Well, we put one of our dogs down yesterday. That’s a polite way to say we killed her. In spanish, it’s even more vivid: ella fue sacrificada. Sacrificar in Spanish is the word for “slaughter” (as in animals whose meat we’re going to eat) or “put down” (for domesticated animals).
Chichi came to us as damaged goods from another friary. I don’t know what happened to her there, but she must have been ignored and perhaps chained up and left hungry. She never learned her own name or to listen to people, and she was terrified of being put on a leash or being put on a chain of any time. She was also perpetually hungry, as if she never trusted that she would actually be fed again.
We treated her as best we could. We were gentle with her and careful never to startle her. In time, I think she came to trust us.
Dogs, in Bolivia, are expected to work, as is everyone. There are no pampered dogs here. We had two dogs, one male (Pipo) and one this female (Chichi), and they served as guard dogs. They were outside dogs and knew their place in the hierarchy. About six months ago, Chichi gave birth to two pups: a female we named Alpha and a male we named Beto. Shortly thereafter Chichi started having fits. They started off one every once in a while, but by last week they were happening three or four a day. She’d give a terrified yelp and then collapse onto the ground with all her limbs twitching. Sometimes she’d also froth at the mouth. The other dogs — especially her pups — started treating her as I’m sure wolves do to a member of the pack who is sick, that is, they started nipping at her and demoted her to the bottom of the hierarchy.
The vet said sometimes these fits can be caused by heart worms, so we gave her medicine for parasites but it did nothing to change the situation. I don’t know if it was epilepsy, a brain tumor or something else, but it had become more and more apparent that she was suffering and that over time she would only get worse. And so we decided to sacrificar her.
They say in the States that when pets are put down they gradually go to sleep and then quietly die. They must leave out one of the chemicals in Bolivia (the whole process cost me the equivalent of four dollars, for everything: the vet’s time and the injection) because after the shot she didn’t have time to go to sleep. She died in a matter of seconds.
Death is not an uncommon thing in Bolivia. I’ve written about it before. Average life expectancy here (for humans) is 60 years. Animals raised by a family (goats, pigs, chicken, cows, ducks, etc.) are to be eaten, and each family does its own slaughtering. Someone gave the friars in Cochabamba a lamb. It was a cute little thing, grazing out by where we hung our laundry. The next day, I saw two young friars heading out to the laundry with a knife and didn’t think anything of it until we had lamb that night at dinner.
This was the first time, though, that I’ve witnessed the death of a living being up close. I don’t regret it. She was suffering and the suffering was becoming more frequent and more terrifying for her. At that same time, the finality of death was a profoundly moving thing to witness — something I’ll be sure to remember when we’re recommemorating the death of Jesus on Good Friday and his resurrection on Easter Sunday.
We gave Alpha to a family who’s taking her up to live with them in Cochabamba. She’s a very sweet puppy, and I’m sure she’ll do well her her new family. So, now we’re back to two dogs — the two machos (males), Pipo and Beto.