Lonesome Valley: Mexican pet best souvenir of all

Every winter it seems harder to come home from vacation in Mexico. This year, though, I brought a piece of the place home with me -- a kitten.

Zihuatenejo has grown since I first went there in the ‘70’s, but the small hotel I like is still the same. Its balconies overlook the cobbled street, the lagoon, and the footbridge over it. Across the bridge are the fishing pier, the square, the market, shops, and cafes.

One morning, as I crossed the bridge, I saw the kitten, crouched on the packed dirt beside the bridge, head down Her black-and-white coat stretched over protruding bones.

She didn’t run when I got close. She let me pet her, and seemed to like it. She squinted at me from a scabbed, swollen face, and mewed hoarsely. I saw that her face and paws were covered with brown, scabby mange.

On my next trip across the bridge, I bought cat food and poured some out for her. Starved as she was, the kitten wouldn’t eat unless I sat and petted her. She purred like a tiny outboard motor as I rubbed her soiled, white belly.

The next morning I took the kitten to a shelter, where she got a shot to cure her mange. I carried her back across the bridge, and filled her dish again. If her mange went away, I thought, and I fed her regularly, maybe she’d be all right when I left.

That night I heard barking, and saw, from my balcony, the kitten crouched on the ground, under attack by two feral dogs. She hissed and clawed at them, but didn’t run. If she lost her nerve and ran, they would kill her.

But it wasn’t the danger that made me decide to take her home. It was the love in her squinty eyes, her motorboat purr, and the way she threw herself against me whenever I got near. I spent hours on the internet, learning the requirements. I changed my flight because my airline didn’t accept pets on international flights. I bought a carrier, and paid a vet to board the kitten till my departure date. He gave her shots and filled out a health certificate.

The kitten, now named Spider, is adjusting nicely. She has seen more new things in a month than most cats in their lifetimes: plane and car rides, worm medicine and shots, a dish that’s always full, the warmth of rugs and quilts. At first she hid and hissed at the other pets. Finally she relaxed enough to play.

By now, the kitten has explored every corner, and made her peace with the other pets. One mild day, she even ventured out onto the snow, then rushed back, shaking her paws.

Even though she’s sleek now, I remember how she looked when I first saw her, crouched in the dirt beside the bridge. She will always remind me of Mexico.

Judy Ojard is a Corcoran resident.

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