Churpa’s note: While digging in our archives, I came across the following useful article, which Carl wrote back in 2002. The info is still good. Unfortunately, Poco is no longer with us, but I can’t wait to see how Carl and Lorena navigate Mexico with Chico, their one-year-old standard poodle who has the energy of a jackhammer and is anything but chico.
by Carl Franz
Mexico rolls out the red carpet for two-legged foreign visitors and expatriate residents, but what sort of reception do pets receive south of the border? Will your new neighbors appreciate your Great Dane’s finer qualities or will they simply recoil in fear and horror at the animal’s intimidating size? Will you have to restrain dear Rex on a thick chain or keep him closely confined inside a yard? How do tough Mexican street dogs react to the presence of a pampered foreign mutt or new cat on the block?
Adopt a pet in Mexico
First of all, if you don’t yet have a pet but are considering taking one to Mexico — don’t bother; the country has an enormous surplus of orphan pets who would fall over each other at the opportunity to be adopted. In the city of Tepic alone, it is estimated that there are seven dogs for every human. Most of these animals are homeless, hungry, and starved for affection.
As you’ll see first-hand once you’re here, the plight of Mexico’s homeless dogs and cats has definitely caught the attention of compassionate gringos. Pet rescue groups have formed in the larger expatriate communities. Some offer free spaying services, as well as emergency health care and boarding. In Ajijic, a generous benefactor funded an animal rescue facility. In nearby San Juan Cosala, Anita (Anita’s Animal Shelter) and her family care for scores of rescued dogs and cats in their own home, nursing the sick ones back to health and offering them for adoption. All of these good works are done by volunteers, and most rely entirely on donations to survive.
Should you decide to adopt a pet, you’ll probably be surprised by the variety of available breeds. Thanks to gringos who depart Mexico — either by retiring to higher “celestial planes” or to live again in the north — dogs and pedigree cats who would fetch fancy prices in most any pet shop are usually available for the asking. Other adoptable pets, including our own former street-dogs Cuca and Poco, are simply mixed-breed hand-me-downs.
In the past, I’ve been rather emphatic when writing about the disadvantages of traveling with pets in Mexico. There’s the constant challenge of finding Fido-friendly lodging, coping with the heat, brushing shedded hair off your Bermuda shorts, walking, exercise, and scooping up their…. etcetera, etcetera. Therefore, as someone who is well aware of the occasional “pros” and frequent “cons” of owning a pet in Mexico, I have to admit that I’m more than a little puzzled as to how-and-why we adopted a dog ourselves. In fact, as long as Lorena is standing over me, encouraging me to be entirely honest, I’ll go ahead and make a full confession… we actually have two dogs. Here’s what happened….
Some time ago, Lorena went to Tepoztlan to attend a ten-day Vipassana meditation course. When she returned bright-eyed and “bushy tailed”, I reluctantly offered her a “good news/bad news” greeting.
“The bad news,” I blurted. “is that while you were away our house was burgled. We lost our computers, our software, and all of our music CD’s. The good news is that we now have a dog.”
Lorena’s reaction says a lot about the value of meditation: after blinking several times, she sighed and said, “Well, I don’t know about you, but I’m starved. Let’s go have lunch and talk about it.”
Meanwhile, at home, Cuca eagerly awaited Lorena’s arrival. Cuca is a large Doberman-Shepherd mongrel named after a dear Mexican friend. As I explained over a plate of Ensenada style fish tacos, the logic I’d used in deciding to adopt Cuca was: A) she would guard the house from additional burglars; B) her imposing panther-ish stare and muscular build would make Cuca a suitable escort for Lorena while I was away, guiding wilderness trips; C) she [Cuca] would look pretty neat sitting obediently at my feet in the evening while I read the newspaper.
This so-called logic was soon strained, however, when we moved out of our burgled country house and into a very secure second-floor apartment in the village. The apartment was not only much smaller but instead of a yard, we had only the roof of the adjoining house to use as a patio/dog-run.
This new arrangement also elevated Cuca’s status from ‘reformed street dog’ to official Mexican roof dog. Obviously aware of her promotion, Cuca now seemed more inclined to sit on my feet rather than “at them”, and chewing the newspaper was far more entertaining than simply watching me read it.
Distracted by moving and setting up our new digs, we really didn’t have time to absorb these unexpected changes in our lives… and then the phone rang. It was Joan, the friend who’d helped me choose Cuca, calling with urgent news: hold those bets! Stop the presses! She’d found us “the perfect dog”!
“We do genuinely and sincerely appreciate the thought, Joan, but as of last week we seem to already have a dog, remember? A very large dog, in fact. So large, that she can hardly squeeze into my favorite chair, though she does manage. When she’s not eating, of course, or pawing at the door to be let out again so she can bark at the downstairs neighbors. Which in both cases is quite often. Besides,” I continued rather heatedly, “if this latest dog is so perfect, why don’t you and Tony adopt it? You’ve only got six, so what’s one more ravenous mutt in the greater scheme of things?” Before she could reply, I added. “And by the way, I thought Cuca was supposed to be ‘perfect’?”
Joan is not only a rabid dog lover, she is also a dog trainer: patient, skilled, stubborn… and cunning.
“Carl, you said yourself that Cuca probably needs a companion. She seems sad a lot, and kind of withdrawn. At least, that’s what you said.”
“Well, yeah, maybe.” I hedged, “but now I’m wondering if she isn’t just sizing us up, probably plotting something. This morning I found my wallet in her bed. Cuca also stares at us a lot. It’s weird, but I’m beginning to think she reads lips.”
Joan wasn’t to be deflected. “I’m not asking you to actually take this other dog, I just want you to look at him. He’s an Australian Shepherd and Blue Heeler mix, the perfect size for traveling in a van or hiking. An extremely intelligent dog. Really, he’d be perfect. You may know someone….”
As it turned out, Joan used the word “perfect” in its most optimistic, futuristic tense. When we first met “Poco”, I couldn’t help but notice that this perfect dog’s head was torqued over at a very dramatic and very odd angle. Furthermore, his nose was crooked and his tongue lolled grotesquely to the left, seeming to hang halfway down to his knees. With his bright shining eyes and curiously skewed grin, Poco looked more like a four-legged Jack Nicholson in a hair suit than the perfect dog.
As Poco staggered over to me with a pronounced limp and proceeded to lick my hand in tragic-comic appeal, I also had to wonder if Joan hadn’t been over-rehearsing him. Before I could express our regrets, however, and make an escape, Joan quickly explained that Poco was really quite strong and full of heart. This funny little… twist… was just a temporary condition and certainly nothing to be concerned about, just a minor side effect… of his broken neck?
He might have been “Poco” in size, but as Joan explained, that certainly hadn’t stopped him from attacking the wrong Rottweiller.
Considering Poco objectively, perhaps even as a possible “Best In Show” contestant, here we had an 18 month old mutt kept chained up at a construction site since he was a puppy — don’t even ask if he was house-broken — with a recently broken neck and an active case of intestinal worms aggravated by chronic colitis, not to mention a shaggy, fright-wig hairdo not seen since the days of Tiny Tim. In other words, one serious mess of a homeless dog. You’d have to be absolutely crazy to even consider it. Lorena and I looked at Poco again and shook our heads in mutual disbelief……. To be continued
Veterinarians & Pet Care
Within a few weeks of adopting our dogs, Lorena and I had learned far more about Mexican veterinary care than we’d ever wanted to. First Cuca lost a bloody argument with Joan’s bullmastiff and then Poco took a wrong turn, lost his balance, and plummeted upside-down from the roof. Stitches, infections, mysterious immune disorders, mites, inflammations, worming, blood and stool tests, vomiting and dehydration — instead of warm, fuzzy scenes from His Master’s Voice, our dogs turned us into unwilling participants in a canine MASH unit.
As with human health care in Mexico, veterinarios charge far less for consultations, lab work and treatments than their counterparts up north. Of three vets who tended our dog’s early emergencies, I’d rate one as “excellent”, another “very good”, and the third…. “Never again!”
The medical treatment this third vet gave Cuca appeared competent, but I was dismayed that he handled her impersonally, with no apparent regard for her discomfort or fear. In contrast, when Cuca first walked into the “excellent” vet’s office, he actually dropped to the floor and offered her the top of his head to sniff. He spent most of the next twenty minutes on the floor, at dog level, constantly comforting and stroking her. Not surprisingly, both our dogs now walk into this vet’s office eagerly, wagging their tails.
Personally, our main concern about vet care here is the potential difficulty of getting treatment in an emergency. The vets we’ve used all have small offices and limited hours. Although they offer emergency phone numbers, they don’t always answer. When Poco ate something very ugly on Father’s Day, for example, and began losing blood at both ends, I tried — and failed — to make contact with five different local veterinarians. In desperation, I went to the internet, where I quickly found the medical advice we needed to stabilize his condition. After this incident, we asked ourselves, “What would we have done if we’d been in the backcountry, camping, or out of reach of a computer?”
In the future we’ll carry a notebook of dog first-aid information printed out from various Internet sites. But, perhaps our experience will inspire someone reading this book to write a likely bestseller, “Where There Is No Veterinarian”
The vets we’ve used have all written prescriptions that included both human and pet-specific medications. We either fill these at our local farmacia or one of several shops that offer pet foods and accessories, grooming supplies, and pharmaceuticals.
Boarding, Pet Sitters
Boarding facilities for pets are not common outside of the larger cities and expatriate communities. Briefly, this is largely because Mexican families do not often move from one city to another, or leave their homes unattended while they travel. Relatives and servants are almost always available to pet-sit, so there’s little demand for boarding. Another factor is the cost — we’ve paid more to board our dogs overnight than many people can earn in a day. This creates a strong argument for hiring someone to pet-sit instead of boarding out, either in your own home or theirs. Your housekeeper, gardener, or neighbor’s son will probably be quite willing to feed and walk your pets while you’re away. If not, look on local bulletin boards. You’ll usually find a gringo or two offering in-house pet sitting services.
Such arrangements aren’t always practical, of course, and you’ll need to find a “pet hotel”. Our apartment is much too small and confining to leave the dogs alone for more than a few hours at a time. Cuca is “muy metiche”: she not only opens doors, but has been known to pull books from their shelves, snoop through file boxes and pilfer items from our desks and day packs. So this is the situation Lorena and I face every time we have to travel without them. Fortunately, here at Lakeside, we’ve found an excellent “home away from home” for them with Pat at Doglandia.
Pet grooming and training
Cuca has a sleek, low-maintenance coat, but Poco’s thick, unruly shag and love of swamps, puddles, and muddy ditches, makes him another story. Heat also affects Poco more. In the hottest spring months we find it necessary to keep him closely trimmed. Professional cuts are easily available, but considering the long-term cost, we opted for do-it-yourself, and invested $25 in a simple set of pet clippers. Every two weeks in the hot season, Poco chews on an especially juicy bone while Lorena gives him a trim.
Pet Foods and Nutrition
Lorena and I make no attempt to separate writing about Mexico from our personal lives. As I’ve said before, this is far more to us than just a job — virtually every aspect of our lives somehow involves Mexico. Take pet food for example….
Once dogs became part of our family, Lorena and I developed an overnight interest in pet foods. Specifically, we wanted to know what was easily available in Mexico and its cost, and most importantly, what exactly do they put in this stuff anyway?
Sorry for the apparent digression here, but as you’ll realize sooner or later, by most people’s standards Lorena and I are “health nuts”. In other words, we’re “nuts” because we exercise and take vitamin supplements, we don’t do drugs or hard drink, our diet is mostly vegetarian, and we can’t afford so-called “health insurance”.
As any person sitting in a doctor’s waiting room can tell you, the term “health insurance” is seriously misleading. It should really be called, “medical bills insurance”, since you’ll only use it once you’re sick. In strictly practical terms, the only real insurance that you’ll enjoy good health comes from maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Like many other low-income health nuts, Lorena and I invest our money in good foods, gym fees and vitamins rather than gamble on insurance policies. To paraphrase the Furry Freak Brothers, “good health will get you through periods of no insurance, better than insurance will get you through periods of no health.” End of health nut sermon…..
As for pet food, you’ll find familiar brands of dry kibbles for dogs and cats, especially in central and northern Mexico. This is the more affluent region of the country, where pets tend to live somewhat higher “on the hog” than in the poorer south. Canned pet foods are also available, but in a more limited selection.
One caveat: if your pet eats a specialty diet food or high-end gourmet kibble, you’ll be lucky to find it outside of the largest cities. You’ll also pay a serious price, as these pet foods are invariably imported.
When it came time to feed our dogs, Lorena and I carefully read the finely printed labels on prepared foods, noting that most of it came from a test tube or out of the back door of a slaughterhouse. We then compared price tags with the cost of a much healthier and cheaper homemade “chow”. A little additional research into pet nutrition convinced us that we’d save a lot of food and vet bills, as well as give the dogs an extended life by taking direct charge of their diet.
Over a period of several months, we refined the recipe and balanced the diet with simple treats and supplements. The results have been dramatic — slim, alert and brimming with energy, both dogs exhibit every sign of being in peak health.