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Real Estate Newsletter #22

October 17th, 2006


Dogs are a hot issue in Costa Rica. The Municipalities want the right to put meat, laced with poison, out on the streets to get rid of the strays.

Parents have learned to take the back entrance to the mall in Escazu when the children are in the car, because puppy vendors line the mall’s entrance road, aggressively hawking fluffy puppies directly to the children in the back seat, knowing the power of a 6-year-old’s pleas over parent’s objections.

Not so long ago, dogs were generally treated badly here, as Costa Ricans did not have the time or luxury for pets, with too many hungry children already demanding too much. But things are changing, and in these more affluent times attitudes and realities are being adjusted, families today have handsome purebred dogs as pets; pet stores are opening up everywhere. Pet dogs are a part of Costa Rica’s changing landscape.

This is a story about one such dog that I met on the ferry across the Bay of Nicoya.

Wearied by a frustrating attempt to get some Nicoya peninsula landowners to come up with documentation that would attest to their ownership of a large piece of land, I finally gave up and begin the long journey back to San Jose. I arrived in Paquera and slowly pulled into the line of vehicles waiting to board the ferry. There in the silent, empty night, sitting alone in the car, anticipating the arrival of an old steel ferry to carry us across inky waters, everything seemed unreal and unconnected. A large dog, a boxer, scurrying around the area, was the only thing in motion; people were sleeping in their cars. The dog, exceptionally alert and awake and with an intense energy kept moving from car to car along the line, standing on its hind legs and looking into each vehicle, frantically searching for his owner. He appeared well cared for and had none of that look of yearning and cowed hopelessness common to dogs who have been badly treated. He was definitely some family's beloved pet and it was painfully obvious that he had become separated from his people, perhaps during an earlier ferry crossing, and now no one in this line recognized him.

The ancient ferry finally arrived and the column of cars and trucks started their engines and eased onto the ferry's decks. After I got my car aboard and as the other vehicles were being loaded I went up to the topmost deck, to get away from the truck diesel and the noise of shouting people and machines. Looking from the deck towards the shore I could see the large boxer dog, frenzied, running about, ever more desperate in his search, his
body movements becoming more reckless as he dashed around the last few cars, peering into each as they rolled aboard the ferry, the last car finally leaving him behind.

The ferry sounded its warning blast, signaling departure from the docking area and began to pull offshore. Watching the disembarking from the top deck, I leaned against the railing, straining to get a final glimpse of the boxer. The ferry was perhaps 8 or 10 feet from the dock when I saw him circle once more in the dirt where the cars had been lined up, then take off at an incredible run and leap into black space, hurtling at the ferry, over the water, and land on the deck, miraculously unharmed. The boxer had made the decision from some deeply felt instinct, that he would go wherever these cars were going and would continue his search there. This was the last ferry and there was, after all, no one left in the dark and desolate loading area in Paquera.

I shook my head, amazed by the resolve of the animal, of his tenacity and daring and, recalled, in comparison, how feeble had been my efforts with landowners and pieces of paper. Sitting on one of the empty wooden benches, there high on top of the ferry, in the balmy moonless night air, I lay back to let the day ease away and to sleep for an hour.

Moments later, I felt something moving in the dark of the upper deck. Someone, or something was very carefully, very cautiously, getting onto the same bench that I was lying on. Though I could barely see him, I knew that it was the boxer. He looked up from his position on the bench into my face, then let out a huge sigh, and laid his head into my lap. Thinking, "This is not happening. There are a hundred other people aboard this ferry. Not me. I do not want the responsibility of this dog. Not now. Please. I do not want nor need a dog. Not now.." I resisted laying my hand on him, petting his head. Yet I couldn't get up from that bench and go below and just leave him there. I just couldn't. It had been
an impossible day for both of us. A day of losses. I had lost some time.

The dog had lost everything: his home, his people. Where was his next meal, even some drinking water going to come from.? And suddenly, in this strange surreal commiseration, with this strange dog's head on my lap, chugging across the dark bay on this old ferry, everything fell into perspective. My losses were, of course, nothing compared to his. I had a place to go to, a bed, a shower, food, friends, family. I had everything. And all that he had was an impossible hope that at the end of this line, at the landing in Puntarenas, there would be his people. I put my hand on the boxer's head and rubbed between his ears, rubbing away, as best I could, some of the grief, some of the sadness.




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