Last night the owner of the fleas came by.
Even though he has come by the property at least once a week since we moved here a year and a half ago, I’ve only spoken with him once, and he replied to my greetings only a couple of times. I could paint a picture of the extremes of his oddness, like the time he painted lines for cars to park right through my garden. Or how he went to great lengths to prevent our neighbours from getting water for their house, or how he secretly changed the locks on the storage room so that no one could have access to the chairs and tables which everyone should be allowed to use. Or the way he haunted the property looking for things to complain about and blackballed every suggestion for improvements to the grounds. He never appeared drunk, but it was a well known fact that his fondness for the drink had left behind a lifetime of strife, like the charcoal remains after a fire. But if I only told you about his enormously offensive and unkind nature it would make him seem nearly inhuman. It can’t be so if you saw the way he danced with his wife at the party where the mariachis played for hours. They moved together to the rhythm of the music smoothly and beautifully, and he held her closely which made me think that at some time the love must have been sincere and gentle. Or, the way he sometimes took his grandchildren to the playground, or how he carefully added chlorine to steralize the water for his dog.
But in sum, his character being hard to dicipher from a distance, I can only leave you to make your own assessment. He called his dog “Hitler” and throughout the time that we’ve been living here, he refused to entertain any offers of assistance when we wanted to intervene, for the sake of the dog.Since we had never been introduced, I called the man, “the owner of the dog”, and not wanting to burden an innocent dog with such a name, I referred to it as “the saddest dog in the world.”
The saddest dog in the world must have had a percentage of rottweiler in him: he was large and black, with a wrinkled snout. For well over a year now, he had never left his small cage in the bottom of the property. A massive pine grew in the middle of it, which must have cut the usable size of the cage in half. About once a week, his owner would come and dump a pile of food at the base of the pine and fill up the pail with sterile water. And that was the dog’s extent of interaction with the world.
Due to the fact that the cage was never cleaned for the time that we had been here, and likely not in the previous years either, the saddest dog in the world suffered from serious skin problems. Perhaps you can imagine what years of sleeping in excrement would do to one’s skin, but I assure you that it is probably worse than what you imagine. We asked, vía different family channels if the owner would mind if we took the dog out, or get a vet to come and look at it. The answer was always a definite ‘no.’ There isn’t an SPCA or anything to call here, so we were stuck. And eventually, the dog just became a part of the scenery, and in an effort to stay out of the owner’s warpath (he already dislike us just for living there and asking after his dog), we left it alone.
I can’t help but wonder if the family tragedies which struck like a one-two punch in December had anything to do with his softening attitude by February. We arrived home late one night to find the vet loading up the dog in the back of his truck, but without much hope, as the dog was in a terrible state. The owner had called to ask him to look at the dog, but hadn’t accompanied the vet to pick up the sorry creature. The neighbours had also noticed that recently the dog seemed to have given up on life. It no longer even tried to scratch his back against the side of the cage. It lay quietly, like always, but lately, more hopelessly, its dull fur roiling with bugs.
My neighbour, whose house is quite close to the dog cage, later told me about the morning she discovered the problem. She was always the first to get up and as she sat quietly drinking her coffee, she felt something jumping on her arm. Upon closer inspection, it was a flea. Looking around her living room, she noticed more small black bugs hopping, all over the couches and floor. Apparently with their host gone, the fleas had invaded the world, starting with her house.
Because our house is quite a bit further back, we didn’t have the same problem. But, as we have to walk past the cage to get to the gate of the property, I was walking by with the little ones and we paused for a moment, walking at toddler speed. Remarkably, although I was at least 15 meters from the cage and around the córner from the house, within about 30 seconds, I noticed my legs were covered in fleas. I turned to Mateo and yelled, “RUN!” He ran for the house. I sprinted back to grab Tiago, and raced for the house too. The infestation was more serious than we had thought.
Luis did some research online. Flea eggs can live for months or years, and are stimulated to hatch by vibrations, like people walking. No doubt with the vet in the cage, there was a lot of vibration. Years worth of flea eggs started hatching. We bought a large sack of lime, and started spreading it liberally throughout the patio and the outside of the cage. When the flea situation didn’t die down sufficiently after a few days with the lime treatment, the neighbours decided to burn the patio. We scattered grass and leaves across the patio, sprinkled gasoline across the bottom of the cage and through the leaves. Everything is still rather green, so the fire was slow in starting, and burned gently while we watched. They fumigated their house, and we continued sprinkling lime across the concrete and in the cage. Anytime we had to cross the área, we ran.
Thankfully the dog will not return, as the vet convinced the owner that this life had not been kind to the dog, and he should not have to continue this sort of suffering. When my neighbours asked the owner of the dog to contribute some money to the lime and gasoline fund, he refused, informing them that the fleas came from their own dogs. My neighbour’s dogs fortunately did not suffer from the fleas as they generally stay on rooftop of their house and the fleas didn’t reach the second floor. Our own dogs were only kept tied up for a couple days– they are used to running about as far as their imagination can carry them, which usually is only as far as another neighbour’s cow field. We also bathed them extensively, and so our own flea population was rather minimal.
The infestation is mostly under control now, but I imagine that it could easily flare up again if the fleas migrated to an área that wasn’t treated.
The owner of the fleas showed up last night. He didn’t seem happy to see us and a huge crowd of kids getting ready to play a game of soccer, and didn’t reply to Luis’ “buenos tardes.”
But I still feel a heaviness around us for the suffering of the dog that happened while we watched.