By Katherine Minott
Remember, I told myself, when you go through Mexico, look straight ahead. Any deviance from that and you'll surely find a dog in great need. Stay clear of suffering, I warned myself. That was my mind talking, the voice of reason that tries to steer me away from the harsh, jagged edges of life.
My heart, however, always tells me something else. And because heart won out, I have a story to tell you about how I met Cooper and learned a valuable lesson about compassion in action.
On July 9, 2011, I volunteered at Bahia Mantanchen Animals spay and neuter clinic. I jumped in the car that morning with my friend Amaranth Carlson, on a mission to pick up a dog in San Blas for the day's procedures. After looking for an address that didn't seem to exist, we left without the dog we had hoped to find. As we drove out of San Blas, we turned a corner and spotted an emaciated dog curled up on the side of the street, listless and alone. The contour of his spine revealed an animal who knew chronic hunger as intimately as he did the soft hair under his sweet chin. Without hesitation, Amaranth pulled over, exited the car, and approached the dog. With all the energy he could muster, he got up, one hind leg dangling behind him, and limped away from her. Not one to be deterred, Amaranth attempted to catch him but he was just quick enough to avoid her yet not energetic enough to get very far. After asking some local storeowners about the dog's status, she confirmed that he was indeed homeless. With their help, the dog was caught and placed in our car.
As we drove back to the clinic with this exhausted creature in tow, I held out little hope that he'd be deemed healthy enough to undergo the neutering procedure. I braced myself for the worst - yet strangely and potentially the best - case scenario: his being euthanized. I knew that his suffering would finally come to an end.
Busy with the day's events, I hadn't noticed the animals that had made it to the post-op section. When it was time to go home, however, I glanced at the remaining animals that were coming out of an anesthetic fog. Lo and behold, that morning's dog from our San Blas pick-up was straining to lift his head, making great effort to come-to.
Hours later he awoke in the guesthouse on the property where I was staying (Wally and Amaranth Carlson's farm in Aticama). The guests in that dwelling, Susan and Paloma, took to seeing that this dog be given great care and the absolute best chance of recovery. In the background, I rooted for his health, but I stayed at a distance, uncomfortable with seeing his condition. Besides his skeletal frame, he had a severely injured hind leg to contend with.
When these dog-loving guests left a few weeks later, however, the dog's care fell to me. (Wally and Amaranth already had their hands full with their seven rescued dogs.) So there he was, the Face of Suffering now at the foot of my bed. He was a boneyard of neglect, but there was also a vital, undeniable force that emanated from his kind eyes.
Over the course of the next several weeks, I got to know this Great Force and I named him Cooper. He'd shyly wag his tail in subdued delight when I'd proclaim, "You are recooperating!" And that's indeed what he continued to do as Wally, Amaranth and I put our heads together for Cooper's next chapter. Where would go be placed, we wondered. How could we find him a great home given that so many of the people we knew were already overwhelmed with caring for more animals than they had ever planned on. Ever hopeful, Wally remarked, "Gosh, he'd be great for an older woman. He's calm and loving and would be such Good Medicine for an elderly companion."
And that got me thinking: my 80 year old parents! Even though great animal lovers, they had sworn off caring for anymore pets given their inconsolable grief when the loss of previous ones had come to pass. But I knew with just a bit of cajoling, I could get them to consider Cooper's companionship. I mean, who could say no to a sweet boy such as this?
The last hurdle for Cooper's relocation involved getting him from Mexico to the United States. With a great deal of juggling and sacrifice, Wally drove myself and Cooper to my home in AZ. Cooper is now undergoing his continued "recooperation" at my home; he is slowly gaining weight and is being treated for ehrlichia and heartworm. When he's a bit stronger, he will undergo the amputation of his hind leg. (He suffered a break in his femur which never healed.) With three willing and lucky legs, he will then travel further north to WA this fall to keep my elderly parents company.
Through Cooper, I learned that hope has many channels by which it travels. And it comes in stages as all the big answers aren't always apparent at first, but the tiny next step often is. And even if that hope comes on three legs, it is worthy of being nurtured, sometimes by a whole village of people who respect and honor Life in all of its forms. And it is here that I want to thank this "village" that has contributed to Cooper's bright future: Wally, Amaranth, Audrey, Barb, Kate, Dr. Beltran, Manuel, Carol, Paloma, and Susan. You have restored some of my faith in humanity and, for that, I am indebted to you.