by Erin Miranda Patino, Contributing Writer/600 Volunteer
I had been to Mexico a few times–mostly by plane, once on a bus, but this was the first time driving. It was going to be an epic 6,000 mile road trip. My wife and I were going to make the long 55 hour, one way drive to visit her father in Tulum. As we crossed the border, I was struck by the poverty: people selling anything they could to make a few pesos.
We stayed in a small pueblo for a few days near Mexico City where we visited the town market. I noticed a dog roaming around near a trash can. He was obviously hungry and trying to find something edible out of the trash. We have two spoiled dogs at home so we wanted to help this hungry dog. We walked to a tortilla shop around the corner and bought five pesos worth of tortillas. When we returned to the trash can, the dog was gone. We walked to the town square and found the dog with four other dogs. We sat on a bench and tried to get the dogs’ attention. They were very hesitant. These were street dogs, not spoiled house dogs like the ones we had at home. When one of the dogs got close enough, we gently tossed a warm tortilla his way. He quickly grabbed it and gobbled it up. Two of the dogs came close enough to receive tortillas. The others were too scared to get close. When it was time to go, we left the remaining stack of tortillas near a fountain. Maybe once we left the shy dogs would eat them.
I lamented to my wife about these sad looking dogs, noting how different they were from our dogs or even dogs in general in the United States. “It’s different in Mexico,” my wife explained. “There is barely enough money for the people to eat, let alone the dogs.” Again, I thought of our two spoiled couch potatoes who ate special homemade dog food and never went to bed hungry. These dogs were thin and possibly sick. And they obviously were not sleeping in a warm soft bed at night, out of the elements. Our dogs were pampered pets; these were street dogs.
After a few days, we left the town and continued on our way. We were driving on the Mexican highway around a bigger city called Puebla when I spotted a stray dog in the center of the highway. I could tell he was going to walk in front of traffic. He made it to the lane next to us and then was hit by a box truck. I saw him go flying into the air. We were not in a position to do anything except to keep driving due to the traffic and speed. Neither of us spoke. We both cried. We both knew that the dog had been killed. To see an animal get hit is a visual I won’t ever get out of my head.
We made it to Tulum. From previous trips, I remembered seeing stray dogs everywhere. I had special instructions from my wife to not make eye contact with these dogs. It’s possible that not all of these dogs were aggressive, but my wife’s sister was bitten by a dog when she was a child living in Mexico, and had to get rabies shots. Approximately 50,000 people die every year from rabies bites from stray dogs. There was barely enough money for the people to survive in these towns so vaccinating stray dogs likely wasn’t a consideration.
A few days later, we visited some pyramids. In the parking lot, we spotted three small dogs running around. We bought some coconuts and drank the water inside. After we finished, the man selling the coconuts cut them open with a machete. He told us that the dogs liked the tender coconut flesh so we offered them the fruit. They gobbled it up. We saw many stray, thin dogs on the pyramid steps where they apparently live. We saw the same scene repeated around town. There seemed to be stray dogs at every store and tourist site. No collars and malnourished.
After our time in Tulum, we drove north to return home. We stopped at a gas station and there was a dog walking down the sidewalk. He was coming towards us. He seemed very friendly, and acted like he wanted some human attention. He came closer. He was all black, and so skinny. His floppy ears reminded me of one of my own dogs. I remembered we had a loaf of bread in the car. I grabbed the bread and began to feed him. He ate almost half a loaf. He was obviously starving. He would have eaten more, but we stopped, not wanting him to get sick. We were still over two thousand miles away from home, but it was so tempting to pick this dog up and take him with us even though I knew we just couldn’t. I looked at his eyes, and saw his sadness and it broke my heart. What could be done with all of these dogs? Could I open a shelter? I had to do something.
A few weeks later a friend of mine mentioned a post that she had seen about a nonprofit organization called 600 Million Stray Dogs Need You. I read their mission, and thought, this is it! A shelter would help some dogs, but it wouldn’t get to the root of the problem. We could get medicine to dogs, and even food, but that was not going to help to regulate the population. I was excited to read about the Spay and Neuter Cookie so I reached out to 600 million.org to see what I could do to help. Now I’m an active volunteer and supporter. And I’m proud to be associated with a team dedicated to solving this global crisis. I am hopeful that with continued funding and research, this cookie will be ready and available soon, in Mexico, and in all of the other places where it is so desperately needed throughout the world.