I love animals and children. I love to see the two get along. El Refugio and the surrounding countryside is rich with both. Sadly, over my years here I’ve seen too many children who have learned to torment, mutilate, and kill animals just because they can. I don’t think it’s as much psychological as cultural. I teach Luís and Adriana that there are only two reasons to kill any living creature: they present a real and immediate danger or when they are needed for food. (I am not a vegan nor a PETA supporter.)
We have chickens. We raise them from chicks for eggs and meat. I do not have the heart to kill one. Margarita does the butchering. She does it as mercifully as possible–based on her description of the slaughter. I will not even watch. I will not venture out to the site of her abattoir until the blood and feathers are cleaned up. But our 9-year old daughter, following in her mother’s country-girl footsteps, seems to relish assisting in the ritual. Once this formerly magnificently feathered bird’s parts have been cooked and presented on my plate he or she becomes a different entity. I delight in savoring its flesh and strengthening my body with its organs.
Living in a tropic clime we are plagued with flies, mosquitoes, gnats, cockroaches, rats, and the occasional scorpion. Scorpions avoid humans as do their spider cousins and I’ve only been stung by one. Adriana has had a couple of scorpion events. We’ve learned how to better contain our food to avoid the nocturnal scratching and gnawing of rats seeking Cheerios or white bread. Still, we hear cats chasing them on our zinc-aluminum roof and we know they killed newborn kittens in the attic of the room behind our house. Flying pests are targeted with Raid, powdered fly poisons and fly swatters. We sweep up corpses by the hundreds near the chicken coops daily–or the rain washes them away. Cockroaches enter the bathroom through the shower drain which runs to the street. They pass through a pipe and into the toilet-shower shed that has been thoroughly sprayed with Raid. I find two or three almost every evening on their backs with their little feet and antennae flailing or they’ve fallen in one of the two emergency water pails we use when the water is shut off so we can flush and bathe. I am totally unemotional as I pick up or fish out their corpses with a piece of hard plastic and dump them in the chicken coop for the birds to fight over.
We discovered two box turtles in our lush garden. They occasionally leave their sanctuary and wander about the patio sidewalk, into the garage, or we’ll find one or both in the house proper. They clack-clack their plastron bellies on the ceramic floor towards the front door. When they’re aware of human presence they halt their movement and withdraw limbs, tail, and head completely or partially in order to assess the danger. I think these two are used to sharing the property with humans because their defensive mode only lasts a few seconds. We have placed them in tubs so they can swim and they seem to enjoy the water although they are land animals. I enjoy just watching them. When they seem to be looking for a way to climb the one-brick high garden retaining wall and can’t do it, I’ll pick them up and place them on the edge and let them determine the route home through the thick undergrowth. Sadly, our children are not so enchanted by animals due to their upbringing and fail to appreciate their beauty or their place in nature.
I’ve previously written about Duke the Wonder Dog and how he had to be removed from our home after biting Adriana first then Luís a couple of weeks later. There really was no room in our patio for him to run and play without damaging the garden and he had been chained in various locations. That made him and me very unhappy. We took him back to his birthplace in the country where he lives in Margarita’s old house and is tended by her mother and our son Juan. He stays on a long chain but is sheltered from the sun and rain. I saw him twice in the past week for the first time in months. He was happy to see me but it saddened me to see him. He was dirty and his claws needed trimming. Margarita had Juan take care of giving him his bath. I don’t know about his nails. If they haven’t lost the implement, I may have to do it myself. But he was healthy and frisky. There is another dog on the property for him to play with. The other dog runs freely.
In conversations with acquaintances, Margarita either marvels or mocks my relationship with street dogs, the kitten where we buy our fresh vegetables, goats foraging along the streets or in vacant lots, cows being driven from behind a house to the pastures above the town, and handsome horses ridden proudly by aging vaqueros from the hinterlands. I don’t mind the jokes or her lack of understanding. I was brought up to respect nature–even if I don’t understand why we have to put up with disease bearers in our midst. I hope my kids will grow up with the same attitude. Thank God for “Animal Planet” and other nature programs on TV.