Thursday, September 17, 2009
Careful what you wish for
Miercoles 15 septiembre
It drizzled for about 20 minutes in Ambuqui late this afternoon, and at sunset the skies were filled with dark towering clouds which, with any luck, will mean more rain tonight. Earlier today I had been up to see some friends in El Angel, somewhat higher in altitude than here, and as I was leaving a thunderstorm moved in with hail and heavy rain. It was the first rain I had seen in my month back in Ecuador, and the relief from sun and heat and dust was most welcome.
I hadn`t intended to go to El Angel today, but instead had planned to visit the school gardens in Piqiuicho and Caldera I had started while still with Peace Corps. School has been back in session for about a week now, and I thought it would be a good time to see how things were going and to gauge interest in continuing the gardens, or not. Lo and behold, there is a teacher strike, so of course the schools are closed. I had read that there was a threat of a strike, but it seemed to be only a veiled threat in order to get the government to move a little on some pretty legitimate issues. So now the question is, how long will it last. Maybe just the one day, maybe weeks and weeks.
I`ve mentioned several times the frequent, sometimes constant and always annoying barking of dogs here in Ambuqui. Dogs who are running loose, or dogs condemned to a life tethered to a 6 foot rope or chain. Many`s the time I have remarked to friends how much I would love to have a rifle for just one night . . .
Last night I had been reading, and outside my window was muffled conversation and a scuffling noise I did not recognize. I paid little attention, figuring it was my vecina, Juanita, chatting and working late with some friends. I finished a chapter, turned a page corner to mark my place, and grabbed my binoculars and star chart and headed up to the roof, although it was not a particularly good night for star gazing. Up on the roof, now curious about the voices, I walked to the edge, and on the dusty street below me were 3 people, 2 men and a woman, watching a dog struggling and writhing, obviously poisoned. I had heard some time ago that many pueblos in Ecuador try to control the stray dog population by systematic poisoning, and I thought for a moment that I was seeing that policy in action on this particular night.
I startled them by calling down from the rooftop “que paso?” One of the men looked up, telling me the dog had been poisoned, and that 6 or 8 others had been as well. “All the others have died, quickly, but this one does not die.” The dog was lying on its side, legs pumping in agony, and her breathing was rapid and labored. The ground was covered in vomit and feces. I called down again “how long has she been like this?” and the man, who was her owner, replied “casi una hora”. Almost an hour.
I immediately flashed back to a night years ago, in the US, when, drifting in and out of sleep, I thought I heard my dog, Nico, thrashing about. I slept through it, and in the morning woke to a house covered in blood and vomit and feces. Nico was in the basement, dying . How she had been poisoned I had no idea. It was early, not yet 6 AM, but I called and woke the local veterinarian and rushed her over there. He injected her with some of his magic potions, and although it was close, very close, she pulled through. I took the day off work and stayed home to clean up the mess and to nurse her.
Here, there were no options. No vet, except those in Ibarra, and since it was night it likely would have taken 3 hours and extreme effort to get there and find one. Even if we had transport options, it was likely enough that the dogs` owner would not have the funds to pay for a trip to the vet. The dog was suffering, horribly, and from the looks of things would suffer several hours more before dying. We talked for a moment about what to do, me still up on the roof and him on the ground, clutching the burlap bag that he would use to collect the body once the dog succumbed. He felt very badly for the animal, and was troubled by the extent of its suffering. “Do you have a rifle, or pistol?”, I found myself asking. “No, señor, no tengo.” I knew that one of my neighbors had a rifle, which he used very occasionally to bird hunt. I went downstairs, and we went to borrow the rifle, and hopefully the neighbor, to shoot the dog and put an end to its misery.
The neighbor loaned us the gun, loaded and cocked. We had woken him and he did not want to come outside. He handed the rifle to the other man, and we trudged back down the street. The dog owner, who was holding the rifle, was despondent and said he could not bring himself to shoot his own dog. He asked me to do it.
Without a word I took the rifle, placed the barrel between the eyes of the dog and I pulled the trigger. She quivered a moment, blood pooled around her head, and she died. I handed him the rifle and said “lo siento, amigo.” I`m sorry, friend.
He and the other man stuffed the corpse in the sack, and they headed off to the quebrada, where they would toss the bag over the bank into the dry creek bed. I went back inside my house, drained the rest of a bottle of cheap rum I had been nursing for a few weeks, and thought about my Nico . . .
The dog I shot this night I had recognized as one of the loudest and rowdiest in the neighborhood. I have tossed a rock at her more than once, and I did not feel particularly remorseful about what I had done. But as the hours passed, quietly, with not a bark, not a snarl nor a yelp to be heard, I did not sleep well.
(I took the photo above about a year ago. The sweet looking dog is the subject in my story above, not looking very rowdy at all. The hombre is not the dog`s owner. He and friends had spent the night on the corner behind my house knocking off a half dozen jabas of Pilsener, and at about 6 AM they all nodded off. Moments after I took this, the man`s wife and her small daughter picked him up off the sidewalk and dragged him inside the house. The dog wandered off.)