Thursday, 28 December 2017

The Long Tale of a Lucky Dog

She´s lucky I didn´t kill her myself, back when we first met.
A year or so ago, on a dark, snowy afternoon in the mountain village of O Cebreiro, I drove my car very slowly up the single cobbled street. I peered through the sleet, hoping for a decent parking spot. I hit the curve at the top with just enough momentum to avoid touching the gas. And there it was, sprawled out lengthwise on the snow-covered street -- a huge black hound dog.
I touched the brake and slid, just a little. I stopped in time. The dog didn´t move. It was dead, some idiot had already run it over and left its body there, I thought. Poor, unlucky beast. I pulled over to the side, turned on the emergency lights, got out of the car.
The dog rolled slowly over and got to its feet. It ambled over to me, wagging its shaggy tail. It was a filthy, yellow-eyed brute, a shaggy rag of a hound dog, lying in the street like all good Spanish dogs do. At least until some local hot-rod puts a permanent end to their restful lives.
I happened to have dog treats in my coat pocket. I gave them to the dog. He wolfed them down and ambled away. He´s not starving, I told myself. He´ll be alright.
I got on with my errands, got on with my life. I didn´t know that dirty old dog wasn´t done with me.
St. James works closely with St. Francis sometimes, where I am concerned.
My friend Laurie is Canadian, but she´s been part of the O Cebreiro community for decades. She noticed when the big black dog appeared along the edges of the town a year or so ago, scrounging for scraps, sniffing around the dumpsters, sidling up to pilgrims. Near enough to be obvious, but not close enough to touch. It was a female dog. People threw bits of bocadillo to her. The restaurant cooks left bones and trimmings by the back door, which vanished overnight.
Everyone agreed the dog must´ve been dumped by a hunter, or escaped from a local shepherd. No one came looking for her. Nobody wanted a big black dog. The dog was so shy, she didn´t seem to want to be anyone´s pet. She survived the first winter by holing up alongside a horreo on the edge of town, out of the wind.
She made friends with Carlos, a portly pet dog who lived with the Esperanzas, two ladies named "Hope," at a local bed and breakfast inn. The two dogs spent last summer working the tourist crowds, cadging treats from the delivery vans down along the LU-633, taking long naps in doorways, garages, and sometimes in the middle of the street.
Cinders in O Cebreiro, Summer 2017 (Rachel Thompson photo)
Around July, the black dog produced a litter of puppies. They tumbled around the streets for a little while, then suddenly vanished. No one can say where. No one much cared. No one wanted a puppy.
No one wanted a big black female dog.
Time went by. The tourist crowds thinned out. The days grew short.
Laurie named the hound dog Cinderella. The Esperanzas let the dog sleep in their garage, but they didn´t want to adopt her. They spend their winters in a little apartment in Lugo, they already had one too-big dog. Laurie spends large swaths of time in England and Canada, so she couldn´t take her on, either. Cinderella was facing another long, hungry winter on the mountaintop.
So Laurie called me.
I was due to visit O Cebreiro in November, so Laurie and the Esperanzas fixed things up.
I arrived with the rear hatch of the car all done-up for a scared dog, but I needn´t have worried... the Esperanzas had lured her into the entryway of their elegant stone house, and drugged her into oblivion. We four ladies dragged and lifted the dog into the back of the car.
The Esperanzas wept. Laurie grinned her great grin. And so Cinderella left her mountain home.
I won´t tell you what happened when I stopped at a service station halfway home to let the dog relieve herself. She did just that, but getting back up into the car was too much for her. She dropped to the ground and lay there, supine. I thought it was the drug.

doing the Ghandi drop, November 2017
That turned out to be her default response to any stressful situation: Drop down and lay flat.
This is a huge dog, 35 kilos, 77 pounds. A smart dog. Wily. Unmoveable.
She did that when a Ditch Pig accidently let her out the front gate, and I caught her by the collar.
She did that whenever Ruby and Harry Dogs came to sniff her over and check her out.
She did that on our walks, when we were turning left and she wanted to keep going straight.
Slowly, eventually, she warmed up. We took away her collar and put a harness on her, and she stayed on her feet. She began nosing up to us when we petted the other dogs, asking for her share of love.
Finally, out in the Promised Land one morning, I let her off the lead when the other two ran free. She ran after them, in a big wide-stride lollop.
And when they came back, Judy Dog came, too.
The veterinarian said she´s young and healthy. He gave her rabies shots and worming tablets and a microchip with my name on it. We called her Judy, because she seemed to like it.
I booked her into another vet who does spay-neuter operations on dogs -- not an overly common procedure in Spain. We waited until after Christmas, til after the vet got over a cold.
Late yesterday morning I took Judy into Sahagun for the operation.   
In the afternoon the veterinarian phoned just after lunch, her voice anxious. She´d opened up the dog, she said, and found a terrible surprise. Judy had an acute pyometra. Her uterus and ovaries were a massive infection. The operation was going to take a lot longer, and be a good bit riskier, and cost a lot more money, she said -- or I could opt to just euthanize her, there and then. Without the full operation she would not survive more than a day or two.
I told her to go ahead with the surgery.
Five hours later I took Ollie and David to help collect her. The vet was exhausted, Judy was drugged-out. In the sink of the dispensary was Judy´s uterus. The normally pencil-size organ was a great, 3.5 kilo loaf of eeugh. (The vets here always show you the spare parts.) 
"This is the luckiest dog I´ve ever met, and I´ve met plenty," the vet enthused. "I can´t believe she could be walking around with this inside her, and not have at least a fever. I can´t believe she could stand up, even, and there she was this morning, prancing in here with her tail wagging. I can´t believe she´s here for something routine, something scheduled, and wow. And a couple more days and she´d have been dead, and you´d probably never have known she was sick. Exceptional. Extraordinary. Lucky." 
"It´s St. James," Ollie said.
"St. Francis, maybe," David said.
"Lucky dog," the vet said. 
A survivor. A black dog made of old car tires, rubber bands, shoe leather. Tough as nails. Lucky as hell.
I might start calling her that. Lucky.
Lucky Dog.
Post-surgery, wearing my nightgown 



Ingrid said...

Lucky... great name... she sure is. Hugs

Niels Hee Andersen said...

This is a good xmas story to enjoy, I hope I´ll meet that dog one day. I love big hairy doggies like her, she has got personality and worth a good life indoors at night from now on. Good on you and the vet..
All the best for her recovery
Niels, Denmark

Christine Adams said...

I think you should call her Lovely. I'm in love with that face.

Caryn said...

Such a wonderful story.

HeidiL said...

I miss the Like button!

Gareth said...

That's a lovely story, Reb. Quite a camino encounter. Sorry to be remiss on Christmas greetings, but just recovered from 'flu and a ruined Christmas! Donkeys send regards!

All news best explained in my blogpost...

Happy New Year to you and Paddy (who I won't tell I am now an admirer of Cardinal Sarah in case that sparks an unfortunate discussion!) and all the best for the coming year.

Gareth xx

Amanda Schaffer said...

Just saw this post -- teary eyed -- you're very Lucky to have each other -- Camino angels!