Twice daily we go hiking. Although many might assume because we work for ourselves that we don’t keep to a schedule, we are actually ruled by routine.
Our day always starts out the same. The three roosters remind us why we no longer need an alarm clock. The time varies but they generally start the moment they see a hint of sun peeking up over the horizon.
Paul gets up, feeds them, and the cats and then he and the dogs go for a little walk. I slowly get up. I slowly walk to the bathroom, then to the kitchen. Not fully aware who I am or where I am, I put two slices of toast in the toaster while Paul makes coffee.
Now fully awake, we go for our first hike. Mornings mean choosing the lower camino, which isn’t cultivated and is like being in a mini rainforest. Halfway down we meet Pantera, mother of most of the cats. She is waiting patiently for us by the natural spring that divides the rockiest part of our farm with the second of only three flat areas. The rest of our farm is hilly.
She meows, I meow back, and this goes on the entire time we are scaling rocky terrain.
It’s about this time we notice whether Héctor has kept up with us or done his own thing.
It’s usually the latter. As we’ve come to realize, Héctor’s gonna do what Héctor’s gonna do.
His own thing consists of not making it down the first of three hills, but instead continuing down the driveway and out the gate to the road. He sits in front of the gate and barks at the rush hour traffic, which consists of five cars and the school bus.
If he is satisfied that he has greeted everyone, he joins us at the bottom of the lower camino. From there we hike down one more hill to the very bottom of our farm. This can be tricky to navigate because it is both steep and total jungle. Tall, very old trees provide a canopy, so it’s very cool, but if a tree dies and has fallen, we just leave it there to return to the earth. It’s not unlike perfecting the art of swerve driving to avoid holes in the roads. It’s walk two steps to the right, step over a large felled tree or one of her branches, then switch back to the right to find somewhat level ground. Sometimes it requires going under a fallen tree. Who knows what adventures await us on our morning hikes?
If Héctor has not been successful at greeting every single car, we cut our hike in half and start heading back, but not the way we came, up a different steep hill, which lets us out onto the third flat area of our farm.
By this point we usually spy Héctor already walking through the gate, and he is now on the driveway, which is about 400 feet. He’s on his way back home. That little stinker.
We then go up one more hill, which is a fairly short jaunt, so all of us can get a better view. Gigi, Yum Yum, Paul, Pantera and sometimes our most recent refugee, Sombra, and I all turn our attention the patio, where Héctor’s crate is. Little lazy *+#€¥•&gt;~~ has crawled back in his crate and surely he is sleeping!
We do this as many times as it takes until the lazy good for nothin’ retreats from his crate, makes his way down the patio, down the long driveway, to the opening of the farm, onto the upper camino and eventually to where we are. 98% of the time we are successful at getting him to join us.
Tonight we were not. From the top of the hill we could see Héctor staring into the kitchen. Maybe he was looking for us. He did give up and go in his crate, where he was until we came home.
Héctor is a character. He’s been with us 14 months. Like most of our pets, he was dropped off one night. We reckon he’s about ten years old. He was clearly abused, malnourished and he had huge trust issues. He had the worst case of demodectic mange our vet had ever seen. It took us nearly a year to eradicate it. We couldn’t make eye contact at first, nor could we touch him between his neck and rump, around his chest and certainly not on his belly. Today we can give him belly rubs, hug him and he kisses Paul and me.
He’s an odd guy and we wish he could talk and tell us what’s in the brain of his. He’s either the dimmest dog around or the most brilliant and just in his own world.
Héctor Then and Héctor Now
That was written in April 2012. It seemed an appropriate lead in for what I am about to write. Back then Sombra was our latest cat, and since then we’ve had six kittens dropped off to us. Héctor, whom we named after the late singer/entertainer Héctor Lavoe, one of Puerto Rico’s prodigal sons, wasn't the last dog to go through those gates. Today we also have Marcos, a Lab/Pit/and we think Basset hound mix.
It was about the time I wrote this first blog that our vet declared Héctor mange-free. This meant we could have him (finally) neutered. When Héctor came to us, he was very ill mannered. We reckon, based on the red marks on his ankles that never quite healed that he’d been tethered to something. Other signs – both physical and emotional (nether one ever heals) indicate he was abused severely. As I say, he continued to have trust issues, although they got better over time. He was loyal in a way that even Gigi and Yum Yum aren’t, despite the fact that we raised them from puppyhood.
How We Came to Know Héctor
Our farm sits about ¾ of the way up the mountain in a valley. From our farm we can see several other mountains in 360-degree view, the lake below us and other farms and houses. Because we’re in a valley, we can hear what’s going on in other people’s homes very easily, sometimes well enough to believe they’re within a few feet from us. I am sure there’s a term for this; I just assume sound bounces and travels and reaches us.
From about November 2010 until February 2011, and probably every day in between we could hear this dog barking. It was more like a combination of a yelp and howl – a hound, we’d supposed, was either bored barking or tied up or both. We had no clue specifically where it was coming from, but someplace over there it came and in our quiet moments we made up stories about who was behind this yowl. Over time we began calling the owner of this yowl Héctor Lavoe. Why? Because to make us feel better, knowing that this was not a happy dog, we comforted ourselves by believing he was singing songs.
One day, and I remember clearly that it was a Sunday, the yowling stopped. We didn’t know whether to be happy or sad – happy that he was no longer miserable or sad to think something horrible had happened to him.
As we slept that Sunday night, as so often happens when one lives with watchdogs who bark at everything (usually it’s nothing, sometimes an animal has made its way to our farm), at around 2:00 in the morning, Gigi and Yum Yum began barking feverishly. This was not the bark of two dogs who wanted to run out and eat freshly delivered cat poop or go pee outside – an intruder was near. Two-legged or four-legged, we honestly couldn’t say from their bark. It was, however, someone they wanted to make sure we knew was there. Usually we wait because their aggressive barking in tandem usually scares off most wanderers. The barking didn’t stop and so we knew it was for real.
We got up, both of us grabbed flashlights and a machete each and walked around the house and eventually Gigi and Yum Yum led us into the marquesena (garage) below our bedroom. The barking intensified. We shone the flashlight everywhere and then we saw him: a white, very malnourished dog with Dalmatian ears huddled in the corner. The girls were both ready to lunge and rip him to shreds. Clearly more afraid of us than we were of him, we called Gigi and Yum Yum of him.
He let out a yowl. Paul and I looked at each other. Could it be Héctor Lavoe from across the valley?
We never heard that yowl from across the valley again.
It’s difficult to explain what was so appealing about this guy. He was old (clearly); he had no teeth in the front, he was aggressive, a lot of his fur was missing, exposing the pinkest skin underneath and he peed everywhere! Ill mannered, as I mentioned, physically he wasn’t doing too well with trust issues, if we were going to keep him, we needed to train him, have him see our vet and work very, very hard with him.
It took about 10 months to get the mange under control. Once we did we discovered he had allergies to everything. Because of his allergies, we altered what all the dogs and started feeding them a raw diet. His health improved greatly. Still old, Héctor was strong – you know for someone who was probably more like 13 years old and probably never saw his hey day.
So often we wondered if he was worth the monetary and emotional effort and the time commitment we put into him. If all it took was a simple “No!” with Gigi and Yum Yum, repetition was the name of the game with Héctor – for everything. Teaching him not to chase and attack the chickens, who give us eggs, or not to chase the goats or not to pee into the house or not to growl at us and everyone who visited us required patience we’d never known we had. Fortunately after he was neutered, he stopped peeing in the house. Equally unfortunate is that what was a blessing in one sense was the beginning of his end in the other. Losing testosterone, what made Héctor so ornery and ill mannered is also what gave him the strength and virility of a young pup. We noticed shortly after his operation that he began declining.
Two hikes a day with us eventually turned into one and over time he could no longer hike with us. Then there was the seizure that took away his hearing. At some point we noticed that what was once poor manners behind peeing in the house was now old age and an inability to hold his bowels and bladder. If we were in the house and he had to go, he went right there. If we were walking to the gate to greet someone and he had to go, there he went. If we were on the sidewalk (built to have a dry place to walk out to the goats on those days when the rains have saturated the ground) going to feed goats and Héctor wouldn’t even stop to have a bowel movement. He’d do what we came to refer to as the “Héctor walk.”
We knew Héctor wouldn’t be with us much longer. We knew his health was failing and he was just old. He’d never had a good life; was hardly the strong dog that Gigi and Yum Yum have grown to be. We knew full well that despite feeding him healthy food, taking him on hikes, making sure he saw the vet regularly and was given lots of love and training, even we couldn’t reverse what we assumed was 10-12 or more years of neglect, abuse and poor health.
We made many accommodations for Héctor. Prior to his inability to make the hikes with us, Paul set up a series of water stations along the path. He set out a bucket by the goats’ pen, in the marquesena below and by the chicken coops. Walking up from feeding the chickens became a chore for him. Eventually he could no longer make it. Paul made a ramp that allowed Héctor to go from the ground to what we call the “catwalk” that we all use to go back and forth from the patio (in back) to the front. We don’t always want to remove our boots, come in the house and put them back on again, and so we use this catwalk. Héctor fell off it a few times and it became obvious he could no longer jump up that half foot from the ground to the walkway.
Not only did we make accommodations for him, the same as Paul will for me one day or I will do for him, we noticed Héctor sleeping a lot more. He used to spring up when he saw Paul get up to feed chickens and goats. At some point Paul stopped looking to see if he was awake. Lying on his side, tongue sticking out told Paul he needed to know. Sometimes he’d open his eyes and look up at Paul as if to say, “sorry buddy, I am too tired this morning. Rain check?”
Hector's reaction to Gigi's attack Saturday night
We often talked of making a video of him. There was this way he’d look at us, back when he could hear us when we were on our hikes. One of us would call him and he’d look back and it reminded us both of Marty Feldman. Once afraid to be touched on his rump, the last year he trusted us to the point where he’d entertain us whenever we scratched his “bum.” He wiggled and danced for us. At some point he stopped dancing for us. His breath began to smell and one day, for no reason we could figure out, Gigi – our normally docile dog – started growling at him. Over the past few weeks she stepped up her aggression against him. Saturday night she actually lunged and attacked him. I had to step literally in between them and take her outside. Héctor in his feebleness and with his inability to hear had no clue what was happening. He went to lie down on the floor. He slept.
The next morning (Sunday) we fed the dogs as we have always. Usually this meant Héctor would either go find Paul and sit beside him or if Paul was working some place on the other side of the farm, realizing he was too old and tired to make it, Héctor would either come inside and sleep next to me or go out to his crate and sleep in it.
A few hours later Paul came in and asked if I’d seen Héctor. I hadn’t, I assumed he was with Paul. We looked everywhere both inside the house and outside. We looked in every place on the farm where we’ve been with him or where he’d go look for Paul. We both got lumps in our throats and that awful feeling in the pit of our stomachs. We suspended the search on Sunday night when it got dark.
We looked throughout the day yesterday.
We talked through it at dinner. Our initial thought was that someone took him. But that’s just silly. People are dropping off animals to our farm. Cute as we think Héctor is, nobody wants a 13-year old dog with no teeth. When 12 hours turned into 24 and into 36, we began to accept that the last time we saw him, after they’d all finished eating breakfast, running past the door to the goat pen, he was on his way someplace, we’re not sure but we have concluded he went off to die. We just wish we knew where. We’ve searched the farm and maybe, we’re thinking, he isn’t far but rather very close, and we just can’t figure out where.
Predictable, loyal and once he was fixed, never a roamer, Héctor would never willingly leave the farm without us. He was extremely attached to Paul and was literally underfoot to be with him. As he got too old to visit him everywhere on the farm, Héctor became attached to my feet as I sat and worked at the computer.
Now 52 hours since he disappeared, we have come to accept the fact that our beloved Héctor is dead. Why he didn’t choose to be with one or both of us when he died, we can only chalk it up to, Héctor’s gonna do what Héctor’s gonna do.
The only thing bigger than gaping hole in our hearts is the desire to know what happened. One minute someone is with you and the next they’re gone. You hope your last moments for him were enjoyable, and that he felt loved and knew how grateful we were to have had him dropped off to our farm. We used to want to yell and scream at the person or people who dropped him off but it wasn’t long before we wanted to meet them and thank him/her/them for bringing Héctor into our lives.
Héctor was ornery, difficult to get along with, had no training, had so many health problems, had trust issues, and sometimes the worst breath in the world. He came to love us, trust us, let us hug him, scratch his bum, and would even lick us in the face sometimes. He perfected the art of walking and pooping and taught us a lot about efficiency that way. Like all people and animals, he had a very unique personality. Somebody threw him away like he was garbage and like the expression goes, “What’s one person’s junk is another person’s treasure.”
Please excuse any typos, grammatical, spelling or syntax errors. My feeling is if I were to edit any portion of this ode to Héctor, it would lose its authenticity. I wrote a stream of consciousness and poured my heart out to our beloved Héctor. I doubt he’d care much if I made a few errors doing it.