Chico’s Lakeside Death by Starvation (Almost)
By Jim Dickinson
When I first saw the thing that cold, predawn January morning I couldn’t tell what it was. It was a dim, shivering gray face with pale bat-like wings, peering out from the blackness under our cargo trailer, hard against one of the wheels, as if for support. It disappeared when Mimi, our Golden Retriever, ran up to bark at it.
After I had returned Mimi and our other Golden, Bucky, to the warmth of our roadside home north of Chapala, I went back to the trailer and found the face’s owner shivering against another wheel on the opposite side. It was the scrawniest, most pathetic animal I had ever seen, lying stretched out on the cold ground. I couldn’t tell if it was alive, until I touched its shivering neck and it moved its head to avoid the contact. In the improving light, I felt it was a tiny dog with no fur, just cold blotchy skin covering its lifeless bones.
There were two things I could do, I thought — Put it out of it misery with a nearby rock to its head, or see if it would eat some of our dogs’ food. I chose the latter, and brought a handful of Pedigree out and placed it on the ground near the dog’s nose. He was too weak to stand, so he slid himself over to the Pedigree nuggets and feebly chewed on three or four of them before stopping in exhaustion. By now I could see enough of him to determine he was a male — and that his bare skin was almost totally covered with what I assumed was mange. I immediately worried that it could infect our dogs.
His shivering reminded me that I should find something to wrap him in, so I went into the house to forage for a blanket we could afford to lose, but finding none settled on an old abused towel. I donned a pair of gloves I hoped would prove mange-proof, wrapped the little waif in the towel and stuffed the bundle into a small open-topped basket bin and left the combination against one of the trailer wheels where it would heat up in the thin January sunshine now spreading across our little corner of Paradise.
After breakfast, my wife Sheila took our still quivering responsibility into San Antonio and to the excellent veterinarian and animal shelter there, while I sank myself into the World Wide Web whence cometh our daily bread.
Sheila called in a few hours to report that the vet had treated the little dog with various shots, including one to fight mange, recommended a diet of puppy food, and urged a return visit in a few days. The vet figured him to be a miniature poodle-chihuahua mix, possibly eighteen months to three years of age —his emaciated condition made it hard to say. “The vet opined that the little dog was very appreciative to have been rescued.
“We’re on our way home now,” Sheila told me. It was only then that I realized our family had a new member, because I’d assumed she would have dropped the little dog off at the animal shelter across the street. It reputedly never put down anything.
Now we had several problems, not the least of which was how Mimi and Bucky would react. Bucky proved to be no problem — as a 10-year-old and lazy fellow, he wasn’t very interested. Five-year-old Mimi, and the apple of my eye, was a different story. Instantly jealous of any attention that wasn’t 100% on her, we had to keep her at a distance while we nurtured the skeletal newcomer. He needed to be fed “at will,” as opposed to Mimi and Bucky’s rigid twice-a-day schedule.
The next, less pressing issue was what to name him. We eventually settled on “Chico” for his smallness and his masculinity. And what an oversize masculinity it proved to be! It grew faster than his body weight, and we had the unforeseen problem of house-training and the male-dog marking of our walls, furniture, and even on one occasion my trouser leg as I stood in it!
Over the ensuing days, Mimi’s jealousy abated under a lot of extra attention and the carefully phased reduction of Chico’s “at will” mealtimes.
Over all, we spent close to 3,000 pesos in vet bills, after discounts due to his “rescue” status. Now, at his 38th day in our company as I write this, and at twice his found weight, Chico is the smartest, feistiest, all-around-happy, most eager-to-please and compliant dog we’ve ever known. Thickening white tufts of silky, curly hair now cover all of his body. Even Mimi loves him, and that’s my greatest relief.
We believe he was within hours of death by starvation when we found him, and we urge our fellow gringos to give generously to animal rescue and care outfits (especially animal neutering) in our area, as our vet advises that there are many such dogs abandoned to die as horribly as Chico nearly did, due to the state of the local economy for poor families who cannot afford to keep their pets and their pets’ litters.