Written by Deborah Thompson Visiting Isla Mujeres, Mexico (author of NewJetSetters.com)
She sat beneath the shade of a coconut palm, gazing out to sea as though in wait, her thin shoulders sagging beneath a world of sorrow. She was a soft cream-colored dog of indeterminate age, with endearing black patches over her ears and eyes, and other spots splashed randomly about her body. What was she looking for, I wondered, though in my heart I already knew the answer. Still, I scanned the horizon, hoping to see a fishing boat which would return for her, or perhaps someone swimming in the turquoise waves who would soon emerge to pat her head and take her home. But I knew there would be no one to claim this small, forlorn creature, and I think she knew this, too. Yet, for a creature as sociable and loving as a dog, whose universe often revolves upon interactions with their human owners, what else was she to do but sit and wait?
She turned to gaze upon me, and I waited for the usual hesitant yet hopeful approach for a friendly pat. Instead she struggled uncertainly to her feet, and lowering her head, began to turn away. I could see why she had trouble standing, as her very pregnant tummy was almost touching the ground. Her stance was indecisive, unsure of whether to leave the comfort of her cool, carefully dug burrow, or risk the potential wrath of a stranger. Clearly not all her past encounters with humans had been positive. Large, brown eyes glanced doubtfully at me, tail down.
“Don’t go” I murmured quietly. She paused at the sound of my voice. I gazed back at her, already in love. I sank onto the smooth blanket of sand, and patted the spot beside me, looking away so she would feel no threat. A moment later I felt her presence, not touching, but close enough for me to present a hand to her dry nose for investigation. She whuffled momentarily, deemed me acceptable, and edged closer until I could feel her emaciated haunch against me. Tenderly I stroked her, feeling the sharp bones of her shoulder-blades, and the protuberance of hip bones. Her fur was dry, yet almost oily to the touch from years of living on the streets and beaches. I laid my hand against the side of her rounded tummy my heart aching for the misery these little puppies would soon have to endure as they came into a world devoid of any love and care except that of their mother. I wondered if her scrawny body would even be able to provide milk for them, or would them simply starve to death soon after birth?
My eyes wandered over the gentle arc of sugary, pink-white sand and the turquoise waters beyond, and I acknowledged the vivid ribbons of rose and gold which were streaking the horizon as the day began to break. But I could find no beauty in my surroundings. I wanted to cry so badly, and an errant tear escaped to slide down my cheek. With effort I stopped their flow, knowing my anguish would only make her sorrow greater. Tears would not help this sweet soul. I simply stroked her, and told her that I wished things could be different for her. She nuzzled my hand, and seemed to appreciate my words. When I had to leave, she simply watched me walk away, and returned to her burrow by the coconut palm.
That evening I returned bearing some sticky pieces of meat and some sweet-buns which I had wrapped in paper napkins and tucked into my purse. I couldn’t wait to share it with her. She wasn’t under the palm tree. My heart sank. Then I saw her shadowy form emerge from under some thick scrub bushes. I realized sadly that this was where she must live.
My measly offerings were quite delicately consumed, When we got to the sweet buns, or “pan dulce” each sugary morsel of bread was licked gently from my fingers, as her big brown eyes lingered on mine in gratitude. This was when I decided to call her “Dulce”, Spanish for “sweet.” I stroked her, feeling the grime of her unwashed fur on my fingertips, and once again we sat quietly together as I spoke to her of how I wished things could be.
The days of my vacation quickly counted down, each day finding me spending time with Dulce. Other dogs would visit the beach each day, all with their own distinct character and sad story. I named the big, russet puppy Jake, and hated to see his lack of energy as he would wander, dully hoping for handouts, shoulders, hip-bones and ribs so prominent that it seemed they would surely rip through his skin. His face was gaunt, and his eyes appeared to belong to a very old dog.
Another pathetic orphan was Mop, a small, black, miserably ragged dog who would emerge in the early evenings to sniff around the beach chairs. It was not possible to determine if Mop was “he” or “she”; the long, curly hair had become so incredibly matted and crusted with grime that one could hardly tell the head from the back-end. A glimmer of sun would reveal the glint of tortured eyes under the mass of fur, the way a black rock on the bottom of a riverbed will suddenly become visible when the light strikes it at just the right angle. Mop would walk stiffly, though it was difficult to tell if this was simply from age and arthritis, or because matted fur had become an impediment even to walking properly. Mop was suspicious and often kept his or her distance from most guests, even from me, unless one had an especially tasty morsel to offer.
Halfway through the week, on a visit into downtown Isla Mujeres, we bought cans of dog food. The hotel restaurant loaned us an opener, and for the last few days we made rounds in the evening, feeding whichever character we could find. Dulce would always be there, in a little hole in the sand, dug to accommodate her burgeoning tummy. Visits with her were always special and especially bittersweet as my departure loomed. The evening before I left, I took my customary cans of food to Jake and Mop, but when I looked for Dulce, she was nowhere to be found. I searched the area, my heart sinking. I so wanted to say goodbye, to tell her how sorry I was that I couldn’t bring her with me; how useless I felt to leave her this way. But she was gone. I looked in the bushes, wondering if perhaps she’d had her babies in there. The dense jungle brush would not permit my intrusion, and sadly I gave up.
That night I did not sleep well, wondering where Dulce had gone and if she had come to some harm. I awoke extra early, and walked to our meeting spot. Still she was not there. Fighting tears, I slowly walked back to the hotel, wondering if somehow she had known I was leaving, that she was once again being abandoned. Knowing Dulce, she probably hadn’t wanted me to be any more sad than I already was.
I was startled to see another shadowy human form approaching. As she neared, a lady asked me if I had seen a little black dog with matted fur. I told her I had not, and that I had been searching for the little brown and white dog who was pregnant. We smiled sadly as we recognized our kindred souls. She confessed to me that she had made the decision to adopt the little dog I had come to know as Mop. She was leaving this morning, and had come to find her to bring her to the airport. Mop had stolen her heart.
We searched the area, calling and coaxing as shadows were slowly erased by warm, pink embers of the rising sun. No dogs were to be found. It was time to give up. I sadly thought of the wonderful chance that little Mop had missed. We had to get ready for our trip back to our respective realities. We exchanged names with the best intentions of staying in touch. I left remaining cans of food with the manager, and asked him to please make sure the dogs, especially Dulce, got to eat it. I explained to him how badly I felt for the plight of the homeless dogs. He nodded and smiled, no doubt thinking I was completely mad.
To this day I think about Dulce, and Jake and Mop. I wonder, and know sadly in my heart that they probably have not fared well since my visit. But when I dream, I dream happily about Dulce – she sits beneath the coconut palm, her noble little head searching the azure waters for her owners, who have gone for a swim and will soon emerge to take her home.
An Organized Rescue Mission
This week, the Harmony Fund is supporting the Sanctuary Evolucion rescue team in Mexico on a devoted mission to rescue, feed and adopt homeless dogs and more than a few are receiving their long awaited miracles. Learn more on our website.