Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Snapshots of a flash visit to Boston

The bell tower was as impressive
as Old South Church's history. 
For all its colonial charm and perfect climate, life in San Miguel can become claustrophobic and, hmm, even a bit of a snooze. A few days in big-city Boston last week were a welcome jolt, even if the reason for our visit was to attend a memorial service for a good friend from San Miguel.

Friendships in San Miguel come easily but at a cost. We have more friends here, particularly gay couples, than we ever had in Chicago but alas, because of the demographics of our social cohort, illnesses and deaths also are depressingly frequent.

Bill Amidon was one of those memorable but too-brief friendships. He was a vociferous New England liberal with intense and mischievous blue eyes and a sense of humor to match. We met him and his quieter wife Pam through the San Miguel Community Church though, truth be told, Bill and God seemed to have but a distant relationship.

The memorial was held at the venerable Old South Church in downtown Boston established in 1669. How old and venerable? Benjamin Franklin and Samuel Adams were among its members.

A cellist was among the performers at Bill's memorial.
The sanctuary reminded me of a beautiful forest—woody and dark, majestic yet warm and embracing. Given Bill's agnosticism, the service followed a surprisingly conventional Christian liturgy. Pam said she wanted it that way to comfort her and her family. We understood. It was a moving experience.

Bill rhapsodized so often about the Boston Symphony Orchestra and its home, the famed Symphony Hall, you'd think it was his own private combo.  So in honor of Bill, and frankly for our own sheer pleasure, we went to a concert the night before his memorial. 

Strike up the band. 
As expected, it was a memorable experience. Bernard Haitink led the orchestra in Brahms' Second Symphony and Piano Concerto No. 2, the latter performed by Emanuel Ax. 

The hall, reputed to be among the three or four best-sounding musical spaces in the world, was rectangular rather than horseshoe-shaped like Carnegie Hall or the Chicago Symphony Orchestra's home. The seats were old and worn and the wooden floor squeaky but the feeling was intimate and the sound amazing, just as advertised. 

The audience skewed very young and casual, perhaps because of the concentration of colleges and universities in Boston. Bermuda shorts, flip-flops and unruly haircuts were seen. While  many orchestras complain about aging audiences, the BSO didn't seem to have that problem. 

One final curiosity: At least for the performance we attended, the BSO's concertmaster was a woman, a rarity among symphony orchestras. 

From our last visit to Boston in 2013, when we got married in the neighboring town of Stow, Stew and I remembered the huge Barnes and Noble bookstore on Copley Square. We had to stop by again. 

Come in and browse. We might be gone soon. 
Large bookstores are a vanishing pleasure anywhere, even in larger cities, and a non-existent one in San Miguel. 

Downloading books from Amazon? Not even close to the sensory high of sitting at a bookstore, browsing through a pile of books and taking in that new-book aroma of ink and glossy paper. 

Sadly, it turns out B&N itself is on the endangered list. We tried to support it by buying two photography magazines and a book about minimalist Japanese architecture. 

A landmark we missed in our last visit was was the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library. The building designed by Chinese-American architect I. M. Pei and sited on a privileged location on facing Boston harbor still stuns as a modern masterpiece.
A time when America reached
for the heavens.
A walk through the exhibits also can be an exercise in teary nostalgia for the days when the country seemed to be inspired rather than bitterly divided and manipulated as it is today.

I tried to imagine what the Donald J. Trump Library will look like, what narrative it would present—a wall with non-stop projections of his most noxious tweets?—or even where it would be built, given that the overwhelming majority of New Yorkers likely wouldn't want it anywhere near their city or state.

With the guidance of two former Bostonians who now live in San Miguel, one of them the minister who married us, we made a quick tour of New England historical sites, including the bridge near which the famous "shot heard around the world" was fired, to trigger the war for independence from the British. We visited the home of Ralph Waldo Emerson home, and of course, drove by Walden Pond, which was closed to swimming a few years back due to bacterial contamination. I hope that Thoreau, an early environmentalist, didn't hear about that.

After listening to stories about Emerson, Thoreau and other early American thinkers, it seemed to me that they were truly revolutionary, including their views about religion, nothing like some of today's evangelical  Christians often try to make them. Far from devout, born-again types, these guys not only thought outside the box but often seemed to recognize no boxes at all. 

Load up your muskets and aim for the guys on
the other side of the bridge. 
After that flash through colonial history, we fast-forwarded to the twentieth century to visit modernist architect Walter Gropius' home in the town of Lincoln—possibly the highlight of our one-day tour. 

Gropius, the founder of the Bauhaus architecture movement, refused to follow any of the rules of conventional design. Among the precepts of the Bauhaus, which later included other modernist luminaries like Mies van der Rohe,  were "less is more" and "form follows function."

His small house indeed is marvel of inventive design, with surprises in every room. From the street it looks bunker-like and unwelcoming, with glass-block walls and a tier of smallish clerestory windows.

Keep it simple, Walter said. 
But the rooms inside are bathed in sunlight, thanks to large north-facing windows. The windows and the large deciduous trees he planted  were an early form of passive solar design, to keep the house cool in the summer and warm in the winter.

The dining room was one of my favorite spaces. It had a small round table, just big enough for him, his wife and two guests—any bigger gathering, he said, was not conducive to good conversation—and lit by a pinhole fixture recessed in the ceiling that projected just enough light to cover the table top.

As a person allergic to mob-scene entertaining, I could relate to Walter's ideas. When it comes to parties, less is indeed more.

Monday, April 30, 2018

Reality spoils ending of my happy dog story

The story of Benji, the dog whose adoption by someone in the Centro we facilitated had a bittersweet ending, certainly not the one we expected.

Still, it taught Stew and I how little we know about the ways of rural Mexico and also about the perils of hubris, that mythological Greek sin of arrogance—in this case how things can go awry when foreigners here presume to impose their perspectives on the environment around them.

To recapitulate, Benji—who turned out to be a female—is one of  friendly pack of anywhere from five to a dozen dogs that hang around the gate to our ranch begging for food.

They are a discordant choir whose voices change daily, except for a few regulars like Benji, who's been coming around for three or four years. In addition to feeding them, we took several to be sterilized when a spay-and-neuter mobile clinic came to a town near our ranch, and occasionally also others to the vet when they appeared sick.

Benji after her date at the vet and the groomer. 
One morning about four weeks ago, Benji, a scrawny fifteen- or twenty-pounder with long fur, showed up for her daily handout with a swollen, badly lacerated ear. A very docile, submissive sort, I suspect she got caught in the losing end of a dog fight.

We took her to the vet, who stitched her up and also groomed her to get rid of her matted, flea-infested fur. She spent two nights at the vet, plus another eight or nine days recuperating at the home of friend nearby who keeps dogs and had an extra kennel. The total tab for Benji's redo came to four thousand pesos or about two-hundred and twenty-five dollars.

At that point Stew and I figured that Benji, whom we thought was a stray, didn't have much future running around loose in the campo. 

For these free-range mutts, life is indeed nasty, brutish and short.

Félix's first dog, Chupitos, was killed by other dogs and partly disemboweled by the time he found her. Negro, a big black and very sweet dog was poisoned. Osita, possibly Benji's mother, one day disappeared.

On the nearby roads, carcasses of dogs and cats killed by cars are almost as ubiquitous as household trash. The hungry neighborhood mutts clean-up the fatalities swiftly and matter-of-factly: We've seen dead burros and horses disappear within forty-eight hours. 

So we advertised for people who might want to adopt her and found a guy who lived in downtown San Miguel and was delighted to take Benji, which coincidentally looked very much like a dog he had recently lost.

We exchanged handshakes with the new owner in the parking lot of the vet's office, he took Benji, and Stew and I mentally patted ourselves on the back, proud of our good deed.

This feel-good story, however, quickly unraveled. Benji who seemed docile and friendly to the new owner decided she wanted to go home—back to the old pack of mangy dogs outside our ranch gate.

In an incredible feat of instinctual navigation that stills boggles my mind, just a few hours after her arrival at the new home, Benji escaped and over a period of no more than thirty-six hours, walked eighteen kilometers, through busy San Miguel streets and highways and other life-defying obstacles, almost to the gate of our ranch.

More precisely we found her on the road about one kilometer or so from our house, exhausted but walking determinedly home. When we called her name, she happily came and jumped into our car. We were going to town but turned around to our ranch, fed her and left her just outside our gate.

The prospective new owner, who was very upset and apologetic, by now was running ads for missing pets on the San Miguel radio station and was delighted to have Benji back, or so he thought.

But when we went to collect Benji the next morning to bring her to her new owner, I ran into Vicente, a farmer across the road.

I chirpily told him that we had found a home for Benji. Not so chirpily he informed me Benji was his dog, a member of his family.

Gotta be kidding, was my first thought. This skeletal wreck of a dog without a name, a collar or any sign of human care or affection is a member of your family? Presumably one of the ten or twelve dogs that come to our place begging for food almost every day?

I pleaded how Benji would be much healthier and happy in her new home. He should be glad that someone is adopting her. Vicente wasn't moved.

I assumed he was angling for some money—another error on my part—and I offered him five-hundred pesos, or approximately twenty-five dollars.

But Vicente, stone serious, wouldn't budge and I certainly wasn't going to get into a bidding contest, over a dog that could have ended up costing us close to three-hundred dollars. 

So it was so long to Benji and my arrangements for a better life for her. We've only seen Benji once since her return. I suspect Vicente might have her permanently tied up after my rescue attempt.

Over the next few days, I started walking back the Benji story in my mind and parsing what went wrong. My two grievous sins, it seems were ignorance of the reality of how rural folk treat their animals, plus my assumption that I could, or even had the right to, intervene and make life better for one of them.

Vicente and for that matter just about all my Mexican neighbors have vastly different ideas about the worth and proper care of household pet. But for Benji's amazing trip back, I doubt Vicente would have missed her.

Indeed, the nearby towns of Biznaga and Sosnabar teem with nameless, collarless dogs, many in awful condition. That might look to us like gross animal neglect but most of those dogs probably belong to someone.

I've attended the local church for baptisms and first communions, and it's not unusual for mangy dogs to amble in and park themselves somewhere to scratch their fleas as if they were part of the service.

Vicente wasn't kidding about Benji—our moniker—being a member of his family, not some stray animal for me to rescue much less buy.

For her part, Benji dramatically made her choice to return, against all odds, to where she hangs out, squalid as precarious as her living arrangement may seem to us.

Essentially she said to me, "Alfredo, thanks but no thanks. I'd rather stay here."

Ron, a dear friend of ours from Texas who used to be a Roman Catholic priest, and who now lives even deeper in the campo than we do, once gave Stew and me a piece of advice about dealing with the often illogical way—or so it seems to us—that Mexicans around us navigate through life.

It's a nugget Stew and I keep repeating to each other at least once a day.

"Life in Mexico, " Ron counseled, "is what it is."

Not what we think it ought to be but what it in fact is.  Foreign do-gooders with big ideas: Proceed with caution.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Time finally came to bid goodbye to Paco

When he carefully laid Paco on the stainless steel examination table, Dr. Vázquez, almost in a whisper, said, "This is very difficult."

I don't know if he meant for himself, us, or the emaciated cat we had brought in to be euthanized. In the end it was awfully hard for everyone.

No one can accuse this gentle vet, or us, of rushing Paco's demise, who was more than sixteen years old.

This would have been the third reprieve—when we had asked Félix to dig yet another grave in our pet cemetery but then changed our mind at the behest of Vázquez, who seemed loath to put Paco to sleep.

The last time was just three days before, when he examined and palpated Paco so gently and carefully you'd think he was handling a precious vase. He injected Paco with something to reduce the inflammation in his intestines. Paco responded, resumed eating and the diarrhea ebbed but not for long.

By the time we brought him in Tuesday he was practically unresponsive. His emaciated body felt like a fragile bundle of twigs under his long black fur. At that moment I felt that perhaps we may have done this old cat no favors by postponing the inevitable. But putting a pet to sleep is always an agonizing choice.
Always a squeamish sort, I had avoided watching previous euthanasias of our pets and, unfairly, had left Stew to handle this most awful task. But this time I had decided to stand behind Stew and at least offer the comfort of my presence.

Vázquez, in his soft, accented English, kept whispering all the verities used to rationalize putting an animal to sleep: we were doing Paco a favor by putting him out of his misery; there was nothing left to be done; it was the kindest thing we could do, and so on. I don't know if he was talking to us or trying to convince himself.

Stew, trying to remain calm—a fake at which he ultimately failed—just kept reciting Paco's history, how we had found him at the animal pound in Chicago and so on, talking to no one in particular.

I wasn't much support to Stew after all, standing behind him crying and sniffling. Vazquez' wife, who doubles as his receptionist and grief counselor of sorts, reached from the other side of the wall and matter-of-factly handed me a box of Kleenex.

Indeed no words can soften the task of deliberately ending the life of a creature, no matter how one tries to rationalize it. You secretly hope they will spare you that final ordeal by dying quietly on their own, but they seldom cooperate.

Compounding our discomfort was the memory of a botched euthanasia, performed by an incompetent San Miguel vet, of our dog Pooch shortly after we'd arrived from Chicago some twelve years ago.

It was a grisly affair that took over a half hour, as this idiot kept inject more and more of whatever is used to end an animal's life directly into Pooch's heart, and the half-conscious dog just kept convulsing and refusing to die.

Paco's death was not entirely painless. He let out a loud, split-second shriek when Vázquez injected a sedative, but almost immediately went limp. Oddly, Paco kept purring ever louder. Vázquez said that purring is not necessarily a sign of pain or contentment in cats, just a respiratory function.

When Paco was completely quiet and calm, Vázquez went into the next room to fetch the medication that would snuff out whatever life was left in Paco. He injected the liquid somewhere near his chest and Paco let a loud snort, I assume the feline equivalent of the "death rattle" I had heard humans let out when they die.

We slid Paco into a blue pillowcase Stew had brought and in which we would bury him. The actual euthanasia took no more than ten minutes, if that. But it was long enough for everyone to get teary, including Vázquez.

At home, Félix had dug an oversize hole to bury Paco, just behind Ziggy, another cat we'd brought from Chicago.

Our dogs had gathered at the burial site, as if trying to pay their last respects, while Stew gently laid Paco at the bottom of the hole in his blue pillowcase. 

Félix stood by with a shovel, while Stew, crying, knelt down and tried to bury Paco with handfuls of dirt.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Bees buzz while vegetables snore

Late last year Stew and Félix checked our beehives and were alarmed. One hive was doing great, a second not so well and the third was totally kaput. A few weeks ago they checked again and found two hives buzzing with bees making honey, but the third was still empty.

So last week we took off for Aguascalientes, a state about three hours away from the ranch, to buy a "nucleus" of bees (several hundred, or perhaps thousands of bees) plus one queen bee to repopulate the inactive hive. 

The trip was brief but stunning. The capital of Aguascalientes is a beautiful, thriving town, worth far more than the thirty-six hours of our flash visit, plus we got to visit the facilities of a state-of-the-art supplier of apiculture supplies, including live bees. 

"Aguascalientes," by the way, means Hot Springs, though we didn't devote enough time to find out the origin of the name.

Have bees, will travel: Interior of a mobile honey-processing
rig, all in stainless steel and reminiscent of a Airstream trailer.
The unit is self sufficient (except for the truck to tow it): it
has its own electric generator and air-conditioning system. All
of it made in Mexico, one of the sales people proudly pointed out.  
How do you buy a thousand bees, maybe more, a queen bee and bring them all home in a car? Excellent question, one that I pondered on the way to Aguascalientes.

You start by cleaning out the "brood chamber" of your hive. The chamber is a wooden box containing ten removable frames, each with a pressed wax sheet with the familiar hexagonal pattern one associates with bee hives. Plus a lid. (Check out illustration below)

At the bee supplier they replace your empty frames (all beehive components are standard size) with theirs which are teeming with live bees, plus a queen. They replace the lid on the brooding chamber and—presumably—seal it tight so the bees don't escape and begin buzzing around your head while you're driving home.

A beekeeper loading new frames full of bees
into the brooding chamber
we brought to Aguascalientes. 
Presumably, I say, because during the three-hour drive home a couple dozen bees got out, forcing us to make a couple of unscheduled stops to shoo them out of the car. We finally put a piece of fabric over the traveling brooding chamber.

But there were no human fatalities or injuries and the new bees are now residing happily, or so it seems, in our third beehive.

Until the hive gets established Félix and Stew have to feed it a half-and-half solution of sugar water daily, using a special plastic feeder.

Unless something goes seriously awry, we expect a bumper crop of honey—fifteen gallons or so—like the one we had two years ago.

Stew spent quite a few pesos at the bee supplier buying fancy gizmos to make the extraction easier. Such investments are sure to push our honey operation finances further down into a bottomless pit of red ink from which it will surely never recover. Remember that Félix keeps any income from the honey business.

Call it an expensive hobby, or a Félix subsidy.

Our vegetable operation on the other is barely alive. We planted dozens of seeds (lettuce, tomatoes, radishes and other greens) and except for a few veteran heads of lettuce and Swiss chard, and two tomato plants we received a friend, the beds are barren and we don't know exactly what went wrong.

It could be we started too early, when the ground was too cold to support germination. Or the seeds were too old. Or overnight temperatures cooler than the seeds could tolerate. Or the most promising  answer at the moment: Who knows?

We replanted the beds and also ordered a new batch of seeds from Johnny's Seeds. This time I avoided the age-old gardening error of being swept away by all the glossy pictures of ideal vegetables, and ordering more seeds than we could possibly use.

This problem is equivalent to grocery shopping on a full head and an empty stomach, and getting home to find you bought a kilo of radicchio and a chunk of wormy Croatian cheese for an exotic Alice Waters creation you're never going to make.

We've adjusted the timer and rechecked the drip irrigation hoses, and replanted the old seeds plus some new ones we bought locally. If those don't work, Johnny's seeds are on the way.

Now comes what has to be the worst aspect of gardening—waiting. For the seeds to germinate. For rain, because no amount of artificial irrigation can compete with a good rain. And to find out if, for once, the myriad  insects, rabbits and other vegetarian critters lurking nearby will give us a break this year. 

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Call me by my (weird) name

At San Miguel's spay-and-neuter campaigns
you can find some peculiar monikers

After volunteering for spay-and-neuter campaigns or "blitzes" for dogs and cats in San Miguel for eight or nine years, Stew and I have inherited the weigh-in station as our permanent post. After registration, each animal has to be weighed so that the vets down the line can administer the proper amount of anesthetic. Too much and an animal might have a tough time waking up; too little and it might wake up in the middle of surgery.

Don't know what's going on but I'm scared. 
It's a fun gig—greeting the owners and their critter(s) individually—but when you weigh three hundred or so animals over one weekend, it gets boring. So to keep ourselves entertained, we keep mental notes and observations.

Sometimes there are tons of cats, other times not. There might be a lot of bruised and scarred pit bulls and rottweilers, probably veterans of dog fighting. Yet some of the supposedly ferocious breeds can be gentle while a silly-looking Chihuahua might yap and snap mechanically at everyone around it.

Unlike Americans, Mexicans shy away from using human names on their pets, and sometimes don't name them at all. One grizzled woman came to the blitz last weekend with two no-name cats that had to be christened on the spot as "Gato Uno" and "Gato Dos" for purposes of recordkeeping.

You tell me: Do I look like a taco to you?
Some pet names don't seem very affectionate such as "Pulgosa" or "Fleabag". Or inappropriate, like Morris for a big dog, or "Blanco" for a black one. Or a male pit bull named after Frida Kahlo, who was a rather strong-willed gal but not quite that ferocious.

During this last blitz we spotted a trend in pet names, maybe two, though it's quite possible some pet owners didn't even realize what the names meant.

There was the food category: Couscous, Chia, Quinoa, Frijol, Cinnamon (probably for the color of the dog) or Taco. My favorites were Cappuccino, Cake, and the winner, "Lechuga" or "Lettuce," a name I would not burden a pet with.

Tiny pooch for such a big guy.
Hollywood also was fairly well represented: Keanu, Jesse, Maggie, Peggy, Lulu, Sasha, Sofia, Coco and Rocky, but I doubt the owners could tell Maggie Smith from Sylvester Stallone.

The astronomy contingent was relatively small this year. Only one "Rocket" (or was it "Rocky?), one "Venus" and one "Laika" (a dog sent into space, one-way, by the Soviets). Usually we get at least several "Lunas" (Moon) and a couple of Plutos   

But as in the U.S., most names were not particularly inventive: "Manchas" (Spots); Kitty or "Reina" (Queen). Boring.

After all these blitzes, and regardless of the names, one thing we have noticed is noticeably increased attendance. The culture of spaying-and-neutering seems to be gaining ground in San Miguel, and it feels as if we could have a weekly blitz and fully book it.

Also, more purebred dogs are showing up instead of just street or mixed-breed mutts.

Most surprising, though, in the increase in the number of male dogs brought in to be neutered. Not too long ago the mere suggestion to a mucho-macho dog owner that he should sterilize his male dog would only cause him to wince—and reach protectively for his own crotch. Call it machista projection.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

A Friday the 13th miracle

One way to dinner late yesterday afternoon, barely three hours after uploading my previous post, Stew and I spotted a grayish dog on the opposite side of the road who was panting, exhausted but determinedly trudging somewhere. 

It was Benji returning home.

We called her name, she answered, and I loaded her into the car. She didn't resist or wiggle to get free; in fact she seemed relieved as she curled up in the back compartment.

We turned around to bring her back home, where we fed her and she joined the other dogs in her pack who seemed to be waiting for her—or for more food.

The more we thought about Benji's feat, the more amazing—almost miraculous—it seemed. She probably had never been more than two hundred meters from our front gate, except once, to a spay-and-neuter clinic held in Sosnabar about a kilometer down the road from us.

And the last few days couldn't have been more stressful for her: A trip to the vet, where she she spent a couple of nights, ten days at a nearby kennel, her trip to her new owner and now her perilous return home.

She'd managed to get away from her new owner, wander back seventeen or eighteen kilometers on her own, over a period of about thirty-six hours, through a strange town, stretches of open highway fraught with all manner of dangers, make the correct right turn onto the Jalpa Road and was on her way home.

Félix had no doubts she would return home; he had heard similar stories. "Los perros son muy listos," he said, in that somber tone of country-boy wisdom he adopts when he feels he's teaching city-slick gringos a thing or two. 

"Dogs are very smart."

But this is way beyond "smart". Do dogs have a GPS planted in their heads, set to "home"? Do they follow familiar smells? Or do they simply remember routes and sights? Or follow some innate instinct or sonar we don't begin to understand?

I need to ask Dr.Vazquez, her vet, who also seemed quite sure she would return.

Benji was covered with burrs and weeds, stank as if she'd had a run-in with a skunk or something dead, and was ravenous. Other than that she wagged her tail as if to thank us.

We called Jack, the guy who had adopted her, and he was thrilled too. First thing, he said, he's going to the hardware store to get some fencing material to seal the perimeter around his place, and then drive here to deliver the antibiotics Dr. Vazquez prescribed.

But we also agreed that for a couple of days Benji would be better off hanging out at her usual haunts with her usual friends. She's already stressed enough.

Stew, her closest human friend, just went out to feed her and reported that she's fine back home with her friends, but needs a good brushing and some attention to calm her down.

still can't believe, much less understand, how Benji managed this incredible feat.

I'm also left wondering if Benji—and us—would have been better off if we had left her alone in the first place, despite the seemingly terrific person who's coming by in a couple of days to pick her up. 

Now I'm not sure now if she was the beneficiary, or the victim, of human compassion.

Friday, April 13, 2018

A not-so-bad Friday the 13th, after all

This Friday the 13th dawned fully intending, it seemed, to live up to its bad-luck reputation. 

Benji, one of the stray dogs that live outside our gate—and whom we thought had been adopted—ran away from its new owner and disappeared somewhere in San Miguel late Thursday. We woke up worried that some horrible thing would happen to her. 

Meanwhile, our elderly and feeble cat Paco had such a raucously bad time last night we had decided to put him in his carrier for a final trip to the vet this morning, to be euthanized.

As the morning wore on, though, things looked slightly brighter. The vet checked Paco thoroughly and found that while that while terminally frail, he still had a few more kilometers left in him. He gave him some shots and put him back in his carrier for the trip home. Paco now seems to be fine, after letting out a loud “Whew!” and going back sleep on his usual spot in our bedroom closet.  

I'm sure Paco is on its last lap, but we shouldn't pretend to know better than him when the end is at hand. When cats want to check out, I've been told, they'll let you know by curling up in some dark corner and refusing to eat. And not before. 
Benji and his new owner Jack, in what we thought her
farewell close up before moving into a new home. 

With Benji, we were really really upset upon hearing the news from his new owner, Jack, who was really thrilled to have found a dog just like the one he had lost a while back. As Jack and Benji drove away in Jack's 1952 yellow Chevy pick-up, we thought this story had a happy ending. 

Not quite. A few hours later we got an email from Jack telling us Benji had run away by slipping through the bars of his gate. 

The truth is that Benji, though mellow, for the past several years has lived a rather unencumbered existence under a tree across the road —except for the occasional dog fight—now was scared and shaking after riding in cars, spending nights in a vets office, driving off with a stranger and, for him, other harrowing experiences. 

When he ran away he wasn't being ungrateful for all the attention. He likely just wanted to go home, under the tree in the field across the road where he's lived all his life. 

That taught us a lesson on the risks of anthropomorphizing—projecting human feelings and expectations onto animals, in some instances pretending we know better than they do. In this case we figured that a neat haircut and a rabies shot would improve Benji's days but he probably thought things were fine the way they were. 

The experience with Benji may have squelched plans Stew and I had to find homes for the dogs outside our gate. Most of those dogs were born out in the nearby ranches, where they'll live and die and that may be just fine, or if not fine, at least the way it is. 

In the meantime, we just get to feed, pat them on the head and exchange a few encouraging words every morning. 

Indeed, Félix and another friend assure me that Benji is bound to show up back here—his home—in a few days. That has eased my worries somewhat. I just wish he'd hurry up.