Tacos are for Eating and Sometimes, for Cuddling!

These two little guys weren't sure about the truck ride.

I squinted through my sunglasses and watched for the twirl of little tails. One, two, three. I could easily make out a medium sized dog with wavy hair, gnawing on something large, black and feathery. A chicken maybe, or a vulture? And all around were puppies, their heads popping in and out of the brush, tails wiggling furiously in the air.

It was my fourth day in Cozumel, Mexico and I was spending it with Dr. Erika Flores, an International Fund for Animal Welfare adviser and veterinarian.  We weren’t far from the IFAW-supported Humane Society of Cozumel, in fact, we were just around the block and had walked over to check out a property where a neighbor had reported “too many dogs.”  The owner didn’t live on site but we’d heard he was there, so Erika wanted to stop by for a chat.

When we pulled up I noticed a sign above the gate that read, ‘Casa De Pulga’. I pointed to the sign and asked, “What’s Pulga?”  Erika smiled and said, “flea”.

The property turned out to be an open-air shack, some fencing and (as is common in Cozumel’s forested areas) densely grown shrubs and trees, spotted with a few brightly  flowering bushes and a spattering of weeds.

We visited with the three adult dogs that had greeted us in the road, all looked to be something akin to a spaniel mix, and after a few enthusiastic “Holas!” the owner finally appeared.  He looked young, maybe in his twenties, and was followed by a friend carrying a chicken. They didn’t seem unhappy to see us, in fact, the owner readily agreed to allow us to take all of the dogs back to the Humane Society of Cozumel (HSC) for medical treatment and sterilization. We could keep the puppies, he said, all of them.

So we shook hands and promised to come back first thing the next morning with carriers and the HSC truck. But Erika insisted we immediately take the dark-haired dog I’d noticed in the field.  Even from the road she could tell the dog was pregnant (very pregnant!) and didn’t want to risk having even more puppies around the next day.

Taco and his new family.

And so we arrived the next morning and one by one loaded the dogs into the car. But not without a bit of chasing and some quick handiwork! They could disappear into the brush in an instant. And even after we’d returned to HSC the owner stopped by 15 minutes later with the last (the ninth!) puppy, who was the lone winner of their game of hide-and-seek.

It quickly became apparent that the pups weren’t in the same condition as the adults. While the four adults (all parents of the pups, we’d learned) had shiny coats, clear eyes, and good body weight, the nine puppies were a mess.  All were thin, some emaciated, with ticks in their ears and so riddle with fleas you could stand back and watch the little black specks move about beneath their fur.  I itched just looking at them and felt so relieved we could help.

So imagine their (and my!) relief to get them back to the HSC and administer flea and tick treatments. Within an hour dead fleas were covering the floor and as I held the pups, live fleas were jumping ship and clinging on to my shirt.

Before the surgeries I was charged with the very happy task of taking all of the pups’ weights and giving them names. I decided to stick with a theme representing one of my most favorite things about Mexico – the delicious food!  So we had little Taco, Burrito, Frijoles, Chilaquiles, Marquesita, Avocado, Chaya, and Fajita. And as the puppies returned from the surgical suite, I was also given the task of monitoring their recovery.  This meant removing the breathing tube, keeping them warm, supervising their waking, and of course, snuggling when necessary (the tough part, obviously).  I lined them all up on a blanket, cozy as a can of sardines and gazing blurry eyed around the room. This was the beginning of a better life, I thought.

The veterinarian at HSC worked quickly and the whole team did an amazing job. Within just a few hours (even before lunch!) they’d spayed and neutered all of the dogs, including several community dogs that had been previously scheduled.  And when I left the “menu” of puppies that afternoon I had no doubt HSC would continue their wonderful work by finding each one a new home.  In fact, I received an update just yesterday that little Taco was the first off the puppy menu to be adopted. Hurray Tacolito!

Even after having visited more shelters and rescues than I can count, it brought me immense happiness to visit HSC for the first time and see the truly wonderful work being done there. Not all shelters are filled with the type of joy I saw in the animals at HSC, and the community is very lucky to have a place where they, and their pets, are welcome.

-- HL

For more information about the International Fund for Animal Welfare efforts to save animal in crisis around the world visit https://www.ifaw.org

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