Growing up among cats, I had never learned to be fond of dogs.
The observation of cats taught me their command on the art of elegance, poise and charm. They are experts at teaching how to be endearing without being cloying; captivating without being overbearing; interestingly aloof without being indifferent.
By the time I had a son, I had two cats. When he turned five, my mother was very ill with cancer.
For a while, he had yearned for a dog.
As an only child living in Old San Juan where no children and none of his friends lived, I decided a canine companion was in order.
My first instinct was that of adopting a “sato” — the official name we Puerto Ricans give mixed-breed dogs. Affable and noble, all animal lovers like satos. Inspired in Puerto Ricans’ multicultural background, the animal rescue organization Save-a-Sato developed a clever awareness campaign with the catchy slogan, “We are all satos. Adopt one.”
My former husband imposed a non-negotiable requirement in order to agree to the dog. It had to be a purebred one.
Picking my battles, my mother’s love overpowered my social conscience.
Much to my chagrin, we headed for the pet shop. We got Gigi. A Welsh corgi.
Gigi turned out to be a great dog. She’s beautiful, loving and intelligent. She learned tricks fast and does not have a mean bone on her body. She can look fierce, but I am certain that if any robber breaks into the house, he will win her over in a second with so much as a hot dog.
Three years after getting Gigi, I was going through a tumultuous stage in my life. Separation and divorce was but one of the many difficult situations I was dealing with.
After going for coffee with a friend on what appeared to be an uneventful Tuesday morning, I bumped into a crouched sato in the parking lot. She was hiding in the curb close to my car, parked in front of a very busy avenue.
From behind came a stranger’s voice that hollered: “Misses: take her or a car will run her over.”
In a split second, the quick movie of my troubles went through my mind. I reasoned that I could not emotionally or financially afford the burden of taking on another pet.
On the flip side, I had always been a firm believer that those beings that some of us humans refer to as ‘angels’ sometimes speak to us through worldly humans. Since they cannot materialize themselves as Jeannie or Samantha, they need to use earthly vehicles to convey their urgent messages to us.
Mastery at listening to those unexpected messages can save us substantial grief. I have come to learn the importance of carefully listening to my angels when a random person asks me: “Do you really want to do that?”
Without thinking it twice, I followed the stranger’s advice. I grabbed the dog and seated her in the car. I called my friend Leilani, a longtime animal-rights activist, for a referral to a reasonable veterinary who could help me screen her for contagious conditions before taking her home. After all, I did not want to endanger my other pets or my son.
The dog’s enlarged teats reflected that she had just had babies. Nowhere in the parking lot were they in sight. She was scared and unkempt and did not seem to have sato survival skills. She seemed to have been abused for a while but recently abandoned.
Recently separated from her litter and scared as she could be, even after I rescued her, she had no reason to smile. Yet.
I took this picture of her at the vet when I left her to be checked up.
It was never my intention to keep her. I only planned to provide a foster home while I found someone that would adopt her. With a dog, a cat, and a myriad of complications, I could not afford having another pet.
As soon as I picked Luis up at school, I told him the story and showed him the dog’s picture.
Without a second thought, he named her Pelusa: Spanish for soft, somewhat fuzzy hair.
Being the consummate animal lover that I had brought him up to be, Luis enthusiastically embraced Pelusa into the family. “Cool that dad is no longer living at home, because we can get to keep her” — he sentenced.
And so it was. Pelusa became the newest member of our pack.
Pelusa immediately became aware of her rank. She knew that alpha Gigi ruled, so her introduction to the household did not present any hassles. She rapidly learned the house rules. Her humility and warmth won everyone’s heart.
When I took Pelusa to the groomer, it was love at first sight. “These are my favorite clients” — Cheo exclaimed after bringing Pelusa out from her makeover. “It is with these clients that I can show off my talent” he asserted.
And so, he did. Although Pelusa was not amused by the experience, Cheo transformed her into a gorgeous terrier.
Mortified as she was, Pelusa later enjoyed the attention everyone gave her on the street. “Pelusa! Had I seen you around, I would not have recognized you!” exclaimed one of the neighbors. She was convinced that Pelusa was flattered at her comment.
For the most part, Pelusa is a happy camper. She is usually smiling and enjoys her safe life. She demonstrates a profound sense of gratitude through her humble gaze, occasional licks of my hands and tail that seems about to fall off when she sees me.
Despite being a loud snorer, her impeccable behavior has earned her the privilege of being the only one that sleeps on my bed.
I only have one child, so I do not know if in fact parents do not have preferences among their children as most proclaim. I have a feeling they do, but they work hard at not demonstrating it.
Among my pets, Pelusa has earned a special spot in my heart. I am the world to her. And she is a huge part of mine.
It would be dishonest of me not to admit that I give Pelusa preferential treatment in terms of attention. I take her with me everywhere I can.
It is not about discriminating though. I feel Pelusa needs the extra attention I give her. The abuse she must have endured early in life, coupled with her abandonment, merit a tad more compassion. Her personality reflects an insecurity that Gigi the self-confident corgi cannot relate to.
Humble and well-behaved at all times, Pelusa’s manners and poise would never allow her to annoyingly beg for food or turn over the trash to steal the food scraps like forever-hungry Gigi does. Even though she came from an underprivileged background, she has better etiquette than the dog the royalty prefers.
Unlike purebreds, Pelusa seldom gets health ailments. Satos are known for being resilient and overall healthy, happy campers.
Consistent with her satonature, Pelusa’s gratitude knows no bounds. She has no sense of entitlement, never taking anything for granted. She chases any cat that comes attack the house cat.
On a recent night, I left Pelusa for a minute in the car parked in front of the house while I locked its door.
When I turned to walk back to the car, I saw its inside light directly glowing on her precious face.
She looked like a soprano in the middle of a stage, ready to start the delivery of an aria.
Or an actress ready to deliver her stellar monologue.
Or the brightest star that shines on a moonless night.
It dawned on me. Pelusa has been the supernova that came to brighten my life at a time of immense darkness.
This morning, as I was writing this, I caught Pelusa pensively looking out the yard. It must have been no coincidence that Ann Murray came on streaming with a song that perfectly describes part of what Pelusa brought to my life. I got to catch a bit of her.
Pelusa and I met ten years ago. Unbeknownst to me, she came to enlighten every day of my life.
Many things have changed since then. Along with the many loving and supportive beings that I am blessed to have in my life, I am glad I paid attention to that stranger’s plea.
While it appears that I rescued amazing Pelusa, her unconditional sato love has been a lifesaver for me.
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***It is estimated that there are 300,000 abandoned satos in the streets of Puerto Rico. After Hurricane Maria, the need for adoption of strays became even greater, as many people abandoned their pooches. Consider reaching out to any of those organizations and adopting one of our satos.
There are some reputable non-profit organizations that rescue stray satos and send them to the US for adoption. You can explore some of them in the following links:
The current First Lady of Puerto Rico, Beatriz Rossello, has invested great effort in improving their plight by promoting legislation geared at voluntary and free veterinary and spaying services, among others.
Don’t buy. Adopt.