The Privilege of Pets

2017-jan-pics-2016-12-22-at-7-48-30-amBy Jane Bauer

My first paying job at the age of nine was as a dog walker. There was Scarlet, a very mischievous Irish setter and two sister pitbulls; people always crossed the street when they saw us coming. My upbringing had prepared me well for this line of work – our house was a menagerie of animals. My father was an animal psychologist: cats lounged on counters, dogs slept on the living room couch, hamsters ran their wheels and there was a red-eared turtle in the bathroom. In the basement there were iguanas and a 10-foot boa that weren’t really pets, but animals that had nowhere else to go.When I was twelve and got my babysitting certificate from the YMCA I transitioned to kids – not always as much fun as dogs, but the pay was better. Thursdays nights I watched ‘The Littlest Hobo’ – a Canadian show about a crime-fighting German shepherd. I wished for a dog who would walk me to school without a leash and be there when I got out at the end of the day.

I got my wish in college one random day at the SPCA. He was a beautiful white Belgian shepherd whom I gave what many though was the unfortunate name Daisy Boy, but he seemed to like it just fine. Daisy Boy would walk without a leash, stop at corners, wait for me outside a store and seemed to understand whatever I said to him.

We flew to Puerto Vallarta in June 1997 (the cheapest flight I could find) and we rode the bus down the coast to the small village where I planned to live for the next six months. Daisy Boy proved to be incredibly useful; in the bus depots he would sit with my backpack while I went to the bathroom and in search of food and I discovered that if we took third-class buses, I could convince the driver to let him ride beside me.

When we arrived in Mazunte and I inquired about a room, I explained that the dog would be in the room with me. The woman renting the room seemed flummoxed. Why would I want the dog in the room with me? In my poor Spanish I got used to explaining that the dog was to protect me and in some way that narrative was true.

There were dogs in the village; scrawny, ragamuffin creatures that seemed to look upon humans as nothing more than a nuisance. Daisy Boy’s domesticated and playful personality soon won over the village kids and many marveled at how good he was. I would explain that all dogs could be this good if you took care of them. They would look at the dog lying in front of their house and laugh.

Dog food, in the form of kibble, was practically impossible to find in those days. There was one vet who mostly dealt with cattle and a vet at the newly opened turtle museum, who freely admitted he didn’t really care for dogs, but he would help me out every time I showed up with a dog in need of some attention.

As I got to know people in the village, I realized that the source of these undernourished dogs wasn’t ignorance or lack of love or caring for animals – it was pure economics. Keeping pets is a privilege. Humans have a long history of domesticating animals for work; however, animals for entertainment or our pleasure is a relatively new phenomenon of the last hundred years or so; before that, pets were exclusively for the very wealthy.

Today it has become a trend to boast of your saved Mexican dog. I heard a Canadian radio host talking about her recent trip to Mexico and how bad she felt about the poverty and how good bringing two dogs back to Canada made her feel. Most of us like to help and do good – compassion is a wonderful human trait; however, this logic is completely misguided and seems to have become so commonplace that I worry not only about the absurdity of it, but the damage this way of thinking is actually doing.

There are acts of giving that have a ripple effect, they go beyond the individual act and affect a community. Examples of this are donating to medical research, supporting girls’ education and women in micro-business (both of these have been proven to elevate not only the individuals but entire communities), spay and neuter clinics for animals that are overpopulated in areas, clean water projects, sustainable food coops.

‘Saving’ a dog from a rural village, spending thousands of dollars and energy to find it a furever home only helps the individual dog, and perhaps the person who adopts the dog–who may all too easily be relieved of thinking about the true root of the problem, which is economic. When resources are scarce, when you are struggling to feed your family, it is very difficult to be concerned with the dog lying outside your house. These village dogs are symptoms of the incredible economic disparity between people.

In addition, there are already many animals in need of homes in Canada and the US. The better question to ask is why are there so many dogs in need of a higher level of care than they are currently receiving. Number one is the overpopulation of domesticated animals and number two is lack of disposable income to care for them.

What can you do to help?

  1. Support spay and neuter clinics. In Huatulco options for this are Palmas Unidas Bahias de Huatulco AC and Snipsisters Spay and Neuter.
  2. Do not pick-up ‘stray’ dogs. In Mexican culture a dog without a leash, wandering around, is not necessarily a ‘lost’ dog.
  3. Support education and economic initiatives in communities where economic disparity makes it difficult for people to care for pets.
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