Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Eulogy For A Potato

For a reincarnation-type entry I should really do a lot of catching up. But before I can do any of that, before I can write the next entry - the one where we meet the new sarna monsters and catch up with the old ones, before we watch me fall flat on my face in my native country, I have to eulogize what became a symbol of the clinic, an indomitable spirit. This entry is a lot more serious than probably any one I've ever written. It's not a harbinger of entries to come - watch this space for more of what everyone had come to expect. But hold up for a second - this is important shit.

The Potato (nee Rocky) continued to flourish by the lake under Donna’s care. His hair grew in, he remained feral, he showed up every morning with his consortium of bitches* to grab breakfast off Donna, amble around insolently, and take off.

A few months after I left, he sprouted a tumor on his back. He was brought back in - how, I don’t know. Though Donna and I email regularly she didn’t go into the details. I can only assume it’s because Heidi and Claudio, who took over most of what Nick, Toni and me** were doing, kick a lot of ass. But they managed to bring him in and Dr. Tom took the tumor off. Donna tried to get it tested but couldn’t find a lab that could do it. The Potato was re-released at the lake to do his thing.

Several weeks after that he stopped showing up for breakfast. Donna asked everyone about him and finally some of the night caretakers at the lake told her he was down by the water, ‘with the vultures’.

She never found his body and he never showed up for breakfast again. The Potato, also known as Rocky and Papas Fritas, had died. It’s unknown what he died of - if the tumor was malignant and the cancer, still in his system, consumed him. Or if he was poisoned, something that happened with alarming regularity at the lakefront while I was there. I like to think he was a little too street smart to have been poisoned.

The Potato lived life on his own terms. The thing with being a clinic dog is that you do not need to win a Mr. Canine Congeniality award to be there. Ticky bit every one's ass. Lobo spent the first week lying on the floor, getting up only to crap under the surgery table. After a few days pretty much every dog would settle in and realize that well yes, you were contained, life was easier there. Food was free flowing, no one was trying to poison you or chase you off and, aside from med time, no one would hassle you too much. All the other clinic dogs would adjust. The Potato never did. The brief time he was at the clinic he refused to compromise his feral nature. He spent all his time either lying in the corner of the yard, away from everyone, or trying to get out the front gate. Yes, he was horribly ill and yes, this was an easier life but it wasn't his life. And he wasn't having it. Thus after a debacle including an incredibly-unpleasant-for-all-involved bath, a near-death leap from Donna's balcony and a lot of sulkiness, he was re-released to be treated at the lakeside.

He lived the last few months of his life furry, reasonably healthy and well cared for. For a dog he had a big life. He was the ultimate survivor - he survived far beyond what would have killed most dogs. He was a fighter - even half dead he refused to be corralled, preferring to jump a two story security wall tipped in glass to return to the lake. He became an international celebrity - after Portia he was the dog I received the most emails about. And he had love. Whether or not he wanted it, he had love. People who looked after him and cared for him by his rules. People who had never seen him who worried about him. And he had Donna.

He was just a feral dog, a scabby street dog in a third world country full of scabby street dogs. But he taught us all so much. May we all live with such courage, without obligations that take us away from who we really are. May we all remember that sometimes it’s better to live without security if it means compromising what makes our lives ours.

Donna is infinitely more articulate than I am, and she was his primary caretaker.To quote her email about his passing “He was one great dog, wasn't he? More than that, Rocky was one hell of a
good teacher”.

He was. And Donna’s caretaking of him is a lesson in and of itself. May we all find someone who takes us as we are. May we all find it in ourselves to love our dogs, our people, as they are.

I have so many other stories to tell - Victoria the three legged dog. Betty Boop, who found her way to the clinic right before I left. But in honor of The Potato, he won‘t share this entry with another dog. This one is just his.

Godspeed, Rocky.

* this is an entirely appropriate use of the term 'bitches' and not an example of Finn's potty mouth - he actually did travel with a pack of female dogs.

**I want to make the important distinction about this phrase "what Nick, Toni & I" did. In reality it should read "what Nick and Toni did all the time, day in and day out on top of their Peace Corps duties and what I did when I was in town". I can't possibly even come closing to comparing what I did with their commitment, dedication and day in and out devotion. Not even close.

Photo notes: First: as far as I know the last photo of The Potato ever taken - at the lakefront, where he belonged, doing his thing. Next: the tumor removed from his back. Sorry about the gross out photos but it wouldn't be this blog if I didn't make every one's stomach heave now and again. Third: The Potato at the Lakefront, prior to being brought to the clinic and before being treated. Finally: The last photo I ever took, at the lakefront for morning breakfast with Donna and the bitches.

Postscript for clarity: I actually am, and have been, in Colorado. More on that later.