08/23/2012 05:48 pm ET Updated Oct 23, 2012

The Tale of Bitey: An Ex-Pat Search for the Perfect Costa Rican Dog

One big reason to have a dog in Puerto Viejo is security; pretty much anything that isn't nailed down is fair game around here, petty burglaries aren't uncommon -- and we determined we wanted... a beast. A sinewy jungle savage to both serve and protect. A relentless soldier, a brawler, a brute!

We'd even pre-selected a name for our Cerberus: Bitey. And Bitey would bite everyone who even looked in our yard.

A lot of ex-pats adopt rescue dogs; we're not that nice, and had no desire to deal with the basic Rescue Dog Problem-Pack: mange, infections, weeping sores (not to mention the constant flinchiness, stupidity and overall sad-sackness), nor did we want to assume the inevitable pile of vet bills. We simply wanted a mean, nasty, mercenary hooligan we could train to obey us... and bite the crap out of everyone else.

But where would we find such a hellhound?

An ex-pat named Gary lived behind our first house, with his gorgeous Tica wife, five adorable kids and a large, not-too-ugly-if-you-squint-a-bit dog, who thoughtfully whelped five puppies about a week after we moved in. We heard the puppies before we met them (squeak mew mew squeak yip yip squeak -- all night long), and found out Gary had no intention of letting each of his kids keep a pup. They were up for grabs. Bitey, here we come.

We wandered over to his yard, where the puppies were living in a construction of four pieces of wood leaning against each other with a broken boogie board serving as a cover. Inside this box, barely visible under a cloud of insects, were the puppies; we selected Bitey, and looked forward to taking her home when she was (at least) six weeks old.

Gary had other ideas. "Ya gotta take her now, I can't stand it, the puppies make so much noise they're keeping me up all night long," -- which was not surprising; we lived next door and the puppies kept us up all night, too.

We gave Gary $20 (he'd had the puppies de-wormed) and put our teeny-tiny 4-week? 3-week? -old puppy into the bike basket and headed (directly) to the vet. Bitey wasn't looking any too happy; maybe she missed her family... or maybe it was the hot green river of snot flowing from her tiny dog nostrils.

The smart and lovely vet (who sounds distractingly like Mira Sorvino in Mighty Aphrodite) took one look at Bitey, slumped like a sock on the examining table, and said, "This dog is too young to be away from its mother ... All this discharge is a symptom of distemper ... You should take this dog back to the person you got her from," and other encouraging advice. Turns out you can't test for distemper until the dog is three months old, and Bitey was still weeks away from that (if she lived that long).

One of us is thinking, "Can I chuck the puppy back over Gary's fence?" and the other has a trembling lip. One of us is thinking, "poor Bitey one" and the other is stroking the soon-to-be-dead puppy. One of us is one of us is asking, "Are you sure it's distemper?" while I'm (I mean, "the other") is checking out the vet's price sheet (euthanasia: $100), thinking, "I can just do it myself..."

The vet, who obviously didn't want us to get our hearts broken and our wallets emptied, grudgingly agreed that there was a small chance it might just be a respiratory ailment and so the three of us (Bitey One, not the vet) headed on home with antibiotics, an immune system booster, high-protein dog food and instructions to only give Bitey bottled water. (Yea, right.)

Bitey spent her first days scarfing up her designer dog food and whimpering all night. (Amazingly, she was all but completely housebroken, probably because she'd never been in a house.) Her nose was still running, but now seemed a bit clearer than its original Nile green. We grew a bit hopeful, and congratulated ourselves on giving Bitey a good life, even if just for a few weeks.

Finally, Bitey was old enough to be tested for distemper. If she had it, there were meds (probably imported and outrageously expensive) to treat the chronic symptoms of distemper: eye infections, fever, vomiting and diarrhea. If she was clean, she could be vaccinated.

We were pretty sure she was healthy when we went to put her in the bike basket to go back to the vet and she barely fit in, she had grown so much. But it was still a nerve-wracking 10-minute wait for the test results. The verdict? Bitey will live on to bite another day.

Or will she?

Epilogue: Bitey Don't Bite.

What's in a name? Enter our yard and witness the misnomer. Discover her absolute uselessness firsthand as she rolls over on her back, legs askew, tongue hanging sideways, awaiting your favor. Yes, she barks at lizards, frogs and grasshoppers; yes, she cowers at the sounds of the howler monkeys; and yes, someone crept up on our patio one night and helped themselves to our snorkel gear and Scrabble set. I'm certain Bitey licked them before they left. If she woke up at all.

Nice work, Bitey.