A destination can be much more than a mere place.
My wife, Susan, and I had visited the Immaculate Conception Cathedral in Mazatlan six years ago as part of a cruise line shore excursion. The city’s signature structure was a draw once again when we docked in central Mexico last week. We were entranced by the cathedral's cavernous interior and its twenty-eight stained-glass stars of David: an homage to my Jewish heritage by the the cathedral's founding priests.
Camera in hand, I darted about the pews - perhaps a bit too exuberantly for some worshippers - then bounded across the street to “capture” the cathedral’s exterior from the Plaza de la Revolucion. Susan joined me to scale the steps of the huge gazebo. We were stopped cold by a vision.
On the gazebo’s center tiles, as if placed there like an offering, was the scruffiest dog I’d ever seen. No collar, no identification. He lay curled up in a dark pool, his yellow eyes narrowed down to slits. His shallow breaths fluttered what few hairs grew on his snout. Small boils dotted his floppy right ear and his hind quarters. Susan and I were convinced: this dog was dying.
We knelt down before him. I opened a thermos of ice water and spilled some into my wife’s cupped hands, but the dog would not drink.
Susan and I spoke of next steps. Even if it meant missing our ship there was no way we were going to let this dog die alone on the street.
I searched my poquito high school Spanish vocabulary for the word “veterinarian” and came up with “doctor de animales.” We began looking around for a helpful city official. None immediately in sight, we turned our focus back to our four-legged friend and offered him another drink. With monumental effort, he pushed himself up on all fours and lumbered about 15 feet over to a slight, ancient and virtually toothless gent who looked as though he just fell off a Mayan charm bracelet. The gent smiled broadly as the dog joined him.
“He belongs to you?” I asked in Spanish.
“Si,” the man replied.
“Is he okay?” we asked.
“Sure,” the man replied softly. “He’s a bit old and slow.”
Susan and I turned to each other and sighed in relief. The man was not exactly sure how old his dog was. In a place where discretionary spending for a pet’s medical care is probably scarce, the dog could very well be younger than he looked.
“What’s his name?” I asked.
“Chero.” I smiled and nodded knowingly, having no idea what the name meant.
Chero cuddled up against the man’s shin then dropped his snout upon the man’s scuffed loafers. The man looked down at his pal and wrinkled his chin.
I opened up my wallet, pulled out a ten dollar bill and handed it to the man. “For you and your friend.” I said.
“Gracias,” the man said, bowing his head and sliding the bill in his pocket. Susan and I shook the man’s hand, then turned to walk down the gazebo’s steps. We squeezed our clasped hands together, knowing that the dog was not alone and feeling good about what we had done.
Seconds later, the man followed, plodding along with his cane. His pal was in tow, now quite spry and playful as they reached the street corner.
The cynic in me rose up to tell me that I’d been had. Hail the philanthropic fool. I immediately sloughed off the feeling, however, when the man reached down to tickle Chero’s chin. Even if it was a well-rehearsed prank, I tip my hat to the man and his pal for creative family fundraising. At least I’m sure where some of that money is going.
Of all the shore excursions we took, the moments we shared with Chero and his daddy surpassed them all. For I was reminded that it’s not what you do or even how you do it; it’s who you do it with.
The English translation for Chero?