Planned puppyhood

Aside from the widespread poverty, both rural and urban, one dispiriting aspect of living Mexico is the visible mistreatment of animals, some of it by commission but mostly by just neglect.

There’s an obvious connection between human and animal misery: When folk have barely enough to feed themselves and their families you can’t expect them to buy salmon cat food or perfumed flea powder for dogs–even though the pet supplies aisles at the local supermarkets gain more linear footage every day.

Osita shortly after her operation.

It’s not necessarily willful cruelty toward dogs and cats but a zero-sum game dictated by survival. If there is any money or food left over to fatten animals it’s most likely to go for chickens, cows, sheep, pigs, goats and other critters that can be turned into tomorrow’s taco filling. Occasionally some stale tortillas are set aside for a pregnant bitch whose puppies her owner hopes to sell for some extra cash.

When we moved to the ranch, the first howdy-how-do-you-do visit was from Chucha, the archetypal “campo” or “country” dog, meaning that she technically belongs to someone but is not fed or cared for by anyone in particular. Naturally we started feeding Chucha. (More about her, one of the most endearing mutts this side of the Rio Grande, in a later blog.)

Bad idea for our animal food budget, great idea for Chucha and her six or seven amigos who now show up punctually every morning to be fed and to begin the day with a hearty barking and snarling fest with our dogs on the inside of the fence. Then we took up feeding Félix’ three (now two) mutts. And our two (now three) house dogs. That comes out to, hmm, ten or twelve dogs or thereabouts. Everyone is fat and happy; no ribs showing.

But as we travel back and forth to San Miguel every day it’s clear the problem is not food but sheer numbers of strays. Every day some dog between our ranch and the town shows up as roadkill though we’ve noticed some kind soul goes around moving the carcasses to the side.

Overpopulation–more dogs and cats anyone needs or can take care of–is at the heart of the problem. No matter how many animal shelters are built there’s no way they can keep up with a number of abandoned animals that increases geometrically.

Amigos de Animales mobile clinic

The overpopulation issue came to our front gate shortly after we moved in. Brenda–that’s what the owner named her–we suspect is one of the offspring of Chucha’s long and rather promiscuous life. If so, Brenda didn’t inherit any of her mom’s smart genes. She’s certifiably “taruga”, or Mexican slang for “dumber than a bag of manure.” A lovable but clueless creature.

About a year ago, we decided to have Brenda spayed, an idea that got messy and complicated: She was already quite pregnant with eight puppies and the operation turned into an abortion.

Then early this year Osita showed up pregnant. Osita is a ten- or fifteen-pound, black and white wire haired something-or-other. Her dubious pedigree is accentuated by her ears–one up and the other one down–which also give her a distinctive “woe is me” appearance. She bloated alarmingly during her pregnancy, during which we gave her side portions of canned food. Finally the puppies arrived–six or eight we heard–which we understand our neighbor sold.

Another litter came about four or five months later, even as we tried to explain to the owner that letting a bitch  get pregnant time and again was cruel and may eventually kill her. He blamed it on his wife. Finally they relented and we took Osita to be spayed by a vet from Amigos de Animales, a local animal welfare group started and funded by expats in San Miguel.

To his credit, the neighbor also thanked us profusely for feeding all his dogs and as a token gave us some firewood, a precious commodity in this mostly barren part of the world. He also said he wanted to spay his other dogs because he didn’t have any money to feed the ones he had and didn’t want any more. That’s an encouraging breakthrough in his thinking.

Since 2004, Amigos’ chief mission has been to spay and neuter dogs and cats free of charge, by holding sterilization “blitzes” in poor neighborhoods. Over a weekend, volunteer veterinarians can sterilize as many as 150 animals. The latest addition to Amigos is a van that has been converted into a mobile spay-and-neuter clinic, with its own operating room and recovery area.

Since its founding Amigos has sterilized approximately 11,000 dogs and cats. The arithmetic is obvious and compelling. Even if only half of those animals had gone on to have their own litters–and so on and on–there would thousands more abandoned animals in San Miguel by now.

As for Osita, she is fully recovered and back out begging for food. To our eyes she looks healthier and  happier. Maybe it’s her ears: Now they seem to go up and down in unison.

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