It’s almost impossible to age street dogs- they tend to age quickly from malnutrition and hard living. Their teeth get tore up pretty young from eating whatever they can. But he definitely is old.

Unlike most lifetime street dogs he is friendly, he likes clinic life, he’s pretty happy where he is. He doesn’t seem to want to go back out. Unfortunately finding a placement for him is highly unlikely. At Donna’s other school, Quinto Chavallos, they have a number of animals that are unadoptable for one reason or another but good with the kids and live there. It’s a cool place - sort of a peaceable kingdom with kids, dogs, cats, all hanging out together. In all likelihood Lobo will, once recovered, live out his days at Quinto Chavallos.
But Wait, There’s More.

A few days later Nick and Toni have to go to Managua for Peace Corps stuff. As they walk by a landfill a skinny little kitten runs out and starts mewling at them. They pat it, walk off. It’s a sad little thing but they’re in Managua for a few days. What can you do? There’s food at the landfill. It’s a life.

And then the kitten starts following them. And then the kitten winds up in their hotel room for the night. The next day Nick hops on a bus back to Granada with the kitten in a box, drops it off at the clinic and hops another bus back to Managua to finish their Peace Corps stuff.

Now we have a kitten, too. And not a very Nicaraguan kitten, either - a sweet, friendly, sickly, tiny little kitten.

So now we have the pup from the barrio (see my last entry), Lobo, and the kitten.

But It’s Never Just That Easy.

On her way to the clinic today Donna finds another puppy - a sad little black, mange encrusted puppy, bigger than our barrio puppy but not much. Into the truck it goes. And of course it’s too young to be released. And it doesn’t belong to anybody, it’s just another street baby.

Thus entirely blowing the everyone-has-a-place-to-be theory. Lobo will go to Quinto Chavallos, si. Or at least it’s very likely. But as for the mange puppies and the kitten? We now have a nursery/nursing home. A bunch of sick babies and a batty, sweet, deaf old man who occasionally just sits down and randomly barks at nothing.

Welcome to Casa Lupita, newbies. Enjoy your stay - maybe not a five star resort but at least all your meals and meds are included. Once you get better, then we’ll figure out what the hell to do with you all.

****A note on funky timing and pictures: I actually started this blog entry days ago - Freda has been in her new home for more than a week by now, methinks. But a bunch of other stuff happened - the barrio trip, a very, very busy spay/neuter clinic, et al and this sat on my computer, half finished and forlorn. Thus half of it is last week, half is this week. Go figure. It wasn't confusing before, it's only confusing now because I mentioned it.

Pics: First: La Freda. Second: Lobo after a few days of food and meds. Third: The Managua Landfill kitten devours anything you put in front of it.

Last side note - and me without my camera. Sherman came to the spay/neuter clinic today. And he is the size of a small car with big ears and looks nothing - nothing - at all like the cute little puppy. He's still adorable, he's just in his gawky adolescent phase. I'll bring my camera to the spay/neuter clinic tomorrow but well, I missed getting his pic. You can really only neuter a dog once. ****

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Back Into A Different Barrio - This Is Tough

***Just a warning - there is a graphic pic here - nothing gory but sad - so just know that and please don't write me and complain***

Funny how life works. I had this blog entry ready to put up today - Freda gets adopted, Porsha and Minnow get ready to leave, we get a cat and an ancient, deaf dog that I was sure was going to bite it. It was on my hot list of things to do today as I had some down time in what’s been a crazy week. That happy blog will be up in the next few days.

What’s the famous quote about the best intentions of mice and men? Or how things in motion will remain in motion? Crazy keeps crazy going. It happens.

I am in my shower with my hand on the handle, literally about to turn on the water when the phone rings. I get out - you never know, with nutty weeks, what’s on the other end of it - and it’s Donna. She was at Thalia’s and met two volunteers from Las Cruces. Las Cruces is an incredibly poor barrio on the other side of Granada - almost outside of Granada. You go past the cemetery, down past where the paved road ends and keep going for what seems like miles of almost impassible, deeply rutted dirt roads. These women, a British and a Spanish woman, are living and volunteering down there with an NGO that builds houses and works with this forgotten little community.

The Spanish woman is a nurse, the British woman a social worker. In the course of working with the families, they encounter one family where everyone has scabies - scabies - sarcoptic mange - sarna. It’s actually not terribly easy to get sarna from animals unless you live with them, sleep with them, share a house with them. And their dogs were infested with sarna. They had one older puppy with it and a mother dog that had just given birth with it. Additionally, the mother dog had flea and tick issues.

The kids have sores from the scabies. The volunteers are going to treat the family and clean the house but they need help with the animals. Additionally they have some other animals in Las Cruces that need assistance but this is the pressing issue.

I take the five minute shower, put on jeans and shoes. As I walk to the front door the horn honks and there’s Donna and the women. We go to the clinic, pick up supplies. Slip leads. Ivermectin. Wormer. We don’t have enough flea and tick stuff and we’re low on ivermectin pills - what we use to treat dogs in the field, where we can’t really inject them. While I throw stuff in a bag Donna runs to the pulperia and gets bologna for the pills. I check the age requirements on the wormer, the ivermectin, for the older puppy.

We go to the vet pharmacy and pick up flea stuff, more ivermectin. I call Nick who tells me the ivermectin - which treats the sarna - is safe for the mother dog but she cannot have the flea medicine or antibiotics.

The Las Cruces volunteers are awesome - funny and smart and progressive. While we’re in the vet pharmacy they run into the regular pharmacy to buy a case of condoms for a sex ed/birth control class they’re giving to a women’s group they started.

We set out in the truck. I’d heard of Las Cruces - that it was incredibly poor, an off the map, forgotten place, but have never been there. You can hike to the Laguna through it on a path and I have some friends that have. But it’s actually bigger than I thought. We head down one road, cross onto another, bouncing and slamming through.

When we get to the house we see the older puppy immediately - he looks like a little Potato - bald and bloated with worms, scabby in places with a few stray hairs. The property looks like two small wooden buildings - home made - and what might be an outhouse. I don’t see any animals except chickens and some pigs. There’s a table type thing in front and I dump the bag of supplies on it while the volunteers talk with the woman.

We go into the house and the mother dog is on the ground with the puppies. She looks good, better than I expected, but I can’t see much because there’s no light. The babies are young enough that they don’t have their eyes open. I don’t know that they have electricity. They bring the mother dog out for me to look at. I see some ticks and slight hair loss but she’s not like the older puppy. We give her the sarna pill in meat. She eats it, runs back into her puppies.

Meanwhile the older, bald puppy has taken off down into the arroyo and is eating stuff down there. The two volunteers tried to collar him but he’s too nimble. We ask the kids to get him - he knows them, it’s easier for everyone. While one of the little boys goes after him we talk. The woman mentions there’s another dog in the house, they have a little black dog. We ask to see it. If the other dogs have sarna and the family has sarna, this one needs to be treated, too.

Donna goes in the house and throws down a little dog food. The black dog darts out, eats it, goes back under. A few minutes later one of the kids goes in and hauls it out from under the bed. It doesn’t have much hair loss but it has a ton of ticks, it’s gums are white. He puts it down. Before we can even touch it, the dog goes down on it’s side, convulses and goes still, eyes wide open. I touch it’s eyes. No response. It’s bladder and bowels release. I feel for a pulse and can’t find one. I try the eyes again.

It’s gone, Finn, Donna tells me. It’s dead. I try to find something glass to put in front of it’s mouth to see if there’s any breathing at all - it’s chest isn’t moving - but she’s right. The dog is gone.

I have seen probably literally thousands of animals die. Sad but true. I worked in shelters for years. I have euthanized a lot of animals. But I’m just totally shocked. The dog was fine a minute ago. Yes, it’s gums are bone white and there are enough ticks on it that it’s obviously anemic but I didn’t expect it to keel over and go down before we could even look at it. It wasn’t starving to death.

No matter how many things you have watched die, it’s not easy. Even humane euthanasia of animals in pain is not easy. Yes, you develop a black sense of humor and you learn how to deal with it but each death is a little tragedy. And here is one more.

No one picks up garbage down here - I don’t think there’s really any city services at all. They would just throw the body into the arroyo where other dogs and cats and pigs will wind up with the ticks and the scabies. Someone gets a bag and we put the body in the bag, put it in the back of Donna’s truck. I still have no idea what killed it so quickly - anemia? A sickness? - and it concerns me.

While we are dealing with this, they have caught the little puppy. We put it on the table. The woman tells me it’s six months old but it looks about eight weeks. It does have teeth, though, so I worm it, give it mange medicine. It will need to be treated for weeks and the volunteers agree to do it. With the kids, the scabies, and the mother dog the woman has too much on her plate.

So much on her plate, though, that she is willing to hand the puppy over to us. If I had known that I wouldn’t have medicated it here but still - she’s willing to let it go. We find a box in Donna’s car and put it in. It goes on the lap of Sam, one of the volunteers, on the front seat where it can get the air conditioning.

We go to another house, this one also with a nursing dog. These dogs are in much better shape - well fed, no real sign of sarna but some tick issues, the mother only has one puppy, the house is an actual house. One of the dogs has a wound and while I’m looking for the stuff to treat it a monsoon hits - the rain is a solid sheet. We have to get out before the dirt roads flood.

We leave promising to return. On the way back they’ve closed one of the dirt roads and we have to take another, less traversed one. The truck lurches so much my head hits the ceiling. Right as we get to the paved road the puppy decides the combination of medicine, box, dog food, whatever it ate in the arroyo and car ride is too much. With it’s head sticking out of the box it throws up all over Sam and the front seat of the car.

Sometimes there’s nothing left to do but laugh. Not because the other dog is dead, not because there’s so much that needs to be done - for that family, for that neighborhood, for this country, for everything - but because you are tired and drained and sad for the other dog and covered in dog barf and mud. And so we do. And we make dog barf jokes. And as we try to clean it up in the car we all wind up covered in it - the poor puppy. And we take the puppy back to the clinic - Donna has to run to another project - and we clean him up the best we can, get him some water and pedialyte, put him in a kennel with soft bedding.

When I return that night to do dinners he is sleeping peacefully. I put the other dogs in the clinic to let him out - I’m unsure of integrating him due to his size and how weak he is. At first he hesitates, hides in another kennel. I haul him out, put him in the yard. He wanders around for a bit looking scared. And then he picks up a branch and carries it around because he is, after all, just a puppy and like all puppies he wants to play or destroy. And as I do errands - cleaning out the kittens cage and feeding it, moving furniture on the patio for the dogs to have a dry place to sleep - I keep an eye on him. He uses the bathroom, checks out everything, his little bald tail starting to wag.

When I need to leave I put him back in his cage, release the other dogs. He doesn’t fuss or struggle. He has some water, digs into a bit of food.

Hang in little guy. Hang in.

***A quick side note - the mange puppy we brought back is, like Minnow, actually a female. But, like Minnow, I refer to all puppies as he. Shouldn’t make a huge difference, puppy is puppy. But worth noting that I always think of puppies as genderless and default to ‘he’. ***
****Another side note: linguistic one - sarna is not always mange. Here ‘sarna’ is used as the blanket term by Nicas whenever a dog has hair loss. Even if it’s a flea allergy or massive overinfestion or whatever - they call it sarna. And I have that habit, too. But I do believe the actual translation for it is mange but again, any skin problem becomes winds up getting called ‘sarna’. When I use it in the blog I usually do mean sarcoptic mange, which is incredibly common here. ****

Sunday, June 8, 2008

For My Neighbors: A Little Alpo Goes A Long Way/Straight From The Horses Mouth

Herein lies the deal - a lot of people look at this and read it. I have no idea who or why or how but thank you for reading, for donating, for sending me pictures and emails and everything else. But I don't know who, if anyone, is reading it here in Nica. I know that this blog wound up on 'Best of Granada' and 'Info About Nicaragua' websites. I have no goddamn idea how, but thank you. But because of this I assume some people here in Granada do check this occasionally. And maybe they're people who aren't on Donna's enormous mailing list. Thus I re-print this letter from Donna.
For my friends in the States and Canada that are having kittens over the quality of what we're feeding, please remember we feed A LOT of dogs. And dog food here is pretty pricey and you have three choices: two supermarket brands from the States and one that comes in an unmarked bag. And quite frankly anything the fact these animals are getting anything on a daily basis is an enormous step towards keeping them alive.
And now, the letter:

Hi Neighbors,

To get to the point quickly and painlessly, we need your help.

Our small but hardy volunteer group at Casa Lupita has been faithfully feeding homeless dogs daily...both at the clinic and on the streets....while searching for adoptive homes for them. We've had great luck these past few months. A number of dogs, and cats too, are living the good life after being brought to a great state of health and taken to live with people who love and respect them.

None of them were placed overnight. It took bathing, medication, good nutrition and a lot of TLC to bring each of them to their peaks. Once covered with mange, plagued with parasites, ticks and fleas, and just enough flesh to cover their weak bones, these dogs and cats were finally turned over to their new owners in good health and great dispositions.

We want to continue this practice for as long as we can. But we need you to be a part of it too. Each day we feed as many hungry dog and cats that present themselves. Each morning I drive into the lakefront's tourist center where five homeless dogs and three cats (two of them with litters) wait for their breakfast. Further down the road, two more wait for their idea of a doggy bowl of cheerios. Toni and Nico Edwardson, our community's Peace Corps volunteers, and Finn Dowling, a vet tech who has been volunteering with us for the past few months, have been caring for several street dogs in jeopardy as well as those kenneled at Casa Lupita awaiting adoption.

Here's where you come in. We need a steady supply of dog and cat food. These critters have discovered the joy of eating, and they want to continue as long as we''re able to provide them with it. If you can commit to a bag of dog or cat food each month, this would help the small population that we're feeding now as well as allow us to expand to include other hungry animals.

Please don't let the attitude "They're just dogs" prevail in our community. They are living beings that feel hunger and pain just as you and I do. It's easy to turn our heads the other way and not allow ourselves to see the hope in their eyes as they wait for a morsel of your food to fall to the ground for them. Our community can only become a better one with each homeless animal that is made well again and taken into someone's heart and home. But the first step is to help it find the state of health that it deserves.

One bag of food each month. It's a small gift that, in a way, you will be giving yourself.

Thanks so much. Please drop it off at Kathy's Pancake House. I'll pick it up there before Sandy serves it as a side dish with waffles.

Toward peace,

***And no, Donna is not a horse. I'm just using the expression. And yes, I had permission to reprint it***

Monday, June 2, 2008

The Calvary Arrives, The Lake and Barrio Dogs Get Done and I Contemplate My Future.

Prelude - The Sound of One Hand Clapping.

Donna and I stop for food during our barrio runs. We’re sitting around waiting for our food and watching the people at the next table drink. There’s a ton of wasps around and they complain. The waiter comes back with a can of Raid, sprays the tables, drinks and all, and goes back to what he’s doing. The drinkers go on drinking. Donna and I watch this devoid of shock or anything.

Welcome to Nicaragua. Who wants some Raid with their beer?

I can’t say much about it. I’m wearing surgical scrubs with dubious stains on them, some of them fresh.

We’re not having a Big Talk but we are having a talk about what happens when I go, how she wound up here being the busiest woman in Central America, about her stint in Peace Corps, a bunch of things. She’s been out of town, I was sick and traveling, I haven’t really had any Donna Time as of late. I don’t know what I’m going to do when I go back in July, I tell her. Figure something out, I guess.

Then why, she asks, are you leaving? Why not just stay until you figure it out? She doesn’t ask me because I’m invaluable, because Casa Lupita can’t live without me, she asks because it makes sense: why go back to someplace you don’t like with no real plan and very few obligations?

I don’t have any sort of good answer for that. I sip my soda and think and watch the drinkers at the next table enjoy their Raid-Enhanced Victorias. And I wonder about the difference between being useful and hiding out. And I try to ignore the fact that the wasps are fascinated by my scrubs and I am bee allergic.

The Calvary Arrives.

I get the message Friday: It’s Donna, can you call me about some big stuff that’s going on tomorrow?

It turns out that we have a tour group coming to the clinic tomorrow and Sunday. Four Costa Rican vets and eighteen vet students from the US. They can do surgeries. They can do just about everything. And they want to work.

Immediately we set to scrambling, trying to line up some animals for them with no notice. We’ll get the lakefront ferals Donna feeds every morning - the crew of dogs that turn up with the Potato. I have to go do an injection for a friend that runs a place out at Laguna. I tell her - they have two new pups, one of which is sick and needs the injection, the other which is healthy. Bring them both, I tell her. The vets can look at the sick one and we can spay the healthy one.

I go back to the lab that’s done all my blood work where the woman mentioned she had cats she wanted fixed and tell her. One of my neighbors has a dog that got hit and lost the use of it’s leg. I talk to Lilly and she goes to hunt her down to see if the neighbor wants the vet to see it.

Toni, Donna and I go to clean the clinic top to bottom. We recruit Allen, my roommate to come with to move furniture to make extra surgery stations. We set up stations outside, in the schoolhouse itself.

Toni and Nick are out of town for the weekend so I’m at the clinic at 6 AM the next morning to get our dogs taken care of and out of the way and do some last minute stuff to get ready. At 8 AM the a tour bus pulls up and we are flooded, flooded, with vets and students.

We have a few animals that have come in - the first ones in are my friends from the Laguna. Kit turns up with all of her neighbors animals, ready to roll. She has another friend that has neighbors needing the vets services. She takes off in her truck with him. The vets start and the students start doing intake on the animals, taking pulses, tagging animals. We divide the students into groups - nine in the morning, nine in the afternoon. We just don’t have the room for all of them. Some are dispatched with Donna to go to the lakefront and grab the ferals.

I am running around frantically finding catheters, needle tips, things they need. I help the vets muzzle a snarling dog, do holds for a few injections. Donna turns back up with a full truck - they got everyone but the Potato who is still considered too iffy to do right now, health-wise. We wrangle those dogs into cages, muzzling some of them.

On intake two of the lake dogs are throwbacks - they just gave birth and can’t be fixed. Dr. Tom will be here in June and can do them. Donna drives them back and releases them.

Someone has dumped two tiny kittens at Lucy’s hotel - seriously tiny kittens. They get examined, started on milk replacer. Kit agrees to nursemaid them for the few weeks.

At times on Saturday we have some downtime. I love the Costa Rican vets - they’re younger, funny, bright. Gabby has black scrubs and a cool hat. Not fair - I want black scrubs. Francisco is a geography whiz and during a moment of downtime we play quiz by the big map in the school yard. Kiribati, I ask. He knows where it is. He know the wheres, I know the weird facts about the places. We have a geek-fest next to the surgery tables.

The students are sweet, smart and want to work. They pick ticks tirelessly, cup after cup after cup of them. They do incredibly thorough workups on the animals, checking pulses, prepping, shaving. These animals, one of them says, are the worst ones we’ve seen so far, shape wise. It makes sense. They’ve been to a few countries on this tour but Nicaragua is by far the poorest. We do a lot but it is exhausting.

I was supposed to go to a party on Friday night but I skipped it because I knew Saturday would be an early day. Saturday night is my friend Katherine’s going away party. I go home dirty and tired but determined to go. I lie down on my bed without showering, set my alarm for an hour. A quick nap, up, shower and go.

I wake up at eleven that night, call Katherine and apologize, go back to bed.

The next day it’s more of the same - at the clinic at 6 AM. Our dogs know something is up and they don’t want to eat. They like the students, seem to be waiting for them.

We have an issue in that we have run through lake dogs, all the people we called brought their animals in yesterday. They start with spaying the Minnow and we go back out to the lakefront. A family that owns a restaurant gives us their one dog, covered in ticks and full of parasites. They don’t want it fixed, just sanitized, de-ticked, wormed. They have another one, a little one, also covered in ticks and full of parasites but they won’t let it come with us. We’ll have to treat it there.

We get a sarna stray that hangs out down by the marina. Those go back and are put in the queue, the students doing their workups. Meanwhile word has hit the streets and people from the neighborhood are bringing in their animals.

Donna has a school down in one of the poorer barrios and we head down there, bringing some students with us. The barrio folks want help for their animals. We get a one month old puppy, infested with fleas and ticks and bald in patches from health issues, a big older dog to neuter, some other tick infested animals, some younger dogs to spay. Another small puppy, this one covered in sarna and with wounds. We fill the truck, put animals in the backseat of the truck with the students.

A woman from a different barrio is visiting her friends - she wants her animals done but has no car. We go back to the clinic, unload, and head out to her barrio. More animals. A female dog for spaying. A male dog with a festering wound on it’s hind end. We drop the lakefront tick dog back with it’s owner, armed with a syringe of anti-parasitical for the small dog they wouldn’t let us take. The vet student holds it on a table and I inject it there. It’s a little bastard of a dog and it whips, almost gets me. We’re not going to sit there and pull all the ticks off of it but it’s something.

Katherine’s host family brings in their dog, a pit bull that has lost the use of it’s back end. They get a big cart and bring it over from blocks away. Gabby breaks away from the table to look at it, see if there’s anything we can do. Their other dog has skin problems and we give them meds for that one as well.

Someone discovers Porsha has an ear infection. One of the students sets to her ears with antiseptic cleanser and fluid. Porsha being Porsha, she bears up like a champ.

It is a flood - there are dogs everywhere, all of our cages and crates are full. The vets and students are working in triple time, de-ticking, fixing, doing wound care. Usually we keep count - statistics - on what we do but now there’s no time, just dogs.

A few of the dogs have erlichia and are bleeders. The sarna stray from the lake is a difficult surgery. She cannot be re-released that day and will have to stay at the clinic for the night. She’s too feral for us to feel comfortable leaving her as she is - she will either kick up a huge fuss or hurt herself trying to escape - and the vets inject her with valium.

Some of the barrio dogs are ready to go and we take some students and go to return them. My Spanish blows but the one thing I can do reasonably spotlessly is post-surgery instructions. We also give typed instructions to everyone but there are a fair amount of people in these neighborhoods that can’t read so we go over everything verbally. Most people won’t admit they can’t read so everyone gets verbal and printed. Some of the barrio dogs had infections - the dog with the wound, one of the spays had an infected uterus. We distribute medicine, explain dosing. Claudio, a bilingual volunteer, wrote out dosing on the pre-printed post-surg instructions but we go over these as well.

By 5.30 we are left with two dogs waiting to be picked up. Amidst much cheek-kissing and hugging the vets and students leave, exhausted. Donna and I clean up some, feed our clinic dogs.

Katherine leaves tomorrow and it’s my last chance to say goodbye. We had made dinner plans but we run so late that I have to meet her for dinner in scrub pants and the tank top I had on under my top - I have no time to go home and change.

I get home that night and take an enormous shower, change my sheets. I crawl into a clean bed , scrubbed off and smelling good, exhausted, drained.

Toda esta bien. It’s all good. We did what we were supposed to do. And we did it well.

Some photo notes: all pics taken with my crappy plastic Nicaraguan digital. First pic: returning barrio dogs at the end of the day. Second: Francisco and another Costa Rican vet work on a barrio dog. Third: three of the vet students do an intake on one of the lake dogs we had to throw back. Fourth: Vet student holds up the dumped kittens while Donna looks on. Fifth: Gabby, another Costa Rican vet, sans black scrubs but with cool hat works on lake dog with vet student. Sixth: Tick infested puppy. I spared everyone the close-up disgusting ear shot but every black dot is, in fact, a tick. Seventh: Porsha gets her ears done. Eight: Lake dog recovering from anesthesia at the clinic. Ninth: Ticky puppy gets a snack post tick removal and bath. Ninth: the last of the lake dogs - the sarna infested one that had to the spend the night - bolts as it's released back at the lake.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Interluding: A Potential Re-Entry Issue/Next Time I'll Be Illegal

***A quick prelude: why all the interludes lately? It comes back to you-can't-keep-all-of-the-people-happy-all-the-time-but-you-can-try. When I do write about the dogs and my work here I get emails asking where all the funny, ridiculous, day in the life of me crap is. When I do write about me, I get emails asking how the dogs are and what the clinic is doing. Since I write constantly anyways, balance is now the name of the game. I'm trying to interlude and clinic at semi-even interludes. Should you be of the where-are-the-dogs camp, rest assured that I just spent two days with four vets, eighteen vet students and a host of barrio animals and that entry is will be up in a few days.***

My visa was set to expire the 28th. Nicaragua only issues you ninety days and then you either have to leave the country and re-enter or you have to go get an extension on your visa. In theory it's cheaper to leave - you pay about $3 to get into the country via overland routes. But that doesn't take into account the cost and hassle of getting out of the country, staying out for 72 hours and then getting home again.

Go to the office in Managua, my roommate tells me. It's easy. In and out, $20, you're done. He's been here forever and keeps pushing his leaving date back so he's a good source for this sort of info. Plus he's also the one that knows every decent chicken lady in this city so he's trustworthy.

In one of those odd, only-in-Nicaragua twists the office is in a mall. In a dirty little American moment I was kind of excited about this - mall. In the states I hate malls. Here the idea was a wee bit intoxicating and exotic. Mall stores. Food courts. Bookstores. Wow.

Me being me I didn't leave for Managua until 10 AM. I thought this would be a fatal error on my part but it turns out the office, in another odd Nica twist, doesn't even open until noon. When I got there my heart sank. It was 10.45 and already there had to be fifty people lined up outside this office, waiting to get in.

Herein lies the bitch about Nicaragua: people here get up early. Really early. Like there was a band with a tuba practicing outside my window at 6.15 this morning early. It makes sense that my roommate, who works in Managua and always went after work, never would have encountered a line. By the time he got there most Nicas would have finished their day's obligations and gone home to sit in front of the house in rocking chairs and shoot the shit.
I, on the other hand, was stone cold screwed. And stuck in the mall for at least an hour.

Contrary to what I anticipated, I had a really visceral reaction to Metrocenter, the mall where the office was located: I wanted out. Malls here are for wealthy people and Metrocenter is for the wealthiest of the wealthy - the top 2% of the population. Most of the people walking around were dressed up in brand name clothes. There was a Benetton, a Radio Shack. And everything was enormously, stupidly, ridiculously expensive. I looked at a Spanish/English dictionary - I need one and this one was pretty basic but it would have worked. Price? $30. Like US. That's what a teacher in this country makes in a month.

I'm not one of those earnest, donate everything to charity, Mother Theresa types. I have some nice stuff. I insisted on bringing my own sheets and towels from the states. My underwear is nice and while a lot of my clothes are goodwill, I have a lot of brand name stuff. Even still something about this seemed obscene. I want this country to prosper. I want people to have access to not only things they need - like electricity - but things they want. But I was incredibly uncomfortable and wanted out. Out out out out. Like immediately.

Had I not been in imminent danger of being an illegal immigrant, I probably would have given in to the urge and bolted. But I was up a stump, really, so for an hour I wandered around, looking and thinking.

Aside from the class issues, I had other discomfort issues with the place. The lights were too bright. Everything was a little too clean, a little too well organized, a little too, well, un-Nicaraguan.

This could present a problem. When I first got back to the States last year we stopped at Costco on the way back so I could get some pictures printed. I hadn't been gone half as long as I have this time. My response to Costco was immediate: get me the hell out of here. It was almost overwhelming - the wealth of products, the size of the packages of everything, the whole experience.*

After over four months - because I am changing my ticket to get back the time I lost to being sick - what will it be like for me to return to the States? Will I immediately start plotting my escape back here, like I did the last two times I was home? I don't know. Maybe I need to spend more time in the Managua mall, begin some sort of gradual readjustment process. Eat some Burger King. Go to Curves. Seek out fluorescent lighting and air conditioning.**

I don't know.

The good thing about the whole experience, though, was that the actual immigration office was a little island of Nicaragua in the middle of fuck-all only knows what. It was hot. It was overcrowded and understaffed. It was full of arcane forms that you had to pay for, prior to even filling them out.

I got in line behind the million other people and was immediately confronted with the form selling guy who came at me with rapid fire Spanish. I didn't get him. At all. After a guy behind me translated, the form selling guy determined what I needed and sold it to me. Seeing as he only had one form he was selling to every single person I'm unsure as to why he needed to ask me what I was doing there.

There was a guy two people behind me in line - a US national. He was in his fifties and had left Nicaragua over thirty years ago. He was just there because he had fathered a son on a return visit a few years back and, with the consent of the kids mother, was trying to bring his son to the states. He helped me with the form which was confusing as hell. The first thing he told me was I didn't have to fill it all out. No one, he explained, has to fill in everything. Just a few things.

Bienvenidos a Nicaragua! The useless form! Of course!

The line was incredibly long, incredibly slow and completely Nicaraguan. Personal space? Who needs it? The woman behind me was literally standing on the backs of my feet, her substantial stomach brushing my back. She was very unhappy that I had allowed a good six inches between me and the woman in front of me and kept poking me in the back with a pen and telling me to move up, even when the line hadn't moved. I am not making this up - she kept digging a pen between my shoulder blades, into my back, into my kidneys, telling me to move. For two hours I stood in line and the whole time I kept getting the damn pen dug into me.

My American friend, who has spent two years and infinite hours in this office trying to get his son home, told me cheerfully "I know this is my country but I really hate some of these people.". I told him that while I always tried to be polite here I was really glad I didn't know the Spanish for 'Lady, stick that pen….".

When we finally got to the front of the line I noticed another desk and another line to the side. Shit. I hope, I told my new friend, this is a one-desk ordeal. He assured me it probably was.

He was wrong.

I gave the immigration guy my passport, copies of everything, the form. He looked everything over and asked how I afforded to be here six months a year. He also asked me what I was doing here. The minute I said 'soy voluntaria' it was over. He smiled at me, told me it wasn't a problem.. Then he worked out something on the calculator. 89 c. - about $4.50. Fantastic. I pulled the money out of my pocket and handed it to him. Oh no, that's without the office fee. He took the calculator back, typed some more and handed it back to me again - 420 c. - about $21.

I would have paid any amount of money at that point in time to get out of that office and out of that mall. I would have offered up a finger. $21? Still cheaper and less hassle than a few days in Costa Rica. Whatever. I paid him. He wrote up the obligatory Nicaraguan receipt, stamped, it handed to me and……didn't give me my passport back. He then pointed to the other desk. You need to go there, he tells me. She does the stamping.

This is quintessential Nica. It would have taken him thirty seconds to stamp the new visa in, write the date on it, hand me my passport. He knows how to use a stamp - he just stamped my receipt. But this is Nicaragua. They need to have a different stampy lady.

He took my passport over and stuck it on a pile of other passports and then indicated the other line. Once again I wound up next to pokey-pen-lady. The universe hates me.

Because this line was substantially shorter than the other one and this is the country where line-cutting is an art form, the stampy desk was besieged with people trying to dodge the big line.
Time and time again people would walk past everyone up to the stamp desk and ask a question. This would cause stamp lady to stop stamping, answer the question, and point them to the main line - a few minutes each person. I could feel my blood pressure rising.

Pen Lady, meanwhile, was remarkably mellow. I wanted to ask her where the damn pen was now or if she only busted that out for extranjeros who refused to ride piggy back on the stranger in front of them.

Finally after another god-knows-how-long I saw the stamp lady pick up my passport, look at it slowly, pick up the stamp. I started to walk toward the desk. She put both down and picked up the next one on the pile.

As I have said before, I try to be polite but after 2 ½ hours it was game over for me. I went up to the desk and pointed at my passport. Stamp. Please. She looked surprised but pulled it back out, stamped it and handed it to. Time required for actual stamping? Literally under ten seconds.

There were about ten other errands I had planned to run in Managua that day. Go to the big grocery store and try to find something resembling clif bars - I had found them in Costa Rica. Get a piece of pizza. Go to a really clean, really good tattoo shop there run by a guy who had trained in the states and just check it out.

Instead I ran out of Managua like the city was burning. I got out of the mall and jumped the first bus back to Granada that passed by. I didn't even wait for the good La UCA one - I piled into one of the little mini-van things that aren't any cheaper, are overcrowded and are miserable. I wound up sitting in the luggage area behind the drivers seat for 45 minutes, stuffed into this thing with eighteen of my closest friends. These are maybe made to hold ten people, eleven tops. I've never been so damn glad to sit on a luggage rack in my life. In all honesty I would have sat on the top of a chicken and goat express to get the hell out of there.***

* Everything in Nicaragua - and most of Central America - is sold in very small sizes. You don't buy a jar of spaghetti sauce, you buy a small bag of it. Milk comes in small bags. Granola comes in a what would be a single-serving size bag here. On the few items that do come in bigger sizes there's no price break for buying the bigger size. It's actually usually more. Buying eight ounces of cream cheese costs way more than twice what buying two four ounce containers would cost. Not only does this make no sense, in a country with a huge litter issue you would think they want to cut down on packaging.

** I actually hate Burger King. And I've never been in a Curves in my life. But both of these - as well as Quiznos, TGI Fridays. McDonalds - are available in Managua in the rich area. Very odd.

*** I've actually seen them do this - put people on top of chicken buses. On the Sunday after Semana Santa the packed buses leaving San Juan Del Sur were lurching down this unpaved road with people perched on the top of them, next to the bicycles and wooden baskets of plantains.