I've met lots of Mexican street (and beach) dogs. Sure, they're skinny, mangy and flea-ridden. Nobody seems to pay any attention to them. Yet these guys don't seem needy in any way. They're either too busy, too hot or too weak. Most just act like they've got places to go and things to do. If they even bother looking your way, it's only to make sure you're not going to bother them.
And for some reason I'm not sure I understand, nearly every one of these uncollared, roving Mexican pups I've ever met seems to have a heart of gold.
Of course Mexicans have pets. You see people out walking them on leashes and kids playing with them, just like in the U.S. But it's my impression that far fewer Mexicans embrace their pets emotionally to the extent we do up north. Certainly fewer can afford to, but there are other reasons too.
They're the skinniest ones...the ones stopping most often to scratch.
Many dogs here are pretty much ignored. Some are fed; others, left to scrounge on their own. Even those with homes, especially the bigger dogs, are kept mostly for security, tied up at night just outside the back door or at the gate to the street. But when they're let out to patrol the neighborhood during the day, they couldn't seem any less viscious.
Then there are the animals with no home at all. They're the skinniest ones, the ones you see scrounging around in the gutter for a dropped candy wrapper or scraps of garbage spilled on pick-up day, the ones stopping most often to scratch.
Yet, for being in what appears such a needy situation, I've rarely seen a street dog begging. And those few I have, do so tentatively, gratefully—you could almost say politely—gently taking what they're offered and then moving on.
Perhaps it's precisely because they're ignored that Mexican street dogs are so sweet.
Perhaps it's precisely because they're ignored that Mexican street dogs are so sweet. No one's taught them to be neurotic, needy, picky or obnoxious as we so often do in the rest of North America, Europe and more cosmopolitan parts of Asia.
Back home in the US most dogs are given the status of family members. They sleep in our beds. They eat food the makers convince us we'd enjoy eating ourselves. We send them to school and sign them up for play groups. No wonder they develop some of the same neuroses and co-dependencies we instill in our kids. Expectations, manipulation, lack of discipline.
Mexican street dogs are independent, efficient, creative, tough, unassuming. I admire them.
ONE DAY AT A TIMEJust yesterday, here in Zihuatanejo, Guerrero, Mexico, I came across a medium-sized, short-golden-haired dog that was in pretty tough shape. Tottering across the street seemed to take his last ounce of strength. Unable even to scale the five-inch curb, he collapsed in the gutter between two parked cars and just lay there.
I was overcome by the thought that the poor creature had just found permission in my touch to take his last breath.
Figuring he was too weak to find food or drink on his own, I offered him some water in the palm of my hand, but he wouldn't even lift his head. As I stroked that little recess between and just above his eyes, he closed his eyes…and then was motionless.
I looked for his skeletal rib cage to rise. It didn't. A lump welled up in my throat at the thought that the poor creature had just found permission in my touch to take his last breath.
I kept my hand on his head—I guess I thought this might send him on his way a little less alone. After about 20 seconds, though, the dog's concave side rose in a shallow breath, and then another. I left to find a convenience store and bought a packet of crackers—the closest thing to dog food I could find.
Before tasting them he lifted his boney head and just looked into my eyes.
When I got back I offered him a few small pieces in my hand. This time he seemed interested, but before tasting them he lifted his boney head and just looked into my eyes. Then he slowly, gratefully, lapped up the crumbs and eventually all the crackers.
Encouraged, I went back to the store and bought a small package of salchicha, but when I returned this time, my new friend was gone. I looked around, in doorways, under cars, in the street. There, just down the block, was his scrawny butt tottering with renewed energy down the sidewalk.
I wonder if anyone will be there tomorrow to help keep him keep going another day.