When I was first thinking about what it might be like to live in Bahia de Los Angeles and getting to know the neighbors, I asked Stu, who lives six months of the year on the beach in a permanently anchored 5th wheel with his wife Dayna, if there was a veterinarian in town, even though I doubted that a village of 800 residents with only a medical clinic that I had yet to find open, would provide enough demand to support a vet.

“No vet,” said Stu. “But there’s a ‘Dog Lady’ up the beach a couple of miles.

“A dog lady?”

“Yeah, she’s not an actual vet but she works on dogs. She’s got antibiotics a some other stuff.”

“Good to know,” I told him. “Better than nothing.”

It was February when Stu and I had this conversation. It was now August, and I was preparing to head north in a day or two and still had not met the Dog Lady. Introducing myself to the Dog Lady was on my list of priorities for this trip. I’d rather learn where the Dog Lady lived when I didn’t need her rather than wait until I did. This morning I drove over to Ruben’s house, all of 500 yards from my own house, hoping he would have time to show me where the Dog Lady lived. Ruben had tried to explain to me where I could find her earlier in the week, but I was unsuccessful in making sense of his instructions. ‘Chain link fence’ was not a part of Ruben’s English vocabulary and the Spanish translation was not a part of mine.

So when I asked him to take a drive with me to the Dog Lady’s house, he said, “Sure, sure, no problem,” and hopped into my truck.

We drove north, past the Hotel Vientos, past a dozen sun scorched signs along the side of the road. One sign was for someone who evidently made pizza, another announced an art studio. One sign had an official look to it, white letters against a painted green aluminum background, sturdily mounted on poles, that read ‘Rachel Y Larry.’ 

“Who’s Rachel and Larry?” I asked Ruben.

“Oh, they have a little hotel on the beach,” said Ruben.

“That lime green building just up from yours?”

“Yes, yes, that’s the one.”

I’d walked by the two story building on my beach walks. The roof was patched with blue tarps and composition shingles. Someone told me that the second floor was in such poor repair that they could no longer use it.

“Do they have a restaurant?”

“Yes, but only for people who stay there, I think,” said Ruben. He wasn’t quite sure.

“So are they nice people, Rachel and Larry?”

“Yes, yes, very nice people. But they are dead.”

“Really?” I said, not expecting this response. The sign was so new-looking.

“Yes, Rachel, she died of cancer. And then Larry died. Ruth is the owner now.”

We drove past a small sign about the size of a realtor’s sign. The lettering was faded by the relentless sun and read ‘Artist Studio’ with an arrow pointed down a dirt road that led to the beach.

“Is there really an artist studio down there?”

“Yes, yes, I think so. A woman lived down there and painted pictures. But she’s dead now. She left a lot of paint behind.”

“Seems like a lot of people die in Bahia,” I said, thinking of my friend Antonio Rezendiz who died suddenly while loading cement blocks into his pickup truck a year and a half ago.

“Yes, people they die,” agreed Ruben.

I felt like asking Ruben what happens when people die down here, people like, say, gringo artists living on the beach but before I could he said, “Here, here... turn here.”

We hung a right toward the beach and followed the road past a couple of trailers and large prefab metal building. “What goes on in there?” I asked Ruben.

Ruben shrugged, “No sé.”

The road ended at two, twenty-five foot trailers parked side-by-side. A plywood structure covered the eight-foot space between them and this, along with the plywood wall at the back, formed a small shaded patio. At the rear of the patio was a well-used sofa; book shelves held medical books and novels, most of them by a single author. An oriental rug covered most of the cement slab floor.

“Is she home?” I asked.

“I don’t know, pull up a little bit.”

I eased the truck forward so that the doors of both trailers were visible. The Dog Lady apparently lived in one trailer and used the other for an examination room. A friendly husky mix appeared to out of nowhere greet us, tail suspended over his body like a question mark: Who are you?

I got out of the truck and walked the few feet to the trailer on the right. “Hola? Anybody home?” Nothing.

“Maybe she is on the playa,” said Ruben.

We walked a few feet over to the edge of the bluff so that we could see the beach. There, wading in the water up to her waist was a woman in a thin flower print dress. Three dogs bobbed in the surf beside her. She had a rope in her hand and was wrapping it around a five foot, torpedo shaped mass bobbing in the surf. It seemed to be wrapped in plastic. I could not identify what it was, nor could I imagine what she was doing. At the same time the woman was wrapping the rope around the smaller end of the mass, a man was pulling the starter rope of an outboard engine of a boat at the end of a makeshift dock in front of his nearby trailer. The boat pulled close to the woman and she handed the man the end of the rope. The slack tightened and the mass began to follow the boat.

Ruben called to her. “What’s going on, Susan?”

“Oh, hello Ruben,” said Susan looking up for the first time. “A dolphin washed up on the beach and it was attracting coyotes. The dogs were chewing on it, too... had to get it out of here.”

We watched as the boat headed to the south with the dolphin corpse in tow.

“It’ll wash up farther south, where they can deal with it,” said Susan, washing her hands in the water.

“Down at Daggett’s?” said Ruben, and Susan laughed.

“This is my friend Dale,” said Ruben. “He’s moving here and he has a dog.”

“Oh, okay,” said Susan. “Is your dog sick?”

“No,” I yelled to her. “I just wanted to meet you and see where you lived... just in case he does get sick.”

“Okay,” said Susan. “Sometimes the dogs find a pufferfish, and that can make them pretty sick.”

“Okay, we have to go now, we see you later.” said Ruben, when it was clear that the Dog Lady, in her flimsy dress, was in no hurry to get out of the water.


When your child, say a fourth or fifth grader, changes schools in the middle of the year, it is only natural to experience some level of anxiety. Will my child fit in? Will she like the other kids? Will the other kids like her? As you sit in your parked car where parents pick up their children at the end of the school day, you watch for her face in the crowd of short people emerging after the final bell. Will she be smiling? Will she be sad? And then you see her, arms cradling books. She’s smiling! 

Much the same is true with dogs. Everybody knows about the wild dogs of Mexico, roaming the streets in packs. No owners, no collars, belonging to no one but themselves, depending on their wits, instincts and each other for survival. A discarded taco here, a rotting fish carcass washed up on the beach there. Everyone has a horror story, one they’ve heard, or one they witnessed. “I had this friend who had this little poodle, Puddles... poor Puddles...” So when you bring your dog to Mexico, whether to visit or to live, you bring with you the baggage of all the Mexican dog stories you’ve ever heard. And even though you know these are rare, isolated incidents, the fact remains that they are as established in Mexican folklore as internet hoaxes. They reside in the back of your mind, fueling your fear. Will the other dogs like Cooper, my almost three-year-old, friendly ScottishTerrier? Will Coop fit in? Will he make dog buddies to run on the beach with?

I am in the process of moving Bahia de Los Angeles, a town of about 800 people, mostly Mexicans with a mix of Canadians and Americans, most of whom are seasonal escapees from the winters north of the border. Bahia, as the town is called, lies about half way down the Baja peninsula on the Sea of Cortez and is sheltered by a cluster of about a dozen islands. The largest, Isla Angel de La Guardia, is the outermost of the islands and is some 45 miles long. The other islands are much smaller. Isla Coronado, also called Smith Island, rises out of the north end of the bay and hosts a flat topped extinct volcano, a distinct landmark visible from miles away. 

My house faces east and is on the beach. Not across the street from the beach, not the second lot up from the beach, not a five minute stroll to the beach, but on the beach, where the desert sand meets the clear, mysterious waters of the Sea of Cortez, the vast body of water held in place on west by the Baja California peninsula and on the east by mainland Mexico. Jacques Cousteau once characterized the Sea of Cortez as the ‘aquarium of the world’. From the back gate that marks the edge of my leased property to the seldom traveled paved road that dead ends at La Gringa, a popular camping spot north of Bahia, is 4/10 mile. Being that far from a paved road is in itself provides great relief for a dog owner. 

Cooper came into my life as a ten week old pup and since his arrival has pretty much run the show. I make decisions based on whether or not the projected outcome of those decisions will be good for Cooper. If they’re good for Cooper, chances are they will be good for me, as well. So like the little girl who through no fault or intention of her own finds herself uprooted, living in a new town and attending a new school, Cooper finds himself in land with a different climate, a different pace and different dogs. Here he can step out the door and run for miles on the beach, chasing seabirds and lizards that he will never catch. When he returns from his chase he is smiling the exhausted smile of a dog completely content in the moment, as if he hasn’t really noticed that things have changed. He was in one moment, and now he’s in another. No big deal to Cooper. Cooper’s ability to completely surrender himself to the moment, wherever that moment happens to be, is what sets him apart, positions him higher on the evolutionary ladder, makes him different from me, makes him, in many ways, a superior being. Do you think Cooper gives one thought about his next meal and on which floor his bowl will sit? Does he have any doubt that there will be fresh water available when he is thirsty? Does he wonder where he will be sleeping that night? Does he worry about any of these things? All knows is that these things will be there, like the sun rising over the islands in the morning. After all, unlike a Mexican street dogs, he’s got his buddy and his buddy will make sure he gets what he needs. His buddy will make sure the sun comes up. His only job is to enjoy being a dog.

Two hundred paces south from my house is Campo Archelon, a campground I first visited a year and a half ago when researching a book, about sea turtles. If there is a pack of dogs in my neighborhood, Campo Archelon is their home. ‘Mar’ is a black lab mix. His caretaker is Tonito, the son of the late Antonio Rezendiz, the turtle expert I came to visit on my first journey to Bahia de Los Angeles. His son, also named Antonio but known as Tonito, abandoned his career as a winemaker to help his mother, Bety, run the campground after his father suddenly died. Mar was a street dog until the day her and Tonito’s paths crossed. Mar has been with Tonito ever since. Mojo, a gangly Weimerimer (spelling, I know... no internet), belongs to Marcito, a 21 year old fisherman and lifelong friend of Tonito’s. Rooster is a German Shepherd. He belongs to Marcito’s older brother Angel, also a fisherman, who lives with Erica, a marine biologist from Spain, in a trailer closer to town. A fourth dog, who looks like he could be related to Mar, is somewhat of a mystery. Not sure who his caretaker is.

These four dogs have started to appear at my house at dawn these past few mornings, loping down the beach then up the embankment. Mar and Cooper have struck up a friendship and it is Mar who leads Mojo, Rooster and the mysterious black dog to my house to invite Cooper, in their doggie way, to join them on their morning beach cruise. They play together in the yard a few minutes, then head north. Cooper follows them for a while but then stops to look back in my direction. He sees me watching him then makes a decision to return. The Gang of Four go their own way, then return twenty minutes later for another round of play on their way back to Campo Archelon. Later that afternoon, Mar returns on her own and she and Cooper spend a couple of hours nuzzling in the shade.

Like the parent who is pleased and relieved to see the smile on their child’s face after that first day in a new school, I am glad to see Cooper has made friends with the local dogs. But I also recognize that my worries about whether he would fit in with the local dog culture were mine alone. Cooper is a very confident dog. Of course he would fit in. He’s The Cooper. 



As boy growing up in rural Michigan in 1955, I read many books by Jim Kjelgaard. His genre was young adult fiction aimed at young boys, and at 10 years old, that was me. His books took place in the great outdoors were about hunting, fishing and trapping... activities I have since come to reject. Well, maybe not fishing, I do enjoy fly fishing. Kjelgaard’s books were also about the relationships between animals and humans. These were my ‘Davy Crockett years,’ and I ate this stuff up. The shelf behind the bed in my red-painted bedroom bulged with Jim Kjelgaard’s hardbound books. I read them all, and when I was finished, I read them again. I’m not sure exactly when or how I started reading Jim Kjelgaard, or how his books found their way into my room, but I’m sure my father had a lot to do with it. 


Kjelgaard’s narrative was pure word magic. He had a way of leading the reader into the forest to observe the lives of animals in their natural habitat. One minute I was laying in bed fighting off sleep and the next minute Kjelgaard had transported me to a completely different world, to the edge of a pond where I spied on a beaver as it built its dam, or watched in horror as an Great Horned owl snatched a young muskrat from its watery home. And always there was an unmistakable moral seamlessly woven into the narrative: Don’t feel bad for the muskrat, Jim Kjelgaard told his readers through his stories, he was careless, just like some human beings are careless. When you’re not paying attention to what’s going on around you, you become vulnerable and that’s when bad things can happen to you. Nature has its ways of culling the feeble, Jim seemed to say. That’s just the way life is. 

Kjelgaard is remembered for his dog stories. His most famous dog story is ‘Big Red,’ which Disney made into a movie. But he wrote about other animals, too: muskrats, beaver, deer, owls, raccoons, foxes and other forest dwellers. The animals in Kjelgaard’s books communicated with each other. I can’t remember if they talked, exactly, but Kjelgaard had a way of putting the reader into the mind of the animal, showing what the world looked like from the critter’s point of view. It didn’t seem weird to my 10-year-old mind that the animals talked in Kjelgaard’s books. Of course they talked, they had a lot to tell us.

Along with the innocence of the 1950s, my idyllic Michigan boyhood drifted away. When I turned thirteen my family moved to California and just like that I was in high school. A couple of years later the Beatles sang ‘I want to hold you hand’ on the Ed Sullivan Show. And soon after, the Rolling Stones told teenagers that they couldn’t get no satisfaction, no matter how hard they tried. In the blink of an eye and the strum of a guitar, the world changed. But I never forgot Jim Kjelgaard’s stories. 

Sadly, many of Kjelgaard’s books have gone out of print, though some are available as Kindle downloads on Amazon. I feel sorry that those wonderful stories are not as available to kids today as they were to me. Spiderman? Vampires? Zombies? Star Wars? How boring is that?

I’ve been a student most of my life and sometimes it seemed as if my formal education would never end. Elementary school, middle school, high school, college, and graduate school all helped shape how I view the world. But none of these educational experiences had a greater influence on me than Jim Kjelgaard. Kjelgaard instilled in me love of the written word that has remained with me to this day. I am grateful to this man I never met for teaching me, through his storytelling, so much about the world of animals.

Recalling my childhood, and the influence Jim Kjelgaard had on me, it is not so surprising that I ended up writing books about endangered species for young adult readers.