Monday, October 10, 2011
When I recently moved farther from the port town on my island into another house, a feral dog who liked to take shelter on my porch had just had puppies. I didn't see them at first but I could hear them sheltering under my back stoop, whining from the cold when it rained at night. These dogs eat only what they can scrounge from people's trash and the leftovers from their meals. (There is no waste disposal that I know of anywhere in this province.) This diet somehow manages to keep a surprising number of dogs alive, but there is constant fighting among them and they all carry the scars of survival.
The dog that had the puppies started bringing them, one at a time, onto my porch as soon as she and I became friends. Having a dog around your door is always a good idea when you're a stranger and people are convinced that you have stacks of cash inside your house. Given the fact that the dogs' survival depends on whatever they can scavenge, the puppies' survival was especially precarious. In fact, within a week or so, I never saw the puppies again.
Life went on for the mother, and about six wees ago, without my knowing she was carrying one, she had another litter, amounting to four this time. As the weeks have gone by since then, I watched as they survived or, one by one, did not. One of them felt safe enough on my porch to lie down next to one of my tsinelas (flip-flops) and die. Half-starving, it had eaten something it shouldn't have, spent the morning throwing up and only when I began to smell that unmistakable stench waft into my sala sis IO look outside and find it lying there, with flies around its eyes and mouth. I put my hand inside a plastic bag, picked up its cold little body (none of the puppies had noticeably grown for weeks) and pulled the bag inside out around it. My neighbor, a retired cop, buried it somewhere for me.
The one puppy that is left is still nursing - when the mother lets him. When I can, I make sure that she gets the first go at my leftovers, even when the alpha male makes threatening noises as he watches her wolf down the fatback and fish bones. When she looks at me now, I see a calm, contended look in her brown eyes. Just how many more times her well-worn body can stand the strain of a litter I shall have to see.