As the popular saying goes, A dog is a man’s best friend. Throughout the world, a family would welcome a furry puppy into their lives, to raise and nurture to become a protector, and a companion. In other cases, they would adopt fully grown dogs, be it from a shelter, or a friend who can no longer sustain them, but more often rescued from the streets. In even rarer cases, the reverse becomes reality, where the dog adopts the family and welcomes them into his domain. That is the case of our great friend Rambo.
When our family set out to realize our dream of creating Amber Sunset in April of 2011, we had no idea that a few weeks in we would meet our furry friend that would one day become an integral part of all that we do. I can clearly remember that day, as though it was yesterday. Construction of the resort had commenced on April 1st of that year and the work force numbered between 45-50 men spread out at different locations all around the grounds. Being in the jungle, the men were understandably weary of what creatures and dangers they may come across and so, kept a watchful eye out. It was April 25th around 9:30 AM when I overheard a couple of the workmen talking about seeing a huge black dog with a brown collar stalking about in the jungle near the different work stations, but never getting too close. Knowing that the village still had hunters who used dogs as a part of their hunting party, I dismissed the idea of any potential danger, and instead thought it was a hunting dog being drawn in by the noise of construction. A few more days passed without me giving this anymore thought.
Then on April 29th, a Friday, I heard the workmen speaking about this black dog once more. Being that it was also their payday, the workmen would often treat themselves to a different lunch than they would normally bring from home. More often than not, this lunch would be fried chicken and fried rice from a Chinese restaurant in Santa Elena Town. I had placed the order and set out to pick it up. Upon returning, the guys all came to get their order and proceeded to sit under the thatch roof that would later become our resort’s restaurant. On my way up to join them, I noticed a few workmen all standing around a Mapola tree, with a look of concern on their faces. Walking up to them, I saw a large black German Shephard laying down at the base of the tree. The dog was a male. He looked very worn and tired and just like the men had previously described, wore a thick brown leather collar about his neck. One of his ears stood erect, and the other bent in half. His breathing was sluggish and every few times he drew breath, he would sigh very heavily. He wasn’t looking at any of us, and instead just stared off at nothing. I feared he was about to die.
The workmen who did not order food and had already finished their lunch offered the dog their left overs, cautiously putting it down in front of his nose but not getting too close. He sniffed hard and licked his lips, but did not rise to eat. This struck me as a bit odd. I decided to fill a small container with water and also cautiously placed it in front of him. He did not rise for that either.
One by one the workmen all left to continue their duties and I myself, left to do mine. Every so often my work would bring me close to the dog’s location and one of the times I went to check in on him. I noticed the food and water remained untouched so I went in for a closer inspection. He was still in the same laying position and still staring off at nothing. Flies had pitched on the left over food and a few leaves had fallen into the container of water. I threw it away and went to refill it. This time, I set the water down right in front of his nose and his weak eyes focused on it. He licked his lips a little once again, but still he didn’t move to attempt to drink. This worried me. I scooped a little in my hands and brought it right to his nose. With my hands trembling a little for fear of getting a bite, some of the water leaked out of my hand and on to his nose. He licked his nose and then licked at my hands. I repeated this a few more times before getting braver and lifted his entire head and moving the container just under his mouth for him to drink. He began to drink lustily and even began wagging his tail. His head was heavy and my hand began to tire so I let go of his head thinking he would hold it up on his own to continue drinking. I was wrong. His head dropped onto the container spilling all the remaining water on to the dry ground. I refilled the container and held his head up once again for him to drink. His thirst seemed to have no end. This time when my hands tired, I moved the container and set his head down gently. Looking at the leftover food the workmen had left, I realized this dog would not have the strength to chew on chicken bones. Instead, I took a quick trip down to a small grocery store in the village and purchased a few cans of dog food.
Returning to the dog, he wagged his tail a little. I opened the can and emptied its contents into the cover of a foam plate and set it down in front of the dog. The scent of it got him very excited. He found the strength to lift his head and then attempted to stand. Shakily, he got to his feet and began to eat as though it was his last meal on earth. He was indeed a very big dog. It immediately became apparent to me why he was so weak. Standing, his ribs were visible, as were the bones on his back hips and every so often, he would sway and then catch his balance. This dog did not eat for a very long time.
Very quickly the food disappeared so I opened a second can for him and that one disappeared almost as quickly as the first. Not wanting him to eat too much and then making himself sick, I bit back the urge to open the third can. He lapped at his water once and then very weakly, laid back down. It was almost time to call it a day on the worksite, so I sought out the security who would be on duty for the night and asked him to open the remaining two cans for the dog after a few more hours. I left that day happy that at least he had eaten and drank and hoped, he would not pass away.
Returning very early the following day, I brought more cans of dog food and a metal bowl and walked up the hill to the Mapola tree under which he was laying. To my surprise, he was not there. I walked over to the restaurant site and found him there sitting in the shade looking out to the view of the Spanish Lookout valley below. Without turning his head, his eyes turned towards me. I noticed he now had a small bucket of water beside him. I walked up to him and stooped down to pat his head. He wagged his tail a little and sniffed at the cans I was holding. I opened one of the cans for him and he began to eat. It took him a few more days to fully recover his strength and few months before he gained back his weight. He would also go out to hunt on his own from time to time. We all suspected he did hunt for survival before he showed himself to us.
During his recovery period, we sought out the village hunters to see if he belonged to any of them or if any of them could recognize him. He did not belong to any of them and no one recognized him at all. Wearing such an expensive collar, he did belong to someone though, and continued asking around if anyone knew him. Still, he remained unclaimed. After a month of trying, we decided to stop asking around and added him to our family. He needed to have a name. It is a Belizean tradition that every dog must have a name, even the stray dogs on the street. You would often hear names based on the dog’s color or appearance. For example, “browny” for brown dogs, “chalky” for white dogs, and “spot” for spotted dogs. The workmen had taken to calling him “blacky” every time they encountered him. We all took turns calling out different names to see which one would sound the best. One of the workmen called out “Rambo” and for just a little bit, he wagged his tail, and that decided it for good. His name would be Rambo.
Within the first few months of him being with us, we took him to the vet often to get vitamins and the necessary shots he required. The vet estimated he was about three or four years old at that time. We discerned he was a very smart dog. He immediately grasped the concepts of “sit”, “stay” and “give me your paw”. We also noticed he never barked. At first that was strange to us, but we realized it was a part of his personality. He moves around silently and would often find joy in sneaking up on myself and the workmen.
Rambo also followed me everywhere I went when I would check up on the different work stations. Embarrassingly, he would also follow me when I went to use the bathroom and would lay down in front of the door, as though he was guarding me. The workmen used to joke that they would know that it was me in there just because he was laying outside the door.
We were also worried of how he would react to strangers when the resort opened. Upon opening and our first guests arriving all our fears were put to bed when he ran up to them wagging his tail, sniffing and greeting them; something he still does to this day. When guests are lounging at the swimming pool, he would go to each in turn and wag his tail hoping to get a head rub or an ear scratch. He also loves playing with children. He would often lay down flat, and let them rub his head. In the almost five years since he’s been with us, Rambo has never failed to happily greet our guests and even follow them from time to time whenever they explore our property. He’s even earned himself a few mentions in guest’s reviews on Tripadvisor. He has become a part of our team.
In writing this article about his story, it made me realize that perhaps he was the one who adopted us and not the other way around. Perhaps we invaded his little sanctuary, scaring away his food and it took him a while to show himself to us. Rambo has touched almost every guest he’s encountered. For myself, he’s been a true friend and companion; a part of my family. I hope you can all get the chance to meet him one day.