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Meet the Menagerie

Chapala, Mexico

Brace yourself. 

SPOILER ALERT!!! Prepare to be wowed by some of the cleverest, cuddliest and cutest animals south of the “wall.”  

This past November and December, John and I were fortunate enough to get to “critter sit” all the wonderful creatures at Rancho San Francisco in Chapala, Jalisco, Mexico. From pigs to peacocks, ducks to dragons (iguanas), horses to hummingbirds, and bunnies to burros, it took only a few days for us to be sappy and giddy in love with each one. 

Are you ready to go “awwww…?” Ta Da! Meet the Menagerie!


Rancho San Francisco is the home of three remarkable dogs: Bonnie, Bella and Maxie.  These three serve as monitors for everything going on at the Rancho.  Here’s a few things these three amigas love to do:

  • Chase jack rabbits and accompany riders on trail rides
  • Lay on the beds and couches
  • Run, loll and roll on the croquet field
  • Eat cat food when no one is looking

And, all three really LOVED John.  He was in charge of feeding the trio, as well as walking them throughout the property, at least twice a day.  Feeding them involved more than just dumping food in a bowl.  These primo canines ate only the best.  Akin to a gourmet chef, John prepared daily a specially mixed organic food called BARF with their dry food.  Maxie had to be fed in the pantry with the gate closed, because she’s a fast eater and will finish off Bella and Bonnie’s dinners if not separated.  Bella and Bonnie each had their own separate dining spot on the porch. Yep, all three are very pampered pooches!

The final week of our stay at the Rancho, Bonnie and John became inseparable.  He got all misty when he had to tell her adios!


I was in charge of feeding and taking care of the five cats.  I’ve never really been a “cat” person.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always liked cats, especially the musical Cats, but I’d never really fallen in “love” with real cats, until Rancho San Francisco.  The five Rancho kitties were Cinta, Zoe, Mama Kitty, Baby Kitty and Ember.  

Mama Kitty and Baby Kitty were my muses.  They took turns sitting in my lap as I wrote and worked at the computer.  

Like so many of the animals, Ember just showed up one day at Rancho San Francisco several years back.  And, she made a unique, dramatic entrance…through the chimney!  Thus, she became “Ember.”  She preferred to be fed inside the fireplace, like where you’d make a fire. Several times, as I was scooping out her food, she jumped down the chimney and scared the living daylights out of me! She always let me know how sorry she was by giving me lots of cuddles and kitty kisses.

Zoe is a gorgeous Siamese and probably the most beautiful of the five.  She also is extremely antisocial, and because of this merits her own room.  We called her Princess Zoe.  She mainly stayed under the bed or on a shelf in a bureau and when I fed her, the door to Her Majesty’s chamber had to be closed so the other animals wouldn’t chow down on her food.

At the end of our stay, one day three adorable calico kittens just appeared from nowhere in a field across one of the horse pastures. Even with meds and good food, their healthiness and fate was up in the air when we left, but I have a feeling that they, along with the other magnificent felines of the Rancho, have found a home. 

Peacocks, Hummingbirds, Pigeons & Doves

The Rancho has two aviaries for the winged animals of the brood.  It was always a real treat for us to enter them and tend to the flying critters.  If we got lucky, the peacocks would strut their stuff and splay their feathers for us.

On the back porch of the main house hangs several hummingbird feeders.  It was part of our responsibility to make sure the feeders were filled daily with sugar water for the throngs of humming little critters to feast upon.  The bees and the wasps loved the juice as well, and the tiny birds were willing to share, so any time we sat on the back porch we were thoroughly entertained.  

At night when the hummingbirds were home resting their voices, the bats took over and performed aerial swooping feats to get to the feeders that would put any circus acrobat to shame.  What a show! 


Most of the Rancho rabbits share the aviaries with the birds and the rest live in the iguana house. John was all “goo-goo-ga-ga” over a cute, cuddly lapin that we named Brown Bunny. It was a real hoot for me to see my big, burly, former Marine husband go giddy like this.  But frankly, I can’t blame him.  All of the bunnies are so adorable.


John and I have both ridden horses, but have never owned or cared for them.  Wow, were we in for a truly mind-blowing experience as we cared for the equine population of Rancho San Francisco.  The Rancho is home to ten of the grandest horses in all of Mexico.  Of course, these ten are the only horses we’ve ever gotten to care for and really gotten to know…uh, EVER…so we’re a little prejudiced.  

The horse handlers, that work at the Rancho, take care of the feeding and grooming of the herd during the day and we were in charge of their evening banquet at 11 pm every night.  At first I thought it was going to be a real pain to be all over the property (these horses are really spread out) that late in the evening, but after a few times of tending to these magnificent creatures, I looked forward to each night’s ritual. 

Every evening each of the ten got fresh hay and a watered-down bucket of feed that fit on the side of the fences. 

Our routine went something like this:

  • Open the gate and turn on all the lights for the pathways and pastures so we could see what we were doing and not break our necks.  
  • Add water to the feed buckets for Rosie, Addy, Dulce and Azar.  
  • Feed Azar hay, then his feed bucket.  
  • Walk down to the lower pasture and do the same thing for Scout and Canela.  
  • Go back up the hill and separate Dulce and Addy from Rosie.  
  • Feed Dulce and Addy with the gate semi-closed, then feed Rosie.  
  • Walk up another hill, past the pond and feed Silver.  
  • Then go up to the stables and in each stall feed Prince, Siska and Chevy.  

Petting, talking to and hugging each animal is part of the process and we really enjoyed each animal’s unique personality.

For example, Rosie loves to eat.  It doesn’t matter whether it’s her food or the food for one of her pasture mates.  She will chow down on it all.  She also loves to bob her head.  We made a game of asking Rosie questions like, “Rosie, are you the prettiest horse out here?” and “Rosie, are you hungry tonight?” Of course, being the absolutely brilliant animal that she is, she would always bob her head up and down in a definitive YES!

Silver is almost solid white and would put his front hooves on the stone part of the fence when he knew we were coming.  I called him Unicorn Boy, because each evening, as I was walking up to the stables, he’d be reared up waiting for me with his impressive white hair and mane blowing gently with the breeze. He looked just like a majestic, fairy tale unicorn right off the pages of a Harry Potter book…minus the horn.  What a beautiful creature!

Chevy is pregnant and thus hormonal. If you are a mother or had to live with a pregnant woman, you get it.  I called her Preggers.  She, because of her “delicate” condition, felt like she was royalty. If she didn’t get attention and food before the others she’d kick and neigh to let us know all about it.  Thank goodness her baby isn’t due until spring.  Like Prissy in Gone with the Wind, “we don’t know nuthin’ ‘bout birthing babies,” especially baby horses!

Prince stole my heart.  One day we had some Canadian friends (Bruce, Jane, George and Donna) over to meet the menagerie. Bruce was the only one who really knew his way around horses and the others, much like us, were horse rookies.  When we walked by Prince’s pasture, he ran to me and started nuzzling and wanted to be petted, just like he was MY HORSE!  Our friends were very impressed that I had turned into such a horse woman, so I strutted a bit.  That night I added a special treat (an apple) into Prince’s feed bucket and thanked him with extra hugs for making me look good.  What a fine horse!


Creepy Crawlies

Not all of the Rancho critters were cute, cuddly and “pettable.”  Scorpions and spiders love Mexico too.  We were always careful to watch where we stepped and to shake out shoes and clothes before putting them on.  Look at the pictures and you’ll see why. Eek!

Lizards & Little Piggies

Having just left Vieques, Puerto Rico, upon arriving at Rancho San Francisco, we knew a thing or two about iguanas and their care (check out Iguana Refuge and Monster Mango Buffet). The iguanas, that lived around us, on Vieques were wild and tough. They were hurricane survivors and lived mainly in the trees around the house. 

The two iguanas at Rancho San Francisco have an easier life.  One is black and the other is green.  These charmed mini dragons live in a stone structure that looks a lot like a place Bilbo Baggins or the Keebler elves would occupy. Made of stone and a little magic! 

The iguanas have a trail of passages built into the top solarium part of the structure, as well as a special area outside for sunning.  These two beautifully scaled guys LOVE to chow down on fresh, raw green beans and finger bananas cut in half.  We learned that black iguanas are also insectivores, so the black one got a small dish of fresh meal worms with his meals. The meal worms were raised in a covered plastic tub in the iguana house, and yes, we fed them too!

When you enter the iguana house you have to duck down so as not to ka-bong your head.  You also have to watch where you step because on the ground and tucked into the nooks, crannies and cubbies, of the place, live a group of guinea pigs and a few rabbits. 

Chickens & Ducks

When I was five years old, on the last day of kindergarten, I won the class pet, a tiny chick that was a bundle of down with a beak. I named it Linda.  My parents were terrified.  I was delighted.  We lived in a suburb of Dallas and really weren’t set up to raise chickens. And when Linda started to crow each morning, and turned into a huge white rooster, my mother made me change her/his name.  I decided to call him Lyndon after then Vice President Johnson.  Lyndon grew up to be the meanest pet on our street and he ended up at my grandparents’ house in east Texas.  They raised chickens on their back lot.

I’m telling you all this to prove that I have experience raising chickens.  Right!

The Rancho flock were great, until it came time to herd them back into the aviary at night.  Oh my, what an ordeal.  It was definitely a two man job.  It wouldn’t have been so hard if we hadn’t had to frequently close the door to the aviary, so as not to let the rabbits out.  Sheesh!  It’s very similar to herding cats.

Our first “cooping” mission took us almost two hours.  After that we decided that we chose not to accept the second mission and asked Chuy, the small animal handler, to make sure the cluckers and crowers were all in the aviary before he left each day.  

We may have bombed out at gathering chickens, but John got really good at gathering eggs.  He came in with 2 to 6 fresh ones each day!

Little Stinkers

One night the dogs started barking inside and John stepped out on the porch in time to spy two skunks waddling through the garden area by the gate.  We made sure the dogs were IN! John looked at me with a grin and said, “Gosh, I wonder what we’re supposed to feed them?” The next day he texted Stephanie, the Rancho owner, about the skunks.  She replied that these striped critters sometimes inhabit one of the barns and we were supposed to feed them cat food.  What??

We left some food in the general vicinity, but were never able to get a photo of them.

Actually, we didn’t try very hard.

…and Paddy Pig

I think, hands down, our favorite critter at the Rancho was Paddy Pig.  Paddy is a huge pot-bellied pig, with only one crooked tusk.  He lives in a small hay barn next to the horse corrals and spends most of his day rooting around the hay or EATING whatever gets placed in front of him.  In fact, he takes being a pig to a whole new level.  He never eats from his bowl like the rest of his menagerie buddies.  He prefers to tip the bowl over and spill the contents all around making you want to say something like, “what a pig!”  Doh!

Every evening, after feedings, we’d pet and tuck Paddy in for the night. Sometimes he appreciated our company, but most nights he preferred us not bother his beauty sleep.

~~ o ~~

We consider ourselves blessed to have experienced the magical menagerie at Rancho San Francisco.

On the final night before we left the Rancho, we fed the horses as well as gave all the animals “goodbye” hugs. We turned out all the lights and closed the gate for the last time. We strolled slowly, hand in hand, up to the main house, when I swear I heard a voice from Paddy’s hay barn snort out, “Th-th-th-th-that’s all Folks!”  

Sigh! What a marvelous, extraordinary place!

Visit Rancho San Francisco

Want to meet the menagerie in person?  To book a horse riding excursion, pet the animals or find out more about Rancho San Francisco CLICK HERE!  

You will love it!

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2018,House Sitting,Mexico

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