Tuesday, February 7, 2012

MEXICAN STREET DOGS – Hangin' Out, Hangin' On

I love dogs. Just about any kind, any size, any breed. Now that's not to say all dogs are alike. Well, at first maybe they are—like human babies—until we teach them differently.


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.


Just 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.


Lu said...

I hope you and Sally are enjoying Mexico, thanks for taking the time to write and especially for helping a dog in need.

Gene said...

I have one of those skinny little street dogs..who came to me 5 years ago in a stroke of fate too good to be true...his sweet nature continues to this day. I love your blog! I recognize most of the dogs in this entry...a sign of a true zihua-file...same dogs year after year!

Donna said...

As you know Jeff, we have rescues. I want them ALL and have to stop myself as I know I can only save a few. We have just rescued 2 miniature horses that were basically used as lab rats in a Vet school...scrawny and scared, they are coming around. Our TB rescue, Shade, has gained 200 lbs in 6 mos., he was a bag of bones. Perhaps one of these years I will take a street dog home...may have to do some begging of my own, to Dwight, on my knees! We know have a dozen...4 horses, 3 Llamas, 2 goats, 2 kittens and our dog...Life is good! LOL

Jeffrey Willius said...

Hi Lu -- How nice to "see" you here! Thanks for dropping by. As I'm sure you know, Sally's an even bigger softy than I am! We hope to volunteer at the local humane society some time while we're here. Hope you're all well and that you'll come back now and then!

Jeffrey Willius said...

Gene -- Thanks for the comment and for your kind words about my blog. I'm so glad you enjoy it. Good for you for taking in and loving one of my "subjects!"

Jeffrey Willius said...

Dear Donna -- I knew this piece would resonate with you! You do so much for horses -- and, like our hero, Buck B., for their owners -- that it sounds like you have your hands full. Best to you all from Zihua.

Naturalpace said...

Hey! LOVE your comments...as usual...we are now in Zihua, too! just did a running workshop and now it's all about R and R...did you guys get to the sailfest stuff?? we are sitting inside now listening to the festivities outside....THINKING we should be there, too...and there is always manana...I would love to meet up with you and have a coffee sometime. How long are you two staying here?? Donna naturalpace@gmail.com

Jeffrey Willius said...

Hey Donna -- Great to hear from you. We'd love to meet up if we can find the intersection between our two busy schedules. I'll email you privately with more.
Thanks so much for the comment!

Christie said...

Your dog stories touched my heart and made me cry.. I am a dog lover for sure and have 2 at home but when we are gone I always seem to pick up new doggie friends and I try to feed them, give them fresh water and attention, they help me feel better about missing my own and I always hope I give them some pleasure while I am there! Wish I could take them all home with me. You are right in the fact they are all so gentle....

Jeffrey Willius said...

Hi Christie -- I'm touched that you are touched! Thanks for letting me know that. You're obviously a kindred spirit. Do I gather you're also a fellow Mexico lover?

Connie said...

Hi Jeff, You know from our conversation, I am a huge dog lover too. The dogs on the streets of Zihua do seem self sufficient but I can't help but not want to take each one under my wing and give them some nutritious food and much needed vet care. The ones limping with broken legs have to be in so much pain and the ones with mange; it has to be so uncomfortable to live like that. Thank you for caring about the one dog you gave crackers too; you made his day.

Jeffrey Willius said...

Hi Connie -- Thanks so much for your comment. It is heartbreaking, but most of these pups seem so well-adjusted to their condition -- even those missing a leg! As my wife and I often say, they "just do."
Checked your website out -- deliciously beautiful!

Anonymous said...

I too am a Zihuatanejo and dog lover. I am blessed with a gift that attracts animals and children. It seems no matter where we go in Z, I have a dog following me or sitting by me. I even had one wait for me while I has in a restaurant. I would love to hand out dog biscuits, but am sure it would be appreciated by the locals who seem to not want them around. Any thoughts?? We will be in Z in May/June.

Jeffrey Willius said...

Hey Anonymous -- Thanks for visiting OMW and commenting.
Connecting with the truly innocent is indeed a blessing - that's wonderful.
I'm not a big fan of feeding any non-resident critters in restaurants -- since that creates tensions that usually end up hurting the animals. But on the street, if the community can't provide for its own animals, then I wouldn't hesitate to help them out.
Have a great time here this spring!

miminelson said...

Lovely posting. My daughter and her family are fostering a 4 month old puppy flowing in from Mexico. Her name is Lilly and she is the typical, "third world dog" Looks like most of them I've seen in Mexico. She has all of the qualities you describe in your piece. She already has people interested in adopting her. Beauty is truly more than fur deep.

Judy Nelson

Jeffrey Willius said...

Hi Judy -- How nice to see you here at OMW!! Thanks for stopping by.
Yes, I've heard many people say there's a universal type for street dogs -- mid-sized, yellow-tan, short-ish hair. And I've sure seen many, many just like that.
How did your daughter happen to get a dog flown in from Mexico?

Phil said...

Great post, Jeff, and wonderful, touching comments. Nice to know their are so many dog lovers in your circle. my own 115-lb rescue, Cisco, was the inspiration for a story I wrote about a talking dog. At one point, he turns to me and scolds me for telling him to slow down on the trail by telling me that he has to cram seven times as much living into a day as I do. In the movie, Roma, the family dog Borras would probably love to become a street dog as he is confined to the garage, never taken on walks, and restrained whenever the door opens. I can hear Cisco snoring out in the living room. I love that sound. Carry on, dog lovers, Thanks, Jeff! Have a good month down there.

Jeffrey Willius said...

Many thanks for reminding me that the blogging ether actually has eyes...and hearts. Love your story idea about Cisco. Do you have a draft you can email me?
Was just telling Sally that there must be some little dog itch tingling in me; I've noticed that most of my recent FB posts have had to do with pups.

Sarah Mc Shan said...

Hi There!
Its amazing to read such article on pets. I am also considering care of german shepherd and its helpful article.

Jeffrey Willius said...

Many thanks for visiting OMW Sarah...and for your comment.

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