The Secret Life of Pets
There are a lot of dogs in Mexico, mostly roaming around free. Perhaps not quite as many as there are cats in Greece, but close. And they bark; morning, noon, and night. It’s not as bad as it sounds, however. Early in my career, I lived above the subway in Toronto at Davisville on the Yonge line, where the wheels squeal around the curve coming into the station 18 hours a day. If you can get used to that, you can get used to anything!
Just because the dogs are loose on the street and may not have a collar, doesn’t mean they are homeless. Usually, they get put out in the morning and go home at night. Traffic routinely stops to let them cross the road. In Ajijic, the butcher on the square gives them bones. Every morning, they line up in front of the shop, get their bone and toddle off to devour it somewhere in the shade. To paraphrase Hillary Clinton, “(In Mexico), it takes a village to raise a dog”!
At first, we were a little nervous walking our dogs because of all the strays. One Sunday morning in Jocotepec, we came upon a pack of eight dogs roaming downtown. I thought, ‘Oh hell, this isn’t going to end well’, but it wasn’t a problem at all. They figured it out among themselves. Dog fights are not unheard of but, often as not, it involves gringo dogs rather than the locals. Overall, there is much less aggression than I would have expected.
The most common breeds are mixed, chihuahuas and pit bulls. (There’s an old joke that goes; ‘What kind of dog is that? He’s an MSD. What’s that? Mexican Street Dog!’) Since many dogs have not been spayed or neutered, mixed breeds are predominant. In recent years, more owners have been having this done and spay/neuter clinics staffed by volunteer vets are now common.
Unwanted dogs are still a problem, however, and there are several rescue facilities in the local area. A few months ago, my wife and a friend were in the Walmart parking lot when a truck pulled in, dropped off a box and sped off. When they went over to look, it was full of puppies. They immediately took them to a nearby dog rescue where they were all eventually adopted.
The chihuahuas are wonderful; enough attitude for 3 dogs and all in a 4 lb package! They yip and yap, strut and posture and boss around all the other (larger) dogs. To my surprise, the pit bulls are generally quite chill. We had a friend who had a pit bull back when they were first banned in Ontario. She assiduously referred to it as an American Staffordshire Terrier and swore it was a calm and friendly dog. At the time I used to think, ‘Yeah, right!’. Turns out she probably was.
Our two dogs are Standard Poodles, which is a bit unusual here. When we go for a walk in town or on the malecon, people are obsessed with them. Everyone, especially children, wants to pet them or take their picture. It has been a great ice-breaker. I swear, almost the first words we learned in Spanish were ‘el perros bonitos’ (beautiful dogs)!
While it is definitely improving, Mexico can still be a difficult place to be a dog. Part of the reason is a legacy of using dogs for security. The phenomenon of ‘roof dogs’ who spend their entire lives on the roof of the house barking at potential intruders is an example of this. The practice is now illegal but hasn’t completely disappeared yet. Also, obedience schools actually train dogs to bark. The other reason is economic; when money is tight for people, it’s doubly so for dogs.
In response to some of these hardships, the dog rescue centers do an excellent job of rehabilitating and adopting out many dogs. Funded through donations and staffed almost entirely by volunteers, including many gringos, these facilities provide food, shelter, medical care and, ultimately, adoption with many going to Canada and the US. When we were down the first time we volunteered to walk dogs at one place and saw firsthand the good work they do.
The culture here is very accepting of dogs. There are not many places that you can’t take them. Most restaurants, including good ones, will let your dog accompany you. It certainly simplifies going out for the day with them. Much nicer to have ribs in a restaurant with a tablecloth than a taco on a bench in the park! It’s also indicative of how easy and laid-back things are here generally.
In Canada, our dogs would get groomed every two months including clipping and a bath. The cost was $190 with tip for the two of them. Here the price is $40 total for the same thing. We like it so much we send them in the intervening months for just a bath; cost about $25. They don’t like to go here any more than they did there…….but I sure as heck do!
Similarly, our vet is a delightful young woman with a clinic in Joco. She is very knowledgeable and also volunteers extensively for the spay/neuter clinics. In Canada, one of our dogs had an unfortunate habit of developing medical problems on the weekend, necessitating a trip to the emergency on-call vet in Barrie. On more than one occasion, the bill was more than $1000. Our vet here works half days on Saturday and makes house calls. The last time we were in there the bill was larger than normal; $50 for a full exam, two shots and two medications (for one dog).
This morning, while walking along the carreterra, my wife and a friend came upon an older chihuahua by the side of the road that had been hit by a car. They took her to a nearby vet who determined that, while her spine had been bruised, it wasn’t broken. Also, she was somewhat undernourished. Time will tell, but she will probably make a full recovery. Cost of the vet; $20!
Our dogs have made the transition to life in Mexico very well. While they didn’t mind the winter in Canada as much as I did (they would run in the woods and eat snow!), they are thriving in the climate here. We can take them with us wherever we go and they get along well with the local dogs. Like people everywhere, Mexicans love their dogs.
On a sadder note, our immediate neighbor passed away last week. Originally from Belleville, Ontario, she taught for many years at the School for the Deaf in Milton. After coming to Mexico for the winter for a number of years, she and her husband moved down and built their house here about 6 years ago. She was both funny and a kind person who helped out extensively in the community. She will be missed.