Remembering Conejo

“If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous he will not bite you. This is the principal difference between a dog and man.”
― Mark Twain

Conejo and RonConejo, which means rabbit, was our neighborhood dog. Most of the time our closest neighbors claimed him, but once Conejo realized that the gringos next door (us) had wholesome food and green grass in which to leisurely roll, he chose to live with us.
I asked our neighbors if they minded if we kept Conejo. They shrugged their shoulders and above the barking of their other five dogs roped to trees, they said, “No importa.”

You see, Nicaraguan people don’t understand the concept of pets. They are guards, herders, and working animals. In return for guarding their houses and herding their cattle, they are fed rice and beans, or out of desperation they learn to fend for themselves. Once, I asked our neighbors what they did with their rancid cooking oil, and they said, “Our dogs love it.”

It’s not that the Nicaraguans aren’t compassionate. They are. But, they are very practical and poor people. They understand the importance of a good hunting, herding, and guard dog. However, they don’t understand the importance of giving their dogs nutritional food and tending to their illnesses. Spaying and neutering dogs is not the norm. It’s expensive and in their eyes, unnecessary. It stems from a lack of education and a lack of connection with their animals.

We’re not sure how old Conejo was. Dogs generally don’t live a long life here. One day, I noticed one of our neighbor’s five dogs tied to a tree in their front yard, instead of with the others in the backyard. “Why is your dog isolated from the others?” I asked. “Oh, he is very sick and old,” Jose responded. “He is four years old, and he will die soon.”

Conejo was not familiar with love and affection. He barked at intruders, like a good Nicaraguan dog, but when we tried to pet him or show him some affection, he shied away from us…almost like we were going to hurt him. It took over a year for Conejo to trust us enough to pet him.

But, oh boy, once we started loving on him, there was no end. He followed us everywhere. He’d lie down and let us rub his belly, while he moaned in ecstasy. He was never demanding, always waiting patiently for a few kind words and a bowl of chicken scraps mixed with dog food.

In March, Conejo developed a tumor in his mouth. He looked gross with snot dripping out of his nose, but the rest of his body was healthy…gordo in fact… with no rib bones showing…unlike all the other dogs in the neighborhood.  So, I called our local vet. He arrived with a hunting knife and a piece of rebar. After many injections to put him to sleep, so he could operate on him, they laid him gently on top of our septic tank and removed part of the tumor, then cauterised the cut with a hot rebar toasted over a fire.

Julio holds Conejo while Conejo refuses to fall asleep.

Julio holds Conejo while Conejo refuses to fall asleep.

It was a very primitive operation giving me nightmares for days afterward. Guillermo, the vet, told me he had 35 years of experience, but no professional training. He said, “I was bestowed with a gift from God to help animals.” I truly believe him. His compassion and understanding comforted me. With gentle guidance…and lots of soft homemade chicken soup  ( by the way, everyone laughed at me making chicken soup for a dog), we nursed Conejo back to health.

Yet, I knew his time was short. The cancerous tumor was deep in his throat and inoperable. Guillermo hugged me and told me that when we felt Conejo’s quality of life was compromised, he would return with an injection and euthanize him.

Meanwhile, Conejo got stronger and fatter. He learned how to play…amazing for a dog that never had a playmate. He kept the cows and horses from weaseling their way to our property to munch on the ripe mangoes…and Ron’s garden produce! He dug hundreds of holes in the soft volcanic sand and made cool little nests. He barked ferociously at people passing by our front gates. And he made friends with our three new kittens.

Sadly, the tumor grew back. We added milk or water, or sometimes chicken broth to his dog food so he could eat. His breathing became labored and we knew it was time. Yesterday, Guillermo returned. He helped us dig a grave, and we cradled Conejo  one last time…reassuring him softly that his suffering was over.

R.I.P my friend. We’ll miss you.

There are several wonderful organizations in Granada that rescue abused and neglected animals. If you are looking for an organization or a way to help through donations, or volunteering contact one of these programs:

Granada Animal Outreach
Casa Lupita
Animal Welfare in Nicaragua
World Vets in Granada, Nicaragua


39 thoughts on “Remembering Conejo

  1. Wonderful but sad story. Thank you for sharing. We have 6 dogs and I dread the day they are no longer with us.

    If I may…..I’d like to just ask a question to all of the animal lovers on here…can someone truly be an animal lover…if they are not vegan ?

  2. Hi, do you know of any animal or dog rescues on Ometepe? I have friends traveling there who found a dog they would like to help. Where they are they have no internet, I’m trying to help them. Thank you!

  3. Hi, Debbie,

    Here’s a short poem that has helped us when we’ve lost a 4-legged loved one. Dogs have an unlimited capacity for love and loyalty. I wish people could be more like dogs.

    Grieve not,
    nor speak of me with tears,
    but laugh and talk of me
    as if I were beside you…..
    I loved you so —
    ’twas Heaven here with you.”

    –by Ilsa Paschal Richardson

  4. Deb……
    Thank you for taking care of Conejo. As I write this, I am still crying from your story—-tears of joy, actually. I am deeply moved by your noble act of service, compassion and kindness. The Buddha is in you. I, too, lost my beloved dog of 15 years 3 months ago. Letting go of the attachment is not easy but doable. And so that’s what I did and it helped me survive the hurt.

    P.s. I will forward this story to all my Pet lover’s friends and Houston SPCA connection. I am a long time Animal shelter volunteer.

  5. Conejo was so fortunate to have you, and you to have him. I believe quality is far more valuable than quantity and you really gave him a quality life. I just hope he didn’t gloat to his former dog family about his good fortune!

    It is so hard to let go even when it’s for the best, and there will be another Conejo to steal your heart. My sister and her husband (well, both of them) always have had 3 dogs for the last 40 years. When one passes, eventually another takes its place. Cody IV, Fred (forget how many) and Ethel (at least VI); each are a continuation of the same spirit and personality- the gentle giant, the bullying little rat dog and the the severely abused schizo found cowering in the street which with years of love becomes a normal dog once again.

    Conejo is out there and he will find you, and you all will be better for it.

    • Oh believe me, Conejo gloated! We had all the dogs in the neighborhood begging for scraps…at least those that weren’t tied up on short ropes. What’s the deal with those pitiful short ropes? Horrible. Last night there was a giant lightning and thunderstorm and the poor dogs had no place to hide.

  6. Thank you for giving Conejo a loving life and compassionate passage. My condolences for your loss. RIP, sweet Conejo.

  7. Deb
    Really feel the love… Been there several times, and always a challenge, have been without dog pets for a few years now and still pause on a weekly (if not more often) basis to give thanks to their spirits and the gift that their presence bestowed. Last “child” to go was especially difficult. Never wanting any extra suffering and trying to balance that against holding out as long as possible was part of the hard stuff. Finally decided to make it all about her.. hoping she would let me know when the time was here.. Tough Tough has ruined me for wanting another knowing that I would have to go through that again, especially in my dotage. My hats are off to you both for trying to do the best thing!

    There will be days Conejo will still be in the next room or you will be stepping over him or a thousand other little reminders that he was part of the family .. I am still looking for Chaca’s reaction to little things in the day to day life :-(.

    Happily Marcia has a couple of cats one of which is more a dog than a cat and really brings her some joy at the end of a long week. She ferries the other one back and forth to Batesville during the week.

    My best to Ron and you . Eat when you get hungry and sleep when you get tired.

    • Tom!!! How wonderful to hear from you. Conejo had been struggling to breathe for many days. The day after he passed, we thought we could still hear his snoring. Yesterday, at his supper time, I went to look for him to feed him and suddenly it dawned on he he wasn’t here any longer. 😦 Love you guys. Thanks for the beautiful comment.

  8. Wow what a story. The cultural differences are fascinating. I am sure you will miss your dog. It is hard to lose a pet but sounds like there are many more in need of love and care.

    • Nicole, there are hundreds of abused and neglected animals in Nicaragua. That’s why I posted some links of some great organizations in Nicaragua. I think the cultural differences of “pets” is one of the most heartbreaking things for me to try to understand. Education is the key…as always.

  9. Dogs are such great friends, you come home from work and they’re so exited to see you and give you love

      • Yes I hope they do, decades of war have retrograded the minds of Nicaragua’s poor, their minds are on survival mode putting food on their tables is the only thing on their mind; they cannot fathom the house with the white picked fence and the house mascot as being part of the family.. like you say Deb, poco a poco my friend 🙂

      • I certainly understand the concept of giving pets a loving environment to thrive in. We recued our dog when he was just a puppy, he was found abandon and lying in a drainage ditch with his paws tied up with duct tape and unable to move. We have given him a new lease on life and he has become my best friend and has enriched our lives with his companionship. We live in Chiriqui Panama were like Nicaragua animals are not treated as well as those from North America would expect.
        In our area there are many volunteers who support animal rescue programs providing spade and neutering services free of charge and generally caring for abandon and abused animals of all types but mostly dogs. They operate a wonderful adaption program that places many of the rescued dogs in loving home where they are taking in and treated like one of the family.

        Thank you for giving your dog the care he deserved all along!

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