Friday, February 26, 2010

Helping is not for the weak of heart

Yesterday was D Day --- the day to deal with Distemper in the village.

The Ground Zero dog --- a young male, maybe two years old? -- was put to sleep first. Then someone else in the village brought this cute little two or three month old white puppy to us to look at. Soft, like cocker spaniel fur. A family favorite. But he couldn't sit up, couldn't walk, couldn't hold his head up, couldn't eat. Just flop, like a rag doll.

The family said he had a cold a few weeks ago --- which, of course, we now know is the first sign of distemper. Oscar the veterinarian says the problem is that most families will assume it's a cold from cambio de clime, a change in climate. It's been quite cold at night.

And then it's too late.

Next we went to persuade the owner of the first dog that her other dog needs to be immunized. She had initially refused but yesterday luck was with us. Her husband wasn't home (she was home alone with her five children, 12 years old and younger) and we were able to convince her it wouldn't hurt the dog, she wouldn't have to pay for it, and it might save her dog's life. She reluctantly agreed when we showed up with the veterinarian and a loaded hypodermic.

The veterinarian put one more village dog down that had a snake bite on its neck, which he had initially survived. But then the wound got infected and it was too late to save him.

The final count:
• Seven initial distemper vaccinations for dogs that were in direct contact with Dog #1.
• Three dogs put down and buried on the beach.

It's heartbreaking work, and incredibly frustrating to try to help in a country where everyone is speaking rapidly -- and all at the same time -- in a language I'm just past 'how are you?'. But despite the obstacles it feels like we have some momentum in getting help earlier, doing some prevention. And then, on to massive spaying and neutering.

For those of you who wonder why the heck we're doing this, why we're so immersed in helping animals --- really, it's because it is the greatest need.

We're offer English classes to the children in the village. We're offer music lessons on piano and guitar and the occasional music evening. But these are all bonuses for the village. If we left tomorrow, the town could take what English and music they've learned and choose to continue on. Or not.

But dogs in the town are suffering, not intentionally, and that is something that we may be able to change. And eventually, if we leave, the culture around how to take care of the dogs may have changed too.

Stay tuned.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Distemper hits Arroyo Seco

Tomorrow afternoon we 'get' to put a dog down.

Heartbreak City, for sure.

Here's the story: A few days ago a neighbor asked if we could help with her neighbor's dog, one that she had been feeding. He was emaciated, mucous dripping from his nose, had a noticeable lack of coordination. Like a drunk.

Last week we had already been busy helping animals around the village. We rescued a pitiful dachsund mutt who in one week has evolved into the lovely Princessa Mia and has stolen our hearts. And then there's the cocker spaniel that showed up at our palapa one morning, stinking and ailing with a fever. After a quick haircut and three days of antibiotic infections, she's bouncing around the town again, unfortunately noticeably pregnant. This will be her third litter in less than two years.

So the neighbors know we will help.

Last night a veterinarian made a house call to our remote little rancho of Arroyo Seco, at our request, to see if the current dog in crisis could be helped. He was still wobbling around in front of our place that morning, but when the vet showed up around 5, the dog was gone --- taken off to a remote pasture by someone in the village, whether to die or to get the dog isolated, I wasn't sure.

Our neighbor's husband hopped on his bicycle to bring the dog back so the vet could check him out --- something I definitely didn't understand because it didn't seem like the dog could walk that far. But there's a lot I don't understand here, especially when everyone's speaking in Spanish so fast that I'm catching about every 10 words --- if I'm lucky. And then there is also the cultural differences in how we care for our pets.

Eventually we ended up with the Oscar the vet (in the red shirt) and the dog -- and a committee of about 10 --- in the same place and the immediate verdict was ––– distemper.


Good grief. Don't they vaccinate against that here?

Apparently not often.

So tomorrow we'll put the poor pooch to sleep, vaccinate his siblings and the same owner's mama dog who has four-week old puppies, plus a different neighbor's dogs who have been sharing food and water.

Later, we'll do some research, make a plan, figure out the best way to help that might really make a difference --- prevention.

When you get past the tears from watching this poor dog suffer, the anger follows. How the heck can this happen so easily in 2010? Are these people heartless? Ignorant?

I think the truest answer might be two-fold: there's no veterinarian in the village and there's no money to pay for vaccinations. It costs between $10 to $15 per shot. Might not seem a lot to someone living (and working) in the States or Canada, but it could be close to a day's wages here. It might mean the difference between food on the table, clothes for their children, gas in the car.

So we have a two-fold response to the distemper crisis: bring in the vet, provide the money for vaccinations.

Another neighbor asked me today if the vet could look at her daughter's dog whose hind legs don't seem to be working. And then there's the other dog that apparently got bitten in the neck by a snake and the neck might now be gangrene.

I know we can't rescue every dog. But there's a lot we can do. We can continue to get every pooch snipped and clipped so every dog is a wanted dog. We'll work on getting them all vaccinated. We encourage -- and maybe find a way to fund the use of a monthly tick treatment so dogs won't get Ehrlichia.

We're a small village. Sometimes it feels insurmountable. I know it's impossible to save them all. But what is possible is to help by educating, preventing, and sometimes funding.

And eventually, hopefully, it will feel less like Heartbreak City.

The lovely Princessa Mia on the first day at home in the Palapa Pink Flamingo, Arroyo Seco. She's definitely decided to stay.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

What do you call someone who speaks three languages?

It's been one of my favorite jokes for years.

What do you call someone who speaks three languages? Trilingual.
What do you call someone who speaks two languages?
What do you call someone who speaks one language?


The past two days have been filled with envy --- a rare emotion for me --- for friends who started studying multiple languages early and kept it up for life.

We spent Saturday afternoon at a beach barbecue with our surfer friend from France, Julien, and his family. His parents speak French, not much Spanish, less English. Laura comfortably slipped into the afternoon conversing in French, Spanish and translating into English when I needed it, as did another friend, Ana. Languages flowed like a river, starting in one language, moving into a second, explaining in a third.

I want that.

It's always been my belief, wish, hope to speak a second language. I want fewer obstacles in connecting with the person sitting next to me, regardless of language. I desperately wanted it for my sons, Dustin and Dylan, but it was rarely offered in the schools and I just didn't pull it off.

Sorry, kids.

Luckily Granddaughter Sasha, who lives in Puerto Vallarta, will be trilingual. At 18 months she understands Romanian, Spanish and English. Her first word was Spanish (mas!) but she's already beginning to babble in English. I'm grateful her parents, Dustin and Camelia, are committed to teaching her multiple languages from birth, which is so much easier than trying to learn it at my age.

Tonight headed for dinner at AsiaAzul, an Asian restaurant in nearby Emiliano Zepata. The restaurant was closed so we headed up to the owner's house to ask when he'd be open again.
Within minutes of conversation, Laura figured out that not only does he also speak English, Spanish (of course), probably Vietnamese, but that he's more comfortable speaking French. And off they went again, speaking in a language I couldn't understand.

Despite my envy --- or perhaps because of it -- the past few days have made me even more committed to becoming fluent in a second language.

As of today, two months into our second season at Arroyo Seco, I can pretty much understand what people are saying. And sometimes they can understand me. I'm rarely speaking in complete sentences yet, and I'm mostly speaking in the present tense.

But, dang it, I'm speaking. I'm listening. I'm learning.

Today at lunch we toasted to my first solo conversation with Tia Melly, one of the elders in town who I've been dying to joke with since I first met her two years ago.

So, Tengo esperanza. I have hope.

I have hope that I won't be 80 before I call myself fluent in a second language. Maybe then I'll consider going for a third.