No Mexican steers entering U.S. will have hard ticks


The USDA controls the movement of horses through the backstretch stalls at Caliente.
  • The USDA controls the movement of horses through the backstretch stalls at Caliente.
  • Image by Robert Burroughs

IT IS SIX IN THE MORNING at the stockyards in Mexicali, and Frank Enders is rummaging for his cowboy boots and his ancient straw cowboy hat in the back seat of his U.S. government-issued Chevette.

Frank Enders: “I’m not going to do the cutting for them. They won't spend the twenty dollars for a water truck to keep the goddamned dust down.”

Frank Enders: “I’m not going to do the cutting for them. They won't spend the twenty dollars for a water truck to keep the goddamned dust down.”

The cattle trucks are disgorging their hoofed cargo into the dusty corrals, Mexican cowhands on horseback are whistling and hollering at the leery beasts, prodding them with electric rods, and Mexican cattle brokers are shaking hands with their American counterparts. Frank Enders, veterinary doctor with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, slips on his boots and ventures once again into the parched confines of cow shit diplomacy.

"I don't know if these guys think I'm their friend or some mean sonofabitch," he mutters. He can appear to be both. Enders is the point man for the USDA on California's border with Mexico, and his importance to American and Mexican agriculture is belied by his self-effacing manner.

Quarantined horse

Quarantined horse

At fifty-nine, he's earned the belly and the gray beard and the handlebar mustache. He's also earned the affectionate respect from the Mexican cattlemen who are now straggling into the stockyards with their own bellies and their impending deals.

Mark Gabel, Jon Grice, Frank Enders

Mark Gabel, Jon Grice, Frank Enders

But standing between them and the American beef brokers who want to buy 1000 head of sturdy Mexican range-ted cattle is Frank Enders — the Mexicans call him Doc. His job. and those of his two USDA animal inspectors, is to ensure that only certifiably healthy steers cross onto Yankee soil for eventual transformation into supermarket steaks and fast-food hamburgers.

After leaving Caliente, the horse was tattooed with the number of a much slower horse, and a switcheroo was pulled. “The guy got ten years.”

After leaving Caliente, the horse was tattooed with the number of a much slower horse, and a switcheroo was pulled. “The guy got ten years.”

Six USDA inspectors rode horseback along the border between Tecate and Yuma until 1982, when cutbacks ended that safety measure. Now cattle and hogs can freely wander back and forth, and the danger of cattle fever or hog cholera re-entering U.S. livestock is real. But currently, the federal government concentrates its international disease-control efforts on the commercial livestock business, which is centered in these hot corrals in south-central Mexicali. In the accelerating heat, Enders greets his Mexican friends with handshakes and bear hugs as his two assistants, Jon Grice and Mark Gabele, head over to the squeeze pens to start a long, sticky day of cattle fondling. Enders explains that this is a USDA-licensed cattle inspection facility and that it’s divided into two parts. One side is considered Mexican territory, and the other side is American, even though the stockyards are five miles south of the border. The Mexicans are supposed to separate out any cattle that might not pass inspection before the steers are funneled through corrals into the USDA inspection area. Once they’re over there, the cattle are being offered up to American hands, and the discovery of, say, a single tick of the variety that carries the dreaded cattle fever could be disastrous for the Mexican cattle brokers. “We find one hard tick, and we’ll shut down the whole operation and reject every steer,’’ Enders declares.

This is the best of times for Mexican cattlemen. According to Rene Loperena Nunez, who is secretary for the Mexican Cattlemen’s Association, about one million head of cattle have crossed north this year into California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. As he scrapes mud off the bottom of his boots, he points out that last year about 800,000 head made the crossing. Along the Baja border, through Mexicali, the number of crossings has grown steadily over the last three years to about 27,000. Each one has to be inspected by hand and plunged into a godawful-smelling tick bath. After a few months of fattening on American feed lots, the 1100-pound steers will be slaughtered and sold mostly as USDA “Good" grade meat.

Remigio Aquilar, the owner of the stockyards who also owns a cattle ranch in Sonora, has warmly greeted Enders, and he now watches as a group of steers is weighed. “The devaluation helped the cattle business in Mexico,” he explains. The drop in the value of the peso provided the impetus for Mexican ranchers to seek American dollars. So they built up their herds, which helped bring the price of Mexican beef down below that of American beef, and the American buyers then came calling. Plus, Aguilar says, Mexican range-fed cattle are attractive because they’re leaner than American cattle. “We’re phasing out feed lots,” he remarks, leaning against a weathered wooden corral post. “The cost of grain has gone up, and there’s plenty of range land, anyway.”

A young American buyer wearing regulation pointy-toed boots, Levis, a huge silver belt buckle, and cowboy hat breaks into the conversation. “Six or seven years ago, you couldn’t buy Mexican beef. It was too expensive. But now it’s a lot cheaper, and everybody’s buying it." He gestures to a group of steers heading toward the inspection pens. “The ones that can grow hair will be shipped East, and the ones that can’t will stay in the southwestern part of the country. You cain't really tell the difference between Mexican cattle and southwestern U.S. cattle.”

Frank Enders has been discussing a get-together on the following Saturday with a succession of Mexican ranchers. He and his boss from Sacramento, along with some other California state government officials, have been invited down to Jose Carlos’s ranch thirty miles south of Tecate. Several issues affecting Mexican-American cattle relations need to be discussed, and the Mexicans have offered to butcher a couple of lambs and roast them on a spit. At about eight o’clock, Enders spots Tony Proto, a big, ham-faced Mexican cattle broker with a huge belly. Enders laughs heartily and hugs the Mexican, showing amazing strength by lifting Proto completely off his feet. Proto is here to sell cattle, but first he and Enders huddle over the hood of the USDA car with a map of Mexico. Enders wants Proto to show him the locations of the tick baths that Mexican cattle must go through on their way north to the border. With a yellow highlight pen, Enders circles the places that Proto indicates with his sausage fingers: local border crossings along the Sonora, Sinaloa, and Chihuahua state lines. “Thanks, Tony. You’re a very important goddam person,” Enders says.

Enders explains that the U.S. government wants to know as much as possible about tick control in northern Mexico. The U.S. is officially free of fever ticks, and so is northern Baja, at least according to the cattlemen. Enders is excited to receive a letter this morning from Marcos Vargas, the Mexican veterinarian who is always present during these stock crossings. The letter is from the local office of the secretary of agriculture in Baja, and it states officially that northern Baja is free of fever ticks. Enders says, “This is the first time we've gotten word of this from the Mexican government,” he says.

ENDERS'S ATTENTION IS drawn to a group of cattle waiting to be moved over to the inspection area. He spots two steers with “pink eye,” a common malady that could just be attributable to all the dust in the air or could be a contagious form of carititus. Enders calls to Tony Proto and another seller and tells them to cut out those two steers right away. “If they put those into the inspection chute, they could infect the whole lot, and we’d have to reject them all ” he huffs. The two Mexican sellers look at the steers and find the symptoms questionable, but they obviously fear Enders’s power.

Enders asks the Mexican veterinarian to come look at the two steers, and the vets confer in Spanish. Vargas thinks it’s just due to the dust, but Enders is unbending. “I need dry eyes,” he says testily. “I’m unable to diagnose the true problem, so we aren't gonna take any chances.”

“We’re gonna cut them out, doctor,” Remigio Aguilar, the stockyard owner, assures.

“In Mexico, not over there in the U.S.,” Enders commands, referring to the USDA corrals. The Mexicans hustle over a cowhand with a cattle prod and separate out the rejects.

“I’m not going to do the cutting for them,” Enders grumbles, meaning he doesn’t want his two inspectors to have to do the winnowing work the Mexicans should already have accomplished. “They won't spend the twenty dollars for a water truck to keep the goddamned dust down.”

Enders walks through three corrals to reach the squeeze pens where his inspectors are examining two steers at a time. It is smelly, dangerous, important work. The men stand on either side of the pen as a group of Mexicans work the levers that immobilize the animals by squeezing them between metal gates. The inspectors note the M brand on the right side of the steer’s face, a newly required mark that allows American authorities to trace the animal’s origin; they look for an ear tag noting that the steer has been tested for tuberculosis; they look for warts and signs of ringworm, and then they feel with their hands along the soft underbelly of the animals. This is where ticks would be found. A soft tick wouldn't be cause for great concern, but a hard tick, which can carry the deadly cattle fever, would halt the whole operation. The last check is a quick feel for testicles, which shouldn’t be there. Federal law prohibits bulls or cows from being imported into the U.S. to ensure the continued purity of American stock. Most of the rejected animals are sent back because of infections related to their castration.

But this year the M brand has become another major reason for rejection of some steers. Last April the USDA instituted the new rule, requiring that an M, at least two and a half inches tall, and another letter such as an S for Sinaloa, O for Sonora, or B for Baja, be branded on each animal’s right cheek to identify its home range. To the Mexicans, this is something of an insult, as well as a hassle and arguably a cruelty to the animals. Even an American broker comments, “Nobody likes to brand an animal on the face.” But to the USDA, it’s a safety measure that helps keep bovine tuberculosis banished outside U.S. borders.

Frank Enders has no qualms at all about the M brand. He says that it’s necessary because humans can contract tuberculosis from infected meat and that once an imported steer is butchered and found to have tubercular lesions, it is imperative that the government know the animal’s origins. He and the Mexicans are diametrically opposed to each other on this point, but their discussions about it remain civil and gentlemanly. “Mexico doesn’t want you to know they have tuberculosis,” he says. “McDonald’s wouldn’t buy their beef anymore.”

The M brands became necessary for a couple of reasons. Enders doesn’t completely trust the ear tags that indicate the steers have been tested for tuberculosis. For one thing, they sometimes fall off. “They don’t always have the tool to put the tag on right,” Enders explains. “Oh, they can get it on the ear. Mexicans are so good mechanically that you can give one a hammer and a pair of pliers, and he can fix your diesel for you beside the road. But without the right tool, the tag won’t stay.” Enders also hasn’t forgotten the time five years ago when the Mexican government tested a group of cattle for tuberculosis and got negative results; but then a few of these cattle wandered across the border and were later tested in the U.S. Some of them tested positive.

Rene Loperena of the Mexican Cattlemen’s Association hands Enders a thick letter written by a Washington, D.C. law firm. The firm has been retained by the cattlemen, and the letter is a request sent to the USDA for cancellation of the M brand rule. Enders puts on reading glasses and comments as he skims through it: “High-powered obfuscation!... Goddam lies!... Bullshit!” The letter argues that the brand is unnecessary, cruel, and costly. “These Mexican cowhands only make four dollars a day. How expensive can it be to put on these brands?” he asks.

He hands the letter back to Loperena and points out sections of it that he regards as untrue. Loperena and a couple of the other cattlemen listen and look at each other and sigh. They seem to accept Enders as a misguided friend who will eventually come around to the correct way of thinking.

AS THE HEAT BUILDS, SO does the wind, which whips little tornadoes of dust around the corrals. The cattlemen break out bottles of cold mineral water from backseat coolers, and Enders passes out homegrown tomatoes from his garden. He wanders back over to the squeeze pens when a new lot of cattle is moved into the USDA corrals. He and his two inspectors see immediately that they have a problem.

Many of the steers are listless, with sunken eyes and wobbly gaits. And they’re a mess. Most of them have watery diarrhea, which not only covers the animals but also soon finds its way onto the coveralls of the inspectors. Until this lot arrived, there were almost no rejects, but Enders and the inspectors refuse to allow many of these animals into the okay corral. As the weakest ones are rejected, one of the inspectors says “malo” to a barefoot Mexican boy who swings a gate to direct the woozy steers into a separate corral. Enders appears to empathize with both the sick cattle and the Mexican cattlemen, who will have to make the animals healthy before they can sell them to American buyers. “Look at the legs crossing," Enders says as one steer struggles free of the squeeze pen. “These dawgs wouldn’t make it out of the tick bath.”

The last part of the inspection entails forcing the steers into a narrow concrete pool filled with a foul-smelling anti-tick chemical called Coumafous. Helpers wielding poles stand over the pool to make sure each animal, including its head, is completely immersed. “Weak steers have been known to drown in the tick bath,’’ Enders explains.

Twenty-seven steers are rejected out of 1026 offered up for inspection this day. (Two of the accepted ones will die before they’re loaded onto the cattle trucks.) Remigio Aguilar explains to Enders that this last lot was improperly fed by the Mexican cattle shipper. After going hungry for a full day, the animals were given a “hot feed’’ — straight grain with no hay — before being brought to the stockyards. That feed, combined with Mexicali’s hundred-degree heat, caused the animals to dehydrate. As the accepted steers are funneled toward the tick bath. Enders obviously feels bad about having to reject so many. “I’m supposed to come here and do my goddam job," he laments.

“Hey, it’s not your fault, Doc, and it’s not mine,” responds the stockyard owner. “It’s between the buyer and the seller, and you can’t get into the middle.”

Eight-hundred-pound steers are plunging into the brown tick bath, bellowing in fear and splashing out sheets of noxious ooze. The smell could gag a skunk. “This smells good compared to Toxiphene,” chuckles inspector Jon Grice, making reference to the extremely toxic chemical that for twenty-five years had been used in these tick baths. The stuff was banned by the U.S. government in the early Eighties when it was shown to cause cancer.

Now, during the cattle crossing season (October to early summer), Jon Grice and fellow inspector Mark Gabele must have their blood tested every two months.

As they scoot away from the sloshing dip bath, Grice needles Aguilar about how the USDA had to hassle him into using water trucks to keep the toxic dust down. “Toxiphene stays toxic for years, and it was all in the dust blowing around here,” Grice explains. But Aguilar is quick with a rejoinder, “That was five years ago,” he says with complete assurance. “All that dust has blown away.”

In the early afternoon, while the rest of the cattle are run through the tick bath, Enders heads back to home near Dulzura. He’ll have to get up at 3:00 a.m. the next day to drive back out to Mexicali by 6:00 a.m., but this doesn’t prevent him from bidding warm good-byes to several Mexicans he’ll be seeing again in a few hours. “I used to miss the rapport I had with people when I was in private practice,” he says, the wide blue expanse of Baja’s huge Laguna Salida slipping by his window. “But I got it back now.”

Enders was raised in Hollywood, spent seventeen years in private veterinary practice in the San Joaquin Valley, then hired on as a meat inspector with the USDA in 1971. He switched to the agency’s veterinary services in 1974, taking the San Diego assignment in 1982. Now he’s the only USDA vet south of Los Angeles, and he’s responsible for inspecting all the mammals and birds that cross north from Mexico, including the American horses coming back from the Agua Caliente racetrack in Tijuana. The job places him squarely in the role of jovial but firm Uncle Sam to Mexican businessmen, a position he clearly enjoys. “You know what the Mexicans call Bartles and Jaymes wine coolers?” he asks, chuckling. “Dos Okies.”

But the border duties constitute only about half of his responsibilities. Enders and his two inspectors are also required to inspect licensed animal dealers and exhibitors, such as the San Diego Zoo and Sea World, as well as all of the county’s animal research facilities, of which there are forty. Regulations say an inspector is supposed to make two surprise visits per year to the exhibitors and three annual visits to the animal research facilities. In reality, three men are now doing the work that was once performed by eight, prior to federal cutbacks in 1982.

Enders hasn’t had time to make it to the San Diego Wild Animal Park in three years, and neither has he had a chance to thoroughly re-inspect the San Diego Zoo to check on deficiencies he noted there in 1985. Enders cited the zoo for problems with water quality in its sea lion pools, as well as various substandard features of some monkey and big cat cages. Cracked walls, inadequate ventilation, seeping water, rodent feces in primate feed-storage areas, and other signs of deterioration were noted. Enders generally gives the zoo credit for doing the best job it can with aging facilities, and he holds the manager of animal care, Ken Willingham, in high esteem.

More recently, Enders has concentrated on other parts of the zoo. He has requested that a sun shade be erected for the elephants and is proud to have played a role in changing the flooring in the pen where the elephants sleep. “They used to have to stand in their own urine all night, and it burned their feet,” he says. “How would you like to have to stand in your own urine?” He’s anxious to get back to the zoo and check on the sun shade, as well as a problem with water draining into a hippo’s pen.

Enders has to know a lot more about animal care than is contained in the voluminous USDA animal welfare standards, but he’s not afraid to admit that he’s no expert on the care of every animal. So in the same way he nurtures relations with the Mexicans, he has worked to become friendly with some of the zoo’s keepers. The keepers sometimes have their own troubles getting approval from zoo administrators for changes in animal care or facilities, and they’re not above getting their way by tipping Enders off to a potential deficiency.

WHAT ENDERS HAS been able to learn about animal care at the zoo may soon be transferable to the racetrack at Agua Caliente in Tijuana. Jorge Hank Rhon, operator of the track, is in the process of building a small zoo of his own in the track’s infield. Hank has two boa constrictors in his office, and he’s in the process of shipping two European wild boars and three hippos up from his ranch near Mexico City. This concerns Enders, whose job it is to ensure that the Mexican-owned track adheres to USDA animal health standards. Enders says Hank is supposed to give him a repprt on how the zoo animals will be kept separated from the thoroughbreds, and as soon as the hippos arrive, the USDA will have to inspect them for ticks.

Under an agreement reached in 1972, the USDA controls the movement of horses through the backstretch stalls at Caliente. About nine out of ten horses that run there are American-owned, and prior to 1972, each of the horses had to pass a blood test and other exams before it could re-enter the U.S. But after years of complaints by horse owners, the track’s owners decided it was in their best interest to grant the USDA jurisdiction over the backstretch. This meant that any Mexican horses that were to race there would be put into a five-day USDA quarantine in a barn that is actually outside the fenced boundaries of the backstretch and that American horses would no longer have to submit to blood tests in order to return north across the border. The American horses who are heading north are now visually inspected every Monday morning by Jon Grice and Mark Gabele, under Enders’s supervision.

On a recent Monday morning outside the USDA’s huge test barn on the Caliente backstretch, Jose Bejarano, a Mexican who’s worked at the track for thirty years and now acts as a go-between for the USDA, is telling Enders a little story about Jorge Hank’s hippos. “As they were trying to move them from the ranch down there, one broke its ropes and went into a dammed reservoir,” Bejarano explains. “They can’t get it out, so now they have to drain all the water.”

“How they gonna get him out, then?” asks Enders.

Bejarano gives an ironic shrug in the comical and knowing way perfected by long-suffering Mexicans, and everybody laughs.

As the two inspectors get ready to look over the forty-five horses in the test barn, Enders is talking sternly with another track official. “Sucio, sucio!” Enders exclaims. “Look how dirty this place is.” He gestures to trash strewn about the rutted dirt roads between the horse barns. “People drink beer, soda pop, then throw the bottles right out the window.” The official looks around sheepishly. Enders is also mad about the lax security in the backstretch, where all you have to do to get past the guard gate is wave. It’s obvious that he has this conversation almost every Monday. But in the middle of his admonitions, a young Mexican pulls up in a large pickup truck to ask the track official if he can bring a trailer onto the backstretch. A new training track has been built about three miles away, and the horses need to be trucked over for a workout.

Enders's reddish face deepens in hue. “I haven’t inspected that trailer. How do I know it isn’t full of manure and trash?” he lectures in Spanish. The young Mexican and the track official listen in silence. Enders has the authority to prevent any animal or piece of equipment from being brought onto the backstretch, if there’s a possibility that it could spread diseases among the American horses. “You bring that trailer through here, and we might have to bleed all 1100 horses,” he continues, meaning all the animals might have to be given blood tests. The young Mexican leaves with instructions to leave the trailer outside the backstretch and bring the horses to it.

“Well, did we get his attention?” Enders asks the track veterinarian. Hector Prida, a fortyish man wearing black Levis, a white polo shirt, and a Gordon & Smith ball cap.

“I think so,” replies the Mexican, “but if one is coming in, so will the rest of them.” Prida and Enders think a parking lot for the trailers will have to be created outside the backstretch boundaries.

The two vets continue talking as they join Grice and Gabele in the test barn. Prida is more or less the USDA’s front man at the track when the Americans aren't around, and he has the cautious look of a man caught in the middle. As they discuss various changes that Enders wants to make at the track, Grice and Gabele walk from stall to stall while various grooms hold steady the explosive-looking thoroughbreds. Grice reads over each horse’s foal registration papers as Gabele tries to locate and match the identifiable features on the horse.

UNLIKE THE HORSES THAT run at major tracks in the U.S., not all horses at Caliente are required to wear a tattoo on their upper lips. The horses are verified against their papers by checking their physical markings. But when the inspectors reach the stall holding a chestnut gelding named Romantic Heritage, their routine is interrupted. The papers say there’s supposed to be a white spot on the right front foreleg, but Gabele sees only smooth brown hair there. And where there is supposed to be a single cowlick on the left side of the forehead at eye level, there is only more smooth brown hair. The inspectors look for other identifiable markings but find none that match the papers. There is no tattoo. They reject the horse for passage back into the U.S.

This kind of rejection is uncommon, and when it does happen, it’s usually because a horse is in the wrong stall. But there have been cases when ringers were put up for inspection. Grice tells of one case a few years back when he inspected a horse at Caliente that was very fast and that had no tattoo. After clearing the inspection, the horse was shipped to a track in New York. Grice was later subpoenaed to testify about the horse in Rochester, New York, in a case that resulted in the horse’s owner receiving ten years for fraud. After leaving Caliente, the horse was tattooed with the number of a much slower horse, and a switcheroo was pulled. The horse went off at high odds and won big, but suspicions eventually caught up to the owner. Grice had to testify that the horse had a different identity when it left Caliente. “The guy got ten years,” he marvels between stalls. “Some murderers get less than that.”

Only the one horse is rejected today. After inspections are completed, Enders, Prida, and the two inspectors head over to the quarantine barns just outside the backstretch gate. Seven Mexican-owned horses are waiting to have their blood drawn by Prida. The samples will be taken back to the USDA veterinary offices at the Otay Mesa border crossing, where their components will be separated. The plasma will be sent to the National Veterinary Services Laboratory in Ames, Iowa, to be tested for disorders such as dourine, glanders, piroplasmosis, and equine infection anemia (swamp fever). The Mexican horses won’t be allowed to leave the quarantine barn until the inspectors return with the test results next week.

Grice comments on how good Prida is at finding each horse’s jugular vein. As he inserts the needle and waits for the syrupy, pomegranate-red blood to fill the specimen tube of the first horse, Enders greets two young Mexicans wearing Ray-Ban shades. He introduces them as jumpers who have come north for the summer’s horse jumping circuit in Santa Barbara, Monterey, and Huntington Beach.

Alexandro Orozco and Carlos Echeagaray, both twenty-two, brought three jumping horses with them, but the animals had to have their blood tested before they crossed the border. Their best horse, Laffitte, tested positive for piroplasmosis, a blood disorder, and was rejected by the USDA. They’ve been trying to make arrangements to leave the horse at the Polo Club in Rosarito Beach, and when not practicing with their other two horses, they’ve been hanging out on the beach in San Diego. “These two guys really know how to hang out,” Enders joshes, winking at Carlos, who’s wearing a Surf Monster T-shirt.

After all the Mexican horses have had their blood extracted, Enders drives back onto the backstretch to Prida’s office, just across a dirt road from Jorge Hank’s private barn. The two vets have to resolve some more business before they take their customary Monday lunch at a nearby restaurant. Prida has to attend to some other business first, so to kill some time, Enders walks over to Hank’s stalls and passes through a gate. He greets a Tijuana police officer who is on duty guarding Hank’s animals and proceeds to look over the menagerie. He talks to a muscular, personable Arabian-Appaloosa mix, who has pushed his foreleg between two fence rails and gotten it stuck. Enders tries to scare the horse into pulling its leg out, but the animal seems to sense the vet’s gentleness and just moves the leg idly, almost in a teasing way. He finally withdraws the leg without any of Enders’s prodding.

In a stall beside the Arabian is a miniature horse that eyes Enders like an affectionate dog. Enders ignores the animal and moves to a stall filled with new born puppies. He bends over to examine the creatures, which are a hairless breed. They’re almost grotesque looking, about the size of large rats, with great folds of dry, spotted skin. Their ugliness is only made bearable by their ardent friendliness. “The Mexicans used to breed these for food,’’ Enders points out as a dozen of the critters happily follow him around the thoroughbred stalls.

Enders gently has to fight off a couple of the strange dogs in order to slip back through the gate. He thanks the Tijuana cop, who appears grateful for the break in his boredorm and meets up with Prida as the Mexican vet gets out of his car. Prida, Enders, and another man who is carrying a rottweiler enter Prida’s office.

“Worst case of mange I’ve ever seen,” Enders comments, looking at the dog’s face. The animal belongs to Jorge Hank, who has sent it over to Prida for some medication. Prida walks back into his storeroom, where veterinary medicine lines the racks, and comes back with some pills and ointment. He instructs the man carrying the dog in how to use the medicine and sends him on his way.

Before the two vets settle down to talk business, the subject of the strange hairless dogs comes up. “There are two breeds over there,” Prida says, gesturing out his office window. He looks through the dusty glass at the Arabian, which has its foreleg stuck in the fence again. “One breed is called xoloscuintle, and the other is Chinese Crested. They’re an ancient breed. The Aztec women used to breast-feed them. Hank breeds them and gives them to his friends as gifts.”

Prida says something about the Arabian’s jammed leg. “He’s just trying to get attention,” Enders says, a little disgusted with the horse. “But you really should fix that fence so it can’t hurt itself.” Prida agrees and sends a young man out to help the mischievous horse.

Enders brings up the subject of all the trash lying around the backstretch, and Prida assures him that steps are already being taken to rectify that problem. Then Prida broaches an obviously sore subject. “They want me to write you a letter about the test barn,” he says.

The Mexican Jockey Club has been trying for the last few months to take possession of the USDA’s test barn to house horses for a resident horse jumping team. The Mexicans propose to change the USDA’s inspection procedures by simply parading the northbound animals past the inspectors in a paddock. Enders is absolutely opposed to this idea because it would mean the inspected horses would be mixed back in with the rest of Caliente’s stock after the inspection. Currently, the northbound horses are held in quarantine in the test barn after they’re inspected and have no contact with other animals before being shipped across the border.

“There’s no need for a letter,’’ Enders says sharply. “I’ll just write ‘no’ on it, and that’s the end of it.”

“I know,” Prida demurs, “but they still want me to put this request in writing.” His face flushes.

“The answer will be no, and I’ll write it big,” Enders assures. “Now how about some lunch?”

Prida, Enders, a second Mexican veterinarian who works at the track, along with Grice and Gabele, drive over to a Chinese restaurant for a fine, jovial meal. Enders makes sure to pick up the tab.

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