Making All the Difference: The Society for the Protection of Animals
In much of Mexican culture, the treatment of pet dogs is for the most part, standoffish. Domesticated dogs across varying facets of Mexican society are often left to their own devices, with many resigning to the fact that their world will forever be a flat concrete rooftop with little to no shelter and, other than at mealtime, a serious lack of human interaction and companionship. Sadly, to a large amount of families across Mexico, especially those living at the lower spectrum of the socioeconomic ladder, ownership of a dog is purely functional. For security. For a daytime presence when nobody is home. A cheap substitute for an alarm system for when the opaque of night is at its peak.
But these dogs can almost be considered lucky. They have a home, they are fed regularly, and occasionally, they are even very well loved. Compare their lives to that of a street dog in a Mexican city, town or village. A decent proportion of these dogs once belonged to someone, somewhere, but due to the ever-climbing poverty rates sweeping the country, so many families simply cannot afford to keep them.
Then there are the street dogs that have never belonged to anyone. Never known a human side other than cruelty. A swift kick. A hurled rock. A gnarly growl as a warning to not come onto the property. Take a walk around any Mexican neighbourhood where there is a high presence of street dogs. Notice anything? Why do so many of them have lame and useless legs? So often, in the dead of night, or the light of day, Mexican street dogs are run over by passing vehicles; trucks, cars, motorbikes... be it accidentally or deliberately, as the nomadic animals try to compete for their slice of the street, skittishly scrounging for food scraps and water amid the excess noise of traffic, continual fireworks, angry shopkeepers, and the random boot of a cruel being who hides under the inexcusable banner of being afraid of dogs. That's the thing; many Mexicans are simply petrified of dogs. But it's not their fault, it's just a huge part of the culture that dates back centuries, almost a superstition.
When I mention the term street dog, what's the first thing that comes to mind? A frothing, rabid, savage mutt wandering the streets, cornering school children in an aggressive assertion of dominance and power lust? A scabby, flea-ridden mongrel, riddled with mange, and destined to become nothing more than a lame and diseased puddle of pus? Sure, those dogs exist, I've come across them from time to time on my travels. Not often though, and I've been in this marvellous region that some call Latin America for nearly three of the past three and a half years.
The truth is, for the very, very most part, street dogs are just bloody lovely creatures. So many times, as my beautiful wife Demelza and myself have wandered around a new city or town lost and completely out of our depth, a street dog has come to our rescue. The instant loyalty received, just for displaying a simple act of kindness and compassion, something that really isn't too difficult, is one of the most touching emotions that could ever be delivered to the cerebral cortex. It's just that beautiful. Wrestling in the main street with four street dogs in the Mexican town of Tequila while groups of locals watched on in horror, may very well have been one of the happiest, most uninhibited timeframes of my adult life.
The main problem in Mexico, as is the problem with perhaps 80% of the world, is that there is no system in place to encourage the neutering of pets. Many people, even back home in Australia, see that particular procedure as being cruel and vicious. Well, sure. No one want their nuts sliced off, do they? But here's the thing; what's crueller? Neutering a dog, or letting them roam free to father or mother countless litters of puppies who will ultimately be left to fend for themselves, to starve, be beaten and possibly run over, and eventually, killed? That, is the disturbing, and for the most part unnecessary, vicious circle that has swept nations like Mexico for generation after generation. A cheap, effective, and educational neutering system must be implemented.
...there are some damn amazing people out there (yes I know, I admit it, there really are), who dedicate their lives to making the quality of life for street dogs and abandoned pets just that little bit better. These are people with jobs, with mortgages and families, with pressures, anxieties, deep-seated worries and fears, who still somehow manage to find the time, and the compassion and love within their hearts, to utilise their spare minutes with wisdom and grace, by lending themselves to the noble cause of assisting the downtrodden of the animal kingdom in their most serious times of need.
In my hometown, the beautiful San Miguel de Allende, about 4 hours north of Mexico City, there is one particular group of volunteers who I believe do some extraordinary work with street dogs and cats. The Sociedad Protectora de Animales (Society for the Protection of Animals) is a non-profit organisation based in San Miguel that dedicates its time to housing street dogs and cats with the view to hopefully find each animal a loving home to become a respected part of. The organisation has a no kill policy, and has done for over three decades. In my short time of volunteering for the S.P.A., I have seen first hand the unconditional dedication that the shelter's long-term volunteers provide to the animals, and the tireless hard work they put in, and although it's not unnoticed by those of us on the inside, is something that despite its obvious rewarding nature, can often be thankless, bone crushing, and at those sad and despairing times, heart breaking.
But when a dog or cat is finally adopted, often nurtured back from the brink to a healthy fur ball of boundless energy and love, it's the most rewarding experience of all. But enough of my gushing; let's actually hear from the people who know what the hell they're talking about, the wonderful S.P.A. themselves...
The Sociedad Protectora de Animales is the only no-kill animal shelter for dogs and cats in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. For more than 35 years, it has provided food, care, and shelter for approximately 100 animals while they wait to be adopted. Volunteers and employees bestow upon these cats and dogs all the love and attention they deserve. An average of 200 animals are adopted each year which creates space for new ones to be taken into the safety of the S.P.A. Its on-site clinic offers lower-cost medical care for pets owned by people of limited economic means. It does not receive any financial support from the government and relies upon donations to keep its doors open.
The S.P.A. has many goals, among them striving to educate others about the importance of taking care of family pets and giving them the health care they need, i.e., vaccinations and sterilisation. Teaching people to be kind to, and tolerant of animals is another one of its goals. To spread these messages, it works with the community so young children, teenagers, and adults have the opportunity to learn about and appreciate cats and dogs.
Watch this short video displaying the amazing work that the S.P.A. is doing in San Miguel, plus check out all those little beauties that are just hanging to be adopted!
So far, in my very short stint volunteering for the S.P.A., I have seen a few beautiful creatures adopted out, but also, I've seen a disproportionate amount come through the gates; puppies especially. And therein lies the visual, tangible truth to the problem at hand. Litters of newly born puppies are found abandoned far too often than is acceptable, which is never. The shelter is perpetually full, which for the dogs in there, is much better than their previous alternative, but for the dogs on the street, it's just one more day they must wait to bound through that tiny window of opportunity that we call a happy life.
Personally, as an avid dog lover, and someone with much more tolerance for our four-legged friends than that of the human variety, I have already stumbled upon many challenges. Challenges that I am more than willing and happy to accept.
Take little Apollo for example. That dog is awesome. Like most street dogs, he is a bit of a bitsa breed; part cattle dog, part pointer perhaps, part... I really don't know. But there is a problem. Apollo is not too fond of males, and is extremely wary when a strange male, or even at times a strange female (and let's face it, we're all a bit strange), enters his domain. My relationship with Apollo, well, we're not quite there yet. It has taken weeks of me just simply sitting in his cage when I have the spare time, and just being as demure and non-threatening as possible. Something that, despite my steadfast attitude to remaining calm and persistent, is quite difficult for someone like myself, Mr. Ye of Little Patience.
But progress has been made!
Just today, Apollo found the situation comfortable enough for him to lay down and go to sleep while I sat in his presence! This may sound like nothing, something trivial perhaps, but Apollo's usual demeanour around me is to sit in the corner panting heavily while staring at me out of the corner of his eye. Obviously, that dog has had a very tough life. With more time, and my forced patience, me and my little buddy will get there. We are teaching each other positive virtues.
That story has a point; volunteers can make a world of difference in a dog's life. Even if a particular dog is not adopted over a long period of time, just the mere presence of a friendly human, even for thirty minutes a week, is enough to perhaps restore that dog's faith in humanity, and hopefully get him or her to the stage where they can turn it on when a potential adopter comes to visit.
So, to Christina, Lynn, Pat, David, Irene, Paola, Helen, and way too many others to mention, myself and Demelza are in absolute awe of your work and commitment, and without guardian angels such as yourselves, thousands more dogs over the years would never have had a single hope in obtaining a better quality of life.
To the S.P.A. of San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, we thank you.