This is a tough one for me. For some time I’ve been thinking of writing about the dogs that I have seen since leaving the U.S., but so far I haven’t been able to work up the strength to put into words the things I have seen. Each time I sort through my photos I am reminded of the many dogs I have “met” along the way (I take a lot of dogs pics when I travel). And it’s hard to find the words to say how heartbroken I am about the dogs of Mexico and Central America. It’s difficult to explain what life is like in Mexico and Central America for the people, let alone for the dogs who live in these places. But I met a sweet young dog a couple of weeks ago and have been haunted by him ever since. I keep thinking about him and decided it’s time to write about the dogs since looking back one evening this week and crying over these photos. They are just heart-wrenching to me. And worse yet, is the feeling I get that this dog is probably gone now. I wished I’d scooped him up and found a way to help him. Once I figured out he wasn’t going to run off as I approached, I offered him some water and went to buy a bag of bread to feed him anything, but when I came back he was gone. I looked around the corners and down the street but didn’t see him again.
In the United States, we the people (and our dogs) live very, very well. We are fat and spoiled, pampered and clothed (and so are our dogs) and rarely want for much. Don’t get me wrong, there are lots of people (and lots of dogs) who go hungry every day. There are many who need homes and many who are ill or alone, frightened and suffering. But traveling outside my home country has opened my eyes to just how good we have it at home – the people and the dogs. On no level do I equate the suffering of dogs as being as horrible as the suffering of people, but I think some of it is preventable or fix-able.
I know, it’s so very cliche of me to say such things…but it’s true. In some ways life inside the U.S. has become so insulated and sheltered that we have become self-absorbed and self-indulgent. We are sometimes superficial, shallow, and naïve, especially when it comes to suffering around the world. I love my country, and I miss the luxury that my self-absorbed naivete afforded me. For most people life is comfortable in the U.S. and through my travels I am reminded just how lucky I am to live in my beautiful country.
The day I rode my motorcycle over the border from Arizona into Mexico and started heading south on Baja, I noticed an immediate change in the number and condition of dogs along the way. In the States I only occasionally saw dogs outside of fenced yards and when I did, for the most part they seemed pretty well fed and I figured they belonged somewhere and had wandered off. Americans for the most part care for stray animals either directly or indirectly through a public system of animal shelters, ASPCA and animal rescue organizations, etc. But other countries are different. On Baja there were dozens of skinny and hungry dogs everywhere I turned. Stray dogs south of the U.S. border are more “street smart” than dogs at home, having honed their skills sadly through a lifetime of scavenging and fighting for survival.
After only a few days in Mexico I started buying packets of dog food at shops to feed to dogs along the road, and almost always shared some of my food and all my leftovers. While I know it doesn’t do anything for the problem, I felt at least that I was showing some compassion to an animal who was hungry. Most of the dogs have mange and are missing a lot of hair. Nearly all of them have fleas and ticks, and sores. Some have been badly injured – dragging a broken limb or having flesh torn open. There are dead ones on the sides of the roads and skinny puppies under many abandoned vehicles. The people in Mexico and Central America work very hard to make a life for themselves and for their families. Pets are often part of that family life. But its often very difficult to afford medical care for the family members, let alone pets. So there are a lot of unwanted puppies and kittens in rural communities. And many of the dogs I’ve seen are the result of that.
There are organizations that come to Mexico and other countries to volunteer their services and offer free or inexpensive spay and neuter clinics. Others still can help you adopt a dog from one of these countries, although we have plenty who need good homes in America too.
My point is this – please adopt or rescue an animal rather than buy one from a puppy mill or breeder in the future and please spay/neuter your pet. If you want a particular breed of dog you can probably find many of them available through a specific breed rescue organization. I found a Weimaraner that way. And if you’re interested in helping any of these organizations in some way (ie. donation, buying a sponsorship as a gift for a loved one, adopting, etc.) please keep them in mind.