Black Dog

Monday, May 22, 2023

One of the commonest things to see in my area of Mexico is notices posted by people who have lost a dog. There is even a new service that prepares large, coloured banners showing the dog in question, and providing details of its appearance, and the reward for finding it.

Posters advertising lost dogs and rewards for finding them.

Often, I shake my head at them. So many people allow their dogs to run loose in the street here. The dogs become lost, possibly after running into trouble with a pack of local mutts. Or, they are stolen from the street because they are of a currently popular breed. How, I’d think, could people be so stupid?

But it’s not hard. 

I take my labrador-cross Rem for a walk on most days, along with his housemate Perlita. It’s good exercise for me, and they get to sniff the scents left by rabbits, squirrels and other creatures. I drive them to a good spot, and keep them each on a chain leash, because they are a little wild. One time Rem’s leash broke, and he ran off. However, he came back after a couple of minutes, so no harm was done. Even when once I dropped the leash, he didn’t go far, and trotted to the car when he saw me open the door.

Then yesterday, somehow, the clasp on his leash separated from the corresponding ring on his collar, and off he went. Being a white dog, he was easy to spot as I saw him cross the trail ahead of me a couple of times, and I was sure he’d come back to me soon. We do our walks in areas where there are few people or other dogs, and soon, he was bound to get bored … right?

Perly and I made it back to the car, which was parked where I’ve parked many times before. I called Rem’s name, and called it again. And again. His hearing is excellent, and I’m sure he heard me in an area with no traffic or operating farm machinery. After putting Perly in the car with a bowl of water, I went off to look for him. 

And came back twenty minutes later without him.

I could already see his goofy dog-smile on one of the coloured banners. Would 2,000 pesos be enough of a reward, I wondered? He’s a good-looking dog, though, and he could have ended up with new owners who grabbed him for themselves. I acquired him after a neighbour rescued him from the streets, so he’d already adapted to a new owner at least once before. Maybe that would be his fate. He was my dog for four-and-a-half years, and would now live as somebody else’s. 

Or maybe two or three feral dogs would get him, and that’d be that. Or maybe he’d show up, tired, hungry, thirsty and happy, at night, or in the morning. 

On my own, there was only so much I could do in thousands of acres of wood, cattle pasture and farmland, having run through every possible option in my brain, and yelled myself hoarse. 

I sadly took Perly home, then headed off to do some essential errands. I was out of intuitions, guesses and logical ideas. I drove slowly, glancing to both sides of the road. Since there’s only one drivable road into and out of the village, I had to pass the place to where I’d taken us all that morning, and went to check. Leave no stone unturned and all that.

Another car was parked at the stop where I usually leave our old Ford, and beside it was a fairly large black dog, looking hopefully at its doors. Not my Rem, obviously, because Rem only has a couple of pale brown splotches on his otherwise white fur. However, this dog didn’t run off from me.

I got out of the car, walked to the dog (you always have faint hopes in these situations) and stopped. Under a layer of black mud there was, it seemed, a male labrador-cross looking a bit bewildered and nervous. Quite possibly, the fur under the black mud could even be white.

There are drinking ponds for the cattle where we walk, and as we wait for the rains to start in earnest, these are very foul and muddy. What he’d been doing I couldn’t fathom, but he might have been chasing cows using the ponds. Now he was done with that, and tired, and wanted to drink some clean water. His only problem was the expression on my face, which must have mixed pure relief with furious frustration. 

“Stupid, stupid dog,” I said, which was hardly adequate to the occasion. I let him into the Ford, and used vocal tone to communicate my feelings. I’d been worried crazy, and I’d wasted the morning. Usually, he sits on the front seat next to me, but he hopped into the cargo area at the back of the SUV, and stayed there, shedding mud by the pound.

Back at the house, I subjected him to the ultimate indignity: a hosing down while he stood in the doggy bathtub. He whimpered and almost escaped twice, but he knew he was at a moral and physical disadvantage. I wasn’t gentle, and he wasn’t getting very clean.

Rem after initial cleaning.

What, I wonder, does a dog think in such circumstances? They can connect the dots – running off and becoming a walking mudpack is not good, and culminates in washing. But dogs have no shame, even if they have fear and a sense of humiliation. I left him on the patio to dry off in the sun, and we avoided each other for the rest of the day. 

This morning, I woke to find he’d left an enormous dump outside my bedroom door. Lord knows what he ingested during his adventure, but what his body had ejected was black. It was more mud than poop, I thought as I blearily cleaned it away, reflecting that he has no sense of obedience. I acquired him too late to train him properly, and we (usually) work from an understanding rather than a master-hound relationship. I provide food, he provides household security and minor displays of affection when it’s mealtime.

“You’re not a dog,” I observed to him after I’d de-dumped the tiled floor, and applied a mop. “You’re supposed to be my loyal and compliant companion. But you have the defiantly independent soul of a cat.”

That did it. Calling him a cat was the ultimate insult, and far worse than the hose-bath he’d endured yesterday. Somehow, he understood, too. He slunk off, and has been sulking in the corral beside the house ever since.

We’ll patch it up at dinner-time, I’m sure. Meantime, at least I don’t have to put him on one of those sad, desperate posters. I just have to sweep up the mud he’s still shedding all over the place.

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