An Excerpt from Jim Conrad's
NATURALIST NEWSLETTER
of December 24, 2017
Issued from Rancho Regenesis near Ek Balam ruins 20kms north of Valladolid, Yucat√°n, Mexico

TEACHINGS OF CHICHAN CH'O'

Chichan Ch'o', the rancho's Mexican Hairless dog, died last week from multiple problems, mainly kidney failure. You can read all about Chichan Ch'o' and the Mexican Hairless breed, also known as Xoloitzcuintles, at http://www.backyardnature.net/mexnat/xolo.htm

Atop Chichan Ch'o''s page you see the bony, starved looking dog I met when I first arrived here. Back then, other dogs stole most of his food. That's because, having lost his fighting canine teeth, and lacking hair to protect his skin during dogfights, Chichan Ch'o' ranked lowest in the Rancho's dog community.

But, you may remember that when the schizophrenic top dog Sombra had his fangs sunk deeply in my leg, Chichan Ch'o' attacked Sombra and kept him off long enough for me to find a pole and knock some sense into the other dog. Chichan Ch'o' was loyal and valiant -- even a notorious chicken-killer back when he still had sharp teeth -- but still he was the rancho pack's omega dog.

Maybe this tension between the dog he really was, and the dog role he was obliged to play, caused Chichan Ch'o''s character to be unusually sharply developed. He'd wag his tail over almost anything, and often he wagged with such vigor that his entire rear end shimmied. He gave everyone a big, fangless, almost human smile, causing more than one visitor to remark that they'd never seen such a nice ugly dog.

The other dogs didn't take these qualities into account, however. To them, he was just the one that everyone could snarl at and nip, and brush past with complete disdain. The first teaching of Chichan Ch'o' was rooted in this unfriendly environment.

For, when Chichan Ch'o' disappeared, the pack experienced profound changes. Chichan Cho'o' had shared the hut's porch with Katrina, who was #2 in the rancho-pack's dog hierarchy. Katrina, friendly enough to people but very snappy with all dogs below her, with Chichan Ch'o''s death no longer had someone she could constantly dominate. She had run off Nigrita, who'd wanted to live at the hut, too, so when Katrina wanted another companion of lower status she stopped snarling at Nigrita. However, Nigrita remembered earlier fights with Katrina and was indecisive about returning. She visited some nights, and stayed away on others. This unpredictable liaison caused both dogs to become insecure, leading to the abandonment of long-established behavioral patterns, such as being in a certain place at mealtimes. When Nigrita stopped spending all of her nights near the schizophrenic Sombra, Sombra grew even moodier and more unpredictable than ever.

Who would have thought that the presence of lowly Chichan Ch'o' could have been such a stabilizing factor for the Rancho dog pack? That's the first teaching: that even the meekest among us may be serving important purposes.

On Chichan Ch'o''s last day alive, for the first time since I'd known him, he left my immediate presence and went to the garden to be alone with his failing kidneys, a nice breeze and a spot of warming sunlight. There he sat all day, looking around, seeming to take stock. At dusk, as it grew chilly -- uncomfortably so for a hairless dog -- I went out to say goodbye, for it was clear that Chichan Ch'o' was dying. When I left, he changed his mind about staying there, and came staggering after me, to spend his last night with old friends.

The second teaching of Chichan Ch'o', then, is that we living beings can change, even change from day to day, and hour to hour, and change in important ways.

Of course, most of us already know these teachings from our own experiences, but it's good to be reminded in such a poignant, well-intended way by an especially congenial, funny-looking dog.