Sad story with a happy ending

Though people ceaselessly praise the loyalty, intelligence and friendship of dogs no one really knows what goes on in those little canine brains. Sure, you’ll hear some owners gravely aver that their little Poopadoodle peed on the rug “because she wants to get back at me” or was angry at something that happened two days ago.

But c’mon. Truth is there are no lines in the operating software of dogs for processing such complex, and useless, human emotions as holding grudges and resentments, much less plotting revenge.

If anything, dogs are masterful and natural practitioners of Buddhist mindfulness: the Poopadoodle peed on the rug because at that precise moment that’s all that came into her head. When you yell at her for the mess three hours later she is not contrite or having a learning experience but instead baffled by what might be going on in your little human brain.

Just such unfathomable canine behavior earlier this week led our recently adopted Doberman, Desi, to attack and damn near kill Lucy, a white Labrador-ish female that we had adopted as a puppy four years ago. We thought Desi and Lucy would make a good pair; Desi obviously didn’t agree.

Desi came to us through Save a Mexican Mutt, a group that rescues local strays and finds homes for them locally or in the U.S. He had been found lost and emaciated on the streets of San Luis Rey, a dirt-poor colonia in San Miguel.

We had been talking about getting an outside dog to guard the property and Desi seemed ideal. He’s a massive creature, about 90 pounds we figured, and to our eyes a perfect specimen of the breed. After he started to eat regularly he developed a thick and shiny coat. His nose was incredibly long and his ears floppy and silky. The only flaw was a bad hacking job that had left him with a stump instead of a tail.

Desi nevertheless wagged his stump as happily and expressively as if he had a tail. We quickly discovered his incredibly sweet manner toward people which seemingly rendered him useless as a guard dog. He greeted everyone as if they were old friends and placed his huge head on your lap at every opportunity, begging for a pat or scratch behind the ears.

The only sign of aggression came when Desi ate. He wouldn’t let anyone, human or canine, anywhere near his food. We’ve been told such obsession with food is the natural result of being abandoned and hungry in a previous life.

Desi’s relationship with Lucy, and our other mutt Gladys, seemed friendly and playful. Same with Félix’ own two mutts, Palomita and Luiso, who come to work with him every day.

So why did after a few months of amicable relations with everyone, human and animal alike, did Desi turn on Lucy, sinking his massive teeth on her shoulder and on one leg, almost clear to the bone? We weren’t home and if Félix hadn’t intervened and taken Lucy to the vet immediately, she certainly would have bled to death.

That would have been the same fate encountered by Chupitos, Félix’ own cheerful mutt, who seemed to have a permanent grin on her face but which was killed and nearly disemboweled six months ago by a pack of strays that hangs around by our entrance gate.

Félix says Lucy and Desi may have been fighting over a piece of rawhide or a bone. Or did a playful rassling match turn bad?

It’s just as likely Desi suddenly–and definitively–tried to settle a brewing disagreement with Lucy over dominance. Up until Desi’s arrival Lucy had been the undisputed leader of the pack if nothing else because she was the biggest.

After the fact, Stew said he had noticed that Lucy, the usually lovable bully, had started to cower and hide in the house instead of running around outside. Perhaps Desi and Lucy already had had a few sets-to over who was top dog.

Someone else suggested that inbreeding, very common among poor people here who cross animals indiscriminately for dog-fighting or for sale, may have created a animal that was beautiful but came with a few genetic short circuits.

Whatever and who knows: Desi had to go or another fight would ensue. If not that, he would get to one of our three cats, which he constantly stalked through the glass doors. Lucy and Gladys, and Félix’ two mutts, regard the cats with total disinterest, as if they were potted plants. The cats are equally disdainful of the dogs.

Fortunately the woman who runs Save a Mexican Mutt offered to take Desi back immediately. She will put him through a three-week training program before placement in the home of someone with no competing pets who wants Desi.

Initially I felt sorry for Desi; after several weeks we had bonded and I loved his soulful eyes and his gentle, attention-seeking style. After I saw what he did to Lucy though, I realized I had no choice but to get rid of him and even thought of putting him to sleep. I’m glad it didn’t come to that.

In the end it all worked out well for everyone, particularly Desi, though we have no explanation for his behavior. Lucy is on the mend but still a bit spooked and walking with a slight limp. She is probably grateful for her good luck except I’m not sure she can understand what being grateful and lucky is all about.

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