Under the house of a family who was renting from our friend Olga lived a dog who was chained up. He was a skinny yellow Labrador. Over a six-month period we saw this guy go from healthy and who used every inch of his long chain to roam the space under the house to just giving up and lying down all the time.
Each time Paul and I passed the house, we couldn't take it. It was killing us to see him languishing and literally wasting away. We never saw him being fed or played with by the family (there were three kids ranging in age from maybe eight to 18). This family had a cute small dog that always had a bow in her hair and she was clearly well taken care of. The kids doted on her.
This was June 2012. In addition to recently getting our starter goats and having several chickens and at least 10 cats (mostly outside), we already had three dogs, Yum Yum, Gigi and Héctor (named after one of Puerto Rico's prodigal sons, Héctor Lavoe), so we figured one more wouldn't make too much of a difference. Gigi and Yum Yum were healthy at four years old. Héctor was another story. We had just recently been successful at eradicating a nasty case of mange that took nearly a year to get rid of. He was a dog that was dropped off to us two years earlier and was old when we got him.
We decided to ask Olga if she thought they'd be open to us taking him. She said she would come with me to ask and convince them if they said no. She was sad seeing him deteriorate the way he had been. She told us he had been Artemio's (who lives just up the road from us) who took him from his sister. Olga estimated that he was about eight years old, more or less if recollection served.
Olga and I walked over to the house and spoke with the mother. We didn't have a lot of money, but we offered them $50 and told them we could use him on the farm. She agreed. I drove home to get Paul and we both went under the house together to rescue this guy. We learned his name was Coco.
What we saw horrified us. Feces were everywhere—we assumed they'd never once cleaned them up. The water Coco drank from was green—full of algae, bacteria and lord knows what else. His food had ants running in and out and didn't look like it had been touched in days. I asked when he was fed last. Coco's owner wasn't sure. Three days? She had forgotten.
Rat carcasses were everywhere. We even saw a few cat carcasses—his owners told me they hated cats and used to throw them at him instead of feeding him dinner sometimes. I started crying and was angry we hadn't tried to do something several months earlier. I quickly stopped and knew we just had to act fast and get him out of there. We were here and soon this guy would be home with us. We didn't kid ourselves, we knew it would be a long time until he was healthy—assuming this ever happened. He could barely stand on his own for long because his muscles had atrophied. Olga's brother came and together he and Paul carried him to the car.
We got him home and saw he was full of mites. They were everywhere on him. He was hungry but not as hungry as he should have been. He was thirsty though. He drank an entire bucket (32 ounces) of water. He kept drinking that night. He'd drink and then pee. He didn't know not to ask to go outside like Héctor, Yum Yum and Gigi. Nourish him and get him healthy now, train him later, Paul and I agreed.
We bathed him and we named him Marcos.
We took him to our (former) vet the next morning and had him weighed. He was 38 pounds, which is very skinny for a Lab.
He tested positive for heart worm. It cost us $500 and Marcos two sessions of three overnight stays separated by a week. Some friends showed up to visit us after Marcos came home from the vet following his first session of treatment. "He's damaged. Put him down," advised Leo. We'd already been thinking about letting go of the friendship because they never had anything kind to say about anyone. I looked at Paul, at both of them, and rolled my eyes. I then put on my sunglasses, which Paul knew was something I got from my mother, which meant "I no longer acknowledge your presence." Paul got up and showed them to the door. We haven't seen them socially since.
During the four years we had Marcos a lot happened, but it was just living, you know the way we do.
Héctor got old and ran off and died. The last time we saw him was on August 22, 2013. He was old when we got him (our former vet estimated he was 13 when he was dropped off to us) and we were able to have about three years with him. In the summer of 2014 we were blessed with not one but two drop-offs. Sumi a very sweet to humans, dangerous to cats, chickens and goats Pitbull and Zaina a "who knows what the heck she is" sata (catch-all word in Spanish for a stray and a mutt)?
Gigi and Yum Yum never really accepted Marcos. They always treated him like he was an intruder. Gig and Yum Yum are twins and nobody can penetrate that bond, which is wonderful and a pain in the butt.
Nobody loved me more when I was cooking than Marcos. Sound asleep that boy could hear food being taken out of the refrigerator. His favorites were cheese, avocado, mango and papaya.
Nobody could dream quite like Marcos. Most of the time he'd run in his sleep; sometimes he ate and really enjoyed his food.
Sometimes he found comfort in the oddest of places.
And nobody did TV quite like Marcos. We don't own a TV, so the dogs make their own entertainment. Here's Marcos checking out the goats on the nanny cam. I wish I'd gotten the next shot because when the kids started jumping, Marcos started barking.
Marcos was sweet and funny. Here he is mistaking Brunito sleeping as a non-verbal queue that it's okay to air hump him.
Marcos was never able to regain strength in his legs. He always had trouble getting up and he couldn't stand or sit for too long. He spent a lot of time lying down when he wasn't in motion and he tired easily. What people who drop off animals onto others' farms or into their neighborhoods and neglect their animals don't understand is that the recipients inherit their neglect, which manifests into physical problems. Héctor had mange, Marcos had heart worm, Sumi was severely malnourished, and the cats we've had dropped off to us have mostly been fortunate but some didn't make it and died within weeks of their owners carelessly donating them to someone else.
And this happens all over the world, so I am not slamming Puerto Rico but it's something we never counted on when we moved here. Lecture over.
When Things Went Downhill
During the second to last week of August, he developed an odd cough. We waited about a week to see if it cleared up on its own. We brought him in to see our vet. Hector of Santa Lucia Verterinario Servicios did his blood work and the numbers were startling.
We had a baseline of normal for Marcos just six months earlier.
In March we'd brought Marcos and Brunito in because it looked like they'd both been indirectly poisoned—meaning they didn't eat the poison directly but maybe ate a portion of a rat or a mouse who'd ingested it. We suspect the people who rent the house next door use poison to keep their rat population down and that one the rodents meandered over here.
Marcos defecated blood a day after Brunito vomited blood. Both were put on antibiotics and vitamin k. Both bounced back quickly and when blood work was repeated a week or ten days later, all blood levels were within normal range.
Fast forward to Friday, September 2 and the blood work was dismaying. Platelets, white cell and red cell were all way down and hematocrit was very high.
I told Hector we suspected cancer and he said it sounded very plausible.
One of the many reasons we started seeing Hector as our vet is because he is into alternative medicine. Hector suggested trying to get the blood levels, in particular his white cell count, back on track. He prescribed heavy doses of prednisone, a holistic cocktail of medicinal plants, including turmeric and noni, plus antibiotics. Then we could do some imaging to determine where the cancer was.
Within a week, Marcos was declining rapidly. He was clearly in tremendous pain. By Thursday he'd stopped eating. On his right side, around the bottom of his rib cage a mass started forming.
By Friday we decided to give it through the weekend, but we were losing optimism and Marcos was clearly in pain, and lots of it.
We decided yesterday morning to put our beloved Marcos down. We couldn't stand watching him suffer any longer.
We don't know for certain what the problem was. All we can do is draw conclusions:
- Blood work was normal in March
- A week ago Friday his blood work indicated he probably had cancer
- The mass on his side, which Hector said was probably his liver, wasn't there two weeks ago
- He declined so quickly
Whatever it was, it was very aggressive.
Paul and I don't believe in putting old animals through chemo and/or invasive surgery, if all we can eek out is three to six months. We will never know for certain how old he was, although we know all three of his previous owners. We can guesstimate he was between 11 and 13.
We adopted him four years ago and we loved him. We know he loved us.
Our hearts are shattered. Like all the animals we've rescued (Gigi and Yum Yum, included) or who are dropped off to us, we didn't ask for them to be in our lives but once they are, we love them unconditionally—as if they were our children. Had we not rescued Marcos from living under that house, we know for certain he would have died from heart worm. We fell in love with him and if you knew him, you know why we did.
Rest in Peace Marcos Ratliff.