Definitely not chorizo

The road was dark and empty. Lonely. I wondered how long someone – me – might lie there unaided if their car ran off the road. How long before another car would come along. It could be hours. I knew I was driving too fast, the fall-away at the side of the road and the deer signs telling me I should slow down. But my tiredness and desire to get home pushed me on. What would the consequences be if I crashed? I could die. I could cause myself life-changing injuries. I could kill the dog.

I’d very nearly killed the dog once already today. That was why we were on this lonely road after midnight, with the Google maps woman telling me where to go long after I knew where I was and didn’t need her anymore. This lonely stretch of 16km, another lonely stretch of 13km, then the final lonely stretch of 8km.

I’d laid an old bedsheet on the back seat of the car in case Lady vomited. It had been a last-minute decision. She was already in the car; I’d packed what I was taking with me and I was about to get in when I thought about the potential for vomit. So, I ran back into the house and grabbed a sheet from the box of painting supplies on the high shelf in the utility room.

I expected her to vomit because, in the past hour, I’d force fed her 40mls of extremely salty water and, before that, 10mls of olive oil. She was miserable from all this manhandling and force feeding. Why was she being so horribly punished?  

She’d be dying unbeknownst to me right now if I hadn’t spotted her eating what I at first thought was a stolen slice of chorizo. Naughty girl, I thought, but I left her to it. Then I saw she had another one – or was it the same one? I couldn’t be sure. It seemed to be wrapped in plastic. I called her to me, prized it from her clenched jaws and started to remove what I thought was a plastic wrapper only, to my horror, to read the words, in Spanish, ‘raticida’. Rat poison. I took it to the bin and, as I did, she went back to the source, behind the bin, and found another one. I made her drop it and I wondered what to do. Had she eaten one already? Or was the one I removed from her mouth the first one? My walking buddy Jennifer calmly Googled what to do and said, ‘She needs Vitamin K.’ I left my half-full glass of beer on the table and walked home, calling the vet along the way.

The vet advised 10mls of olive oil, which should stop her absorbing the poison if there was any in her system. “Keep an eye on her,” she told me, “And if you see any changes in her, call me.”

I forced the olive oil into her and then Googled ‘My dog ate rat poison’. Without exception, every site urged going to the vet immediately: ‘Do not waste your time trying home remedies’.

I called the 24-hour emergency vet in Huelva for a second opinion. She advised me to force feed her very salty water. With a syringe. Sideways into her mouth so it wouldn’t go into her lungs. Based on how far away I live from Huelva and how long it had been since she’d possibly eaten the poison, if she didn’t vomit in an hour, I was to take her in. It’s critical that you don’t let too much time pass, she said.

I didn’t have a syringe. Someone with a small child is bound to have syringe, I thought. I phoned Egle because she has a three-year old son. Soon I had a syringe and I managed to get 40mls of water into Lady in the face of major opposition. Katie held her. I held her. I chased her around the kitchen table. She wriggled backways out of Katie’s grasp and under the table. Was 40mls enough? The vet hadn’t said how much was enough.

I didn’t want to wait to see if she’d vomit. I made supper for the girls, packed a few things in a bag – my book, wallet, doggy passport. My head was pounding and I could feel the world closing in around me in what felt like the start of a panic attack. I couldn’t imagine how bereft we’d be if the dog died. She’s been our rock of joy through so much in her short three and a bit years of life.

Forty minutes after I’d forced the salt water into her there was still no sign of her vomiting. I got in the car, grabbing the old sheet for the back seat, and set out on the one-hour drive to Huelva. It was a horrible night for driving. Rain on the windscreen, the inside of my old car misty with condensation, the roads wet and a seemingly endless stream of headlights of cars coming from the opposite direction.

The Google maps woman took me on a route that ultimately got me lost. I was losing precious minutes. I would have found the building easily on my own, had I looked at a map and not relied on that Google wan.

When I finally parked up, Lady jumped gleefully out of the car, expecting a walk. Her glee was short-lived, however, when she realized we were going to the vet. She’d never been to this vet before, so what was it about the place that made her stick her tail between her legs and try to escape back out the door? The vet’s clothes? The smell of the place? Whatever it was, Lady knew trouble was in store and I had to drag her in the door against her will.  

“I’m going to give her an injection that will force her to vomit,” the kindly-faced vet said. Lady struggled and screamed while one woman held her and the other stuck a long needle in the scruff of her neck.

“Where should we go?” I asked.

“Stay here. She can vomit on the floor. Animals are always vomiting on the floor here,” the vet said matter-of-factly. I sat on the long blue bench, and looked around at the blue plastic floor, imagining a room full of animals of all shapes and sizes simultaneously vomiting. Lady sat beside me, glued to my leg.

Two women came in, a mother and daughter, and natives of South America, I guessed. The older woman, red-eyed and still crying, carried in her arms a cat on a cat bed. The vet saw them into her office.

And that was when the vomiting started. Lady started to retch, making a hideous noise as she did so. First out of her mouth and onto the blue plastic floor were two packets of rat poison, still intact, both with the word ‘raticida’ still clear. The woman at reception came from behind her desk with a roll of paper towels, a bottle of bleach and a bin liner. We hunkered down together and peered at the vomit. The two sachets of poison certainly looked intact, but it was hard to tell if they’d been breached. Meanwhile, Lady was retching again and this time produced the chicken she’d had for lunch. As I cleaned up one pile of vomit, she produced another. I left the first pile where it was, for the vet to see when she came out.

The door to the consulting room opened and out came the vet and the two women, both sobbing, tears streaming down their cheeks, the cat nowhere in sight. The vet hunkered down and inspected the contents of the first pile of vomit.

Behind me I could hear the two women making arrangements for their dead cat with the woman at reception. “What name do you want?” she asked. Both women said the cat’s name a few times, but the receptionist couldn’t get it right. “I don’t want to get it wrong,” she said gently and handed the older woman a piece of paper. “You write it down.” Meanwhile, Lady stood by the legs of the younger woman, wretched and retching, and I thought, with horror, about to vomit onto the woman’s shoe. That’s all the poor woman needed – being vomited on by some stupid dog minutes after her cat had been put to sleep.

I grabbed Lady by the collar and pulled her to me, trying to keep her close – or at least away from the mother and daughter – while I cleaned up the vomit. As soon as I cleaned up one pile, Lady produced another.

The two women stood around, while the receptionist completed their paperwork. I didn’t know how to react to their grief. I wanted to console them, to say I was sorry for their loss, but the proper words in Spanish deserted me and all I could do was clean up and feel awful that they were grieving for their cat on a dog vomit-covered blue plastic floor.

“When should we come back?” the older woman asked the vet. “It’ll take a few days,” the vet said. “I’ll call you when it’s ready.” The ‘it’ I presumed referred to the cat’s ashes. The pair left, the cat basket under the older woman’s arm, empty. Their loneliness for the cat was palpable.

The vet gave Lady a second injection to quell the nausea and gave me a prescription for Vitamin K. I got lost twice or three times trying to find my way out of Huelva, despite (or because of) the Google woman. It was almost 2am by the time we got back to Sanlúcar.

In the days that followed, Lady showed no ill effects of the poison. It is likely she vomited it all up. For the next ten days, I forced her to take Vitamin K four times a day and an anti-nausea table to counteract the Vitamin K twice a day. She really hated me for those ten days, eying me suspiciously every time I went into the kitchen, for fear I’d return with the syringe or the pills.

Has she learned her lesson? Of course not. She’s a dog.

Watchful eyes

As I walk to the top of the hill, I see the unmistakable long ears and angular head of a hare. She is big, bigger than Lady, who chases her off into the undergrowth, her lithe brown body quickly blending into the land. A momentary glimpse of my totem animal and she’s gone. But that glimpse gives me a profound feeling of privilege and awe. The next morning I’m still thinking about her, about our brief encounter, about how my sense of awe and wonder was matched by her fear and flight instinct.

I am lucky to live in a spectacular part of the world. Our little village is remote. There are few cars on the roads, we’re generally off international flight paths, so the blue sky is clear of jet trails, and the vast landscape is, for the most part, devoid of human-made noises. To walk through the countryside, along trails made by humans, sheep, goats, deer, wild boar, is to be immersed in both the natural history and the human history of the landscape, although the human history is the more subtle of the two.

_DSC1519 (2)


In April, after years of begging, I finally succumbed to Lily’s and Katie’s wishes to get a dog. Lady was born in February, on a plot of land not far from our house. She was the only bitch in a litter of six puppies. I fell in love with her on sight, when she was three weeks old, and we brought her home at seven weeks. Her mother is a Spanish water dog and her father, we think, is either a fox terrier or an Andalucian bodega rat terrier. She’s a wonderful addition to our family, very playful and lovable and full of energy.

Walking in the countryside with Lady has opened the landscape up. Lady and I have been walking 10km each day this summer – we walk for 3km each morning, and about an hour before sunset each day we set out on a 7km walk.

The trails I have previously associated with bees, ants, lizards and birds, and the occasional snake, now turn out to be rich with mammals too. Of course, I’m used to seeing fewmets (deer droppings) along the trail, holes dug by snuffling boar, and the prints of many different animals. With Lady along for the walk, however, animals hidden at very close quarters have now become visible. Lady can smell them. Or she can hear them. Or she can, by some other means, sense they are there. She gallops off at top speed, up hills, over rocks, into bushes. Of course, the animals she chases are too fast, or have a head start, or are on their home turf, so Lady, thankfully, doesn’t stand a chance. But suddenly I realise that, in a landscape seemingly devoid of mammals, I’m walking past them all the time. I’m now conscious of hidden eyes on me, and that gives me a wonderful thrill to know the animals are there.

One day last week, we were walking along a dry river bed, when suddenly, Lady dashed off towards the hill that rises steeply from the northern bank of the river. I looked up the steep hillside to see three wildcats, dun coloured stripes and long tails, racing up the hill. The next day, along the same river, it was a doe among the bushes, and the day after that, up in the hills north of Sanlúcar, it was a stag with majestic antlers. And last night it was my beautiful totemic hare.

As I’ve written before, I feel such a sense of privilege and awe to live, and have formerly lived, in places where seeing animals in the wild is not just a possibility, but a surety. Indeed, I’ve had the great privilege of encountering many wild animals over the years, not seeking them out, but simply as I’ve been going about my daily business – deer, caribou, polar bears, seals, beluga whales, common dolphins, wild boar, hares, humpback whales, orcas, minke whales, and even a tundra grizzly bear once. I’ve seen snowy owls, falcons, eagles and hawks, and I’ve had the great privilege to scuba dive amongst incredible and beautiful fish and turtles.

At a time when every single one of these animals is threatened by habitat loss, climate change and pollution, encountering them in the wild is a rare and precious privilege that moves me to redouble my personal effort to not only not contribute to their demise, but to make a positive effort to undo the damage we (including me) have already caused. The former is the easier of the two. My challenge now is to figure out how to contribute to the latter.