My first turtle encounter happened two days before Hurricane Lane made land on the west coast of Mexico in September of 2006. I was living in a mostly deserted RV park along the beach north of Mazatlán.
I was walking with Snickers the Wonderdog (half heeler and half coyote) and her newly acquired friend named Shadow along a mostly empty beach when I spotted a bit of movement.
About 50 meters in front of me I noticed a small squiggly thing at the water’s edge, and went to investigate. I found a baby sea turtle which had made its terrestrial journey across the sand to the edge of the sea.
I watched as a wave washed ashore and spread its long, foamy tongue, engulfing the tiny creature and transporting it into an uncertain future.
While I watched this little guy disappear into the froth, I realized if there is one turtle, there should be more. I backtracked the turtle’s trail into the dry sandy part of the beach and found nine more turtles floundering at the bottom of deep horse tracks.
The tracks had well defined escarpments that had captured the small turtles like a Burmese tiger trap. After ferrying these turtles to the edge of the surf, I went back to look for more.
When I found the nest it looked like a large sand funnel, with three turtles scrambling to reach the top. I took these turtles to the crawl-and-swim part of the beach and went back to the nest.
I started to carefully remove the surface sand from around the nest to create a larger area to safely excavate the occupants. The remaining turtles were milling around below a compacted layer of sand. When I reached the main nest area, I saw 59 little turtles seeking freedom.
While Snickers and her friend lay in the sand and watched, I carted the turtles, three and four at a time, to their launching area, placing them on the sand. I did not want to put them directly into the ocean because I was thinking that they needed to crawl some before hitting the waves.
About 10 minutes into the turtle mission a pack of three wild and hungry dogs spotted what looked like easy food at the edge of the water. I didn’t see the dogs until Snickers stood up, bristled and growled. By this time the lead dog was about 30 meters from a turtle dinner and closing fast.
I immediately shouted, “Snickers, go get ‘em.” Snickers, being very quick, and well trained to that particular command, bolted for the pack. The minute Snickers charged Shadow exploded out of the sand, passed Snickers and center punched the lead dog with blinding speed and force.
I have clocked Snickers at about 38 miles an hour on a flat-out run; Shadow was so incredibly fast it was hard for me to believe what I had just seen.
Shadow had showed up in the RV park about a month before, wild, starved and full of fear. I started putting out a paper plate with dog food and a water bowl about 50 meters from my travel trailer. Soon he and Snickers were spending the afternoons playing like puppies, bouncing, pouncing and general chasing. I later realized that most probably Shadow never had any true puppy time. At that point, I thought, what could it hurt, Snickers is far from home in a foreign land and could use a friend.
After three weeks of feeding, Shadow would come within 20 meters or so and run if I tried to approach him. Two days before the turtle encounter I put out the plate of food and stood three meters away and waited. It took 30 minutes for the dog to approach the plate.
When I got a good look, Shadow appeared to be an older greyhound. And when I saw his speed, I was convinced he was a rejected race dog that had been abandoned to the streets.
After the dinner plate standoff he would follow Snickers and me on our walks and bike rides; hence the name Shadow. So, it was this old abused greyhound that plowed into the dog pack which wanted turtle for dinner.
After Shadow rolled the lead dog into the surf, he turned and went for number two, which had just planted all fours and was attempting a high-speed turn. Snickers, always a creature of opportunity, went after the last and smallest member of the pack, which was in full retreat. After 10 seconds it was over.
It was then that Shadow came up close to me for the first time, checked me out with a quick sniff, looked at the turtle nest, went back to his spot in the sand and lay down.
By this time, dogs and turtles had generated an audience of four people on horses and a tourist family on a couple of four-wheelers. I quickly enlisted the help of the two girls on the four-wheelers, aged about eight and 10, to carry the hatchlings to the water’s edge.
The parents got a lot of pictures of kids with turtles to show their friends back in Ohio. Twenty minutes later all the turtles had survived the journey from nest to ocean, with a little help from their friends.
The night the hurricane struck, Shadow took up residence under my RV and thought himself to be home.
As Shadow lost his fear of me, I was able to slowly approach him, pet and scratch behind his ears. At first he would flinch and duck whenever I would reach out to him, but soon realized he was no longer in danger of abuse. In time, I realized he had a very sweet personality and he became very protective of both me and Snickers.
Since another dog was out of the question in the RV, I gave him to a Mexican family that I had become close with over the summer. He bonded quickly with his new family and spent his remaining years with people who loved and cared for him in a manner he truly deserved.
Shadow, you and the turtles enriched my first summer living in Mexico and for that I thank you.
Bodie Kellogg describes himself as a very middle-aged man who lives full-time in Mazatlán with a captured tourist woman and the ghost of a half wild dog. If you wish to give him cold beer, large sacks of money or a piece of your mind, he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.