A friend had expressed an interest in adopting a dog, so here I go again with the pokey nose. I looked on Craigslist to see what pooches were out there.
If a writer can't find a story on Craigslist, he should seek gainful employment.
I stopped at a photo of a little black, curly-haired dog. The posting said much about the dog, but even more about the man who put it there.
Meet Leon Martinez. This is what he wrote under the photo:
"This little black dog has been homeless, probably most of its life, in a neighborhood in Tijuana. It was a dog I would see sleeping under cars and eating scraps from the nearby taco and hot dog stands. Workers nearby had named her Remy.
"I saw Remy getting shooed away by the 7-Eleven employees. They did not want her sleeping in the doorway. She walked around and decided to lie down in a puddle as heavy rain fell. At home, I could not sleep just thinking of Remy sleeping in a puddle of water, so at 2 a.m. I got up to look for Remy.
"I found Remy motionless in a gutter with flowing water. She was cold and shivering and could not move. I took her home and bathed her in warm water, dried her and placed her in a doggie bed in my room.
"I have had her for about two months. She seems happy and energetic. She loves to play. She especially loves to be petted.
"If you are not happy with Remy, I will take her back with no questions asked."
(Remy was adopted by a Camp Pendleton family.)
Leon sits on a patio in National City, not far from his work as an engineering tech at a naval base. He is 53, a friendly, well-educated, ordinary guy who could be your cable repairman. He is a widower and childless, so his urge to be a positive force has found a cause in helping creatures with sad eyes and tucked-under tails.
He was born in Glendale and owns a home in Lemon Grove. He lives in Tijuana and commutes cross-border on a SENTRI pass. That is to please his Mexican girlfriend, who doesn't want to live here. Waiting in line for love.
Over the years, Leon has rescued more than 100 dogs from the streets of Tijuana. His patrol of mercy involves restoring them to health, calming their street trauma, then bringing them across the border for adoption. All that's required is a certificate of vaccination.
Leon doesn't sell them; good homes are his payment.
Health problems forced Leon's father into retirement from the Southern Pacific Railroad. To save money, he moved the family to the mountains of Sonora when Leon was a kid, along with Leon's seven siblings.
Living in that poor, backwoods place showed Leon how life could be tough for both man and beast. A sad drama that makes his point was when a German shepherd was let out of a pickup in the mountains.
"It was during the monsoon season. The dog just sat in the middle of the road for days until it died. We tried to feed it, give it water. It would refuse. It just would not believe that its owner wouldn't return."
What did that say to you?
"That dogs have emotions. They have memories. Since before Cro-Magnon man and the Neanderthals, they have been our companions. I studied anthropology, so I learned that. So I'm thinking: What makes a dog a dog? It's not actually a wild animal. It's the only animal that actually will become your friend, even if it's wild.
"In the mountains, I saw dogs that I knew had rarely, if ever, seen a human. I would see these dogs come up to me 'cuz of the food. I'd give them a scrap, and little by little, they became my friends."
Recently in Tijuana, Leon was attracted to a squirming plastic bag in the street. He checked it out and found seven puppies with the umbilical cord still attached. He nursed them and today they are a healthy, happy crowd yapping at his house.
He also found a dog with a wire cord around its neck so tight the animal was close to strangulation. He quickly realized it had been lost or abandoned as a puppy and its neck had grown into the unforgiving wire.
"The dog was not very cooperative," he says. "We had to drag him from under a truck. I took him to the vet, and he said the dog might have had the cord around his neck for four years.
He once rescued a little dog that had fallen (or was thrown) out of a car and then run over. "His guts were out. People said, ‘He's gonna die.' I picked him up, took him home, cleaned his guts with hydrogen peroxide and sewed him up.
"He lived four months in my house, then I put him on Craigslist. I said it was a great dog for an older person. A lady in La Jolla adopted him, and now he travels the world with her."
Leon says veterinary care in Tijuana is cheap, and that makes his rescue work affordable. "A vet in Tijuana makes about as much as a cashier at Rubio's (in San Diego)."
He says he recently rescued a dog that was afflicted with the disease parvo. "Everybody tells me she's not going to make it. Just let her get comfortable and die.
"I took her to a vet that has a lot of tricks up his sleeve, and he goes, ‘Yeah. She's advanced. She may die, but she has a 70 percent chance of making it.' He pumped her full of drugs and fluids, and she survived.
"My vet bill was less than 100 bucks."
As an aside, Leon says he's had no occasion to rescue a pit bull. "Down there, there's no pit bulls on the street. It's a gang member dog. It's, ‘Oh, yeah. I'm gonna put that big old chain on my pit bull and walk around without my T-shirt and show all my tattoos, and I'm a bad boy now.'"
When Leon was a teenager, his father brought the family back from their Mexican economic refuge to reintroduce his children to their roots.
Leon recalls his father saying: "All of you got to go back to San Diego. You're forgetting your English, and here you're forgetting to be an American. I was in the military, and I want you to become as American as me."
Despite the love people have for dogs and the folklore that swirls around them, the reality is that dog ownership - yes, ownership - is a luxury. If you are going to acquire a dog and you're on a barrel-bottom budget, you need to remind yourself that that doggie staring hopefully at you will be costly down the line.
It is going to get sick, and then in a few years, it will die naturally. Accept that. Veterinarian bills, like their counterpart M.D.s', are expensive: four-figure expensive, even five-figure, no sweat.
A coward's alternative for some people who can't bring themselves to put an ailing or unwanted animal to death or find another home for it is to shutter their conscience and push the dog out of the car on a dark street. Someone will take care of it, the rationalization goes. That happens here as well as in Mexico.
Poverty or ignorance are not known to soften the soul.
Until that practice is minimized by education, neutering or anti-abandonment laws, people such as Leon will have to be the rescuing angels who extend a hand to a desperate paw.
About 50,000 years ago, give or take a few millennia, we made a bargain with a hungry or curious or nervy wolf that wandered close to our campfire. We offered a deal: Give up your wild ways, give us love and be totally dependent on us. In return, we'll take care of you. To formalize the agreement, we tossed el lobo a scrap of meat.
That made the contract binding.
Honoring it makes Leon Martinez a promise keeper. He is also a reminder that kindness crosses all borders and speaks all tongues.
Fred Dickey's home page is freddickey.net. He believes every life is an adventure and welcomes ideas at [email protected]