Half-way between the coast where I live and the city where we shop sits the municipal dump. El Basurero Municipal. Before the miracle of garbage collection came to Vinorama, we used to take our garbage directly there on our way to town. But we had to stop. The trip to the dump had become too much for us. I’d often leave the dump in tears.
On this occasion there were several people climbing about, over, and through the mounds of garbage. Right in front of where we parked our vehicle, a chubby man sat in a large pile of garbage. I watched in horror as he opened a bottle of yogurt drink, sniffed the contents, and, cocking his head, gulped it down. The scavengers were naturally filthy, but what was unsettling was that they appeared to be asleep, moving about like the walking dead. Hunger aside, I wondered what possessed them?
Dumbfounded by what I’d witnessed, I got out of the truck and put myself to the task at hand. While Tony unloaded the garbage, I opened several cans of dog food and poured them onto paper plates. Together we walked to where a large group of dogs waited and laid the plates on the ground. The dogs did not run over, despite the fact that their noses detected something other than rotting garbage on the plates. And if we moved too fast, they retreated in abject fear.
I focused on a brindle-coated puppy of about seven months, old enough to already be fearful, but still more trusting than the older, wizened hounds. Satisfied that we’d done what we could, our supply of dog food almost exhausted, we departed the tragic scene. We could only take so much.
But this time, just outside the gates of the dump, we were assaulted by another sight. A large honey-colored dog trotted down the road towards the dump. She held her head low, a furrow on her brow and, in tow, were eight puppies. They were carbon copies of their mother, the only variation being a small white patch here or there on a foot or chest. They couldn’t have been more than seven weeks old and were skinny, so skinny. Their mother was skin and bone too. Her teats hung flaccid and empty.
Stopping the truck, we jumped into action. “Get the food open! Get the food open!” Tony urged, “so they smell it before they run away!” The mother had already retreated into the dust-laden bushes, a look of horror on her face. Several puppies followed her, scrambling over mounds of dusty garbage that hadn’t quite made it to the dump. A few of the braver pups were looking at us curiously, their noses moving, heads perked and ears turning this way and that, conscious that mom was telling them it was not safe.
They detected something…something that smelled too good to ignore. A bowl with clean, fresh water and a plate of canned dog food were placed as close as possible, but well off the road. Encouraging noises were made. Thankfully no trucks had come and we worked as quickly as possible, while trying not to frighten the wary dogs.
One pup made contact with the food and dug in, energized by the realization of what heaven was. Her litter mates, sparked by her reaction, came running. Pushing, jostling for position, they gulped the food down in great bites, barely pausing for breath. A second plate was prepared and the puppies encouraged to eat their fill.
Mama dog watched, clearly still very frightened, but her pups were now oblivious to her fear. A truck was coming, we had to move. Reluctantly we departed, leaving them there, on the side of the road, mother watching, not eating, staying a safe distance away.
We pulled away slowly and the tears welled up. Through them, I expressed my dismay. Tony was angry and upset too. Frustration came from understanding what could and couldn’t be done, from knowing that the mother would not be easily caught, that the pups would run away too. Homes for puppies were getting scarce and fewer still were willing to take a feral dog like the mother. And we already had eight dogs. This situation had played itself out far too many times over the course of our stay in Mexico.
More and more organizations crop up with the goal of making a difference in the lives of animals here, but at the cultural level the issue of animal overpopulation and mistreatment gets little attention. Among Mexicans, there is great resistance to animal sterilization based on traditional religious and cultural beliefs. And it is not purely the uneducated and simple who resist. Even some well-educated and wealthy Mexicans revile the act.
I’m thankful that we no longer have to go to the dump, but the images of the frightened mother and countless other abandoned animals are imprinted indelibly upon my memory. It is in images such as these that paradise is lost.