domingo, 15 de febrero de 2009

The Dogs of Guatemala

One of the biggest cultural adjustments I have had to undergo since moving to Guatemala has to do with dogs here. My first impression was shocking. The streets are full of what appeared to me “stray dogs.” Some of them looked healthy but many looked emaciated and grossly neglected. If they weren’t foraging for anything edible, they were napping on the side of the street or in some tucked away corner. Some female dogs were ostensibly nursing puppies which were nowhere in sight. Their search for food was particularly dire.

Sleeping dog in Santiago Atitlan

I spoke to some long-time residents, ex-pats, about the plight of the canine here in Panajachel. I learned the following. Many dogs do have homes, but they are released by their owners in the morning to wander about in the streets where they can deposit their bodily waste. At night these more fortunate dogs return home to be fed and stand guard at their owner’s home. Generally, dogs are not permitted inside Guatemalans’ homes. For this reason, one can hear them bark loudly and incessantly throughout the night at the slightest sound or movement. As a light sleeper, I am still coping with this rackety phenomenon. There are- what I now call- “good dog nights” and “bad dog nights.” After a bad dog night, I wake up cranky and dog tired (sorry, but I couldn’t resist).

It is not inherent in Guatemalan culture to take dogs for walks. One only sees gringos walking adopted dogs on leashes. Richard Morgan at Los Encuentros has two black Labradors. He pays two Guatemalan youngsters from the neighborhood to take his dogs for a daily walk. The children are not enthusiastic about carrying out this task, but as Richard pointed out, “They are desperate for money.”

Street dog in Panajachel

A person deeply concerned about animal welfare is Patricia “Patti” Mort, my surrogate landlady. Patti moved to Guatemala in the 1980’s. She used to own a popular boutique Casa Alegre on Calle Santander, but she sold it and now runs a hotel on the same street. Besides her business, Patti is involved with an organization called Mayan Families which she co-founded with Sharon Smart-Poage. The mission of this non-profit organization is to “provide assistance and opportunities to the indigenous people of Guatemala, in particular in the Lake Atitlan area, through education, community programs and construction. “ One of their community programs is the Animal Welfare Program which tackles the acute problem of canine overpopulation and negligence. Patti often patrols the streets on foot for dogs in desperate need of care and if needed, she picks them up with her Mazda pickup and takes them to a veterinarian hospital where they are treated and sterilized. I briefly visited Patti at the animal hospital where she volunteers regularly. We plan to talk more about the organization and explore the possibility of organizing internships for college students. To learn more about Patti’s organization and its achievements, please go to their website:

Patti Mort at the Animal Hospital

Animal hospital where Patti volunteers

A mistreated dog they rescued. The dog still lives in the streets.

2 comentarios:

  1. If there were a spay and neutering program, the problem wouldn't be so bad.

    Here in San Pedro, most street dogs do not have homes. Or they are dogs that short term ex-pats have taken in and then left behind.

    The town is currently taking measures to reduce the number of dogs. And not in a nice way.

    What there needs to be is a concerted effort to spay and neuter. And then have an official dog catcher pick up strays and, if necessary, put them down in a humane way. That would go a long way to fixing this terrible problem (for the dogs and for those of us who are light sleepers).


  2. There is a a spay and neutering program administered by the good vetrinarian and Mayan Families. Every month people can bring their dogs and have them spayed. It costs $20.00 and donations are needed! I am going to try and bring a lot of dog collars back with me (all sizes) as well, since people use string, tightly tied rope, or even wire which digs into the dog's neck, and sometimes becomes embedded. A donation to Mayan Families goes a long way!

    I also agree that official dog catchers are required and a humane program to put down the dogs that are not adopted. A no-kill shelter really does no one, nor the dogs, any good. I just saw a dog pack of over 30 dogs down by the lake tonight walking home in Panajachel. No homes for these dogs; they fend for themselves as best as they can. At least they can find food with Patti and her group, so the dog fights are nothing like they used to be. Please help support Mayan Families and their dog feeding and spaying program!

    Catherine Todd 5013.6300

    P.S. Earplugs do help. I carry them with me all the time now.