Archives for posts with tag: pets


Though our new vacation condominium in Costa Rica is well built and beautiful, there were still plenty of entries for the builder’s punch-list.  We fussed, as follows:

“The exhaust fan in the second bathroom is weak,” I noted.

“Write down there’s a cracked tile in the kitchen,” said my wife, Katie.

“We also need aluminum foil and toilet paper,” I said.

“Laundry detergent, sun visor and extra keys,” added Katie.

After the list making, we proceeded to the logistics of finding the items.

“Let’s see, we need the hardware store, supermarket, and condo office.  Also, we have to stop at the ice cream place,” I said.

“How did that get on the list?” asked Katie.

“Sort of as a reward,” I said.

She shook her head but did not veto the ice cream stop.

Over the first several days of our visit, we enjoyed fresh seafood, walked on the beach, observed a selection of stunning sunsets, played tennis and generally enjoyed our delightful situation.  However, the “List” was never far from our thoughts.  As each item was obtained or corrected, we found another project or two or three, such as: a light missing in the exterior hallway (tell the management office); Wi-Fi connection is weak (visit the computer store and seek guidance, preferably in English); propane tank needs filling (hardware store); trash bins must be located; and, finally (for now) the non-functioning dishwasher handle requires repair.

When the dishwasher (now full) revealed its hidden problem, I reached an attitude approximating exasperation.

“How is this possible?” I asked no one in particular.

“This is how it is,” responded my world-weary wife.

“Didn’t anyone check the handle when it was installed?” I asked.

Upon reflection, it was difficult to complain about a circumstance as cushy as ours.  It is self-evident that hanging out in one’s own tropical getaway is not like being marooned on a desert island.

“Be happy,” I urged myself, aloud.

“That’s right,” said Katie.  “People could have it a lot worse.”

“Hard to imagine,” I grunted, not totally seriously, but with some degree of grumpiness.

Just at that moment, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a man outside in the gardens managing two large dogs on leashes.  Since we thought we were the only residents in our building, so far, we went out to greet him.

“I’m John,” he said, holding back what appeared to be two small ponies but which actually were the results of mating a Great Dane with a black lab.

We introduced ourselves and learned about John’s situation.  He is in his early forties and chose to abandon a decades-long career in hotels and hospitality to try his luck in real estate in Costa Rica.  So far, not a remarkable decision, since many of the North Americans living full-time in Costa Rica are trying their hand in some aspect of the real estate industry, whether as realtors, designers, builders, managers, etc.

John’s explanation took a turn for the unusual when he explained the circumstances of his arrival the previous evening at his new condominium, just three doors from ours, from Calgary, Alberta in Canada.   He was accompanied not only by the two large dogs in front of us, but also by two other dogs.   Topping it off, his wife, Gina, is in her thirty-fifth week of pregnancy with their first child.

“I’m no obstetrician,” I said, “but isn’t that pretty close to full term?”

“Yes,” he replied.  “We think we have a doctor lined up in San Jose.”

“That’s a four or five hour drive,” noted Katie.

“Yes,” said John.  “I hope our car arrives soon.”

“You don’t have a car?” I said, fending off the larger dog’s determined examination of my anatomy.

“It’s with our furniture,” said John.

“You don’t have furniture?” said Katie.

“It’s been shipped,” said John.  “It’s supposed to arrive in a few days.”

“What are you sleeping on?” I asked.

“We have a couple of pads on the floor,” he said.

At that moment, Gina emerged from their unit.  Or, more accurately, I should say, a broadly smiling, blonde-haired, freckle-faced woman waddled over, holding an ample belly.

“Hi,” she said, with cheerfulness all out of proportion to her predicament.

“Delighted to meet you,” said Katie.  “John has been telling us about your adventure.  How do you feel?”

“Not bad,” she said, smiling, “except for the kicking.  And I think the baby’s ripped a muscle in my stomach.  And our air conditioner isn’t working.”

“It’s ninety degrees,” I noted.

“Yes,” said John.  “They said they’d fix it in the next couple of days.”

Gina winced with pain.

“Can I do something for you?” asked Katie.  “Anything?”

“No, I’m fine,” said Gina, all evidence to the contrary.  “I’d love to stay and chat but I’m just really exhausted.  It was a long day of flying yesterday, from Calgary to Los Angeles, to here.  I’d better go back in.  Perhaps we can talk more in the morning.  Great to meet you guys.”

We looked wide-eyed at each other.  This woman was suffering and was determined to decline offers of assistance.  “Good night,” said John, as he held the dogs’ leashes in one hand and Gina’s arm with the other and walked her back inside their hot, empty, dog filled, supposedly luxurious condominium.

We went back inside and tried to wrap our minds around their situation:  four dogs, no air conditioning, no furniture, no car, Gina nine-months pregnant, and clearly in discomfort.

“She should sleep in our place,” said Katie.

“Definitely,” I agreed.

“And we can give them some chairs, at least, and offer to do their food shopping,” said Katie.

“And assure them we’ll be on stand-by if they need to borrow our rental car,” I said.

“You know,” Katie said, “just because they were promised their stuff would arrive in a few days, doesn’t mean it will.”

“Do you doubt the timeliness of a shipment wending its way from Canada through Costa Rican customs?” I asked, rhetorically.

“It could be weeks,” said Katie.

“Months,” I said.

“I’ll go talk to them,” said Katie, determined.

She returned after just a couple minutes, a look of disbelief on her face..

“They don’t want any chairs,” she reported.  “They agreed to knock on the door if they need the car, but they think they’ll be comfortable enough in the evening sitting in the common area.  There are fans there.  And they insist the pads are soft enough for sleeping.”

“They’re lying on the floor?” I said.  “They must raise ‘em tough in Northern Alberta.”

Katie shook her head.  “Gina admitted her mother isn’t thrilled.”

For the next couple of days, whenever we walked past the common area between our units, John and/or Gina and several dogs were encamped.   The dogs, used to life in Canada, looked more uncomfortable than the humans in their new, tropical home.  With no furniture in sight, and a non-responsive shipping agent tracking it, they finally accepted several of our chairs.  Their air conditioner was “fixed” by the condominium, though it still was having difficulty keeping up.  (A future story will deal with repair methods in Costa Rica, probably entitled “Trial and Error.”)

On the next to last day of our visit, Gina accompanied us on a lunch outing.

“It’ll be good for you to get out,” said Katie.

“Yes,” agreed Gina, finally.

While enjoying fresh-caught fish, we learned that John’s job was not starting yet, and it would be months before he passed the licensing exam.  To our surprise, we also learned that neither of them spoke Spanish.

“John’s really good at languages,” Gina assured us, in the face of our gaping expressions.  “He’ll learn fast.”

We lobbied successfully for Gina to consult a closer doctor in Liberia, just twenty minutes away.  “And Mike, one of the guys at the real estate office, agreed to be on stand-by if we need a ride to the hospital,” she said.

It was gratifying to hear that John and Gina had taken some modest initiative to make their lives easier.

We said good-bye to John and Gina on our last day and had them pledge to inform us of developments, furniture-wise and, more importantly, baby-wise.  With their situation in mind, I readily agreed not to complain about any of the minor inconveniences of life, a pledge that I was able to maintain for nearly an entire day.  Unfortunately, upon arrival at Raleigh, it took nearly twenty minutes for my suitcase to arrive at baggage claim.

“How can this be?” I asked, the lesson not yet fully integrated into my thinking.



A green-eyed beauty lay beside me.  She nibbles idly on my ear while I stroke her exposed chest.   Please, dear reader, in pursuit of salacious gossip, do not reach the wrong conclusion.  My marriage is secure.   Due to their anatomy, I suppose, ears are particularly important to cocker spaniels.

Nearly a decade after swearing off dogs for life, a cascade of circumstances has brought a new puppy into our household.  As recently as a month ago, we marveled at our dog-obsessed neighbors and friends and expressed relief at not being similarly tied down.  Dog ownership, we felt, is a self-imposed troika of emotional, economic and physical obligation.  A dog offers companionship, we acknowledged, and the illusion that a dog’s super-human displays of loyalty and affection are somehow meaningful.  In reality, we felt, those prized moments of connection and love merely reflect the fact that a dog’s owner is his food source, his life-blood.  A dog greets you at the door because he feared you would never come home again, and he would starve without you.

Stella is testing that cynical view.  She was declared an “angel” during her initial nine-hour car-ride.  She whined less than I did about traffic and slept contentedly between sessions of cuddling.  Her first night at home, however, showed how close the dichotomy between angel and devil can be.  Literature is full of such realizations, yet, we rarely experience them so acutely in life.  Stella whined piteously most of the night, a shrill keening completely out of proportion to her tiny six-pound body.

Now that two weeks have passed, a routine is emerging.  We know that she urinates twice, not once, each time she “goes.”  We know that she defecates, like clock-work, fifteen minutes after eating. (I should be so lucky!)  We know that she enjoys occupying laps indefinitely and that shoe laces are great for chewing.

My previous dog experiences have been baleful.  When I was a small child, we had Bagel the beagle, for about six months, before he ate a string and died on the operating table.  Family lore preceding me is littered with unsuccessful dog tales, a litany of the lost and ill, vicious and smelly.  We turned to cats before I was ten and never looked back.  We prized their independence and discrimination.  Our cats offered attention and intimacy only to the immediate family.  We believed them, therefore, to be a higher order of pet.

When my children were younger, a several-years-long campaign resulted in our acquisition of Max, a handsome wheaten terrier.  “All the neighbors have dogs,” truthfully plead the children.  “We’ll walk him and brush him,” they said.  Their intentions may have been pure, but the reality is that we parents did almost all the dog-care.

Max turned out to be overly excitable, scratching the hard-wood floors of our home at the sight of a squirrel or bird outside.  He grew to be forty pounds of pure, empty-headed muscle, pulling on his leash as though separating my shoulder were the desired outcome.  The children professed to love Max, but kept their distance, having seen him lunge, teeth-bared, at the door, when we departed for work and school each morning.

We had Max evaluated by a canine psychiatrist.  I tried to imagine how he communicated with the patient.  Did he ask about dreams or, perhaps, a difficult childhood?  For $225, he suggested several specific commands and techniques to calm Max’s anxieties.   We used them diligently for several weeks but the threatening behavior continued.

“We’re afraid we may have to give him away,” we said to our veterinarian, after describing Max’s tantrums.

“Not with that temper,” she said.  “He’s dangerous, especially with small children.  If that continues, you have to put him down.  You probably should not have him in your house now.”

“What is the chance he will improve?” we asked.

“Not good,” she said.  “It’s up to you, but I’d be very concerned about keeping him around.”

We did not deliberate long before choosing, sadly, to end our relationship with Max.   He had risen to the status of a “factor” in our household but, with his defects, had not attained “member of the family” indispensability.  Thus ended our relationship with dogs — until two weeks ago.

So, what sort of conversations do I have with Stella?  I do most of the talking, such as:

“Is it so difficult to determine where the peanut butter ends and my finger begins?”

“Must every leaf on the lawn be tasted?”

“How is it possible that you, who are so physically small, can upset the entire routine and living space of our household?”

Her response is to cock her head and raise one of her conspicuously visible eye-brows.  They are an amazing feature – bushy caramel-colored brush strokes on a cocoa-brown canvas.

“What?” she seems to ask.  “Am I not adorable enough to merit total attention?”

So far, I admit, the answer is “yes.”  Stella is charming, worming her affections into the skeptical soil of our souls.   She is excited to meet everyone in the neighborhood, but I’m sure I detect a special twinkle in her eye when she sees me.  Oh, yes, she is definitely discriminating.  Meanwhile, it’s time to walk her for the fifth time today in the hopes that she will finally be exhausted, and sleep through some reasonable portion of the night.