We are an unlikely grouping, that much is certain, and around the pool, restaurants, bar and beach a convoluted explanation follows when asked the perennial question, “So, how do you three know each other.”
It didn’t really occur to us before that this triumvirate would appear unusual, but here we are: one blonde American, of Polish and Italian heritage, a Catholic and a carnivore, a somewhat bohemian style, layered in lace and adorned with genuine gemstones; one brunette hippy, an American of Dutch/Indian origins, Spiritual with Hindu leanings, a vegan, sometimes happiest barefoot in cut-offs and sometimes in cocktail dresses with 4 inch heels; and then there is me, one red-headed British American omnivore, with religious apathy, most often suited, heeled and feathered.
Imagine then this Pennsylvanian-based posse, more different than alike, walking along the beach promenade in Acapulco, Mexico. We had indulged in a long, lazy lunch and, with stomachs happily digesting the great daubs of daily avocado, we agreed a leisurely sail to Isla la Roqueta to lie in the sun, would round the afternoon off perfectly! Our well-fed, warm-skinned, sandy-footed, self-indulgent bubble burst abruptly, however, pierced by loud howls of pain.
The cries were so pitiful, we could hear them over the sound of the Costera’s six lanes of traffic—not traffic moving in a smooth and soft, modern Germanic or Japanese way. The traffic on the Costera roared with the rattle of thirty year old VDub engines; armoured jeeps, fully-loaded with machine-gun toting Federales ; buses decorated as if for Mardi Gras and playing party belters as if they were celebrating it too .
There, wailing from the bushes, crawling, almost army commando style, her two front paws heaving along the spread-eagled hind legs, was the most sorrowful broken pup I have ever seen.
Most people would have probably tutted pitifully, moved two steps towards her, thought better of the fleas, mites, potential rabies, and turned their heels, hearts, and heads sharply.
“Well, there are so many street dogs, aren’t there, Martin! It’s a shame! But, ah well! Can’t save them all. Oh! Ice-cream!”
But mi amiga, Indra, isn’t like most people.
She bent down to the mangled mutt, hushing and cooing soothing greetings as one would to a frightened child. “It’s okay. There, there. It’s okay little girl. I’m here.”
She ran her practiced hands over the emaciated frame, the grooves between each jutting rib fitting her fingers perfectly. The hollow of the starving creature, from ribcage to hip, was like the nipped waist of a violin, the pinched skin forming such severe arcs. Indra’s fingers felt further, around the painful peaks of the dog’s hind-quarters, gliding gently over limbs that pointed at unnatural angles. Indra’s nimble hands could ‘see’ the dog’s every tick, every sore, every jack-knifed bone.
The dog had had puppies. How recently I couldn’t tell, but from her thin frame the only skin that hung loose was that from her nipples. As she howled and Indra cooed, Corine and I searched the bushes for her babies. Fruitlessly. They were not there. I wondered if she was howling for her pups or from the pain.
A local lady with broad, glistening face and pink lipstick approached us, and in our Spanglish we learned that indeed there were two pups, both gone now she thought. We swept the area to double check, but disappointingly satisfied that no babies hiding, we hailed a taxi and appealed to the driver to help us. Thankfully, he agreed to speed us to the nearest veterinarian. It was such a relief to know that she’d get help and be safe. Or so we thought.
As I hustled into the dim store, hell-bent on our mission, my heart plummeted. This was a Veterinary Clinic? The closet-sized shop was lined with cages. Wire cages, maybe a foot across, two foot deep and two foot high—I’ve never been good with judging lengths, but suffice it to say, cages that were too bloody small for their occupants. I watched the German shepherd and the boxer, unable to stand, stoop-shuffling to move position. I took in the empty water bowls, the 90 degree heat, the pitiful occupants in the sun-lit corner-cages, the smell of shit and the general air of festering, neglect and death. My heart was not light.
The ‘Vet’ and his family clustered behind the counter, shifting their bulk as they jostled to see these loco gringos with a street dog. Eager to get the cradled creature immediate attention, Indra and Corine were all business and took the dog to the examination table. With no Spanish on the resume, I’m afraid I was next to useless. I held the bags and tried to stop my eyes from betraying my disgust and my shock. Everywhere I looked, was another sight to make me gag: the obese six year old, filling his mouth with handfuls of what looked like raw chicken; cardboard boxes, which were not full of dog chews or hamster wheels, but instead very young puppies, baking in the heat, sans mummies and sans water.
Perhaps that’s how they do it in Mexico, I tried to rationalize. I tried to reframe. I knew that Indra had seen these things too, that she would have been repulsed, but she would have prioritized the need for urgent medical attention. And so I watched, thinking the best thing to do was to stand my full height and show support by my presence.
“He wants $1800.” Corine said, reading the Google Translate that glowed from the computer screen. Indra didn’t miss a beat, and, as different as we are, I could sense what she was feeling: tend to the dog now, argue later, so I counted what pesos we had. My internal alarm was wailing—not because I didn’t want to pay for the dog, but because this ‘Vet’ could say anything and, judging by his unsanitary practices, he could, and probably would, stitch us up like patchwork Americana. Corine communicated that we would give some money now for the cost of the x-rays and pain medication, but we would withhold the full amount until the course of treatment had been decided. He rapidly accepted the part payment and reluctantly agreed to wait for his next installment. He promised to take her immediately for the x-rays and asked us to return in a few hours.
We retreated to the beach, breathing fresh air and agonizing over what was said, what was done, and what in the hell type of ‘vet’ was he anyway? This, surely, was a little shop of horrors. But what choice did we have? With the situation and with limited Spanish could we be all that picky?
Two hours could not pass quickly enough. We returned to the store, as agreed. We were eager to see her, to put our minds at rest, to see that the antibiotics, the painkillers, the water, the possible meal might have improved her. But the ‘vet’ was no longer there. And neither was the dog.