Sunday, September 23, 2018

5 Months of Working with Dogs

Yesterday was my last day at the dog refuge for about a month. As I prepare to go on vacation, there were a few things left to do to sort of "round off" the work Carlos and I have been doing for months. As I was leaving, and others left, I got big hugs and lots of "enjoy your rest, you deserve it" comments, which was lovely, but what was even lovelier was that yesterday when I left the refuge I felt genuinely happy and pleased with our work there, and also, yesterday was a reminder that I am not alone in the work we do there, that I am blessed to be amung people with warm hearts and hugs and laughter and shared tears but above all, support.

Learning to mix cement on the ground.
Yes, Carlos is holding a puppy while Catherine and Don Feliciano mix cement.
Someone had to take pictures!

Thanks to Catherine for the door design!


I was trying to think of how long I have been dedicating one day a week to this work, and it has been since around April. Which got me to thinking - what have we accomplished in this time? As much I believe in looking forward, looking back occasionally has benefits as well.

  • Through donations from friends, we delivered 41 bags of food for the dogs. It means we fed the dogs for 20 days. Thank you Bonnie LH, Bonnie T, Jodi S, Erin S, Claire J, Donna M, Bianca A, Donna D, Sue N, Kathy H, Martha S, Trina H... (if I forgot your name, I am SO sorry!)
  • We rebuilt 10 dog enclosures which the municipality had started. This involed wood strips, plastic ties, more sheet metal and about 200 screws and washers, which I donated.
  • We divided the space into 4 distinct areas, allowing us to have capacity for safe intake of new dropped off dogs, and when I come back, having all the dogs inside the enclosures (there are a few who like the feeling of the alfalfa fields under their paws, but they are not safe so, time to leave the open fields behind.
  • I rescued Rico. He is a work in progress and no, won't live with us forever, but until he is eating well and has some weight on him, he'll continue to share the cat beds with Diego and Hilda.
  • I made new connections in my community, and I am honored to be counted as one of these hard working, inspirational group of people.
  • I helped to get dogs adopted, between bringing puppies to homes and people to puppies, they are no longer in the refuge.
New enclosers with doors that lock!

Dog houses for shade, protection from the rain and patios.



Work when I come back:

  • one of the key pieces of work we need to do is to get signage (pricing this out) made for the refuge, so people know how to get there (I spent 40 minutes yesterday driving around the countryside trying to find a couple who had come out and gotten lost). 
  • The second is to get a used grass trimmer - we borrow Carlos's nephew's but we need one that is there. The refuge looks so much better with the grass trimmed, and it is easier to make sure we pick up all the poop. (A second hand grass trimmer was $1300 pesos). 
  • The third is to get our website up and going (hours of work but maybe $10 USD for the domain name per year), so people can be exposed to the work we do at a broader level and also see all the dogs for adoption. they need to know how to donate, what to donate, what projects we have going on, and how to get there if they want to adopt or offer volunteer hours. Also get a GoFundMe page roganized or something similar for people to consider donating to the project.
  • I'll continue to work with APAOAX and Huelas de Ayuda, both run by amazing women, and with them we will build more dog houses, a roof extension for more shade over the patio at Tia Migue's house, capping the "french drain" hole that was dug to allow for some water drainage, partition one other section to allow for five distinct areas for the dogs to be in, and then another roof structure with eaves to collect the rain water into two above ground cistern type reservoirs (tinacos). We're working on that budget now.
  • The fourth will be to figure out how to get the dogs vaccinated. APAOAX can get the vaccinations for less than 200 pesos per dog (C$15 or US$10) but still, with about 100 dogs, that cost adds up. The government changes in December, so maybe the local municipality will be all excited to help??
  • The fifth (but not last because as you all know, there is always work to be done!) is to try to get the bags of food we feed them at a discounted price. Right now we buy them retail, at $297 pesos per bag, and they eat 2 bags of food per day. I'd like to see people's donations go further when they donate money for food.

There is a longer list, but these are the ones that come to mind on this Sunday morning. Yesterday, friends from APAOAX and Huelas started to count the dogs, there are at 87. We've not counted the dogs outside and not all got counted, but 87 is a starting number. We started 6 months ago with no plan. What a difference a day makes.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Dog Refuge Work

I haven't written about the dog refuge work in a while. Although we can all say we are too busy with work or "doing" or catching up on Queen of the South on Netflicks, in truth, sometimes you just need some time to gain some perspective. Sometimes things are not pretty and they make us cry and so we need a little time for the heart to heal before we share it.

We ran several steralization clinics. In all, we had about 20 to 25 dogs spayed or neutered. It was the first clinic I was involved in. The process was amazing. Two vets work side by side doing two dogs at a time. Another vet tech and a helper weigh the dog, give them a shot to knock them out, and shave their little bellies. Before all this gets going, all of us go and round up dogs and check them. If they ahve been fixed, then they get to wear a lovely green ribbon necklace. We had gone before the vets to clean all the kennel spaces we had, so when the dogs were done, they can be laid down on cardboard to rest. Costs - we pay the vets 500 pesos each for their day, drugs are provided y an organization called APAOAX or Huelas de Ayuda, and the rest of the work is volunteer. Near the end of the day they steralized a pregnant female. The doctor's view was that better to have one steralized female than a non-steralized one AND all her pups, so they abort the puppies and fix the female. Paulina, one of the volunteers, burried the unborn babies. She was digging the hole as I drove away, exhausted and emotionally shattered.
Vet doing surgery on Espumita.

This girl was already done.

This little one is in recovery.
We built dog houses. These dogs had barely any shade, so one of the volunteers had an idea to build them dog houses to chill in, get out of the rain and the sun. We built them over four weeks, a total of 20 little chelters, I think. The dogs made me laugh a lot when we were building them. They would be in the little houses before they were built, trying to help with spacing, wood cuting. Those of us who built them laughed a lot, and sweat in the sun, and measured and remeasured and cut and drilled and cut ourselves on sheet metal.

Just Chillin'!

Front patio is a much desired location.

I brought my cousin Bianca to the dog refuge. I am always a little anxious bringing friends and family to the refuge. I pee in a bucket and wear clothes I would be generally OK with tossing out at the end of the day. I have come home with scratches that have gotten infected and left long scars, bite marks, scrapes and usually muddy and smelling like dog poop. The refuge is a long slow process, and I worry that people will come and think: this place is terrible. And it is, in some ways. And in other ways, it is a place where the dogs can live and eat and not be hit by cars or die of starvation. I have had friends cry and others be overwhelmed and stand there and just hold puppies. And then there are others that just love the dogs up while there and help shovel poop and are happy to go and have seen it. Bianca's issue was she only had two hands to love up the dogs, but the third one was happy for a leg hug.
All this puppy love and only two hands!

Are they really lining up for snuggles?

China died. China was my fave little wavy haired shy black furred girl. She would run away from me, but when I eventually caught her, she accepted the snuggle. A dog that went out for adoption, a big black god the adoptive family names Valentin, dies with blood coming out of his nose. He had a respitory infection. They tried antibiotics but waited too long. China had a cough and she died this last week. The vet has been to the refuge and was taking samples. Tia Migue had a cough medicine she has given in the past and I took a pic of the bottle and will wander down to the vet to talk to her today and see what can be done. The dogs are not all vaccinated, nor do they have their rabies shots. Put it on the list of things we need to do, but to good thing is that we had the vet in and are trying to address the issues. We can't have dogs adopted out and then die in someone's home. I was so sad, but I was happy Valentin was loved as an individual dog in the days he was with us here, and I did manage to love up China and give her a name. I am learning that saving them all is near impossible.

China and I. 
I ran over a dog. Well, actually, while I was turning around outside the refuge and it was pouring rain, a dog ran under the car and I did not notice, and Carlos was in the car (he usually watched to make sure there were no dogs under my car). I was heartbroken, and we went back on Tuesday with the vet and he went to the vet to get xrays. I have to go today and follow up and see what happened in the end. My heart is too raw, I cried the whole time I held him while the vet examined him and determined he was coming to her office. We used a strap as a make-shift muzzle and his yelp of pain when we moved him shattered my heart. But it also made me mad and determined. We need to get all the dogs inside and partitioned off for their safety, and we started that last week. That way we can also have people go in and adopt safely and not have dogs jumping all over them, and I can drive bags of dog food in and not be worried about running over dogs. Our plan is to also have an "intake" area for when people dump off dogs in the middle of the night, because people do that.

Carlos mixes cement as the Tia supervises.

Posts were put in by Don Feliciano, and we are putting in a cement base along the bottom to try to prevent the dogs from digging under the fence. Try.

The Refuge, with the beginning of a new division.
Work never ends, but sometimes my funds and my energy do. I spend money I shouldn't helping, buying, building. I spend gas money to get there and back. I spend time there when I should be working on 100 other things. We are a small group of people with help from the Municipality for food and water, but we are far from a place where we can just "go to clean", though we need that, too. However, a few folks have offered to help, and I now feel like I am in a place to engage that help. Many freinds have helped with money and I hope they will still find some room in their budgets to do that.

In my head, I have plans. So I am taking another page from Trina's advice book and I am going to write them down.

Friday, September 7, 2018

Running with Rex

Around the end of May I met a dog who was potentially interested in running with me. I had been looking for a canine running buddy for a while. Someone to motivate me to get out of bed in the mornings,who was depending on me to get my butt into running pants and get a collar on and hit the pavement.
The issue, of course, is that canine running buddies don't post on Facebook, but thankfully for me, their less furry Moms do! And so, I have, since May, had a running buddy. Yeah!

The other day while starting out on my run, Rex, my canine running buddy, stopped dead in his tracks. To poop. That got me thinking - what advise would Rex give us runners? I read Runners World blogs and articles all the time - eat this, drink that, buy these shoes... You know the ones I am talking about, those articles that flip over in your brain as you start out before dawn (6 ways to make sure you are seen...).

Here is what I think Rex's advice would be:

  1. Poop when you need to. Have someone carry a bag for you if you are going to run in "one of those" places, but just poop when you need to.
  2. Pee when you need to. Although awkward sometimes in the middle of the street, just be quick about it. Everyone get it. Everyone pees.
  3. Integrate cross training into your run by including side lunges at passing bikes, sideways running while looking at roof dogs (if you live in one of those cities) and full force sprinting if there is a cat that crosses your path.
  4. Run as much and as often as you can. 
  5. Mix up the pace. Some days, start out of the gate like you have never been outside EVER, and other times, jump around a bit in the middle of your run to not get bored. 
  6. ALWAYS sprint the last two blocks home.
  7. Eat if you can while running. Look around the bases of garbage cans for enjoyable and nourishing nosh while out.
  8. Sticking your tongue out will help you run better. Trust me on this one.
  9. If you run into fellow running dogs, YELL at them from across the road. Something like: HEY! I AM HERE! I SEE YOU!
  10. Last but not least, beware of chihuahuas. They cannot ever be trusted.



Wednesday, July 4, 2018

1226 Pesos, 3 lightbulbs and a cell phone

About a month ago Carlos and I went to the Zaachila Dog Refuge and there was no water. We had gone by chance mid-week because there was an opportunity for one of the puppies to be adopted. Whenever we arrive, there always seems to be some sort of drama. Either someone left 7 dogs tied to a garden fence with wire, and those 7 dogs were then attacked by the resident dogs and several died, or there was no food for a while, or maybe a dog had a litter of puppies and did not have her own milk so we went out and got milk to feed the little baby puppies with. On this one day a month ago, as wonderful as it was that a little black fluffy puppy was going to be adopted by an adorable girl who loved this little fluff ball as soon as she held him, the other dogs were suffering. There was no water.

We asked Tia Migue if she had a number for a pipa. (A pipa is the water truck that comes to deliver water when there is no water that is pumped by the city directly.) She did not have one, but said if we took this one side road and went to the very end, there we would find a pipa company. We understood that although the city is supposed to deliver water to her, they had not (yet) come. We left her with 150 pesos and said we would arrange for water to be delivered into the two tinacos (holding tanks). 

I am a girl of the modern world, and although sometimes this serves me poorly in Oaxaca, my first instinct is to go to Google and ask "pipa Zaachila" and see where that gets me. It got me a number, so while driving through country roads on the outskirts of Zaachila, stopping at a corner store to ask about a pipa, getting another number, not having accurate directions, calling one place that could not deliver the smaller quantity of water we wanted, we did eventually get water delivered. The company called us back to let us know they had delivered it, and of course, the city delivered more water that night. 

I live in a priviledge I never thought of. I have a phone, electricity, and 150 pesos (about 10 Canadian, 7 US dollars) is not beyond my reach to pay for water. I can read and write. On that day, I was struck by something I considered to be such a simple thing to take care of seemed insurmountable for Tia Migue. She did not have 150 pesos. She did not have a phone, because she has no electricity to charge one, even if she did.

I managed not to cry, though writting this today I am flooded with such emotion, such gratitude. On that day, it got me to thinking. She has no light. She has no way to charge a phone, which in turn means if she needs help, she has to walk for it. Walking means leaving the refuge, which often means she has no less than 10 dogs walking with her. The pipa is about 5 kilometers away from her house. At least a 2 hour walk and only if she had 150 pesos to start with.

Carlos is an electrical engineer. He and I have often talked about solar power and its possibilities and uses. He has installed panels at his house. We decided to install a solar panel for the dog refuge. We talked back and forth about the costs, different parts, and then as we were headed down to the market we passed a shop that had a kit. For 1226 pesos (about $80 canadian or $65 USD) we got a kit - a solar panel, a converter and battery combo with 3 lights each with a 5 meter cable connector, and one USB charger. Carlos tells me we could have gotten it cheaper by buying the parts separate, but we were there, and some days I give in to an easy option. 


I had an old cell phone at the house, so the following Sunday we went out to install the solar panel and the lights, as well as bring Tia Migue the cell phone and we loaded it with 50 pesos (about 2 weeks worth of credit on the pay-as-you-go plans from TelCel). You could see by the look on her face she did not really understand why we would spend money buying this, time installing this. How was this going to impact and help the dogs?

Carlos and I knew. We knew that having lights at night would be safer. We knew that having lights at night MAY mean less people dump dogs at random in front of the gates. We knew that having a phone meant we could call and ask if she needed anything as we were on our way. We knew that a phone meant calling the city to ask about water, maybe even ordering water. We knew. We knew that her having a phone may mean more dogs get adopted quicker, or that a vet could call before going by. We knew.

And on the following Sunday when we went back to clean and fix another casita, Tia Migue knew as well. It was the very first thing she said when we got out of the car. Before we left, she told us that her neighbour had come over asking about these lights, where did these come from? The glow on her face was obvious, The little cell phone she keeps in her bra, away from the dogs who will eat your car keys if you let them. 

Last night a lady who works primarily with Spay and Neuter called. The very first thing she said was: you installed the solar panel. 

We installed the solar panel, and for 1226 pesos, we changed things. I am eternally grateful that I can give back in ways I never ever knew would be possible. I am filled with gratitude for the people in my life who help me give back. And for dog love, which fills me up and makes me smile.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Dog Refuge

Where to start this story... 2 years ago, I had heard about this dog refuge in Zaachila, a town about 12 kilometers outside of Oaxaca city. I went and brought a few bags of food out to them and walked in their little dog-a-thon. The lady who is in charge of this refuge is called "Tia Migue". Her story is that 12 years ago, she was diagnosed with cancer and promised God that if she recovered and lived, she would dedicate her life to dogs.



I watched this lady while I sat there struggling to follow the Spanish announcements from the town representatives. She pet a dog who had come to sit next to her with a tenderness and gentleness that was so blatant it made that lump rise in my throat. You know the one.

I started to go out to the refuge about a year ago. It had moved, the municipality had donated a plot of land a little further out. The first time I went, I cried. When my friend Kim came, she cried. When my friend Trina came, she looked a little wild eyed so we handed her a puppy. Bonnie came and pet every single one she could. It's crazy. Dogs are everywhere. It's dirty. It smells. Imagine over 100 dogs cohabitating with one lady and occasioanly her husband and another lady, Rocio, who used to go to volunteer to feed them.



So I brought food, often with money friends donated, often my own. They were being fed 50 kilos of kibble per day. They weren't skinny but they weren't healthy, either. They were also not dead by the side of the road. They generally had someone who cared for them. Even if they were covered in mange.



A few months ago there started to be a little unrest at the refuge. Another organization had gotten involved and there was some politics. One person said one lady was stealing. Another person called one lady a liar. Another lady thinks the refuge should be closed. Some other volunteers went with additional food. Some accused the Municipality of not taking care of their population, human or canine. There were reporters. Social media ugliness.

Bonnie, Carlos and I ended up in an article.

I'll be frank. I had stepped away for a bit. As a permanent resident of Mexico, I cannot be involved in anything political. Recently, I went back, after not having been there for several months. Since this political nonsense started, things have improved a little. A little. The day I went back, I knew I needed to stay engaged and involved. Even though the dogs were no longer covered with mange and they seemed to have more food and there seemed to be less fighting, there was so much to be done that it seemed overwhelming. Tia Migue had a sort of frantic feeling. So many people involved and yet, no plan. The Municipality has tried to put in enclosures but the metal sheeting they used to separate the rooms in the strip of 6 pens was exposed, meaning dog paws were cut and one anxious dog who tried to eat his way out of the sheet metal died. Dogs had been put in the enclosures with no thought to their behaviour and how this change may impact them. Exposed metal widely available to poke dogs and humans alike. No one's fault, just a lack of knowledge.

Inside bottom of a door sharpness. :(


When Trina was here in December, she said it didn't matter how little money there was, you still needed a plan if things were going to improve. And she's right, I was just afraid.

So. I decided I was needed. Like it or lump it, I was going to spend some time making this place safe, for the dogs, for Tia Migue, for those of us who volunteer our time there. For anyone who wants to come and adopt.

The journey began.




Sunday, May 27, 2018

500 Miles

He looks lovely in this light...
Last weekend (was it only last weekend?) my friend Sarah and I went to the Sierra Juarez Pueblos Mancomunados to do two village to village hikes. In a little over 4 years, it is our plan to walk the Camino de Santiago de Compostela in Spain. About 4 years ago I had signed up for a half marathon in Chicago in an attempt to feel better physically and loose a little weight. Sarah signed up with me, and on one of our first training runs, she said she had always wanted to walk the Camino. A bucket list thing. I said I would do it with her, and last weekend was the beginning of a training of sorts. She came to Oaxaca and we were going to do two days of walking in the forest. The first day was 24 kilometers from Cuajimolojas (3100 meters above sea level) to Lachatao (1900 meters above sea level). The planned second day was 18 kilometers from Latuvi (2900 masl) to Lachatao. Ralph was our driver - wine, beer, pajamas and the next day's gatoraide in a cooler, waiting for us on arrival.

Sarah and I both worked in HR together at AMD, and we are "data" HR girls - we like information. We question how things are going to work. We evaluate thoughts and ideas. Maybe too much, but we had questions about this walk. This walk in 4 years. 1000 kilometers over 40 days. How much gear? How would we feel after a day? What time of year should we go? How did we want to sleep - in a group hostal type environment or a bit of luxury in our own room?

Day 1 Selfie
And so, we're off. I am not sure if this is the point to tell you if walking downhill for about 6 hours and nice steep climbing for short spurts in between for the other 90 minutes does to your toes. I know I cannot describe in words the feeling of utter and absolute exhaustion we felt when walking the last 20 minutes in the hot afternoon sun down into the village. Maybe these can wait...

Doesn't this trail look nice? HA!
Day 1 Things: What you think is too much snack food is just enough. Fall gracefully, if you must fall, and have Sarah nearby to grab your gatoraid as it goes flying into the bush. Pine needle beds suck. Stick to the road well traveled unless you have a guide to move logs for you to traverse boggy ground. Seeing animals never gets old. Take pictures even when you are tired. Advil is good. Having your own room - priceless.


Francisco moves a log. Seriously.




Day 2 we changed up our plan. We decided for a local in and out hike of  roughly 11 kilometers. It was the right choice. There is no way my toes were going to support another almost completely downhill day. So, we changed the plan, and it was the right thing to do.

A view. It really is this beautiful.
Day 2 Things: My backpack for this long walk needs front pockets of some sort for water and my camera. Your body does not feel as bad as you think it is going to feel on the morning of Day 2. Even your toes, but they still hurt more than other parts. Maybe selfies only on Day 1?

Did we even wash our faces?


Kind cool gap in the rock.
On the bridge with Juan, our guide.




Fauna Notes - things we saw: Woodpecker, Field Mouse, Squirrel tail (unattached, seriously, we didn't touch it), Some Red Bird, Wild Horses, goats crossing the road, Cicadas, Dead green scarab, dead centipedes, Oxen, Kitten, Puppy, Turkey Vulture, Martins (Bird), Donkeys

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Y tu esposo?

Ralph is away in Edmonton. He's been gone for a week to support his brother who just lost his wife. I would want his brother here to support Ralph if I were the one to pass along as well. So off he went.

Last Tuesday, I went to Apoala. Of late, we have had a few tours there and we recently spent an overnight there exploring a longer tour possibility. From 5 different people, I was asked: Y tu esposo? which means: And your husband? The guy who signs us in, the lady who graciously accepts my leftover salads, the guy in charge of the cabins, the guide David who I am pretty sure I have not worked with before, and then the older man who we often give a lift to, 500 meters almost straight uphill. This older gentleman walks down into the lower Apoala village every day to work at the health care centre there, and then back up at the end of the day. There is a doctor once a week and perhaps a nurse on other days, but he goes to make sure it is open and available. He had the very best comment: "You can drive, too!". Ralph usually drives. Mexican women drive but somehow my being able to drive had surprised him.

Apoala - from up above

On Thursday we had a booking for Hierve el Agua. It was a single traveler so off we went. It's always different touring without Ralph because usually he drives and I talk, so guiding solo means driving (always an adventure) and talking both to the guest AND telling them about Oaxaca. I managed to not hit any speed bumps at high speed. The guy at the front gate asked why I was alone today, was my husband OK. Maria, the lady at Hierve who kindly accepts my leftover salads asked: Y tu esposo? I smiled and explained: He is gone to Canada. He should be back next week. She seemed reassured. Touring alone means I have to channel my inner mountain goat and bring guests to all the little nooks and crannies that Ralph usually explored with them. It's a fun change.

Ralph at Hierve el Agua.
Although I thought that would be it for touring for the week, Jen had such a good time at Hierve that she asked if we could do the Yagul and Tlacolula market on Sunday, It was half marathon day,  and I had not thought about doing anything that day, but Erin is visiting and she said we should do it, it was a short easy day. And so, off we went. Arriving to closed gates in typical fashion, I texted Pedro the caretaker to make sure he was on his way. We sat and chatter for a few minutes and Pedro showed up on his motorcycle. As always, he opened up the tomb for us and while we were waiting for Jen to be ready to head into it to explore, he asked: Solo hoy? Alone today?

Artsy Yagul.
After a short break at Yagul in the shade we headed over to the Talcolula market. It was a great day there, not too crowded and some fun new things. I stopped to talk to Maria, a lady we are acquainted with, who makes beuatiful red pottery I use for cooking (and almost everything else!) to aks about a recent piece I had purchased (not from her) that had a small chip in it. She told me the test was to put it in water. Good to know! Before I headed off she asked; "Y el senor?". El Senor Ralph went to Canada. Ah,she nodded. For how long was her next question. I supposed another week, more or less. She nodded again. It was acceptable.

Always room for another basket. Always.
Yesterday I went to run a few errands after my massage and one was in the plaza where the Starbucks is. Erin wanted a latte, so Perseo, our usual Starbucks barista who knows my name took my order and said: The latte is for Ralph? He usually has an Americano...

It is interesting what things can make you feel part of a community. I always felt welcomed here in Oaxaca, but now I feel looked after and cared for, too.