The International Writers
The friendship was
sealed when she flipped onto her back and permitted a tickle on her tummy.
A tummy, I was to learn later, filled with pups. My friends Nini and Motti
reminded me that it was getting late and we needed to leave. The dog was
soaking up some well needed affection. I pulled away reluctantly as we
sped away. My eyes welled up with tears as I sensed that her deep brown
eyes were fixated on us as we kept on walking.
first encountered the mucky off-white dog hanging around outside
a well lit government building, on a Cuban side street. She was
timid and on first encounter ran away. But when she realized I had
no intention of abusing her she gradually came closer and allowed
me to stroke her.
Several months ago we had planned this trip. The Santiago synagogue seemed
like an excellent choice to volunteer our time. We had come equipped with
medical supplies, Hebrew books for teaching, a guitar and tape deck for
music gatherings. We were prepared to offer as many skills as we could
but we werent prepared for the enormous number of stray pets left
to roam the streets.
It became a nightly routine to visit her and we came laden with our breakfast
leftovers. She recognized us and would come running to greet us with enthusiastic
tail wagging. She would discard the bread and gobble the egg and cheese.
We learnt from the guards in the government building that her name was
Conchita. She was an assortment of breeds, the most dominant by far, was
the Australian collie mixed with some black dalmation spots. Her eyes
were warm enough to soften the heart of the toughest gang member.
By the second week in Santiago, we discovered the shops and overpriced
supermarket and I became a regular shopper, purchasing hot dogs for the
soon to be mother and any other dog who crossed our paths.
Like thousands of street dogs, it was clear that Conchita was unfed and
undernourished. She would try very gently to grab an entire hot dog without
giving me the chance to break it up. She gulped it down whole, often with
I repeatedly requested that the guards bring her some water which she
lapped up noisily.
Conchita was sweet natured and easily trainable and I had the impression
that it may have broken a local Cubans heart to release her to the
hot and smoky streets of Santiago.
Various guards came and went from their shifts and all seemed amused that
I would feed a luxury item to a dog. Our time here was coming to an end
and Conchita was the only unfinished business I needed to accomplish.
There were thousands more dogs and cats, all desperate, and steadily starving
to death. Conchita was just another animal scrounger in most locals
eyes and a soon to be mother, whose pups would most likely be destroyed
by the government, if not by nature.
However, if I could save one life, Conchita deserved it, and Id
personally feel a small victory like Id felt so many times in the
past. Dog rescues were not new to me. I was determined.
Only twonights away from our departure and the options were limited. The
Canadian Food Inspection Agency requires a veterinarian- certified clean
bill of health. Conchita was also pregnant. There wouldnt be sufficient
time. I tossed and turned all night and eventually concocted a rough plan.
As morning services were winding down, I went to the kitchen where several
of the congregation members were chatting and preparing lunch. In broken
Spanish, and some charades I put out my request. I would sponsor someone
who could take Conchita and her soon to be puppies. I would pay $10 a
month. This was equivalent to half a months salary or perhaps 25
packets of hot dogs.
A loud burst of voices took over the entire kitc hen and everyone began
to debate noisily in Spanish.
I like to believe that we had won the communitys heart and trust
. Surely, they would be willing to assist with my plea for help.
We passed around the digital camera with Conchitas photo. Some bowed
out saying they would love to take her but they had a child, a baby or
a cat. One member of the congregation said he recognized her and that
he was sure she had an owner.
Lunch was served. Nothing happened. I picked at the food. It seemed that
Conchitas fate had been determined.
An hour later, whilst the congregation members were thanking us warmly
for our help, the congregation president, Eugenia, tapped me on the shoulder
and said. "I have a home for your dog. She is a very old woman but
has a large clean home. Her daughter is my work colleague. She is very
poor and this can serve as a salary too."
It sounded satisfactory, although I wondered whether the "old lady"
would outlive the puppies. I knew Eugenia to be a trustworthy and caring
person and that with her supervision, I could continue paying the sponsorship
At 5.00 pm the synagogue van would be picking us up for an event and this
would be the opportunity to deliver Conchita to her new home.
"Daylight would be somewhat tricky," I thought to myself. No
leash, no collar, no car to whoosh her away in. However, I decided not
to share my uneasiness with my friends and as we headed in the direction
of the government office. It was exciting. My heart was racing. Most of
the weekend crowds were local Cubans and anything we did that was out
of the ordinary could cause unwanted attention.
We reached the familiar street corner and I spotted her a block away.
Whistling softly we called her name. She came running, instantaneously,
oblivious to traffic. Feeding hot dogs to her with one hand, and gently
guiding her down the street with the other, we lured her out of the guards
sight and towards the nearby park bench. I lifted her up carefully. She
was heavy but submitted so willingly I wondered if she sensed we were
there to help her. She had tried to follow several times before and a
gentle no had been sufficient for her to return towards the building.
Now she was with me and I instinctively know I would have difficulty releasing
It was hard work carrying a pregnant mutt through narrow streets in 35
degree temperatures Her trusting nature made the long walk back to our
Casa (private home) easier. She did not flinch once. Sweat was pouring
off my face. People stared at us. Children wanted to pet her.
At one point Motti offered to take over, but I was afraid that something
could go wrong. I clutched her tightly. My arms were beginning to ache.
All the gym workouts back home were finally paying off.
Bringing her inside our Casa was akin to sneaking a boyfriend in the house
after hours. Motti went ahead and beckoned that the coast was clear and
I carried her up a flight of stairs to the bedroom where we both flopped
down. She happily followed us around the room and bathroom and I sponged
her dirty fur. .
She drank two cups of water and lay down on the cool tiled floor, covering
her eyes with her paws . It was probably fortunate that there was only
an hour left until the vans arrival. Had it been much longer, I
would have been devising a plot to bring her back to Canada. We heard
the vans horn and Motti distracted the Casa (homeowner/host) as
Nini and I carefully carried her to the van.
She sat on my lap, almost lifeless as Eugenia directed the driver to her
It was certainly a poor family. A large, sparsely furnished living room
was dominated by a prized possession, the television. Three young adults
were seated on a 2 plastic lounge chair preoccupied with the television.
Olga looked ancient. Her middle aged son gave a toothless smile. They
were also in possession of a black Chihuahua, who they handed to me to
hold. They wished to show me her weight and the fact that she was heavy
and well fed .
I gave the family $40 which Eugenia explained would last for 2 or 3 months.
Conchita tried to run and the son held her up on her hind legs. I tried
not to look at her as I choked back. I did not want to leave. When we
reached the van I looked up to see the son on the balcony with Conchita.
The tears flowed I could not hold them back anymore. Conchita had a new
lease on life. A bowl of water, some food, a playmate and shade for those
scorching hot days.
Hasta La Pronto Conchita. Our paths will cross again.
© Jenny Wriright
jennywright3 at gmail.com
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