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The Dude in his prime, reining over the Plaza Santa Cruz

It’s not unusual that The Dude goes into hiding during the winter. Sometimes I barely see him at all between December and February (except on occasional warm sunny afternoons) and then I breathe a huge sigh of relief when I find him basking in a sunbeam at the end of winter. Until recently he had a special hidey-hole in an abandoned building, but then a few months ago construction work began and his safe spot was closed up. And so, this past winter I worried about him much more than usual. I’ve seen the toll the years have taken. He walks with clearly arthritic hips, and has got much thinner. I think I last saw him sometime before Christmas, but not since. I feared the worst, especially as this past winter has been very wet and cold.

The Dude basking on a warm spring morning

Then while out on a tour the other day I saw a woman who works at a Flamenco venue in the square taking some food out to the Dude’s girlfriend (who is happily still around) and I asked if she had seen the Dude, telling her I was worried about him. She smiled and – such happy words! – said to me “Yep, I took him home”. I almost cried. This woman, Beatriz, has been feeding Dude and his chica for a long time. Last year I remember seeing that she had set up a warm blanky for him outside the flamenco venue, and that he very happily let her scoop him up in her arms. But even back then she confided in me that she was concerned that the renovation work was taking away his bolt hole, and she couldn’t leave anything out for him outside the venue during the night.

the Dude and his chica

And well, then she took him home!!! Like me she had been worried about him, especially about the arthritis, saying he could no longer scoot up a tree like he used to in order to get away from dangerous dogs (and people). And she could see he was, well, just getting old. By all accounts he is at least 15 years old, and probably older. Apparently both the Dude and his girl were neutered by another neighbour who sees this as public service (give that woman a medal!). And Beatriz said that when she got Dude home she took him directly to the vet’s for a check-up.She said he was okay, but now on medication and not eating well. So then I asked Beatriz if she would mind me visiting the Dude at her home…

enjoying fresh air out on the enclosed terraza

When I walked into Beatriz’s apartment the Dude was out on the enclosed terraza, enjoying a fresh morning breeze. And as soon as I said his name he recognized my voice and looked up. Guys, I almost died of happiness. But he looked so small, almost half his usual weight, really just skin and bones. Apparently after Beatriz brought him home mid-December he suddenly took a turn for the worse… if she hadn’t taken him in, and taken him to the vet, and given him proper treatment, he’d have died cold, wet and alone in the street. But here is, hanging in there. Abiding.

I guess it’s a bit like him finally going into the cat equivalent of an old folk’s home. Because it is clear that the Dude has now retired. He has had a long life out there in the streets and has now been taken into a loving home – shared with an equally ancient dog – and looks quite content.

I spent about an hour with him today. As soon as I sat down on the sofa he came right up and made himself at home on my lap, at which point I totally melted. Beatriz tried feeding him, and at first he turned up his nose, but then I took a few biccys and held them out… and he started eating! Beatriz said I should come over more often as I seemed to have a positive effect on him. And I honestly hope to. Beatriz has done so much for him (she calls him Cani, short for Canela, cinnamon in Spanish), including the stress and expense of several vet visits, the medication, the special food, and the daily injections and pilling. I’d really like to help them and am planning to do so. But for now, for today, my heart is so happy that I got to see my Dude again and spend time with him.