The Resilient Rico

January 25, 2012  

After having his tongue cut out by a cruel human on a beach in Mexico, three nonprofits pave the path for this pit bull’s new life

(photo by JDhein Photography)

Rico Part I
By Jasmine Grimm

There is real power in moving beyond tragedy. It’s called resilience, and Rico Suave is one shining example.

This brown and white pit bull type dog that was being trained to fight in Rosarito, Mexico. As part of his training, Rico’s human forced him to run long distances with weights.

One day, Rico collapsed on the beach. According to eyewitnesses, he was panting and was overheated.

His human yelled at Rico to continue to run. He didn’t, and the man grabbed a pocketknife, cut out the dog’s tongue, and threw it into the ocean.

Beachgoers came to the dog’s rescue. They called the police, who in turn called Dr. Joaquin Villasenor, a vet in the nearby town. The dog was rushed to the clinic and taken immediately into surgery upon arrival. After assessing whether or not the dog could live without a tongue, the team went to work to repair the wound.

After the surgery, Rico awoke and wagged his tail: the first sign of his amazing resilience.

Despite the torture and abuse, Rico was still full of love toward humans.

After a year of networking, Rico was transported from Mexico to Even Chance with the help of the Give Some Life Foundation, which runs the clinic that helped Rico, explained Nicole Edwards, president of Even Chance rescue. Even Chance helped Rico learn the necessary skills and abilities to thrive in a new environment.

“Rico was treated like a dog with boundaries and expectations,” Edwards explains. “He learned English, basic obedience, house manners and doggie manners. He was really responsive to his training and direction.”

The staff hand fed him soft food until he could learn to chew hard kibble again. They walked him out of his pen on a leash, and he even went back to the beach.

It’s tempting to believe that a dog who was once tortured on the shore would behave strangely in a similar environment, but not Rico. He drew upon his newly acquired manners and chased tennis balls, romping by the shore.

(Photo by Lynn Terry)
Rico’s demonstrated resilience is in part because he lives in the moment, and he’s not fixated on what happened to him.

“Dogs don’t dwell on the past like people do,” said Edwards.

He accepts living without a tongue.

“Rico has no idea he is without a tongue, and he doesn’t look at other dogs with their tongues hanging out and feel a sense of inadequacy,” Edwards explains.

By July 2010, Rico began attending weekly classes with Just A Dog to work on his leash and dog socialization.

“He also worked with a private trainer to help him curb his obsession with balls,” Edwards said.

When not working on curbing his ball drive, he formed strong relationships with people who helped to make him healthier through proper nutrition and regular veterinary care. He also learned to communicate affection. Before he would have licked someone, but now Rico communicates by “attempting to suck on your chin,” said Edwards. “True to pit bull nature, Rico never lost his trust in people. He loves all people including children.

“Rico is currently living with Phoenix Pack in Missouri,” Edwards explained. He’s a wonderful spokesdog for their group, making debuts on the news, as well as at educational events, and he has even been visited by Victoria Stillwell of “It’s Me or the Dog.”

Although Rico endured torture at the hands of an irresponsible person, he has now transitioned into a new life, developed new skills, and is working toward new goals, such as earning his Canine Good Citizen certificate – all with the help of people who love him. Resilient Rico survived abuse and a life-altering surgery, and embraced a second chance at life and love. Many people rallied to make this new life possible, and he sucks their chins to say thank you.

As Edwards put it, “Rico’s story is a perfect example of … unconditional love toward people.”

(Photo by Lynn Terry)

Rico Part II

By Gale Frey

Rico now lives with me in Missouri. One warm day, I was sitting with Rico wondering what all had happened in his life.

No one seemed to know all the details. Then I received an e-mail from Helene, a lady who knew his story first hand.

“My name is Helene, and I was there the night Rico (Muneco) was brought in, gravely wounded,” she wrote me. “I just wanted to forward you these photos because I think they are so cute. Rico likes to do more than just smell the roses. Thank you so much for taking care of him and helping him to find his forever home. I’m glad he was able to donate blood to help other dogs. If you have any questions about him or any gaps I can fill in, just let me know.”

I started a dialog with Helene and an amazing story unfolded. In her statement above, she mentions that Rico was a blood donor to help other dogs at a St. Louis vet office.

I was in tears. I was so glad to meet her. Rico is now at our home and doing great.

I had so many questions for which I could not found answers. I told her I had heard several version of what happened to Rico. I heard he was running on the beach with logging chains and logs in tow. I heard he collapsed and the man pulled out a knife and cut out his tongue and threw it in the ocean. How did he make it to the clinic and what happened to the man? I asked her.

Helene told me, “What you heard about the incident on the beach is true. The details are a little sketchy because several people saw it happen, and each may have seen something just a little different. Also, remember that we’re dealing with a language thing, and sometimes things are just a little different when they are translated.”

So I had confirmation that Rico was pulling logs through the sand and collapsed. The horrible man started screaming at Rico to get up but the poor dog was exhausted. The man cut out his tongue, grabbed the dog and went to his home.

Helene said, “I believe Joaquin and an animal control officer went to the horrible man’s house to get Muneco. The man was in jail for a day or two and then went into a drug rehab facility. There are laws in Mexico to protect animals, but they are not enforced. Animal control’s main job is just rounding up stray dogs and disposing of them.

“Joaquin is not a traditional vet, and he does spay and neuter surgery only. It is his life. We were lucky the night that Muneco was hurt that there were two regular vets there that had come to learn how to do high speed spay and neuter.

“I have had to quit going into Mexico,” Helene continued. “It was just too much for me. In my opinion, the corruption is top to bottom, and until there is a revolution of some sort, nothing will change. It is a beautiful country, and has lots of beautiful, wonderful people.”

I asked Helene how Rico’s ear was ripped. To this day, it is very sensitive and it is best not to touch his ear so that you do not cause him pain.

Helene said, “He already had the ripped ear and other scars.” She sent me a photo depicting the situation for many dogs in Mexico. “We are not a rescue,” she explained. “We are barely able to keep going with spay and neuter. Some members of our group work to get humane euthanasia techniques to be used. Anytime we can get a dog out, especially dogs with special needs, it’s a really big deal. There are dog rescue groups, but they are overwhelmed. I know U.S. groups are overwhelmed, but I have no words to describe the dog situation in Mexico. Sorry to go on about this, I just want you to understand Rico’s story,” she continued. “We called him Muneco (boy doll). We all had a special connection with Rico because even after all the abuse he suffered, he still loved people. He has been an inspiration to us and we are so very thankful he is in your loving hands now.”

I asked about the clinic’s first impression of Muneco.

“Well, at first we were all afraid of him, or really didn’t know what to expect,” Helene said. “But we had to check his stitches and see how he was healing, and we also had to make sure he was eating and drinking. So Jen, the vet tech who cuddled with him to keep him warm after his surgery, went in the pen with him and the rest is history. In Mexico, the doctor that looked after him kept him in a 10-by-20-foot pen by himself. He didn’t show any aggression towards other dogs, but when he was taken out of the pen other dogs would attack him. So his time out of the pen was very limited. Mexico is very rough. It’s like the Wild West down there. After about a year of the spay and neuter group trying to find him a home, Even Chance was kind enough to assist.”

I asked Helene about Muneco’s obsession with balls. Muneco loves cargo shorts, too. He becomes very attached to whoever is wearing them.

She replied, “Our cargo pants usually had balls hidden in the pockets for him. Yes, Rico was fascinated with balls. We used to take him tennis balls in Mexico and he would tear them apart in seconds, but he just had so much joy doing it that we would buy them for him. I started going to thrift stores and bought him stuffed animals he could tear up. I hope his indestructible ball was sent with him. It was one like they use in zoos, and he just loved pushing it around.”

Thanks to several nonprofits working together and many volunteers, Rico is now living a happy life where he is well cared for and loved. His resilience shows the power of a dog’s ability love, trust and live in the moment. After all, Rico Suave is a lover, not a fighter.

(all photos in Rico Part II by Lynn Terry)

Rico is available for adoption through Phoenix Pack.

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9 Responses to “The Resilient Rico”
  1. Reading this story gave me chills all over my body. I can’t believe what was done to Rico. He is a handsome specimen. His smile is as wide as I’ve ever and it makes me want to give him a big hug and kiss. Thanks sharing Rico’s story & keep us posted on his progress!

  2. blazer says:

    I’m so happy Rico is geting the love he deserves! I couldn’t help but wonder how the happy darling drinks?! I can’t imagine trying to move on without a tongue — what a great dog and great people.

    • StubbyDog says:

      @blazer We spoke to Gale and she told us that Rico actually has to suck water in to drink. Gale had a special fountain built for him, so he can drink and the water also rinses his mouth clean.

  3. avegas72 says:

    I read about him on the Phoenix Pack website. It’s a sad story with a happy ending. I was going to purchase a t-shirt or sweatshirt in support of his story, and still plan to. He looks like such a happy little guy. I do love the “pitbull smile”. It truly reaches from ear to ear.

    I applaud all those who were involved with his rehabilitation and helped him escape from a horrid situation.

    I love a story with a happy ending….

    Kudo’s to Rico’s new mommy. : – )

  4. BarbaraBaldwinSulier says:

    I’ve known about Rico through Even Change. I have a rescue from them as well. I am so thrilled to see these pictures and see how well he is doing. He’s what we need people to think of when they hear that Pits are fighters!!! Different kind of fighter than they think of now. After all – Pits are so loyal they will do anything you ask. But what they are really fighting for loving, happy hopes with lots of tennis balls!!!

  5. rn4pitbulls says:

    OMG, the cruelty people are capable of is mind blowing….Even more mind blowing is the compassion humans are capable of. Thank goodness for all the wonderful people out there and may God have his way with the rest.


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