Rescuing Thistle – We Meet (part 1)
by Sandi Reinke on January 30, 2010
Our little Mexican street dog
The first time we saw her Art and I, my sister Susie and her husband Bruce were sitting in the Ole’ Café, having an afternoon Corona (or two). Scruffy and filthy, the little dog had been skulking about under the tables, trying not to be noticed as she looked for stray bits of food.
Susie and I had been trying to throw a few scraps her way, but she was very wary of getting too close to anyone. Street dogs are a given in most Mexican towns, and Loreto is no exception. And although it is strongly discouraged by the restaurant owners, it is very hard for Americans to resist big brown hungry eyes.
Suddenly, shouting in Spanish, one of the cooks saw her. She was used to being yelled at and chased off. Darting away, down the cobblestone “calle” and across the main street, she barely avoided being run over by a jeep full of fishermen, then quickly disappeared down a dirt alley.
That should have been the end of it, but then a week later the four of us rendezvoused at a funky little bar/grill called El Borracho” (the drunk) that sits all by itself out in the desert – a good 6 miles away from any other “civilization” – but worth the trip for the hot burgers and cold beer.
The guys had arrived a few minutes earlier and had already gone into the restaurant, but as Susie and I got out of the car, who should we see but this same little scraggly dog! We were sure it was the same animal because her tail was almost bald, and had a strange bend in it, making it appear to be broken.
Susie always carries a bag of dog food, a ½ gallon of water and a couple extra dog dishes in the car, for just such situations. The little dog was so hungry, but also so scared that she wouldn’t let us get near her. Then, just as we were almost able to get her to come up to us, four large dogs came tearing out from behind the restaurant. Barking and snarling, they quickly sent her dashing off.
Eventually we lured the big dogs off with a pile of dog food, then went back to the car and left another pile of kibbles under the car, where we could see the little dog hiding. About a half hour had passed, so Susie and I went into the restaurant and joined the guys who were sitting out back in the patio area.
This might have been the end of it, but half way through our burgers, there she was again, hiding under tables just hoping for a tidbit of something to drop unnoticed. No sooner had we spotted her than the big dogs did too, and once again they chased her off. She would scuttle away, then a few minutes later come creeping back up under one of the tables, trying to be invisible.
People in Mexico view stray dogs differently than Americans, and most of the bar’s patrons either ignored her or shooed her away. As Susie and I tried to lure her over to us many of the families lunching in the patio viewed our behavior with amused curiosity.
Slowly she kept coming closer and closer until we were finally able to offer her bits of our hamburgers, which she would gently but quickly grab from our fingers, then wolf down in one gulp. Between the four of us I’m sure she consumed the equivalent of at least one jumbo burger, until finally Art said we should probably stop feeding her, she might get sick from so much, so quickly.
Now you can just imagine the conversation that was going on all through our lunch.
“We HAVE to take her” (me)
“We do NOT have to take her” (Art)
“She’s starving” (my sister)
“She’ll be alright” (Bruce)
“She won’t be alright” (me)
“She probably lives around here” (Bruce)
“We saw this same dog in town last week, 6 MILES from here” (Susie)
“She’s a street dog, she knows how to take care of herself” (Art)
“She’s a street dog, she DOESN’T know how to take care of herself” (me)
“You SAID you were thinking about getting a dog” (me)
“Yea, but not now” (Art)
“She’s the perfect size” (me)
“It would be too hard to get her home” (Art)
“We’ll drive her back, won’t we Bruce?” (Susie)
“Sure, if you guys take her, we can get her back” (Bruce)
“Well, maybe, let’s see if she’s still here tomorrow” (Art)
“We can’t just leave her here like this, we HAVE to take her” (me again)
“You know this is NOT the right time for us to be getting a dog” (Art)
“We HAVE to take her” (guess who)
This was the general tone of the conversation for the next half hour or so, until Susie and I suddenly realized that the little dog was probably as thirsty as she was hungry. In the middle of the desert water was probably a bigger issue to her survival than the food.
As Susie and I started asking the kitchen help for a bowl, the guys had had enough and said they were going back to the house, leaving us to our humane endeavors.
And she WAS thirsty. It had taken a bit of fast talking to get the kitchen people to part with the bowl, but as soon as we filled it up she knew what it was. We had to step away from the bowl before she would get near it, but as soon as we did she pounced on it – no telling how long it had been since she had had a chance to get a drink.
And, of course, the big dogs immediately re-appeared and chased her away.
It was at about this time that the proprietor of the business came out to see what all the ruckus was about, and stood watching the two of us trying to coax the little dog back to the water.
“You girls need to get that small dog out of here. These big dogs are also street dogs that got dumped out here, but I’ve sort of adopted them, and they live here and consider this their territory. If she is still around when it gets dark, they will corner and kill her”.
At this point we didn’t know what to do. But we knew we couldn’t just walk away Somehow during the last hour she had become our problem and we knew that we were not just going to leave her here to get killed by the big dogs.
Too bad no one was around at that point with a video camera. For the next hour or so my sister and I (to the great amusement of the restaurant’s patrons) ran around the restaurant, the outdoor patio, and the parking lot trying to catch the shaggy little creature. After the first 15 minutes or so we worked out our strategy – Susie would run at the big dogs, shouting and shooing (which were friendly enough to us, but hell bent on catching the little dog), while I followed the small dog, coaxing, cajoling, and frequently crawling under the parked cars and vans she kept trying to hide under.
Suddenly, after about 45 minutes of this (and I have no idea why), as I was inching my way on hands and knees toward her, she suddenly stopped, stared long and hard at me, then turned and began slowly crawling on her belly toward me. I had been chasing her for so long that it took me a moment to get my wits about me and now wonder what I was going to do if she actually let me get close to her. After all, she obviously wasn’t used to being with people, and I had no idea what she might do if I tried to grab her. But, it was now or never, and something about the look in her eyes kept me from hesitating at all. As she came within reach I quickly grabbed her, stood up and yelled to my sister “I’ve got her!”.
I stood up and as we hurried back to Susie’s car, the dog never moved a muscle. I climbed into the front seat and still, not a move. It was almost like she was in shock at being held by someone.
As we drove down the road back towards Susie’s house, the reality of what we had done set in. “What are we going to do with her now?” I asked, looking down at the little bundle of dirty fur in my arms. And then she moved. She looked up at me, right into my eyes, then bent her head down and kissed my hand. She looked back up and gave me one more kiss on my chin, then sighed and became very still again. And all was lost in that moment – I didn’t know how we were going to pull it off, but I knew that dog belonged to us.
To be continued soon. . .
Rescuing Thistle – The Plan (part 2)
by Sandi Reinke on February 4, 2010
Thistle, after her first bath, March 2009
The drive back to my sister’s house is about 15 minutes, and as reality set in we filled the time with various scenarios about how we should let the guys know that we had the dog, (we were gone long enough that we were guessing that dark suspicions had already taken root) and then, more immediate – what the next move with our little rescue girl should be. We knew we simply could NOT have left her there, but now that we had her we weren’t really certain about what to do with her either.
Susie already had two dogs – her Yorkies, Urchin and Moby (Susie and Bruce are divers – its all about the ocean) and knew that a third wasn’t really an option. Art and I had often talked about getting another dog after Cricket (our Yorkie) had died, but until we had a good place to leave a dog when we traveled we didn’t want to take on that responsibility again. Cricket had always been so terrified when we had to leave on a trip and board her at the veterinarians, that we swore we would never put a dog (or ourselves) through that horror again.
I was already in love with our furry little waif, but wanting her and the reality of actually deciding to keep her, take her back to the states and add her to the family. Elf, our cat (who is also a rescue, detests dogs – thinks they are the miscreants of Nature) was a different thing.
“What are we going to tell the guys? I’m sure they thought that we would just make sure she got water, maybe try and talk the bar owner into taking care of her, or, or, or . . .”
Then Susie thought of Patrick. “We’ll take her to Patrick’s house – he’ll always take in a street dog”.
Patrick is an attorney and also a REALLY NICE PERSON. Actually he is a retired attorney that now lives in Baja and his new life mission is take care of the “throw-away” dogs.
When we pulled up in front of Patrick’s house we were greeted by about a dozen barking dogs of all shapes, sizes and colors. All but one were within his fenced-in yard. The exception, a large black dog (appropriately called “Blackie”) was apparently the official outer guard, and after initially eyeing us suspiciously, decided that we were there as friends, and was then delighted to have us as company as we stood outside the fence honking the car horn and calling out Patrick’s name.
We had all but given up when he suddenly appeared at the front door with MORE dogs swirling around him. Although he was a neighbor, Susie introduced herself to him again, then introduced me and the little person on my lap. She explained the entire situation to him, and said we had no where else to go, so here we were!
Patrick stared at us, then at the dog, then back at me. “If YOU promise that YOU will give her a good home, I will take her now, clean her up, give her the necessary shots, and even take her to La Paz to be spayed, at MY OWN expense, but YOU must promise that YOU will give her the home she needs, NOT FIND her a good home, but GIVE her a good home”.
He told me that he would be coming back to the States in about another month, and that he would bring her back with him and put her on a plane for Portland in Los Angeles, again at his expense, “if YOU promise that YOU will give her a good home”
Wow – tough negotiator! (of course he was an attorney) And, I promised.
So, now we had a Plan. We put her in a large cage, one of many that Patrick keeps on hand for his rescue work. Then he put the cage into the back of one of his trucks, “need to keep her isolated from the other dogs for a few days” he explained.
Patrick’s house is only a few minutes away from Bruce and Susie’s so there wasn’t much time to figure out how to tell the guys what we had done – so we just blurted it out as we walked through the door. Amazing how much better news is taken when it is accompanied by a couple of Coronas.
And so the deed was done. The next day Susie and I, and later Art and I walked over to visit the little dog, who was still living in the cage in the back of the truck. But Patrick had been busy. He had given her the necessary “four-in-one” dog shot, and had wasted no time in getting her cleaned up.
Her curly hair was so hugely matted that he had been forced to shave large areas of her body. Her tail had almost no hair on it, and there was a strange kink in it that made us think that it was broken, although she clearly wasn’t in any pain with it. Later Patrick told us that it was just an “S” curve, caused by overcrowding in her mother’s womb.
She looked even more pathetic after Patrick was finished with her. Although she had been filthy and matted when we rescued her, now she looked like she had been mauled by something fierce, with huge hunks of fur missing. The fur she did still have stood out in bristly patches, like a bad perm job. But it was especially good to see the huge matted mess on her side now gone, and it was interesting to speculate on what type of dog she might possibly be.
“We can’t just keep calling her “the dog”, she needs a name” – but nothing that we came up with really hit the right cord – that is, until Susie said jokingly “well, we could just call her Thistle, that’s what she looks like”. And Thistle she was!
It was March, and the weather had been quite cool, but the third day when Susie and I walked over, we realized that the day was beginning to get pretty warm, and when we got to Patrick’s, the cage and the dog were still living in the truck. Patrick had been taking her out for regular exercise, etc., but he had no other place she could stay that she would be safe.
Anyway, the two of us visited with her for about 20 minutes, then started getting really worried about the truck getting too hot for her later in the day. No one was at home, so after a brief discussion, we decided on a new Plan We would take the dog and cage over to Susie’s and put her in the fenced side yard, which had plenty of shade. She could have the run of the yard in the day and could sleep in the cage at night.
Had the Plan, went into action. Got Bruce’s truck and after much wrangling (this was a BIG cage – could have fit a small bear in it) finally got it sort of balanced on the back of the tailgate (with a happy little dog in the front seat with us). We left a note for Patrick and slowly drove back to the house.
She was SO thrilled to be loose in the yard, but didn’t want us to get out of her sight. When dusk descended we put her back in the roomy cage with lots of blankets, a big bowl of crunchies and fresh water and told her good night. We had thought about trying to bring her into the house for the night, but doubted she was housebroken and there was really no way to contain her to an area, the cage being far too big to even get through any of the doors.
The next morning she was as excited to see us again as we were to see her. We played together for a bit, then told her we had other things to take care of and left her in the side yard to run free.
We were barely to the back door when there she was, with us! Thinking we must have left the gate open, we took her back to the side yard and put her back in. Same thing again – 15 seconds later she was at the back door ahead of us! Now the gate into the side yard is only about 38” high, but it has decorative wrought iron, with “spear” point tops, and this dog only stands about 12” high. One more time we put her back, but this time watched the gate. Front legs grabbing, back legs scrambling, like an agile monkey she was up and over that gate in seconds!
That pretty much took care of leaving her in the side yard, so we decided to give her the run of the entire patio, which has a four foot cement wall topped with the same 38” high decorative wrought iron.
By now we had decided to keep her here at Bruce and Susie’s, rather than taking her back to Patrick’s. Patrick’s offer had been so generous, but now that we were getting to know her, none of us wanted to leave Thistle down in Baja again. And it just seemed like too much to put her through – all those shots and a surgery. It seemed like a better idea to get her to her new home, get her healthy, then take care of all the other stuff.
And since Bruce and Susie were driving back to the States in another week, they could bring her back with them. Then, a couple of weeks after that they had been planning on driving up to see us in Oregon anyway, and would just bring her to us then.
Good new Plan. We told Patrick and thanked him for all his help and promised to keep him “in the loop” about her progress. I think he was relieved – besides the dogs that he keeps at his home, he also takes card of about forty more that he keeps on a property in town.
For the most part Thistle was thrilled to be with all of us. The only time she had second thoughts about the budding new relationship was when we decided to give her bath.
The weather was warm enough that we just filled a kid’s plastic wading pool with the hose, then let it sit in the hot sun for a couple of hours. When it was nice and warm Susie, Art and I gathered her up and popped into the water. It was either her first ever bath, or the previous one must have been an attempt to drown her, she was absolutely terrified.
It took all three of us to get her wet, soaped up and then rinsed off. We no sooner had all the soap off of her than she wriggled free and took off like a bullet, straight for the patio gate. I have no doubt that if that gate had been open the last thing we would have seen was a wet, semi-hairless dog streaking down the street, never to be seen again.
With some heavy apologizing and coaxing she forgave us, then realizing that she wasn’t half drowned or hurt, she decided that after the next few minutes of vigorous toweling she actually felt pretty damn good.
Two days later Art and I had to catch our flight back to the States. And it was SO HARD to say good-by to her. My last memory of that day is her funny little face peering through the wrought iron gate as Art and I drove off for the airport.
To be continued. . . . .
Thistle Comes to Oregon (part 3)
by Sandi Reinke on MAY 22, 2010 ·
Bruce and Susie still had a couple more weeks before closing up their house in Baja and heading back to LA. Thistle was adjusting well, and was still spending her nights in the side yard, with the cage open so that she could come as go as she pleased. The side yard had windows that looked into the living room, and she had no problem leaping the four foot height to sit on the window sill and stare at the two of them as they ate dinner or watched TV.
Then, she discovered Urchin’s dog door. Urchin is Susie’s tiny, TINY and now ancient Yorkie. For the most part the two dogs just ignored each other, and Thistle, at 9 lbs and standing 12” tall looked far too large to fit through the tiny hole that Urchin went in and out.
But, somehow, being part monkey and part Houdini, she managed it, and one evening Bruce and Susie were surprised to be joined on the sofa by Thistle as they were watching a movie. That was end of having to stare in side windows at night – you just come IN rather than LOOKING IN.
Since there was no way to leave the dog door open for one dog and not the other, a new routine was established, and Thistle was really settling into a new life and beginning to trust people.
Then came the day that Bruce was gone, and Susie had to leave for a couple of hours. Thistle’s only real issue seemed to be abandonment, she wanted to know where Bruce, and especially Susie were at all times.
When she realized that everyone was GONE, she must have panicked. When Susie got home, no Thistle, so then SHE panicked! She walked the neighborhood, she called, she drove further out around the neighborhood, then finally took one more walk.
As she went by one her neighbor’s about a block away, the gardener called out to her – “Senorita, su perro aqui?” “your dog here”? The gentleman had seen the funny looking little dog in Susie’s yard a few days earlier and when he saw what appeared to be the same dog running down the street, he had scooped her up and locked her in the neighbor’s yard that he was working in.
My sister could not believe that the dog she had gotten out of that yard. Even the coyotes don’t try to get over that huge fence. For a couple more days it was a mystery, then she saw Thistle doing something quite amazing.
There is a huge, and wonderful piece of driftwood sitting in one corner of the patio yard. We had found it a couple of years earlier and had dragged it out of the water with the pick-up truck, and it had taken all four of us to get it back to the house, where we artistically positioned it in the corner of the patio, near the wall.
Well, there was Thistle. She jumped up on the piece of driftwood and walked to the tallest spot on it. Then she leaped from the driftwood to the narrow lip at the top of the cement wall, from that vantage point she looked up at the wrought iron that topped the wall by another 36” or so and was contemplating starting her climb, when Susie dashed out and called her down.
Mystery solved – but from then on, until they left a few weeks later, they made sure that Thistle always knew where one of them was, so that she wouldn’t repeat her “great escape” act and go out trying to find them.
A week or so later Bruce and Susie packed everything, including the two dogs into the car and began their journey back to the States. As long as you have the proper papers (veterinarian , etc.) getting your dogs across the border usually isn’t too much of a problem, and Patrick had made sure that we had everything that we needed.
And that’s just about where her “tail” of rescue ends. A few days later the whole gang headed north for Oregon. Susie told us that Thistle was a VERY nervous passenger, running from window to window, and they had to keep a very close eye on her whenever they opened the car door, she was ready to jump out and escape, although by the second day she was beginning to calm down. We have speculated that perhaps the only time she had ever been in a car before was when she was being taken off and dumped somewhere, but it is something that we will never really know.
Susie had to buy a sweater for her since she was a Baja girl and used to the heat.
And so she arrived – scared and scraggly. The picture on the left was taken during the first week of her arrival in the hallway leading from the main showroom to our warehouse at Loose Ends. She was clean, but that’s about all you could say – tufts of hair sticking out at various angles, and an almost bald tail! That bit of neck jewelry was a gift to Thistle from Susie, worrying that she might get lost again.
And here her rescue story ends. She arrived, we fell in love all over again, and she has now been with us for 13 months. She goes to work with us every day, hangs out in my basement studio while I work, and, of course, sleeps with us at night.
Oh yea, there will definitely be more follow-up stories about this little person!