"Take us the foxes, the little foxes, that spoil the vines: for our vines have tender grapes." -- Song of Solomon, Ch. 2, v. 15, KJV
As we walked out this morning past the tenderly laden vineyards toward the Hare Field, Una found something fascinating in the ditch alongside the camino. Tim joined her. They yipped the yips that mean "Wow, a live animal! Let´s kill it!"
It´s past the season for big lizards, the field-mouse plague is history, and most of the rabbits and game birds are well hidden these days, as the weekend hunting season is going full blast. We backtracked to see what the hounds had cornered.
It was a fox, a young beauty, curled in the zanja, the roadside ditch. Its back end was useless and bloody, but its front end was lively with desperation. When the dogs came too near it flashed and gnashed its pointy white teeth.
We pulled the dogs away. The fox slumped down into the undergrowth, invisible again, panting and doomed. (this photo is not the same fox. I swiped it from someplace else, for those of you who require Visual Aids.)
Back in Moratinos Paddy told Alcalde Estebanito, the closest thing we have to Authorities. He phoned the Guardia Civil, the rural police force. They sent out their "Environmental Squad." A little while later Pad rode out with them to show them where the little fox was hidden. They looked. They agreed the animal isn´t going to make it, that it ought to be put out of its pain. And while they radio-ed for advice and backup, Patrick walked home.
We haven´t heard any shots. Maybe we should have just told Segundino or Justi, men we know are hunters, to consider going out and putting the animal down. They probably think we´re crazy to even bother with a wild animal, much less get the Guardia involved.
Out here in the campo, animals are tools or appliances or pests. We outsiders, raised with a different set of contradictions, sometimes find Spanish animal care quite questionable. I am speaking here in generalities, OK? There are some notable exceptions, but I can safely say that most local chickens spend their lives in tiny cages, and when a hen stops laying eggs she goes into the stew-pot. Unwanted kittens are drowned, or left to "go feral" in the fields -- cats that kill doves are likewise eliminated. Guard dogs are kept tied-up or confined in small yards, and are never let loose to stretch their legs. Likewise, hunting dogs are confined inside barns or corn-cribs or farmyards and fed stale bread until hunting season starts. Crippled animals are put down, or dropped off along a country road somewhere.
A great number of Spanish horsemen wear spurs on their boots and whips in their hands, and they don´t hesitate to use them. Horses are seen grazing in building sites, junkyards, and waste land, anywhere that´s fenced-in. Donkeys are tied up to stakes and left to graze for weeks in the same circle, without shelter or shade, their hooves growing overlong. Sometimes worn-out donkeys or horses are still found wandering the back roads, left to their own devices. (English writer Gerald Brennan, who lived in the mountains of Granada in the 1920´s, wrote of a village donkey that went lame. The creature was "broken," so it was "thrown away," aka shoved over a cliff... and it didn´t die. Brennan appealed to the owners to go down and shoot it, to put it out of its misery. They looked at him, shocked. "But that donkey was like family to us! Killing him would be cruel!" they said.)
Things are not so bad now. Old dogs are allowed to spend their golden years lying in the sunshine in the plaza. And the cafés and bars and lanes of Spain are alive with faithful lapdogs who spend their lives tucked safely within the family bosom. The caged chickens and staked-out donkeys and tied-up dogs at least have food and water. And the Julis, a no-nonsense farming family, have adopted Lucas, a duck, from a big-city family that realized an apartment-house balcony wasn´t the best place for barnyard fowl. The Julis have no use for a big male duck, but they keep him around anyway.
Those are the domestic creatures. Wild animals live around here, too. They are rarely seen, but their tracks are plainly visible on the trails: wild pigs, tiny deer, foxes, weasels, feral cats, quail, partridge, doves, rabbits and hares. So long as they stay out in the wild, (and it´s not hunting season) the locals leave them alone to make their own way. But if a wild creature is seen in town, he´s suspected of hunting for chickens at least, and carrying rabies at worst. He is summarily hunted down and killed.
We hear pilgrims complain about seeing skinny dogs and weatherbeaten ponies. We agree it is a shameful thing. We all say "tsk-tsk." Then we sit down to our tasty dinner of factory-farmed beef or pork or chicken.
We don´t know how the little fox ended up in the ditch. Maybe a hunter shot it, and it limped that far before it fell. Maybe it´s a car-crash victim, although it´s hard to imagine anyone driving fast enough along the bumpy old camino for a fast fox to fall beneath its wheels. Or maybe it got into the grapes, and the vineyard guys decided to destroy it.
Suffering is suffering. This morning, just before I turned away, I looked straight into the fox´s hazel eyes. It looked straight back at me. It was dying in a ditch, but its face was full of dignity.