Dogs have shared and suffered human company for at least 10,000 years. Not much effort to love a furry, silly looking puppy. Love of the loveable (eros love) is a spontaneous human response to the “cute” factor. They have also earned their place with people being valuable working animals over the centuries and a reciprocal relationship developed.
Where I live, Guatemala, street dogs are not cute or cuddly and most people here have been raised to fear and treat them like rodents – throw rocks at them or kick them. It is heart-breaking to see the many street dogs, bone-thin, malnourished, living in fear of people and scrounging just to find garbage scraps to survive. The ones kept as pets are mostly used for security, some tied up for their entire lives.
We are fortunate to have a wonderful dog, Tika, who has been with us for the past four and a half years. She is intelligent and cares for her people. She has become a bit of a celebrity in our town of Tecpán surely being the only one that has a repertoire of tricks. It is hard for people to believe that Tika knows 15 tricks and 60 words until they see her in action! We of course, absolutely love her!
As part of the Somos Children’s Village we plan to have each family adopt a dog and have the kids train the dog and have “super dog” shows for the local communities. This will achieve two things – demonstrate to people that dogs are intelligent and capable of learning many things, perhaps generating a compassion for the every present street dogs. Second, the kids will benefit from caring for, training and building a relationship with abandoned animals that the culture generally believes are no better than a long-tailed rat. Ignorance can be cruel.
Tika is our first Village dog but in the past few months a few street dogs have come into our lives. Lucita, is a little black dog that lived on the street and ate garbage scraps. She was always friendly to us. She now lives with our daughter Meg, who fell in love with her and suffered all the administrative hoops and expense to bring her to California.
When Alicia and I were having our Sunday evening pupusas (Salvadoreñan food) in the main plaza, we met another very friendly and sweet dog that I began feeding from time to time. Eventually, surprise, surprise, he followed us home. “Dog” now lives in Chivarabal with Maco, the guardian of the land and his family. He is a great dog with a sweet smile. And for those who’ve been following along with our journey since 2009, you will remember Jango.
And finally, there is Janga, a wonderful dog that lived in the forest across from our home in Tecpán that I classify as a Mayan Shepherd. She always wagged her tail when seeing us, and desperately wanted to come closer, but was afraid, I presume, because of the abuse she had suffered. She always would enthusiastically run to greet me when I would leave our house, and again, oh yes, I began feeding her. One day Alicia witnessed a large German Shepherd mating with her and we knew in 9 weeks there would be puppies. Over the weeks she began to look very pregnant and then one day she disappeared. We realized she must be having her litter – somewhere.
We inquired with our neighbors to whereabouts and they lead us to a field where she lay on a pile of garbage under a tree with her ten, yes 10, newborn puppies. She was still shy, not aggressive, but happy to see us. We began visiting and feeding her many times a day, but as the days passed we realized that we had to make a decision – do we bring her and her rather large brood under our care in our home or do we allow nature and this culture to take it’s harsh course? It took about a week, and the death of one puppy and we knew what we had to do.
The puppies and mama Janga came into the safety of our patio. The puppies are now seven weeks old, healthy and beautiful. Janga trusts us more each day and now enjoys having her chin rubbed, is coming into the house and just the other day got her first full hug from me, one of those humans. She has come along way from the forest and will be our second Village dog. We are actively (frantically) looking for good homes where these lovelies will be well-fed, cared for and neutered or spayed.
The look in Janga’s eyes always told her story to me – can I trust you not to hurt me? What we gave her is little in comparison to what she offers us – an opportunity to exercise our humanity and become a little kinder, a little more compassionate – a little more human.