When down in Mexico I had so many adventures, some of which were life changing. One of those adventures was domesticating and falling in love with a stray dog.
One of the first days that we arrived to a small town on the Baja in Mexico we had seen this skinny black dog in the neighboring yards. The yards were houses that were under construction and no one was currently at them so it became clear that she didn’t belong to anyone. It turns out that this dog had been there for at least a few months as my fiance’s dad had seen this pup at his previous trip down. This dog was thin, you could see all her ribs, and she was intensely shy. If she saw us looking at her from a distance she would run.
I am a huge dog fan and this of course was too much for me. I couldn’t just stand by and watch. So I was down at the fence trying to call her over and throwing ham slices at her. I literally was throwing them as far as I could and I still had to walk back from the fence a ways before she would go and see what it was I threw for her. Her tail was curled under so far you could hardly see it. I honestly thought that it was broken that way.
Slowly over the first few days I would throw her snacks a bit closer and ended up getting a tin foil baking pan for her food which I put JUST on our side of the fence. It was a wire fence with square holes and she was skinny enough that she could walk right through it without any problems. I also had a water dish for her that I refilled with clean water every day. She would start by eating her food with just her head or front paws through the fence and it wasn’t until almost a week into our trip that she came all the way through the fence for her meals.
We then decided that she needed a name because everyone just kept calling her “Jade’s dog” which I somewhat liked but also I wanted to call her something. The bar that we frequent down the road was called Baja Joe’s, which is a staple of the town we were in. From there sparked the idea of Baja Jill. It also worked well because at home my partner’s grandma’s dog’s name is Jill. So we joked that this was the Mexi version of her (not at all, her dog is a Maltese Chihuahua).
Once she was through the fence I made an effort to sit near her at every meal (three massive ones a day) and slowly scoot myself closer to her. Each time that she came to eat I would get a little closer to her than the last time. As she ate I would casually, slowly, carefully shimmy an inch at a time closer to her. She was obviously finding it difficult to have someone so close to her and kept an eye on me the entire time.
On the sixth day she did something that was rewarding to me. She laid down with her back turned to me. This showed me that she didn’t see me as a threat anymore and had become comfortable with my presence enough to not have to watch my every move. I would sit by her for a long time being eaten alive by bugs and talk to her in soft or excited voices to get her used to me talking to her and hopefully make her feel comfortable.
I slowly moved her food dish closer and closer to the house over the days to train her to come to us rather than us go to her and also to push her comfort boundaries a bit. We really wanted to help her and to do so we felt we needed her to be confident around humans. She would wander wearily over to her food dish with her tail tucked between her legs and look around her after every bite she took but she would come over to us and that was a big change. Then we realized that she started spending nights on some recliner chairs that we had outside. She slept outside of my room.
At this point she was eating from within a foot of me but I wasn’t able to touch her yet. I was scared of what her reaction would be and she was terrified whenever I moved from this distance. Every meal that she came for I would reach my hand to her only to have her jump back every time she saw. So I essentially tricked her by raising my hand to my head, she looked and saw I was just touching my head and went back to the bowl and then I touched her when her head was down. She jumped back immediately and stared at me but she did come back to her food. From here on I kept trying to pet her very gently but it was very few and far between and she really did not like it.
So I tried something that I wasn’t sure would work and I was a bit scared to do. I set her food in front of me and I laid down. I thought that if I did something submissive she would see it as a non-confrontational move and would understand that I’m not there to hurt her. I talked to her as she ate and she looked at me laying down and I got a TAIL WAG. It was a massive moment because up until now I literally thought her tail was broken or permanently bent between her legs. She then walked around me and sniffed at me and ended up licking my toes a few times on passing. Now her tail was really wagging. It was so exciting for both of us. I didn’t try to pet her when I was laying down as I wanted her to feel in control of this moment and have no fear and I think this was a real turning point for her.
After the laying down experience she seemed to drop her guard entirely to me. She would come up to me, lick my hands with her tail wagging like crazy and eventually kept trying to lick my face. This turned into play mode where she would jump around and I would pet her sides and play with her. We tried giving her a ball and a stick and she was scared of them so we stopped with that. Up until this point everyone had called her my dog but it really started to feel like she was my dog now. She became so comfortable that she let me rub her stomach and pick her up. She would jump up on me and come bounding when she saw me. It was unreal to see this kind of change within this short time.
Now the issue was what do we do when we leave? There was a lot of conversation about bringing her home and I know a lot of people would read this and be irritated and judgemental that I didn’t but it just is not in the cards for us right now and it wouldn’t be fair to bring her into a small home that we are never in. We contacted the local dog rescue company which is called “Bark for Baja” about this dog throughout the weeks. We told them she is very sweet, she never once even tried to nip at us let alone get aggressive in any manner. She would come with food and money to pay her vet bills which is something that usually doesn’t happen when rescuing a dog. We told them exactly where she was and that she would be easy to get a collar on now. They gave us times they would be there and then never showed up. Then on the last day when we were panicked about her they told us that they “don’t just take dogs off the street”. It’s something that broke my heart. It is a dog rescue agency and they don’t just take dogs? We even researched how to tell the age and decided that this sweet dog was under a year old, she is a very adoptable dog.
With only a few hours left in this country we had almost no options at this point. We couldn’t get her to a vet to get her shots to get her up to Canada. We felt we had been waiting on this perfect option that now wasn’t available to us. Luckily the neighbour had actually been trying to feed her as well and was comfortable with the dog so we instead gave him the dog food and he told us he would take care of her and then pass her along to the next renters in the houses. She would become the neighborhood dog. It sounds a bit distressing since that isn’t something that we do in Canada but it does happen down there. Earlier in our trip we actually met a neighborhood dog and she was very sweet, well fed and well loved.
Since getting home I’ve thought about Baja Jill a lot and thankfully have heard about her since from the neighbor so I know they’re keeping an eye on her. She was a life changing dog and I’m hoping that when we go next year she will still be there and we will be in a position to keep her. If not, I hope that someone else has falls in love with her and takes her home.