A POTCAKE CALLED PRINCESS
This tale is a creative non-fiction based on a true story, some of the names of people and places have been changes to protect the folks involved. M Lightfine
“Mary, hurry, you’ve got to see this.” Paul shouted from beyond the old wooden French doors of our quaint colonial hotel room. We hadn’t even unpacked yet but the sea was too alluring and my husband just couldn’t wait to feel the warm Caribbean waters on his travel weary feet so he had already started exploring. An hour prior we had landed on this lovely romantic Island in the West Indies.
“What’s wrong?” I queried.
“Mary, you’ve got to see this dog.”
“DOG….DOG!” You are all excited about a stray dog?”
“This one is special; you’ve got to see her right away,” Paul promised.
I immediately dropped my things and ran out the French doors to the powdery white beach just steps away from our roughly tiled terrace. And there she was.
A sleek honey colored pooch with eyes like shinny marbles was romping in the surf with another fuzzier version of herself. She immediately glanced our way with an impish grin and I could swear she actually smiled.
“Wow, she is cute Paul; she must have an owner here somewhere.“ I wonder if tourists bring their dogs with them? Moments later this captivating little creature sidled up to us wagging her perky tail and peered into our eyes as if to say
“Hello, I’m yours for the entire vacation.”
It was time to explore the Island with our new friend devotedly prancing along the narrow cobblestone street in tune with our steps. It felt like she had been our companion forever. Bougainvillea hung in fuchsia clusters over trellises adorning entrances to charming English style one and two story cottages. Little shops and quaint homes dotted the shore line as we strolled in the shady comfort of the tall fruit trees towards Salty’s Sea Side Café. Salty’s was recommended by our hotel as a good local fare establishment a couple minutes walk away.
Dogs and cats seemed to be welcome everywhere unaccompanied as if they too were independent residents here. No one batted an eyelash as we moseyed over to a seat overlooking the nearly deserted beach with our new friend flouncing right along. We passed a little kitten soaking up tiny rays of sun on the wooden deck and then as we strolled close to a couple of other diner’s one of them reached over to pet our pooch. What a ham, this little dog. She immediately sat next to a fair skinned lady in a floppy straw hat who began to stroke her sleek amber neck and shoulder. Then she started to cock her head this way and that as she stole suggestive glances towards some plump fried fish on a nearby plate. Well, that did the trick, each tourist began to offer tidbits from their dish but our new friend was very discerning. A piece of bread was offered by a brawny gentleman and gently accepted, tasted and finally discarded to the ground. The group quickly caught on and handed over some crispy morsels of fish which were quickly yet graciously accepted by our pooch. When this regal mongrel finally had her fill she looked in our direction as if to say “I’m really with them.” Then she glanced back at the group as if to say “thanks for the food.”
Pooch only took a few steps from the table when she back tracked behind the folks who had resumed their eating. Then she did something I’ve never seen before. She quietly circled behind each and every diner taking a brief whiff of their butts one by one and as she turned I noticed something I had not seen before. An irregular patch of skin on her hind quarters was smooth and hairless as if she had been injured at one time. It was almost as if she knew we were thinking of her, she immediately glanced at us with her cute grin and trotted back in our direction.
“Hello Princess,” a tall rosy cheeked waitress called out as she sashayed past the golden pooch towards our table with menus.
“Oh, is that lovely dog yours?” I asked.
She was a rotund woman with sparkling blue eyes and a heavy German accent, her name tag read Gertrude.
“No, she’s a pot cake,” was the reply.
“A pot cake?”
“Her name is Princess but no one owns her, really.”
“But she is so cute and healthy looking how could she belong to no one.”
“I guess you could say that she’s everyone’s dog but not really anyone’s.” Have you met Marcella?”
“What exactly are you trying to say and who is Marcella?” Paul inquired.
“Does she have an owner or not?” Paul likes to be precise.
“That painting over there on your wall, of the cute doggie curled up on a flowered sofa entitled ‘Pot Cake’ looks just like Princess. Is that her?” Paul asked Gertrude.
“That could be her or any dog here, really. Let me explain, a pot cake is what we call the remainder of your dinner that you don’t want, the stuff that’s still stuck to the bottom of your cooking pot when everyone else has eaten their fill. Normally we scrape it out and feed the “pot cakes” to the mongrel dogs and cats. So we call the strays around here `Pot Cakes`. You are what you eat, you know”, Gertrude reminded us.
“Hi, I noticed your cute little Inn and wondered if you might have a map of the island”, I said to the tiny lightly tanned woman in a teal tank top with matching shorts. She looked to be in her fifties and was holding a tray of cleaning supplies. I parked my folding bicycle just inside the white picket fence as she approached me with a broad smile.
“Hi I’m Sandy the owner, come on in,” she spoke with just a hint of an accent. “I’m trying to deliver some donations to the local hospital but I’m not sure how to get there,” I confessed.
Paul was normally my scout, he was born with a GPS in his brain, I’m sure of it. Paul never got lost but I can’t even find my way across a five mile Island. This morning Paul was cloistered in our room working so I was on my own.
“Well, let’s see if we have a map here in this mess. We moved here years ago from Key West and decided to remodel some - just re-opened last week. Things are still a bit of a mess,” Sandy confided.
“Wow, you have a beautiful place,” I replied.
The inn was right across form the beach and beautifully appointed not to mention cozy. The inviting allure was probably why I had felt compelled to stop here in the first place for directions.
“Did you live a long time in Key West?” I asked Sandy, wondering about her accent.
“Yeah, we‘re originally from Australia but moved to Key West over twenty years ago. We - my sister and I - had a nice Motel there but the Keys got too crowded and lost their character so we came here and really love it. It’s all about the people, isn’t it?” Sandy added. “Ever been to the Keys?”
But before I could reply, she continued to speak.
“Here, there might not be too much to do if you aren’t into water sports but the folks are very friendly. There is almost no crime on these Islands and if there is the police know right away who did it! Where are you from?” Sandy inquired.
“Florida; I’m president of Volunteers Without Boundaries SM a small tax deductible charity.”
“What kind of charity is that?” Sandy inquired.
“My fiancé and I deliver medical supplies to remote needy areas in Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean in a small twin engine Cessna that we fly ourselves. We also recruit volunteers to help where needed. That’s why I’m looking for the hospital to see what kind of needs you have here on the Island and to drop off some donations.”
“Oh, wait till you see our hospital, it’s really different, that’s for sure. Hey, have you met Marcella?” Sandy asked with eagerness. “In fact we were just sitting here, chatting, on this sofa yesterday; you would be amazed by her story. I’ll bet she could use lot’s of help.
Wait, let me get you her phone number,” Sandy yelled as she ran through the foyer into the other room.
“Marcella, I’ve heard her name before, tell me about her,” I begged.
“ Hello, hello, is this Marcella? I bellowed into my mobile phone expecting poor reception here on the Island.
“Yes, this is she and you don’t have to yell. I’m standing right next to the wireless tower and I can hear you just fine,” she replied. “Can I meet you somewhere”, I asked? I tried to explain who I was, but there was no need, she knew already. Small Island, small town, everyone knew everyone else’s business here and I had spent all day trying to figure out where Marcella lived in order to meet with her. I hated using the phone and tried to avoid it as much as possible but this woman was not easy to locate, even on this small Island.
Later that afternoon Paul joined me in my quest to find Marcella also known as the “dog lady.” Marcella was more than a “Dog lady”, she was a horse, cat, cow, donkey and animal humanitarian and had been for the greater part of twenty years but the folks on the Island knew her simply as the dog lady. Everyone knew Marcella, they knew where she lived and what she was doing but she was still difficult to find none the less.
“Meet me in front of the Phone Company; I’m paying my bill right now. I have a white minibus parked in front,” were my instructions.
I saw the vehicle but the only main street in town was deserted so Paul and I went into the phone company and announced that we were looking for Marcella.
“Oh, she was here, but got tired of waiting for you so she left, the two plump clerks at the payment window informed us.
We exited and looked around; we traveled up and down the street asking everyone inside little shops if they knew where Marcella was.
“Oh, she was just here looking for you,” was the unanimous reply everyone gave us. Then from out of nowhere a very tiny blond, firmly built woman stepped out into the quiet street and marched confidently towards us.
After shaking hands and introducing ourselves, Marcella’s phone rang, she was indeed a busy hard working woman. I could see the creases in her tanned middle aged face and the rough brown calloused skin of hands. Her conversation was direct and purposeful as she held the miniature phone to ear and conversed with a veterinarian on the other end. Paul took the opportunity to snap a few photos of this extraordinary woman while I jotted down a few notes.
“We sterilized 103 animals in four days on Sand Cay”, she informed us as she hung up.
“I just returned the other night. Right now I’m just making preparations for some educational classes to be held on the island. Want to see where I keep the strays?” Marcella asked, not wasting time for small talk.
It’s about a hundred degrees in the sun with maybe eighty percent humidity, but still not a bad day for biking, so Paul and I agree to meet Marcella at the shelter. She gives us directions and promises to be there in ten minutes after she runs a few errands.
We arrived at a formerly abandoned green one story wooden house on a very large sandy lot dotted with what looked like mini four foot tall Acacia trees complete with prickly thorns. Marcella had already arrived and was speaking French with a spindly dark skinned young man. We found out later the Teenager recently arrived from Haiti to avoid the violence there and was employed by Marcella to watch over the shelter. She admitted that no one on the island appeared interested in volunteering to help her with the animals so she had to pay someone to watch over them.
As we strolled through the sand towards the modest building several dogs wandered up to greet us, each one was sleek, smooth and shiny. They appeared well cared for and were extremely friendly with tails a wagging. Marcella called them each by name, and begins to share their stories with us. Every animal here had a unique tale to tell via Marcella, the woman who saved them from hell.
“This is Pierre,” Marcella announced, “he was hit by a car, his pelvis was broken and his front foot crushed. Someone called me and I found him suffering in the middle of the road, I never knew if he was hit more than once or not. No one ever claimed him so he lives here now. We couldn’t save his foot but he manages just fine with three legs,” she says as Pierre hobbled up to Paul throwing his tail anxiously from side to side clearly happy to be alive.
“This is Nico,” Marcella introduces yet another dog with a fuzzy black coat and bluish eyes. “Nico is blind and his owner didn’t want him anymore so he will live here for a few more days until his new family is ready for him. I worm and neuter all the animals, treat their illnesses and then find homes for most of them. I’m not a vet but I can do a lot on my own, if I can’t do it, I call the vet on one of the other islands to help. We don’t have any Veterinarians here.”
As we stepped inside the old house Marcella announced that she found this place abandoned a few years ago, fixed it up and used it ever since as a shelter. Inside it was spotless with no hint of animal odor which I found amazing considering the temperatures outside. Three big fans blew comfortable breezes into every room and partitions separated some of the more vulnerable animals from the others and cats from Dogs.
We marched into the three rooms designated only for cats. It looked like a cozy little cottage inside with wicker tables and benches everywhere. The rooms were full of things cats love to sleep on and full of cats, all sleek and shiny many with healing scars, one with three legs and several zig zagging around our ankles. I was amazed by the lack of odor and how clean it was inside.
“How do you keep it so nice in here?” I inquired.
“Hard work”, Marcella replied, “I do it myself every day.”
spotted a blue eyed cat with gray fur looking at me cross-eyed and had to know her story.
“Why is this one here”, I asked?
“Oh, that’s Angelina, some locals thought she was possessed and tried to burn her, see the scars?” as Marcella points to some smooth skin on her back.
“Hello Princess,” Marcella called out towards the screen door isolating us and the cats from the rest of the world.
“You know Princess? I queried.
“Oh, Princess and I go way back. You wouldn’t know that she is 12 yrs old would you?”
“No, she looks like a young dog,” Paul added.
“I wasn’t going to tell you this story but I feel that perhaps you should know even if it sheds a bad light on the people here. Before I tell you about how I met Princess let it be known that this almost never happens here any more. But first let me show you some of the cutest puppies you’ve ever seen.”
“See these puppies; they are only about ten weeks old.” Marcella commented as she directed us to a corner where two tan and black little pups were bouncing up and down. Eager to gain our attention first, each tiny pup pushed the other aside and nudged our hands with cold wet black noses. They were truly adorable.
“See these puppies?” Marcella repeated as she continued this time.
“The people here are not really very poor but sometimes the kids do mean things out of boredom. Young boys will carry a basket of little puppies up to the tourists and offer to sell the pups for twenty dollars. When the tourists point out that they can’t take puppies home because of customs regulations the boys will then say ‘Well, lady, I can tell you like puppies and if you don’t give me twenty dollars I will throw these cute little puppies into the ocean and let them all drown.’ That’s where these two pups came from, a tourist who couldn’t bear to watch them drown; she paid the twenty and bought the pups but couldn’t take them home so they ended up here. I’m not only trying to stop this practice I’m putting a halt to some of the other horrible things that used to happen here and that’s what brings me to the story about Princess.”
“I moved here a long time ago to make this place my home and fell in love with everything about the Island except for one thing and I vowed to stay and do something about it because it seemed that no one else really cared. Ten years ago I was visiting a friend in town when I spotted a young boy fiddling with a car parked along the street. I knew this boy and was worried that perhaps he was up to no good so I watched him. He had a container of liquid that I suspected he had siphoned from the gas tank. I was curious what he was going to do with the petrol so I began to follow him. I think he knew I was watching so he slipped into the shadows of an abandoned shanty.”
“When I heard a piercing inhuman scream and then frenzied yelping I ran as fast as I could towards the cries. It sounded like an animal suffering and I was already familiar with the horrible stories of torture here on the island. I was completely out of breath when I finally found them; two boys with a coke bottle of petrol and a dog hanging upside down from a tree branch in blazes. The boys ran when they saw me. I didn’t follow them; instead I tore off my shirt and wrapped it around the poor suffering dog. I had been sweating enough to dampen the shirt and it was enough to extinguish the flames but the poor dog was also starved, dehydrated and I wasn’t sure if she would live even if it weren’t for the burns. I quickly untied the pieces of netting they used to lash her upside down to the tree and gently carried her to my car. I called her my little Princess and promised that I would do everything in my power to save her, and I vowed that I would stop this practice forever so that no other animal would ever have to suffer like this again.”
“Today I manage a program for all the animals on this Island. I make sure all strays are spayed and neutered. Plus I help anyone who needs me with any animal problem here including treating sick horses and donkeys. I recruit veterinarians from Canada and the USA to help when possible, and more importantly I manage an educational program to stop animal cruelty including torture. Since I started this program there are less strays, the animal health on this island as well as the near by Cays has improved considerably and torture is almost at a stand still. You can walk up to any stray Horse, dog or cat and find a healthy friendly animal and I’m proud of that fact.”
The story of Princes brought tears to my eyes. She looked all blurry when I glanced over at her as Marcella reconfirmed the story. Paul and I both began to caress her shinny coat as we pondered her miraculous recovery. “What can we do to help you?” We asked in unison.
“Well, I do need someone to help around here, especially during the hurricane season. If you know of anyone, who is trustworthy, sensitive, discreet and who can follow orders I’d be honored to host them if they’d be interested in volunteering.”
Paul and I slowly pedaled our bikes back to hotel from Marcella’s place with full hearts and Princess still keeping pace. The sky was filled with brilliant colors of violet and flaming orange as the sun slipped behind the evening clouds. Suddenly Paul called out, “Mary look over there.” A mare and her new foal were standing like statues on a sandy dune looking out over the sea watching the day disappear.
We stopped our bikes and got off so that we could share the sunset with our other Island friends. Together Paul and I stood with Princess, the Mare and her newborn foal to watch the end of a beautiful day; a reminder that all life is precious.
This is a true story; some of the names and details have been changed to protect the innocent. Anyone interested in volunteering or making a tax deductible donation may visit the following www.volunteerswithoutboundaries.org FAQ page.
Mary Lightfine RN,
Author of Nurses, Nomads, And Warlords
A Potcake Called Princess, By Mary Lightfine