Pero los perros …

Don’t accept your dog’s admiration as conclusive evidence that you are wonderful.

Ann Landers

spa 2The Feast Day of St. Anthony was 17 January, the day on which he died but also considered the day he was born in heaven. The protector of animals, St. Anthony is more correctly known as San Antonio de Abad (St. Anthony the Abbot), and a street in San Miguel is named for him. In many locales, San Miguel among them, one can bring domestic animals to a priest to be blessed on St. Anthony’s feast day. The saint lived during the 3rd and 4th centuries, spending much time in the deserts of Egypt and Libya with animals as his companions.

For many centuries the life of San Antonio de Abad fed artists. Their representations of his temptations by the devil while in the desert were the movies and TV shows of their times.

San Antonio de Abad (not to be confused with St. Anthony of Padua, the  14th century saint born in Portugal) is considered by some to be the father of monasticism, St. Anthony of Padua is, for some reason, linked to objects lost and stolen. So, I suppose, if one were to lose a pet he or she could ambiguously pray once to “St. Anthony” and get a double dose of intercession.

My suspicion about San Antonio de Abad is that he had no pets, that his animal companions were not totally domesticated, and that in his heart he has a soft spot for those animals who have no shelter provided by humans.

The actual blessing has little or nothing to do with the saint, but with his followers. The tradition originated in medieval Germany where villages would raise a pig that was given to the local hospital – where the monks of St. Anthony served.

Wednesday, Last Week

Normally the garbage men come by around 9 in the morning, but last Wednesday they came to Los Chupiros so early (6:45) that their clanging did not disturb the deep-sleeping neighborhood dogs. Not one challenged the visitors. Fearlessly slumbering after having had a particularly strenuous Tuesday, the canines were caught totally unaware, perhaps still dreaming of neighboring goats and nuns. Not so for their human companions as light after light flickered on.

Around mid-morning I saw a loose brown-and-white dog turn the corner from Los Chupiros onto Alba, probably on his way to visit the carnicerias located just a few blocks away on calle Ignacio Allende.  I then heard Pakal, el perro de mi vecino Guadelupe, and Patty, my landlord’s dog start barking, much more vociferously than I’d ever heard them (both are always within our compound except when taken for a walk and on leash – San Miguel does have a leash law). The stray interrupted his journey and came back around the corner, stopped, and stood watching some activity on the street.

I looked out my kitchen window and saw a mottled gray dog toying with a still-twitching cat, checking to see if it was alive, which it was, and so it nipped here and there at the cat. That dog’s housemate (a larger dog of the same breed), came over to check on the situation. The first gray continued to test the cat, checking for life. The two dogs are always loose (I’ve never seen them on leash), and belong to Rodrigo, someone who lives a few houses up Los Chupiros and who runs a trail-ride business that Rachel Ray has promoted. By then the day’s delivery trucks began arriving and the two gray dogs went home to Rodrigo and the brown dog went on its way. An hour or so later, after all the deliveries had been made, a workman from CASA or Casa Hogar put the dead cat in a wheelbarrow and took it to a vacant field.

Far from Madison Square Garden

One issue that quickly divides NoB-ites from many Latin Americans is the subject and treatment of dogs. Actually, the issue separates many NOB-ites from other NOB-ites as well. When I lived in rural Maine I noticed some people publicly treated their animals with a harshness, a meanness that I thought could only have come from their own mistreatment when a child. My partner at the time taught pre-schoolers and so we sometimes, during the winter, had a parade marching through our house consisting of a rabbit, chicken, duck, dog, cat, hamster, and human toddler. That was 40 years ago and just as I’ve chosen to live auto-less, so I’ve chosen not to have a pet since our child was a teen.

Everyday on the electronic bulletin board here in SMA (on which the overwhelming number of contributors are expats) someone has an issue with the treatment of dogs. It might be seeking care for street dogs, better care for dogs at the pound, seeking homes for adopted dogs, etc.

Sometimes a prospective visitor is concerned about walking his or her own dogs on leash when there are so many off-leash dogs.

I’ve been reading these postings for the past month since I plan to go to SMA within the next few weeks for an extended period of time. What concerns me most is that all the posting [sic] describing street dogs and the dangers they pose to our pets, is my fear overblown or is this something I need to reconsidered [sic] about bring [sic] my two Chihuahua [sic] with me to SMA?

It’s telling that the danger for the writer is to his animal companions and not to himself or to other humans. A bite from a rabid dog (I have not seen any in my three months here) is no fun for a human, either.

A woman who lives in a nearby campo and does various good works, including helping blind and deaf children find services (this is something easier done for a city child where services might be available than for children in the villages) also cares for stray dogs. She has lived in Mexico for many years and now has 14 former abandonados, dogs that were left to fend for themselves. As we walked home the day we met, she asked tortillerias and pollerias (rotisserie chicken shops) for scraps to feed her dogs. She is not the only person I know who takes in or tries to help the abandonados.

Any number of blogs discuss the treatment and mistreatment of dogs (as well as other pets) here, and some search for reasons why. A study published in 2007 of slightly more than 200 residents of a Texas border town showed that

62 per cent of households chained dogs outdoors; persons with an elementary-level education were seven times more likely to chain their dogs than those who had completed some high school.

While most study participants thought it a good idea to sterilize dogs and cats, only 11 per cent of their dogs had been neutered.

While Molly Tamulevich was an anthropology student in college, she observed that pets were not just pets. As she wrote on Zoe: It’s Our Nature:

A dog, clearly, was not just a dog; it was an indicator of deeper attitudes toward ethnicity, class, gender and social position.

Ms. Tamulevich wrote of her time living in Merida that:

There was a clear distinction between white and brown, both in humans and animals and it all troubled me.

Is it possible that the caste system developed by Spain to control its colonies – where pale skin equaled power and dark skin equaled chattel – has carried forward to contemporary times?

Just recently I heard a Mexican-American tell of racial epithets spoken by one of his relatives to another relative from a different branch of their family, calling the darker-skinned woman a dog (and not the B-word, either). In the 1950s one could find signs posted in parts of the southwestern United States – especially Texas – stating “No Women, Dogs or Mexicans” or “No Dogs or Mexicans” or “no dogs, no Negros, no Mexicans” or “we serve whites only, no Spanish or Mexicans.”

Jax had an interesting graphic on her blog jax in san miguel de allende. It showed three intersecting rings, one of which was labeled “Domestic Violence,” another “Cruelty to Animals,” and the third “Child Maltreatment.” I think there is a strong element of truth in linking those behaviors. My step-father was the type of guy who would hit my mother, kick my dog, constantly belittle me, and try to seduce my younger sister.

In the surveys I’ve seen about dog issues in Latin America and the Carribbean (Chile, Mexico and Dominica) it’s clear that the members of a much greater male canine population are far less likely to be neutered than are the female members. For years and across cultures as well as species, contraception has been viewed as a female responsibility (while men write the laws regarding it). Stew on Rancho Santa Clara writes:

Curiously there are also many more male dogs coming in, a gradual–and significant–shift in the traditional sexist belief that pregnancy is primarily a female problem, even among pets. To this day some Mexican men recoil at the mention of castrating their dogs, as if that would violate the solemn pact of solidarity among all testicle-owners, human or animal.

As in many countries where local, state and federal authorities are responsible for law enforcement, there is no standard enforcement of many laws and regulations in Mexico and that is also true from animal pound to animal pound, especially with regard to how an animal is put down and its treatment beforehand. So, of course, this upsets some people, such as the man who wrote to the SMA bulletin board.

Thank you to all the concerned folks who have responded regarding the serious issue of the terrible and disgraceful way the dogs and cats are being imprisoned in our local Dog Pound on the hill, prior to being put to death, and the method in which they are killing these precious souls is horrifying and needs to stop.

Andrea Marcovicci and Babbie Green, “At The Pound”

In case you aren’t a pet owner and wonder what all the fuss is about, maybe this song will clarify why folks grow attached to their companions.



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