Wednesday, March 25, 2015



Early 2013:  I'm visiting my daughter and son-in-law in Ecuador where they live on a rural property in the southern Andes.  The morning is crystal clear with the sun slowly spreading over surrounding peaks, and we’re about to take our first walk of the day: In this high altitude part of the world, 2300 metres above sea level, it’s guaranteed to be a ‘breath gasping’ pleasure.
 But before we’ve even walked from yard to driveway we see trotting towards us a small four-legged stranger.  Appearing suddenly round a curve he presents a puzzling picture.  Is he alone?  Why is he alone? What on earth is a lone dog doing on the property?

Such a small little dog appearing apparently out of nowhere: It’s hard to explain but he seems to have a manner and presence that isn’t entirely canine.  There is a certain well mannered desperation about him at odds with a ridiculous orange tail which right now is curling aloft. With ears pulled back he seems a tad unsure of a welcome, which is not all that surprising. This little creature has probably trudged a fair distance already and no doubt been chased from house to house along the way. Observing him it’s obvious what he really needs, right now, is a kind face and maybe a corner to rest those weary little legs.
A bit of tucker wouldn’t go astray either.
Strays or street dogs, perros callejeros in Spanish, are a fact of life in Ecuador.  They are more often than not, friendly and well-adjusted vagabonds, and they hang around with their mates in fossicking groups, keeping their eyes down for any scraps along the way. They're not vicious looking, or particularly unhealthy, just straggly, and always underfoot. They're not too dissimilar looking from the dogs with jobs and a drive through any small village disturbs an even larger cacophony of noisy ones defiantly guarding the edges of their masters' properties.  All these Ecuadoran pooches, no matter their status, come in all shapes and sizes from Great Danes to Cocker Spaniels. I’ve even seen the odd St Bernard-Poodle cross.
You could describe our little visitor as a fruit ensalada; he has the sweet face of a mini Mastiff, the body of a Kelpie, the legs of a Basset and the proud tail of a Chow!  To my eyes he exudes a rare canine oomph quality, a charming persona old timers like me remember in the Lassie and Rin Tin Tin movies.

 We can only guess at his journey so far but no matter which direction he hailed from he would have to have traveled a fair and rough distance thru terrain not unlike the re-enactments above.
I've always had a soft spot for dogs, especially lost ones and I wondered if this stout and friendly little two or so year old was being missed by a family somewhere. He seemed to be a long way from home. My daughter imagined he had maybe traveled thus far on the coat tails of a pack of spirited street dogs - raucous and rowdy callejeros who passed by recently, and noisily, on their impatient way to the stridently barking gals at the top of the valley.
She reckoned that tired out and just a little fed up our little visitor must have quietly peeled away from the others to set up camp on his own beneath the comfort of the enormous cypress tree at the start of the property. It was easy, later, to see where he had quietly scratched away at the hard ground in several, hidden places, making a bed for the long night.

Our morning stroll momentarily forgotten all three of us looked askance at this new addition to the family.  I was only a temporary resident and for a brief moment wished I could spirit this appealing little waif away in my carry-on luggage. Probably my two Ecuadoran residents had similar thoughts.
Sadly, while in Ecuador on this visit, one of my favourite neighbourhood doggy friends back home, Max a red kelpie, died of old age. (In fact a friend back home entrusted with an Ecuadoran phone number to contact in dire emergency texted a cryptic message reading “Hubbie fine Max dead”, which in turn alarmed the recipient who immediately contacted me at the farm with great foreboding.) 
Perhaps it was the timing of Max’s demise on everyone's mind: Max, the laidback, and aging pooch ever alert and ready for a cuddle: Max, who would always knock on my door looking for safe haven in a thunderstorm. Initially, my daughter was reluctant to entertain the idea of taking on a pet, but now, with all the reminiscing about Max, her forehead became mightily creased with the burden of thought. I could see her agonizingly running through all the pros and cons and I was no help at all, desperately wanting them to take on all the fun of having a dog again. I argued a dog's worth on the farm, as a guard, a companion, a friendly little face in cold times.
When this lost little stranger padded up my adult children’s driveway I wasn’t entirely surprised it was not greeted with open arms. Acquiring a house pet wasn’t on their agenda, but I knew the two of them, kindly concerned people that they were, would give the dog a meal and attempt to find its owner. Failing that unlikely event, they would then canvass neighbours and friends who might be looking for another dog: (Doubtlessly another entirely unlikely event!)
This dog was so easy to like, with a pleasing appearance and personality he exuded an aura of intelligence and sympathy. He could have been a hopeful applicant applying for a position vacant advertisement in the local paper and pleading his case: But hey! I’ll take anything on offer, a meal, a veranda, a pat on the back. 
Not surprisingly, we were all falling in love with this unexpected little visitor and soon I heard my daughter and her husband discussing dog names while still stressing, every now and then, their continuing intention of finding him a really good home. I knew with the gut feeling of many years experience it wouldn't be long before the dog's moist brown eyes worked their magic – their spell was far more eloquent than any spoken word.  In any case I secretly thought all this debate was purely academic; I’m quite sure Dog was pretty confident he'd already found a damn good home.
Over those last idyllic days Dog, as he was temporarily being called, stayed nervously close to the fringes of our existence, kept very quiet and made no attempt to ingratiate himself into the living room. Then came the morning we were all surprised to hear the little fellow bark: A full throated meaning business bark. He had bailed up a neighbour from a distant house paying an unannounced but innocent cross-country visit.
Not only did the dog have a voice, he also had a sense of responsibility and no-one was going to enter his adopted establishment without his say-so! Turning to my daughter, I made what turned out to be a most prophetic comment: “It looks like this dog is here to stay.”
But was he?
My current visit to Ecuador was racing to an end.  The next day would see me flying off home, back to Australia, with Dog’s future still very much up in the air.  Goodbyes were exchanged, it’s always hard to say goodbye, adios, sayonara to loved ones.  Now there was an additional set of eyes to mist over, three loved ones to hug and kiss, an added small personage I would most surprisingly miss.
Always emotional with farewells I had become fairly slick with my two adults, a firm instruction to leave me at the airport, no tears and no looking back.  But for some deep dark reason that didn’t work with the Dog. 
He and I had bonded, we had shared little doggy secrets and I knew I would miss those deep dark eyes with a vengeance.  A return visit wasn’t a certainty and I resigned myself to following the next installment of his life from a very long distance.
And so I set off for the airport and home with so many questions unanswered.
A lot can happen in the space of a year – as you will discover in the second half of One Lucky Ecuadoran Dog!
Robyn Mortimer ©2015