Seattle has a very interesting relationship with dogs, in fact, dogs in Seattle outnumber children! Seattleites bring our dogs to restaurants; most coffee shops offer puppuccinos or at least dog treats. My husband built a career out of taking care of other people’s dogs (and cats, turtles, snakes, bearded dragons, and …) We have shops all over town dedicated to high-quality pet foods, toys, beds, and clothes. You think up something that you might want for your pet and you will be able to find it in Seattle. I often joked that our dogs ate better than we did; I was only half joking! It seemed almost everyone you met had dogs, was a dog walker, or was involved in a pet rescue. It really is not an overstatement to say that Seattle is obsessed with dogs. When we sold almost everything and left town, no one questioned what we would do with our dogs. Seattleites knew that our Basset Hound and German Shepherd would not be left behind.
Lord Harley the Great, came to our family during a time when my 13.5 year-old beloved Australian Shepherd mix, Indah, was at the end of her life. She had been with me longer than my children at that point. My grandmother was also about to go into hospice and life was heavy and dark. For some reason, I just happened to be looking at dogs on Craigslist and there was Lord Harley, a full blood Basset Hound that was no longer wanted by his family. My heart melted and the next day he joined our pack. Fast forward about 6 years – my husband always had German Shepherds but Eva the love of his life, and apparently the “best dog ever,” had passed about 8 years earlier. Although he cared for dogs all over the city, he did not have his own pup to come home to at the end of the day. So of course, I decided he needed a GSD. The pup had to be a female and a rescue. I waited and I searched; then one typical cloudy day, a beautiful face appeared on the Seattle Humane Society website. Ava immediately stole Stan’s heart. She is a very special girl that requires a lot of patience and attention. She was in 3 other homes before ours, one person took her back to the Humane Society after just a couple of weeks. Poor sweet girl. Turning our backs on her is not an option. She is now bonded to us and Lord Harley. She is 100% family.
We even had to buy a larger vehicle before setting out on our adventure, because Lord Harley and Ava take up a lot of space! They are having the time of the lives and enjoying the adventures, hiking, and change of scenery as much as we are. Before we crossed the border, we obtained the required health certificates for them. Although it’s always good to have your documents in order, we were waved through at the border with no questions asked. We were shocked at how easy it was to bring them into Mexico! I have been to Mexico many times and knew we would encounter street dogs. We talked a lot about how to keep our dogs safe when we did. We felt prepared. However, we weren’t prepared for the magnitude of homeless dogs we would encounter.
It is impossible to walk down the street without running into street dogs. Most are very shy and avoid people. Many have battle scars, injured legs, and/or mange. Stan being “The Doggy Guy,” wins most of them over, takes their pictures, and gives them some love. However, “kibble” often doesn’t get their attention, unless they are really hungry. Perhaps it is because in places like Ajijic, they line up at the butcher shop in the morning waiting for scraps … kind of like Seattleites line up for their morning lattes. Most locals have compassion for the street dogs and feed them scraps. Many restaurants even have “regulars” that are street dogs or dogs from the neighborhoods that come for dinner every night. They generally don’t beg like our spoiled dogs, rather they wait off to the side patiently hoping they will get the remains of someone’s dinner. Some seem to prefer ice cream and have learned how to be ridiculously cute to get their way.
However, the relationship with dogs here is very different than in Seattle. Of course, poverty plays a big part in this. When your own basic needs are scarcely met, the needs of animals cannot be your highest priority. Veterinary care and pet supplies are expensive, therefore spaying or neutering is often cost prohibitive. This contributes greatly to the problem of street dogs in Mexico. According to SpayUSA, an un-spayed cat and mate(s) can produce nearly 2 million kittens within 9 years and an un-spayed dog and mate(s) can produce 67,000 puppies within 6 years! That is a lot of animals that need homes!! Many organizations around Lake Chapala are working to remedy this situation. Rescue groups provide veterinary care, “freedom flights” to the US, and spay and neuter clinics. At a recent volunteer-run spay and neuter clinic in Jocotepec, Jalisco, volunteers were elated by the turnout. In just two days, 200 animals were spayed or neutered (83 cats and 117 dogs)! People with extremely limited resources brought their dogs in boxes, sacks, a grocery cart, and whatever else they could – just so their animals could be sterilized. Volunteers’ remarked that they are seeing more men than ever bringing their dogs to these events, including large breeds like Pit Bulls and Malinois. Many people brought their whole families along and children from the area even assisted with the clinic. Volunteers offered rides home to ease the difficulty of transporting post-op animals on the bus. It was truly a community event!
While there are many volunteers from the local and international community working to help the animals and to prevent the birth of unwanted ones, no one loves the animals more than Alvaro Rene Garcia Martinez. He moved back to his village a couple of years ago to care for his elderly mother, but now also cares for an astonishing amount of animals as well. Alvaro is well known in this area as the person to go to if you find any animal that needs help. He currently cares for over 40 dogs, dozens of cats and birds, and even a couple opossums. He has become so well known that it isn’t unusual for him to wake up to a box of puppies on his doorstep. He works tirelessly to find homes for as many animals as possible! Not having a car doesn’t slow him down, he miraculously manages to arrange rides to the vet, spay and neuter clinics, and meet and greets with potential “forever families”. Immanuel Kant said, “We can judge the heart of a man by his treatment of animals” – Alvaro’s heart then is pure gold! It is impossible for him to turn away from a suffering animal or to say that he cannot help. He didn’t ask for assistance from others, he simply took care of the animals in need. Alvaro truly leads by example and in doing so has become a magnet for others who want to help.
The number of animals Alvaro cares for is mind-boggling and people in the community recognized that he could really use some help! A group of ex-pats recently joined forces to help him start a non-profit, It Takes a Village Lakeside, so that he would have more resources to help the animals in his care and the others that are surely coming his way. People are also lending their time because it truly takes a village to care for this many animals in need. If you would like to learn more about Alvaro’s incredible work, want to adopt a street dog, or feel compelled to donate you can contact the group at – https://www.facebook.com/ItTakesAVillageLakeside/