VIOLA - Years ago, on Dane and my first trip to Isla Mujeres, I fell in love with a Mexican mutt named Prince.
We had just settled in to relax on Playa Norte when a man came by walking two adorable dogs. While we petted the puppies, he told me about Isla Animal Rescue. I knew before the day was out, we’d be visiting the shelter. Dane took a deep breath and exhaled slowly.
It was love at first sight and Prince, whom I later renamed Gambo (after a character in the Isabel Allende book I was reading on the beach), came home to Wisconsin three long months later. It took determination, hard work, and many good people to get Gambo his passport and passage here.
Once home, it also took plenty of patience, medical tests and drugs to try to overcome his horrible digestion problem. At-home IV treatments became the norm, and we had three emergency trips to the vet to fix his prolapsed rectum.
His appetite was healthy and, much to my dismay, included toads and insects. But his system couldn’t handle food of any kind and later he’d suffer from bloody stools and projectile vomiting. One evening when we were giving Gambo his IV, his eyes appeared dark and empty. I called Dane at work the next day. Through tears I said, “I think it might be ...” and, before I could finish, Dane said, “Yes, I think so, too.”
I held Gambo as Dr. Bass put him to rest, and cradled his emaciated body on the way home. We buried him under a willow tree that we planted in his honor.
Each trip to Isla Mujeres thereafter has included a visit to the animal shelter, where Dane and I play with the pups and take them for walks. We keep our eyes peeled for stray pups and we’ve learned that a collar means they have a home; no collar means they are homeless. The island can be a cruel place for dogs that haven’t been lucky enough to be caught and taken to the shelter.
On our most recent trip, we petted, fed, and enjoyed the company of many stray pups. “Look at that poochie! Puppy! Oh my, there’s a little sweetie!” we’d exclaim as we lay reading on the beach, browsed the market, or enjoyed a romantic evening stroll on the square.
In the mornings, while we hunted for sea glass, a black and white mid-sized dog I named ‘Bella’ would romp around with ‘Barney,’ a lanky and homeless Airedale mix. The two poochies provided endless enjoyment for Dane and me as they ran in and out of the waves, scrounged for who-knows-what in the sea grass, and came to us for pets and leftover treats from our previous evening’s meal.
We could tell by her healthy coat and fancy red collar that Bella was well loved. Barney was unkempt, somewhat leery of us, and way more hungry. The two had boundless energy, but after about an hour Bella would take off and Barney would look forlorn. One afternoon, Barney found a dead, bloated fish and we watched him carry it away. We only saw Barney in the evening once, sulking along the main drag. But without fail we’d see him and his Bella as the sun was rising.
At the shelter this year, we had just finished walking two dogs when a couple and their grown daughter came in. We were thrilled to discover they were there to adopt the puppy that Dane had just walked!
Visiting the shelter and playing with the pups is bittersweet for me. I always want to take at least one home with me. This year was no different and Dane convinced me it wasn’t the right time, as my girl Tete, the hound dog, may need surgery on her knee.
On our last day on the island, we left our room in the dark to be seaside when the sun rose. It was a gloriously warm and calm morning. As we watched the sun lift over the water, we started combing the beach for treasures. I kept looking up, waiting to see Bella and Barney, but sadly, they never appeared. As we headed toward our room down a sand-filled lane, Bella bounded up to us at full speed, wagging her tail so fast it became a blur. I bent down to hug her, while both Dane and I looked around, expecting Barney. He never showed up.
Leaving the beauty of Isla Mujeres and the perros that need forever homes wasn’t easy. But this year our hearts were full of loving memories of Gambo. I had donated money to have a tile made of his picture and we found it on the shelter’s memorial wall. The wall commemorates pets that were adopted from the Isla shelter and have passed on. Pointing to Gambo’s tile with one hand, the other placed over my heart, I vowed to continue supporting Isla Animal Rescue. Maybe one day, we’ll see Barney again and bring him home.