October 26-30, 2016
We went to Cuba. It’s a magnificent and startling and complicated place.
Doodle went to camp for his own adventure. We missed him, but we were lucky to have a house-dog. Our casa, the large house in which we rented a room, has a wiggly boxer named Pike who is curious, sweet and extremely well-behaved.
He’d greet us in the morning and when we returned from the day’s excursions. We brought in smells from America as well as places in the city he’d never visited. We hadn’t expected to have a trip mascot, but he was a wonderful surprise.
Something else we didn’t expect– that we didn’t know to ask about in advance to emotionally prepare for– were amount of stray animals. Because why would we? How would we know that we’d see dogs and cats, puppies and kittens roaming around appearing generally well-fed but still showing the wear-and-tear of street living?
Some of them joined our tours for a stroll around a square and or exploring Hemingway’s Finca Vigia, vocally letting our guide know how much they liked her explanations.
In some places, dogs wear string collars with index-sized cards attached, like the pup perched on James’ lap. The cards are handwritten and include the animal’s name. They mean that someone feeds the dogs regularly. These animals are still strays, but someone nearby looks out for them.
And yet, with so many animals in need of homes or stability, puppies are sold on the street, costing more than the annual salary of local doctors.
In Cuba, there is veterinary care. There is a spay and neuter program through animal welfare groups to try to control the stray population. There is no such thing as dog food: domesticated animals like Pike eat whatever their humans eat. Pike’s breakfast was an enormous portion of freshly cooked rice and boiled beans, and sometimes chicken. Cubans who own pets or who take care of them share their monthly food rations with them.
Together, James and I took close to 400 pictures. So many are of the animals that hang around public spaces solo or in packs, calmly approaching humans for food or affection or sniffs. Sleeping. Prowling. Co-existing with the bustle of the city.
And no, we didn’t come home with a new furbaby. We’d never have gotten out and they’d never have gotten in. But like so much of our trip, they’re going to be with us as we process our experiences.
When Zozo was a puppy, James and I agreed- we made a pact!- that we wouldn’t give him food from the table. There’s too much that’s not good for his stomach, we said. We don’t want to encourage bad habits.
Athena was already spoiled by nibbles of corn chips and burnt french fry bits from Five Guys. We had a second, temporary rescue cat that would snatch whole cheeseburgers from plates and try to make off with scrambled eggs.
So with Zo, no meant no. Except for maybe just a corner of a pancake (“He asked if he could taste it!”). Or a bite of pizza crust (“No, see, it fell on the floor and he got it before I could pick it up!”). Or baby carrots and green beans (“There are vegetables in his dry food. See, there’s a picture on the back by the ingredients of what I think are veggies.”). Or inches of apples. You see where this is headed.
When MJ came home, we redoubled our efforts. No people food. None. She wasn’t interested in food anyway, so fine. She was, however, interested in smelling it. We’d make dinner and she’d pad around the kitchen, snout in the air.
“What are you choppin’?”
“What’s that you pulled out of the fridge?”
“Is somethin’ bakin’ in the oven?”
“Can I smell the soap?”
Snout up, snout down, snout where it doesn’t belong.
Zo would hang out under the breakfast bar, waiting.
Because he knew. He could sense it. It was in the air, like the warming naan or the baking chicken or the dishwasher detergent. Mama’s weakness.
If there is something plain, unseasoned and ok for furbabies, Mama will share. That’s the number one household rule: Mama always shares.
Our dogs don’t beg. They don’t whimper or whine if we’re eating and they’re not. But they line up, bums on the floor in a perfect sit, and accept an offering like communion. And then they scoot away. If there’s nothing for them, they get a treat and then retire to their beds. It’s now routine.
I’m a failure. Terrible, terrible failure.
Is there anything, dear readers, you promised you wouldn’t allow as a furparent that’s completely gone out the window? Am I alone?