When We Found Cholla

July 9, 2007 at 7:27 pm Leave a comment

The Story of Finding Cholla          

     This is Cholla. Everyone loves her, and she loves everyone. Except rats and possums. She kills them; but, that’s her nature; she grew up on the streets of Loreto in Baja, California, and she had to survive. That’s where Russ and I found her.          

     Each year, Russ and I went into Baja with his truck, the kayaks on top, a system of milk crate organizational boxes stored under a plywood platform that he built for sleeping, and our two coolers with food carefully selected to last for three weeks without ever venturing into a store.  We loved it. Always, there was adventure of every kind.          

     As some of you know, Russ was cheap. Really cheap. Sometimes we made money on our trips.  Maybe it was a mistake to cook him nice meals early on, because we never ate out…and really, it always touched my heart that he pronounced my meals much better than anyplace we could go. Therefore, our “camping” meals were really wonderful indulgences with the best views possible; sunrises and sunsets sent straight from God, and us there, alone, warm lattes in our favorite mugs in the morning, or a bowl of good cioppino at night. It was really perfect. Still, sometimes I would insist on a little interaction in a town, and I could usually tempt Russ if there was ice cream involved (can’t pack that), so that’s how we managed to get into “downtown” Loreto to get a couple of paletas, and wander the streets.         

     We saw a couple of tourists walking along with a really cute little brown dog, and I told them how precious she was, and they said she wasn’t theirs; she was just following them—at which point, she then proceeded to follow us.  She stuck close to us, but was also very savvy at keeping an eye out for snacks; she pawed at a metal grating, and Russ worked at pulling away the metal, and buried underneath was a scrap of an old tortilla. She was filthy; a big stripe of grease down her back, bones exposed, but the sweetest little brown eyes. Russ was smitten, and had no restraint in stroking her fur, and even hunkering to her level to coo at her, holding her muzzle close to him. We began to joke about just taking her. I said my mom needed a dog, and we loosely joked about just packing her off with us in the truck, naming her “Bambi” (said with inflection), and surprising Mom with her.  You’re right; the joking grew into something a bit more serious, with self-questioning, wondering if it was possible, then we began to bargain: if she was still there when we headed back north, then we would take her. So, we lingered with her…and we left for Puerta Agua Verde, an hour or so away.         

     We decided to take some dirt roads out across Isla Danzante, and set up our camp (ha ha, no small task…we pretty much always set up like we would homestead at the site…more stories for later). Russ was unusually silent, and asked me a lot of questions: “What are we going to eat?” “Then what?” “What are we going to do tonight?” “Then what?” “What are we going to do tomorrow?” “Then what?” I watched him, and laughed. A guy in his 50’s with a little boyish pout, looking to me to do something; fix it! I said, “Do you want to go all the way back to Loreto and get that little dog?” He said, “Yes.” (Again, said with a precious little boy voice).  In the course of a minute of frantic silent Virgo pragmatic thinking, I tried to envision the implications of picking up a street dog from Mexico in the middle of our trip, and crossing the border, and all that would follow from there. God knows what my face looked like as I tried to consider it all. So I said, “Okay, let’s go get her!” We packed up camp and drove back.         

      It wasn’t easy to find her. I asked around: “Ha visto un perrito chiquito el color café?” Thing is, all  the dogs were small and brown. They had to all  be related. Then, there she was, tucked off under a truck. She came to us willingly, and we took her, put her in our truck and drove off to a field to wash her with the last of our water. She escaped during the bath and ran into a ditch where there was a dead dog. The juxtaposition of those two dogs together made my heart flutter. Once clean, I was more enthusiastic about touching and fondling her, in contrast to Russ, who caressed her from the start, grease and all.         

     Russ never had a dog. He had cats, which apparently are pretty good about figuring out how to coexist with humans without much in the way of formal introductions and instructions. Lita was Russ’ first experience with a dog, and he wasn’t around for the chewing, peeing, escaping, ripping and tearing of all items phase. He somewhat imagined that all dogs arrived onto this planet as Lita was presented to him. I tried to tell him that she and I would snuggle on the couch reading When A Good Dog Does Bad Things every day, so I could educate myself on how to curb behaviors. Her crate was the salvation for both of us.          

     So, new unknown clean street dog in the truck, and Russ says “let’s get a taco.” I immediately envisioned the entire inside of the truck chewed and strewn about by the new teeth of this 15 pound or so cute dog. I suggested we sit by the truck quietly to watch her before we went off and left her alone in there. She was fine, so we got our tacos, and she was fine when we got back. We bought a bag of dog food, and went back to that same campsite with our new family member.          

     She quickly became familiar with the yellow bag of dog food, and ate and ate and ate an incredible amount for her size. Her very mellow and subdued nature changed over that next week as she got stronger and fatter. We took her with us kayaking around islands (more stories), fought for turns to get to hold her for our “settling in” time after sunsets, and walked with her amongst the cactus. During one escapade when she fearlessly chased a herd of cattle, I said, “Let’s name her Cholla.” That’s the nasty cactus that grows all over in Baja. You barely come near it, and a chunk comes off and gets stuck to your pants, and it’s hard to get off. We both liked the name, much better than Bambi. We were also deciding that maybe we wouldn’t give her to my mom…          

     She was a pro at finding dead animals. She found dead turtles behind rocks, once finding a whole pile of carcasses hidden behind a rock, obviously a spot some poacher type fishermen used to conceal their catch. She bounded into the cactus for dead birds, and skillfully ripped apart the spiny puffer fish she found on the beaches.         

     A “coincidence” was that we had dropped off Lita at my mom’s house as we headed south, and somehow neglected to leave our dog supplies of the leash, toys and bones. As we went through the checkpoints on our return trip, it really looked like we had a dog since we had used dog supplies. The guards would ask me at the checkpoints “Como se llama el perrito?” And I told them, “Cholla”, at which point, whoever asked would laugh and laugh, then call his buddies to come see the little dog named Cholla. Somewhere near San Quintin, we finally found a veterinarian who gave her some shots, and her “pasaporte.” At midnight, we crossed the border, her cuddled under my feet. We laughed about calling her a “mojado,” but huge searchlights, spirals of barbed wire, triple layers of cement walls, helicopters, cameras and sentries with big guns registered very deeply with us and the plight of the many who struggle so hard to eke out a better life northward.         

     Somewhere on the way up, I had insisted on a motel stay. I wanted a real shower! We left Cholla in the truck. A highlight of that motel was when the sink fell on the floor, narrowly missing my feet (another story). In the morning, there was Cholla, my sandal all chewed up in her mouth. She had already worked on the cover to the gear shift, munched on the Baja map…with her health improved, she was beginning to focus on other distractions, and that will be another story…

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Entry filed under: Dog Stories.

Dance Cholla

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