People in my small town in Morelos, México, ask me all the time, ‘Why do you care so much about dogs? Why do you help them?’ For those of us who were raised in the United States or Canada, this may seem like a surprising question. Dogs in the U.S. and Canada are treated like children, members of the family. They have fancy breed names, they wear clothes, they go to doggie daycare, they have birthday parties. But here, in the center of Mexico, in an agricultural community about two hours south of Mexico City, many people don’t have the luxury of caring for dogs in this way — and even for those who value canine companionship as much as we do, they simply don’t have the means to give them what we may see as essential.
The Street Dog Problem
It is not unusual to see street dogs in Mexico. Some are strays; some have owners but are allowed to roam. It’s also not unusual to see healthy street dogs that appear to be thriving while living a vagabond life. While I would love for every dog to have a loving home, I will give a healthy street dog a scratch and move on, always looking for the one that isn’t thriving, that won’t survive without intervention. According to an article from the National Institutes of Health, of the estimated 23 million dogs in Mexico, 70% are street dogs. So, for the vast majority of dogs in Mexico, life is far, far different from that of their cousins north of the border. Yes, things are changing and improving, but not fast enough to save thousands of dogs every year who die preventable deaths. They die from starvation. They die from diseases you didn’t even know existed, like CTVT , or Canine Transmissible Venereal Tumor, a contagious cancer. They die from flea- and tick-borne illnesses, car strikes, poisonings, and worse.
Help, Not Judgment
It can be very difficult to see a vulnerable dog who, perhaps, is skin and bones thanks to a parasitic infection and not want to place blame or responsibility on someone — the owner, the community, the people who walk by every day. Why didn’t they do something? But, this mindset ignores the greater issues that exist in countries like México. Issues such as high poverty rates, underfunded public school systems, low job growth, failing infrastructure, violence, and corruption mean a huge segment of the population is just trying to survive. In the state of Morelos poverty rates exceed 50%, ranking it as the seventh poorest of México’s 32 states. It is not unusual for residents to live in makeshift houses, with dirt floors and no running water or electricity. If someone struggles to provide their children with a safe place to live, regular meals, and clean water, how can we expect them to provide for a dog?
So, Why Do I Help Dogs?
Because I can. It’s as simple as that. I can’t solve México’s systemic issues and magically raise my community out of poverty. But I can help my community reduce the unwanted animal population by raising money for spay and neuter campaigns. And in reducing the dog population, I can help keep my community clean with fewer piles of dog feces, fewer torn-open bags of garbage, fewer dead dogs rotting on the road. I can help my neighbor ease some of his burden by providing him with a well-built dog house, so that his dog will be safe outside while he protects his owner’s makeshift home from intruders who steal from the poorest of the poor. I can approach my community with empathy and an open mind to best meet the needs of both my neighbors and the community’s street dogs.
These are the things I can do. This is why I help dogs.