Saturday, May 28, 2016

Dogs, dogs, dogs... *sigh*

It's been two weeks since the last post. Usually I try to write at least one post a week but last weekend it was just too difficult because everything from the previous weekend was still too fresh in my mind. As a brief review from the previous post, my puppies got a parvovirus, which is probably one of the nastiest diseases that puppies can get. If there's worse ones, I don't want to know about them. So if you're sensitive to animals' wellbeing, you might want to jump the first few paragraphs.

According to some local vets, the prognosis for surviving it is about 2-9 % if untreated or, even if hospitalized in an early stage, some tens of percents. The symptoms include lethargy, loss of appetite, bloody diarrhea and vomiting. And with the escaping fluids comes a distinctive, lingering smell that still gives me cold shivers whenever I think I smell it somewhere. In the heat of Puerto Rico, the dogs basically just dry up even if you force them to drink every hour.

Michelle got over it quickly and that's partly why I wasn't as worried of the others as I should have been. But for Bungee and Joy, it was as bad as it can get. I took Bungee to an animal emergency room but it was too late, she passed away only minutes after I handed her to the nurses. When the vet told me the diagnosis, prognosis, and the price of hospitalizing the rest of the sick puppies, I knew that I wouldn't have been able to save her and might lost another one or two puppies. I don't have thousands of dollars, especially when the survival wouldn't even be certain. So I used some $100 to buy medicines to them, drove home and put Joy and Jumper into a bathroom so that they wouldn't mess up the whole house or try to walk around and that I could get some much needed sleep. The next morning I woke up with an agonizing fear of what I'd find in the bathroom where I had put the sick puppies the last night.

The mess and the smell were horrific, but the puppies were still alive. I gave them a warm bath and tried to give the meds. Jumper ate at least most of them but it soon turned out that Joy was already too weak and in pain to swallow anything. Ed and Linda (who had the puppies before me) came to bring some dog food for the healthier dogs and made me breakfast (at that point I had lost my appetite as well). After they left I went to see the puppies in the bathroom. Jumper was lying next to Joy holding a paw over her weak but still breathing body. I'll save you from the worst part of seeing and hearing her wither away and hope that you'll never have to experience that. I called to Linda for help and she sent our another colleague and my neighbor Tapasi to help me. Joy was gone a few minutes before Tapasi arrived. We took her and Jumper to another vet that Tapasi and her husband Chris who's also working at the observatorylike to go to. And they promised to pay the hospital bill for Jumper. Seriously... how amazing colleagues and neighbors can you have??? I never stop wondering how friendly some people can be...

Why I hadn't gone to them earlier is a question I've been asking from myself since. I guess that it's just so deeply cultural that asking help, especially from a neighbor, doesn't even cross my mind. By now I've talked with 3 out of 4 of my closest neighbors. In Helsinki I ever talked with up to one neighbor, and the only reason I could imagine to ask their help for anything would be forgetting my keys and phone inside after shutting the door and there's absolutely no other option.

Jumper had to stay for four days but she got better. The positive sides of the whole tragedy were that at least two puppies survived, and that it was me and not Linda who had to go it through. If I had helped to nurse the puppies like she did when Bubbles didn't, I probably wouldn't have been able to work the whole week. I'm also not comparing my loss to anyone whose dog that they had had for years or even over a decade had died in some awful way. Not to mention people who lose their own children or other friends or family. At that week the Facebook group Humans of New York was interviewing people at the children's cancer department. That really helped me to get perspective to the situation. Currently, the puppies are completely over the parvo and on Friday received their first vaccinations to prevent any further diseases. Now they've got the mange though... *sigh*

If I had a proper fence around the whole backyard, I probably wouldn't have to deal with this kind of problems. But there's one weak point that the puppies know to be weak and even if I fix that part of the fence, they'll break it again. Or in Michelle's case, climb/jump over (seriously, she climbs like a cat!). I keep Bubbles in a leash and that's usually problem-free but if I put the puppies to a leash they manage to tangle themselves to anything that's nearby. Even their own feet. On Tuesday at 3:45am, I found myself untying a huge knot of leash and puppy-paws to free whining Michelle from her suffering (I might not have even heard her if the on/off button of the remote control for the air-conditioning hadn't broken and I hadn't been awake anyway due to night sweat). So keeping Michelle in a leash is not a great option either for long times. So my weekly routine has become getting up at 6am, going out to get the puppies (or at least Michelle) back to the backyard, changing the leash from Bubbles to Michelle and going back to bed for an hour, getting up again, having breakfast, feeding the dogs, fixing the fence, washing up and going to work thinking: "Now it should hold!". In the evening I collect Michelle from the other side of the fence again, scold her, and fix the fence yet another time... *sigh*

The event of this week was finally receiving my social security card, relocation bonus, and as a result of the latter, my own car, so now I'm a real, living person in a Puertorican bureaucratic sense and able to drive a modern car with functional A/C, radio, steering and gas tank! Again, I have to give special thanks to my wonderful colleagues, this time Andrew who helped me with buying the car through the whole process, even by lending me money. I bought it as used so I really needed the help. Amazing people!!! The first night when driving home from the observatory I forgot the handbrake on... *sigh* (nothing unrepairable happened but Tapasi could smell it all the way to their house)

The pretty side of my new Hyundai.

Coquí report #7: Still no coquís on the yard but a huge katydid just flew in! Yesterday one huge cockroach had got into my bedroom and two days ago the puppies caught a rat and tried to eat it. I'd much rather have the coquís... [Late update on May 29th: I think I saw a coquí today! But I'm not sure because it was half-eaten by a puppy...] *sigh*
A katydid in a Bacardi cup.
It's almost in the same position as the bat!

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Trouble in paradise

While the last weekend was amazing, this weekend has been anything but. Earlier this week one of the puppies, Michelle, got sick. She got better quickly, but then all the other puppies got the same stomach flu one by one and it's been even worse for the others. Especially Bungee is becoming skin and bones after not eating in four days and vomiting everything she ingests. I took her to a vet who gave her some medicine and instructions for treatment but there's not much else that I can do.

Poor Joy not feeling as joyful as usually.
So the weekend's been mostly cleaning up after the puppies. And fighting off ants that try to overtake new lebensraum. The big man-eating ants already overtook the puppies' food tank so I tried spraying them with as dog-friendly sprays as possible, like vinegar although the dogs hate the smell of it. And the smaller ants keep trying to find new trails inside while I try to find the holes where they enter the house.

At least I got my social security number issue progressed this week... sort of... There's a lot I can't do without it, like get a local cellphone plan or buy a car but getting one has turned out to be much more difficult than I anticipated. First time when I went to apply the number I was missing my birth certificate, which we don't get in Finland by default but have to request separately from a notary, and of course I hadn't even thought of that before moving here.

So the day after I received it (sent by my mom from Finland as soon as possible but still 10 days later) I went to the social security office at 9 am when it opened. I waited outside for half an hour in a line that extended some 20 meters from the door. After I got inside I took my number and waited for another hour or so. Note that this is normal here and could be even worse if I came later during the day. Last time I did the same in fever. The office was open only from 9 to noon so probably no one who arrived after 10am got service that day. I've heard that many offices are even worse, such as the department of transportation where I have to go after buying a car to register it to me (possibly twice). Can't wait that trip...

When I got to the officer, he took my papers, wondered how young I look considering my year of birth in the papers and told me to wait some more while he registers me in the system. After another 20 minutes he calls me back and asks my papers and wonders some more of how young I look, being a doctoral scientist and all. Then I wait for about 10 minutes while he takes photocopies of the papers (don't ask me how copying a few papers can take that long...).

Five minutes before the noon I walk out with an application receipt, request to call the next day to find out if they got the process running (I was the apparently the only one with a status of non-immigrant visiting scientist status that he had ever tried to process so he had some problems trying to register me in the system) and a rum recipe for a cough (I was coughing a few times while sitting there so he wanted to share his family recipe of rum, honey and lemon). I tried to call him a few times to ask about the process but he was never available. Next week I'll probably just try to call a random officer to ask about the status of the application.

The most special event of the week was the official re-opening of the visitor center. There was some fruit and pastries, speeches and eminent people cutting a symbolic ribbon.

Coquí report #6: After the sunset I can see some small and dark creatures moving on the yard but with a closer look they're just cockroaches. Maybe I should change the coquí report to a doggy report... It took me multiple hours to write this post because I had to get up every few minutes to see how they're doing.

Earlier this week I tied up Joy and Michelle before leaving to work because they're the escape artists of the pack. But when I came home, they had tied themselves up accidentally even tighter to a near-by chair. 

Late update to the post: According to another, better vet, it's probably a parvovirus. Bungee and Joy didn't make it. Jumper was taken into an animal hospital so I hope that she will get through it although the vet didn't want to get my hopes up too soon.

Saturday, May 7, 2016


Two weeks have quickly passed since the last post. Last weekend I moved to a new house: Linda and Anthony's place in Villa Toledo quite close to the city of Arecibo. Linda and me, with great help from Luisa who's also part of Team Radar, used the whole May Day weekend to moving Linda out and me in and also cleaning the house and the yard. I even made some sima (a traditional Finnish May Day drink) to celebrate moving as well as May Day.

The house is BIG: three bedrooms, an office, a kitchen and a living/dining room, two bathrooms, a hallway, a big garage, and on the top of it all a big yard. In theory there's a pool on the yard but in practice it is quite useless because there's no pump that would cycle the water and filter the water clean. So the pool was full of rain water, algae and trash and needs a good pressure wash before it can be used. There's also an avocado tree (can't wait the harvest season!). The rent is $800 per month, which is locally a bit expensive but still affordable, definitely less than any rent rates of larger cities, so why not have a bit extra space for possible visitors!

My new bed in a bedroom with turquoise and white walls.
The anarchist oven that opposes order, regularity, and the overpower of zeros and fives. To select the temperature, you have to press for example 399 instead of 400 Fahrenheits, which then rounds up.
It was really convenient to get a house from a leaving observatory employee, because inheriting all the furniture, electronics, utensils etc. is much easier, economic, and ecologic than having to buy everything from the shops as new. According to Linda, many of the local houses don't even include the fridge and the oven by default. In addition to Linda and Anthony's stuff that they don't want to ship back to the States, I got a couple of other ex-employees stuff, too. And a LOT of food. So this house came with everything that I might need, and a bit more on top. 

One of the most interesting things that I inherited was five dogs: Bubbles the mom and 4 of its 5 puppies. The daddy dog was a stray dog, apparently a black retriever. They live on the yard throughout the year, which makes keeping them infinitely easier than having 5 dogs inside. Linda just got Bubbles fixed so she stayed inside until Thursday. But that wasn't so bad because it's already housebroken and can behave itself relatively well. 

This last week I've just tried to train them to not swoop in through the door when I'm going out and to not jump on me. I've never had a dog before and even one dog's training can be difficult so imagine trying to train 5 puppies at once... A small spray bottle of vinegar has been very helpful with that though! And treats too but mostly the treats just excite them even more. So day by day, I think I'm making progress!

Bubbles (the mommy dog)

Joy on the left and Bungee, Jumper, and Michelle
above are ~4 months old

It's been interesting to find out the variety of personalities of the puppies. Joy is the most shy and submissive one. She doesn't concentrate as well as Michelle and Bungee but she's very kind and sits down when I command. Michelle and Bungee are smart, proud, and persistent. Bungee is the least submissive of all and also the noisiest; if I go inside, she's the one that keeps whining the longest. She's also the one that always has her snout between the door whenever possible. Jumper is just lazy. She's the first to get bored on the training sessions and also the one that learns the slowest. She's relatively submissive and believes "No!" more easily than Michelle and Bungee.

First I thought that it would be impossible to handle all of them but even though I was right, day after day the idea of giving even one away becomes more and more difficult.

In addition to the dogs there's a few lizards in the house. And armies of ants. While in most places you'd probably like to keep your house to yourself and lizards and insects outside, in Puerto Rico you usually have two options and you choose the least worse. If the less worse is the one that eats the even worse options, you have a jackpot! Lizards eat mosquitos and other insects but not humans, so yes, I want lizards in my room. There's actually two even now just wandering around.

The sugar ants may crawl on me but are unlikely to bite and they also keep out nastier insects so I tolerate the sugar ants around as long as they come in tens, not hundreds and thousands (which happens whenever you leave any moist sweet or meaty food anywhere). One time I left my bag on an ant trail and it got first full of ants and then got overtook by other, apparently ant-eating spiders or other insects, which unfortunately do bite.

Fred the Lizard relaxing in an old A/C's power cord. George just disappeared under my bag.
Trails of sugar ants appear in hours when you leave anything edible for them unguarded.
There's also a few other quirks, for example the water: There is a heater but it has to be put on or off manually and cannot be used the same time as the laundry or drying machines. So for hot water laundry the hot water has to be put in separately. The Puerto Rican unideal water law is T x P = constant, which means that if you want to take a warm shower, you can choose between the heat (T) and the water pressure (P). The other shower fortunately has its own heater that works a bit better.

It's quite common that sometimes the water is completely out. Or sometimes the electricity. My colleague just used a few hours trying to call to the water company a few weeks ago. He got put off until he claimed being Jesus Christ and insisted being connected to the manager.

My next challenge is to buy a car. The drive to the observatory is about 20 min and as I told in another post, I only have the green car, which I don't really trust. But until I get a social security number, I cannot really own a car, or have a regular plan for my phone etc. I tried to get it two weeks ago but they required a birth certificate (which we don't get automatically like in the US) so I had to order it from Finland and that takes a while. And then go back to queue for hours...

Call me a masochist but one of the reasons I like to live here are these quirks and challenges. They give perspective. If everything is always easy and works as planned, you become lazy and start whining about the smallest things, the "first world problems". Surviving through the challenges is like getting 5 puppies finally do as you say: very rewarding. When the environment you live in turns into a chaos, you start seeing the small bits of happiness as soon as you get out of the worst chaos.

Coquí report #5: Not so many coquís on my yard as at the observatory. But I did see one frog swimming in the pool!