March 9, 2007


Helen Hughes - Santiago, Chile

"Mother, I think Florencia has a dead kitten in her house," my younger son Matthew told me at breakfast about three months ago. "But it looks sort of deformed, with a pointy head and a long snout. Freaky!"

Florencia is our 8-year-old, overweight, cream-colored Lab dog. She hadn't been out of our back yard in about two or three years, but it sounded more like a dead puppy to me, I said.

"And where there's one puppy, there may be more," said Matthew.

We looked: six puppies, one DOA. Two were black, the others black and brown.

Our first question was: How in the world did this happen? Immaculate conception?

We all thought Florencia was sterile. She had had a brief fling at a beach house at age 3. She had been "serviced" by a beautiful specimen of her own race (who diligently went about his task) at age 4, and had disappeared with a street mutt for a week when she was 5. None of her romances had produced offspring.

When I finally crossed paths with my older son Manuel about a week after the puppies were born, he confessed that he had brought his girlfriend's dog, "a German Shepherd-type mongrel," over here for a long weekend while both we and his girlfriend were away.

(When I told a friend about the solved mystery, she said, "Aren't you glad it was the dog who got pregnant and not the girlfriend!?!")

Once the puppies were weaned, our next question was: How are we going to get rid of them?

Matthew wanted to keep one; the cleaning lady took another. Four were left. Around Christmas, my husband Juan threatened to dump the rest of the litter if we didn't find a home for them ASAP, so Matthew put them into a shopping cart and went around the neighborhood ringing doorbells. He found homes for two. Only Zeus, Matthew's pick, and La Chica were left. Manuel said he would take La Chica as soon as he moved into the house he was going to rent, his first place away from home.

Summer vacations started after New Year's. The dogs grew and flourished. I put collars on them and trained them to "sit" for their dinner and to "heel" on a leash. They were quick to learn, with the gentle temperament of a Lab and the markings of a Rottweiler. But their frolics caused havoc in the back yard.

By March, they had demolished all our grandchildren's inflatable plastic toys, our towels, bathing suits, and flip-flops left around the swimming pool, plus their plastic feeding bowls, flower pots and any potted plants within their reach.

Juan finally gave Manuel an ultimatum. If La Chica were still here by Feb. 28th, he would have her sacrificed. Reluctantly, Manuel took the dog even though he was going to be away the following weekend. I would stop by to feed her.

When I got there, the full moon was just rising over the Andes. Manuel's neighbors were out watching the total lunar eclipse that began before it shone its small, growing crescent over the peaks. La Chica wasn't in her new home.

A neighbor woman said she and her children had put the dog back behind Manuel's fence twice and tried to patch up her escape route. But the puppy had found or made another and was nowhere in sight. I called and looked around until the futility of looking for a black dog in black shadows on the night of a black full moon became evident.

The next day, I posted bills with my phone number along the street and took a look to see if she had returned. To my surprise, there was another dog at Manuel's. A fox-terrier mutt from next door was eating the food I'd left La Chica.

I thought of the poor, sweet pup alone on the street, of how she was frightened of big barking dogs, of traffic, even of kids running past us on our walks. I became aware of all the stray dogs lying about in plazas and parks. They were skinny, ill kept, some with great patches of mange that looked like elephant skin. I noticed dog pellets on sidewalks that compassionate people had put out for them. I remembered another pup, just a little older than La Chica, with a raw, severed paw that had turned my stomach when our train pulled into a station down south at daybreak. I dreamed I heard her barking outside our door and even got up to look. I waited for a call.

On March 9 th , a man named Juan Carlos called to say the black pup with the blue collar had followed his son home. They lived on the same street as Manuel. The son and his wife wanted to keep her, but Juan Carlos had taken her to a vet with a short-fused adoption service, and he "didn't want to have to pay to feed her until they put her down." He gave me the address of the vet.

When Manuel got there to rescue her, she was gone. The vet said a lady with a small farm in the country had come to collect another dog and took La Chica along, too.

Manuel said La Chica is a dog with a Guardian Angel.

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