Blanketed By Love

There is a website for San Carlos residents that provides all sorts of information.  Through conversation boards, readers learn about local events, weather, and news.  Sometimes silly questions are asked and answered.  Other times frustration and criticism run rampant.  And every once in a while there is a posting that creates the potential for something incredibly beautiful to unfold.

I came across one such post a couple of weeks ago.  Cobijo San José, a senior home, needed items for its pantry.  I have lived in San Carlos for a year and a half.  I had heard of Cobijo only once before, during Christmastime last year.  I had no idea where it was located or how it operated.  I figured it was past time to find out.

A friend and I drove to a small, rural community on the outskirts of Guaymas.  San José de Guaymas has a population of just a little more than 1,000 people.  There is a school, a church, a police station, and several small, independently owned grocery stores.  There is bus service from San José to other parts of the city.  We followed the signs that led us to Cobijo, a large, impeccably kept home with flowering gardens.

Irene, the managing caregiver, met us at the door and led us through the foyer into the kitchen.  As I emptied my bags of rice, beans, and meat, Irene told us that there were 21 residents living at Cobijo.  After documenting everything I had brought with me, she gave us a tour.  We also met many of the residents, who were eagerly waiting for Mass to begin.  We chatted with several before promising to return.

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I am a curious person.  My brain is constantly full of questions; I often ask them at the least inopportune times (like during the movie).  I believe the whole point of having a cellular data plan is to look things up on road trips.  Before the Internet, there was my dad.  So as soon as I got home from my trip, I emailed the original poster on the San Carlos Board, and asked if he would be willing to meet and provide more information about Cobijo.  Like any volunteer, who cares deeply for his charges, he eagerly agreed.

Our conversation jumped all over the place.  I know I am still missing key parts.  After two hours together, I have just the very beginnings of an understanding of how the system works, kind of.  It seems that the state government of Sonora provides the home for elderly who are indigent or without family caregivers.  They also provide a staff of two guards, four daytime caregivers, and one nighttime caregiver.  They do not provide regular pay, however.  Paychecks come infrequently- -maybe every five months, maybe not.  The government has created a Board that runs the day to day operation, with no annual budget.  So when the pantry is bare, it is truly bare.

The home has water about four hours per day, due to leaks in the system bringing the water from Guaymas.  Imagine trying to wash clothing and dishes for 21 residents in that amount of time.  Propane companies donate the propane to heat the water so residents may take warm showers during the winter months.  This propane also makes cooking on the stovetop possible; there is no oven.  We did not get around to discussing medical care.  Residents have a small store where they sell clothing and other donated items to raise money for food and other essentials.  Outside of this, they are entirely dependent on the community for making sure they have what they need.  This includes home repairs, upkeep of the home, and maintaining the grounds.

Before the meeting was over, I had another list of needed items.  I had also made the commitment to serve as “Activities Facilitator” or “Volunteer Who Brings Games, Crafts, Books, Magazines, and Chats”.  Sadly, so much time and energy are spent securing resources for the residents that enrichment opportunities and social interaction often go by the wayside.  I am not a good fundraiser, but I can plan the heck out of fun activities!  And anyone who knows me also knows that I LOVE to talk.  After making a return visit (this time dragging my husband along) I knew this was something I really wanted to do.

In Spanish, the verb “cubrir” means to cover.  The word “la cubija” means blanket.  Cobijo is a play on both of those words.  It is a safe place, providing cover for or covering its residents with care.  Despite the lack of government support, a truly dedicated, selfless staff and tenacious volunteers work tirelessly to provide for the residents of the home.  I am excited and energized to be joining forces with such a dynamic group of people.  And as “Little Miss Curious”, I am even more thrilled by the opportunity to learn from 21 new teachers.

No Todos Los Héroes Usan Capas

Given the recent earthquakes that have affected Chiapas, Oaxaca, Puebla, Mexico City, and many smaller communities in southern Mexico, there has been much attention focused on the heroic dogs who are assisting the Navy and other rescue groups in the search for survivors.  Frida, Eco, and Evil have become household names.  Piñatas, coloring books, and stuffed animals created in their likeness aim to celebrate and honor these dogs for their hard work.  It has even been suggested that Frida’s likeness would look terrific on a 500 peso bill.

Their presence also serves to remind citizens not to forget pets and the stray animal population during this chaotic time.  Donations of dog and cat food are pouring into collection centers.  Notices of missing animals and those needing homes appear daily on social media sites.

It is not easy being a dog or cat in Mexico on a normal day, never mind after a devastating natural disaster.  There is a stray pet problem in Guaymas/San Carlos, exacerbated by lack of affordable veterinary care or lack of access to such care.  La Sociedad Benefactura y Protección Animal, a non-profit headquartered in Tucson, Arizona, works hard in the community to change that by offering spay/neuter clinics and vaccinations, not only for family pets, but also for stray and/or feral animals.  Recently, the SBPA has added mobile clinics, extending their outreach.

The SBPA depends on volunteers to assist with the operation of the clinics and the various annual fundraisers.  Volunteers transport animals, man tables during the clinics, and translate (Spanish to English and English to Spanish, not barking).  Many members also choose to foster puppies or adopt abandoned animals themselves.

One of the most popular fundraisers each year is the SBPA Fashion Show.  Rescued dogs parade up and down the catwalk wearing hand knitted sweaters.  (Sweaters become very popular for dogs during the “winter months”.  You know, when temperatures reach about 75 degrees.)  Human fashions are also on display, as local businesspeople model clothing from area thrift stores (non-profits for rescue services and scholarships for local students).  Attendees can buy raffle tickets for items donated by local businesses.  There are usually pets available for adoption as well.

Altered Tails Bookstore is open daily on the malecón in Marina San Carlos.  Residents thumbnaildonate their gently used books, which are then resold to eager readers.  We were provided very limited space in a moving truck for personal items when our family transferred to San Carlos.  This meant I had to leave my personal library behind. I discovered Altered Tails within our first week and began volunteering a few months later.  It is the perfect place for anyone who loves books and animals!  Every third Saturday, readers can buy a bag of books for a mere 50 pesos (approximately $2.75).  All money raised through fundraisers and book sales support the clinics and vaccinations.

Through much hard work and a genuine love of animals, stray and abandoned dogs and cats and family pets are given a chance for a much healthier life.  Dogs have demonstrated their ability to assist humans in Mexico City.  The SBPA in San Carlos shows animals that humans are willing to do the same for them.