Wednesday, October 02, 2013

A dog's life in Copan: Would they have it any other way?

Beagley, probably my favourite (but don't tell the others)
I grow fonder of free-range dog culture with each passing day. Dogs are so much more civilized and resourceful than I would have expected when left to their own devices, and I love seeing how they organize their world when it's all up to them. 
    Whether stray or owned, the majority of Copan Ruinas dogs roam the streets as free agents. Unlike the highly regulated dog environment of Victoria, these dogs live largely without human interference. There is no dog catcher, no local SPCA, no enforcement of things like leash use, park access, poo pickup and random canine wandering. It's a dog's world down here.
    They organize their territories through rules I can't decipher, but which have the effect of keeping fights to a minimum. They are never aggressive to humans, even though some have every right to be given how they're treated. Some travel great distances in their daily rounds. Others stick quite close to home, whether that’s a real home or just the neighbourhood a particular dog frequents.
    Having served up a whole lot of dog food and ear scratches to a parade of canine passers-by since we arrived here, I've gotten to know something about them. It seems to me that the majority love their freedom. But they also crave affection from people, not to mention rely on them for food. Perhaps that’s why they’re the coolest dogs I've ever met – independent by necessity but at the same time sweet and friendly. Food brings them running in a heartbeat, but even the skinniest ones will pause in their eating to relish the feeling of someone reaching down to pet them. 
    I could tell you a couple of dozen sad stories by now of bad things that happen to dogs here,
Crazy Pup in her favourite hidey-hole under our bed
including the municipality’s quiet poisoning of dogs in the town centre. Last week I lifted a heavy chain from the neck of a sick, scabby little dog that had miraculously managed to escape imminent death tied up and forgotten somewhere without food or water, and thought again of how unbelievably cruel life can be for dogs here.
    But I suppose that’s the price of freedom. The dogs of Victoria lead such well-fed, comfortable lives by comparison. But they can’t wander downtown and scrounge chicken bones from a tourist. They can’t squeeze under a barbed-wire fence and chase cows. Having your own big bed and steady food source inside a nice Oak Bay house is one way to live, but Copan dogs know the pleasure of another way.
    As I write this, the neighbour’s small dog – pregnant with her second litter this year – is lying at one end of the kitchen table. At the other is a charming street dog we call Beagley. She has just arrived home with a big cut across her nose, perhaps from barbed wire. (A woman who I talk dogs with mentioned the other day how great it would be to mount a web cam on Copan dogs and unravel some of the mysteries of their adventurous lives.)
A stormy night brings 3 indoors.
    Beagley and the pregnant Coquetta are regulars, but at least another 3 or 4 dogs come by our place every day for food. Most have owners, but few seem to get enough to eat (or drink) regardless. We lost two regulars in the latest round of municipal poisonings, in which poisoned meat and milk are set out in the early-morning hours to claim the life of any dog that happens by.
   There’s something sad in how excited the local dogs get at the prospect of dog food and a bowl of water, but I love that they come around. My father always used to say that he’d never met a dog he didn't like, and I’m the same way. I found it odd during our holiday back to Canada last month when I could no longer pet passing dogs; their owners would inevitably yard them away from me with a firm pull on the leash. But there’s no denying that the dogs back home looked way healthier than any Honduran dog.
     Our visitors are going through about 25 pounds of dog food every month now, and some get flea treatments, worm medications, and even temporary birth control (an injection twice a year) if they've really worked their way into our lives. It’s not cheap on a volunteer stipend, but it’s worth it for all the lovely new friends.
    At times Paul and I talk about bringing one of the dogs back to Canada with us. I bet Beagley would love her own dog bed, not to mention biscuits and a greatly reduced chance of getting pregnant. But I've also seen her roaming happily around Copan’s downtown park, clawing bits of food waste out of garbage cans and hanging out with her many friends. I know how she loves her nights on the town, and visiting the houses of all the other gringas who she has charmed.
    Would Beagley willingly give up freedom for certainty? I just don’t know. 


Deb Nilsen said...

Oh gosh. I don't know either.

Unknown said...

There are lots of people living worse than these creatures.

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