October 22, 2021

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Cejas and the Great Escape

by Maggie Van Ostrand

The mean streets of Tijuana have at last dispatched something other than reports of killings, kidnappings and cartels. The bloody, dusty, bullet-ridden streets of Tijuana have permitted Cejas to emigrate, and without proper papers, too. You may be wondering, Who is this Cejas of whom she writes? Is he a Mexican hero? Is he a famous actor using another name? Is he an undercover foreign agent? Or, since the word "cejas" means "eyebrows" in English, might it be a code name for Andy Rooney whose eyebrows enter a room five minutes before he does?

No, it is none of the above.

Cejas is not a gang member out to visit relatives in the U.S., a mule for the drug guys or a people-smuggling coyote, though, like real mules and coyotes, he does have four legs. Cejas is a little Mexican dog.

His story is much like anybody else's, filled with both sad and joyous times, and a lot of luck — he didn't get out of Tijuana by himself. He had the help of many, including the angels, perhaps even Santo Toribio Romo González (Mexico's ghostly benefactor of "illegal aliens"), and a quick-witted grandmother.

Every three months, trucks filled with toys, blankets, and food, make their way from the U.S. to the poor colonies of Tijuana, as they did last December when they caravanned to La Colonia El Mont Bonito. Part of their mission is to bring food, bowls, and water for the unfortunate dogs of the area. One of the street pups caught the eye of Grandmother Reyna, a missionary, who recalls, "He was 'very matted, dirty, and smelled awful.'" When their eyes met and she saw his "sad and tender look," she made a decision to bring him back with the church group even though other members wondered why she’d take a little dog in such bad condition. And they were rightly concerned about real trouble crossing the border. What would the border guards do? Would the missionaries be arrested? Would Cejas go to doggie detention? After all, he didn’t have the required records of inoculation, no license, and he looked pretty bad.

In their van, driven by her granddaughter, Grandmother Reyna stayed calm during the 2-hour wait to cross the border. When they got to first place in line, the emigration officer asked, "What are you bringing back from Mexico?" Stony-faced, they replied, "Nothing." Then the officer peeked in the back window and spied Cejas asleep. "Whose dog is that?" the officer asked. Granddaughter replied, "My Gandmama's." The officer grew suspicious and asked Grandmother Reyna for the dog's name. Now a little scared of the real trouble she could get into, her mind went blank, and she could not remember the name. Thinking fast, she gave him the first name that  entered her head, "JoJo." Further questioning her, the officer asked what the dog's breed was. "Terrier," she said, with authority, totally bluffing the guard. I would not want to play poker with Grandmother Reyna.

Once safely back in California, Grandmother Reyna took the little dog to the veterinarian, who micro-chipped Cejas, treated his skin problems, extracted many bad teeth, and neutered him. Ouch! It must have seemed like a strange welcome to a new land, but Cejas proved himself a trouper and just shouted “¡Ole! Now can I play?”

When he was all spiffed up and healthy, Cejas came to live with us. His upper lip snags on one of his few remaining front teeth, resembling Elvis’s famous sneer, and I wanted to rename him Presley. A tough little guy with street smarts galore, Cejas simply refused to answer to any name other than the one he arrived with. We made a deal: in exchange for keeping his name, he comes when called, does not enter the house without permission, and tolerates a leash when we take our daily walks.

I am told he prefers burritos to dog food and is not yet bilingual. However, he is learning English by watching Cesar Millan’s “Dog Whisperer” show. Now he obeys commands in English, but only when Cesar gives them. When I try giving the same commands, he just stares. Maybe I should lip sync to a Cesar Millan training video.

Moral of this story: Be nice to all grandmothers. You never know when she can get you out of a bad spot.



©2013 Maggie Van Ostrand, all rights reserved.