For someone who would never own a dog (far too much responsibility), I sure am infatuated by them. I wonder what they are thinking and just how much they know. I am impressed by their complete air of satisfaction with themselves and their total devotion to their human. Unfortunately, just like the human race everywhere, there are distinct social strata of the canine race in Mexico City.
Middle class suburban Mexico City appears to be heaven for dogs, dog owners, dog walkers, dog watchers, and vicarious dog owners like myself.
Where we stayed and explored during our recent visit in the more central, suburban, areas of Mexico City, everyone seems to have a dog - a very well-kept dog, often dressed accordingly. In reality, 70 percent of households have a pet, and 80 percent of those have dogs (Mexiconewsdaily.com, ‘Mexico is No. 2 in the world for the most household pets’). As you walk the streets, you are immediately stricken by how many people have a pooch on the line - or are hired to walk five or six that belong to someone else. Dog walking is a legitimate occupation here, and veterinarian clinics, dog boutiques, and dog food stores are lucrative businesses.
There are very few ‘Heinz 57 mutts’ (as we used to call them) on leashes here. They look like most of them could do well in a pedigreed dog show. From our assessment, bulldogs have top standing - small ones and big ones, all with noses smooshed in, waddling, snorting and breathing just like a bulldog does. You might think there is doggo chaos with all that number of canines, but not so. These hounds are well-behaved and healthy. In fact, we were only approached by one dog in our entire week here, and he was on a leash. And the doggie doodoo on sidewalks was minimal.
You'll see dogs bounding up to the dog park gate (there are dog parks and dog walks everywhere) anxiously awaiting their play date. You'll see them on the sidewalks, in doorways, on balconies, and in restaurants. Then there are the murals and dog statues. There is even an Instagram account 'Dogs of Mexico City', where people can post pictures of their doggo, some dressed up in clothes - some even wearing sombreros.
I had to read up on this infatuation. It turns out that dogs have an important role in Mexican history and folk lore which has become embedded in the Mexican national psyche to become a fascination with this four-legged friend. Unfortunately, it isn’t all good.
Taken from National Geographic, the ancient Aztec belief was that the hairless Dog of Xoloti, the xoloitzcuintli (‘show-low-it’s-QUEENT-lay’) or just ‘xolo’ for short, was created to guard the living and to guide the souls of the dead. Researchers believe that the dog arrived with the earliest migrants from Asia at least 3,500 years ago. These dogs are known to be extremely intelligent and sensitive. Unfortunately, the xolo were also used as a food source in ancient times and almost became extinct. The breed is now making a comeback, and there are even xolo breeding clubs.
It’s no surprise, then, that we encountered so many good-looking hounds in Mexico City.
A writer who goes by the name Foreign Native in the article 'Street Dogs and Dog Ownership in Mexico', mexexperience.com suggests that dog ownership in the middle class is increasing and that there is “oneupmanship” when it comes to dog ownership, meaning that care is taken to own a dog that is easily identifiable as having a pedigree. Our assessment of all those bulldogs just might be true.
But despite the apparent lovely life of the suburban, well-bred doggo, there is still a stray dog problem in Mexico City. It’s difficult to pinpoint the exact number, but the Animal Surveillance Brigade (zenger.news; ‘Dog Shelters In Mexico Ask The Population to Adopt Stray Dogs‘) estimates that there are some 1.2 million stray dogs in Mexico City alone. Some of the problems, of course, are that these dogs lack care and nutrition, run in packs, are untrained, breed prolifically, and might be susceptible to illness and spreading diseases. This isn't fair to either the canine or human race. Apparently, one of the issues is people purchasing or receiving a dog but, for whatever reason ( maybe the size, the cost, or the responsibility), release it to the streets. It looks like efforts are being made to promote responsible ownership through public education campaigns; and there do appear to be laws requiring owners to provide the necessities for a pet as well as vaccinations and sterilization (Worldanimalprotection.org, 'Mexico'). Dogs are also required to be leashed, and owners can be held responsible if their doggo attacks someone. It appears that the government has taken steps to minimize the number of strays through catch-and-euthanize programs. Rescue groups are doing their best to round up strays, providing sterilization services, and are encouraging people to adopt a stray as opposed to purchasing a designer dog. But 1.2 million is still a lot of strays.
Meanwhile, dogs appear to be a part of the fabric of middle-class Mexico City. You’ll see them everywhere on leashes, often dressed up, heading for a walk or to the beloved dog park with their human or with a dog walker, knowing that they are a very good dog, and hopefully knowing that they are also a very fortunate dog. We trust these dogs are more than a status symbol; and hopefully efforts will continue in Mexico to address the stray mutt population. The tale of the dog in Mexico City is truly dichotomous.
(all photos are my own - we were told the bulldog at the top is 'Elliot', such a great name for a dog)