For me, the hardest part of living in Mexico is the almost unbearable suffering of the animals. And just to clear the air, my compassion is not limited to animals, as some have suggested. I’m often asked, “what about people?” It’s true, there are plenty of people here, children especially, in desperate poverty. It’s hard to see them, begging in traffic or selling trinkets to restaurant customers late into the night. But I have never seen a child in Mexico nearly dead from lack of food or one dragging its broken body down the street. Ultimately, people here have resources, not a lot, but some. The animals have nothing. They simply don’t count, they don’t have value in Mexico. I’ve come to believe, in fact, that many of the 20 million residents of Distrito Federal simply do not see the animals that share their streets. People here suffer from a cultural blindness towards animals that runs like poison through this city. And this epidemic of blindness inevitably leads to cruelty.
Once, I watched a man drive on without pause after hitting, but not killing a dog. In Southern Mexico, I came across a horse, stumbling down the side of a highway, so weak from starvation it could barely stand. Just a horse, worn out and useless. One summer morning, I found a pile of puppies with their heads chopped off. I knew these pups, I’d seen them regularly in the puebla I drive through every day. Across the city, dogs are left on rooftops as security guards. They live their lives up there, without shelter, surrounded by their own excrement. And then, there are the dogs that I see, every day, starving in the streets. The government’s solution to street dogs is an anti-rabies campaign. Dogs are regularly rounded up and taken to the ” anti-rabico” facility where they are electrocuted en masse. It defies comprehension. The dogs are put into a room with standing water and then the electricity is turned on.
So, I do what I can. I try to find new homes for a few. But for most, a little food is what I offer. I carry a bag of dog kibble in the car now. Mainly, I do this for me. I know one meal won’t change the course of a street dog’s suffering. But, it may ease its pain, if only for a few hours. That lets me drive on.
I did buy a collar for a gentle dog I love, hoping the workers who round up dogs might leave him, thinking he had an owner. But I’m pretty sure my plan failed. This dog, who I saw each day, sleeping in the same spot, has disappeared. I still look for him, but inside, I know he’s gone. This is my burden in Mexico. Most days, I’m nothing more than a witness to the suffering.
Last summer, while driving in a pouring rain storm, I saw a dog walking down the road, dragging a huge broken chain. So I stopped. The dog was painfully thin and came to me when I offered him food. I removed the chain, gave him more food and went back to my car to leave. And there, waiting by the driver’s side door, was another dog, filthy and soaking wet. Still, when I approached, she wagged her tail so hard her whole body wagged too. It was when I bent down to pet her that I noticed the smell. She stank. It wasn’t the stink of garbage, it was the stink of infection.
I took a closer look. Then I saw the wound. Someone, probably when she was just a pup, had made a rope collar for her. They never took it off. And now it was embedded in her neck. Instead of a collar she had a ring of oozing pus. I got my knife from the car and tried to cut the rope out, but it was too deep .
So, despite my pledge to stop bringing dogs home, Fiona came with me. It took a vet nearly an hour to extract the rope. Here’s a photo of the procedure:
The vet thought Fiona might lose her ear, which had also been damaged by the rope, but she didn’t. The ear survived and so did Fiona. And despite all she’d been through, Fiona was pure sweetness. A truly happy dog. A dog that lived for pets and belly rubs and strolls through the cobblestone streets of our neighborhood. When she was fully healed and healthy, I posted an ad, seeking a new home for her. A woman new to Mexico, saw it. Annie told me she couldn’t sleep that night, thinking of this dog and what she’d been through. I brought Fiona to Annie and her family the next day. And so Fiona’s second life began. The youngest daughter likes to keep the hair out of Fiona’s eyes with tiny pink and blue bows. Fiona has a bed and a place on the sofa. And she has a new collar that hides the thick scar tissue wrapped around her neck. Sometime after Fiona went to live with Annie, Annie sent me a note. She told me simply, “We love Fiona. We think she loves us, too.”
One happy ending. Not enough for Mexico or for me. But a beginning.
(and thanks to my friends Jacqueline and Manuel for caring so tenderly for Fiona while I was away)