We have a new dog, and his name is Sam. For a while, we called him Scarface (see photo above), but he was too skinny and uncoordinated to live up to the name. And so, after trying out a series of new names—including Sue and Joe Cat—we finally settled on Sam, one of the most popular dog names in the United States. True, it’s not very creative, but Shon has put an interesting spin on it by adding an occasional (and TOTALLY innocent) “-bo” at the end. I happened to look up “Sambo” online one day, and learned that Shon’s seemingly playful nickname for our black dog will get him shot if we ever move back to Brooklyn.
There are dozens of street dogs in Panajachel. They roam the streets solo and in gangs and are, for the most part, harmless. (Shon will likely disagree, as he was chased down by a pack of dogs on his bike.) There’s a forested area in front of our house where many dogs sleep at night. The majority of them are more into dog things—searching for scraps of food, guarding territory, and sniffing butts—than people, though a couple are inexplicably sweet. I’ve taken to one in particular. She has light brown fur and big brown eyes and is a sucker for a high-pitched Hiii!, always approaching shyly to be pet. She couldn’t be nicer, and yet a scar on her back suggests someone tossed boiling water on her.
With so many dogs running loose, it’s not unusual to see puppies on the street. For a long time, I wanted to take each and every one home. After approaching a few, though, I learned they’re often wary of people (and just as often cared for by a mama dog already), so it’s best to leave them be. Plus, it’s impossible to adopt them all, and so Shon and I made an active decision to adopt none.
So when I did see a teeny, tiny black puppy wandering down the street last October as I walked Chaddy (my dog), I didn’t think much of him. There was no mother dog in sight, which led me to believe he belonged to someone in the neighborhood. Chaddy and I continued on our merry way.
A few days later, I went for a run and was on the outskirts of town when I saw the puppy once more. Again, he was by himself, shuffling through leaves on the side of road, looking very small. “Poor puppy,” I thought as I ran by.
A few more days passed, and Shon and I decided to take Chaddy for a long walk to a neighboring town called Santa Catarina. On the way, we spotted the puppy wandering along a street drain. This time, I stopped and petted him gingerly. He was dirty, dusty, and greasy, but he didn’t seem fearful, perhaps because he was so young. I snapped a few photos and told him I’d bring him food after our walk. When we returned to the same spot later, though, he was gone.
Well, gone—but not for long. For when we arrived home, lo and behold, we found the puppy nosing around in the brush across the street from our house, just a few feet from our front door. It seemed silly to put food out on the street for him where a bigger dog would surely steal it, so I scooped him up with one hand and brought him inside.
We gave him milk and some of Chaddy’s food. He lapped up the milk, leaving the hard dog food behind, and before we could even consider putting him back on the street, he found a sunny spot on the living room floor and fell into a deep sleep.
I took the opportunity to examine the tiny pads on the bottom of his feet and his even tinier toenails. I patted his felt-like floppy ears and took note of the fleas in his rather coarse, dull fur. I confused his boy who-ha for a belly button and his balls for a girl who-ha and for a short period of time thought he was a she.
When he finally woke up, it seemed a bath was in order. If he was heading back to the streets, we figured he might as well be clean.
We bathed and dried him and let him play with Chaddy and before long dusk arrived. It seemed heartless to toss him out on the chilly, dark street, so we decided to let him stay–just for one night. We found an old pillow and made him bed.
Of course, one night turned into two. And then three. And four. All the while, Shon and I played, walked, and fed him, while avoiding any discussion of him. Neither of us wanted to say he could stay, but nor did we want to make him go. He became the world’s tiniest elephant in the room.
Ultimately, the puppy made our decision to keep him for us. He proved to be incredibly sweet, snuggly, and playful, plus he adored Chaddy, and she seemed to enjoy [tolerate] him. He made it so we simply couldn’t return him to the street. And so, he stayed.
A few months have passed, and Sam is still snuggly and sweet, but he’s also no longer quite the baby he was before. With a healthy diet, his fur has become shiny, soft, and flea-free. He’s practically doubled in size and is starting to look stocky; I think he may be part Lab.
He has more of a personality now, too, which I adore–mostly because it sparks exchanges such as this one:
Shon: “SAM! Stop chewing on [fill in the blank]!!”
Sam (back at Shon): “WOOF! WOOF! WOOF!”
Shon: “DON’T YELL AT ME WHEN I YELL AT YOU!”
… : ) I can’t wait to see what lands on our doorstep next.