Animal Protection in Mexico

The problem of unwanted dogs & cats and one solution in Pátzcuaro.

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(To my readers: I apologize to those who have waited so long for the promised article on Pátzcuaro. For the last few months, I have been working with Rita Gelman, author of Tales of a Female Nomad, on a collaborative book with stories and recipes from all over the world. There were quite a group of contributors; we had to sort it all out, as well as do our own writing for the compilation and taste recipes besides.

Neither one of us realized what a major project we had decided to tackle. My husband barely got fed, my dogs hardly got walked, and Mexico Bytes articles certainly didn't get written. We've all been donating our time with the hope of producing a successful book that will generate funds for an organization for slum kids in India . The monies will go to pay for computer school for those who have graduated from high school. That way these motivated kids can continue their education and have some hope for a job in the future.

So with a last mea culpa, here is the article I've wanted to write since fall.)

The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated. (Mahatma Gandhi 1869-1948)



"And homeless,

outside your door I stood...

with no name...


and afraid."

Virginia Kresge

Tourism can be a trickster.

It creates Potemkin villages in places where the high-buck tourist chooses to bring his or her credit cards. The old-fashioned backpacker is more or less willing to take a locale as is but doesn't bring the same kind of cash to the local economy.

In the hope of luring more high-end tourism, a municipality or city government shunts the garbage, beggars, bony street dogs off to the outskirts and concentrates on making the Centro “charming,” “picturesque,” “quaint.”


Ownerless dogs fighting over garbage and wounded animals have no place in the shiny travel brochures so off they go.

Of course, pushing the problems out of the way doesn't mean that they disappear. In the case of street dogs, in a sense, they do since once or twice a month the strays are rounded up and shipped off to be killed.

In Mexico, the killing is usually done by electric shock or strychnine injections. In the former, the dog is practically hog-tied. Since the shock alone is not enough to kill the animal, it is doused in water and the current applied. Televisa News aired a video of the procedure on national news in March 2006. It was not a pretty sight to see how the animal struggles and rolls around in agony.

The video can be seen by clicking on Be forewarned, the images are very ugly.

There was a certain amount of public outrage after the video aired, and the local Municipal President fired the head of the local Health Department in Chetumal, Quintana Roo, where the video was filmed. Nevertheless, the practice continues unchecked throughout the Republic today.

As cruel as the procedure is, it isn't any uglier than the life of a dog or a cat on the street. The “Diary of a Dog” details some of the real-life possibilities of an unwanted canine (

The last line from this fictional diary is "Why was I born if nobody wanted me?"

The number of unwanted animals is staggering. El Comite Pro Animal estimated in 2003 that Mexico is home to sixteen million dogs, of which ten million are homeless.

In Mexico City alone, (according to Noticias Televisa , July 1, 2003 ) there are five million dogs; three million are dogs born on the street and an additional one million are abandoned. Although at least one thousand dogs are killed a day in the capital, breeders produce another one thousand puppies. The problem with breeder dogs is they come from unlicensed operations...anyone can breed and sell puppies with no regulations whatsoever. Diseased litters can be sold as well as the casi (almost) purebred. Puppies grow up and without proper training can become a handful. If the owner doesn't want a sick animal or a large one or one not up to breed standards or an unmanageable one, the animal is abandoned.

Because of exponential growth, one unspayed female, her unaltered mate and their offspring can produce 67,000 dogs in six years.

One dog can produce from 73 to 110 kilos of excrement a year and 183 liters of urine. All this dries up and becomes part of the air we all breathe.

In 2002, in Mexico City alone, there were 625 tons of fecal matter from dogs.

Gaia (an environmental group) reported that every month in Mexico City during the same year (2002), 14,000 dogs were killed by local animal control and thrown out uncovered into garbage dumps, adding yet another contaminant to an already contaminated environment.


Statistics from Mexico City 's Secretary of Health in 1997 showed 102,000 people were bitten by dogs each year. Statistics about dog bites and cases of rabies are difficult to find. Many health Departments are reluctant to share the numbers with the public for fear of giving a bad image to the area. I have seen several sites on the net that rank Mexico second only to Brazil in the incidence of rabies. Yet another site claimed there was only one case of rabies in the country in the entire year. The truth undoubtedly lies somewhere in between.

Those figures pose a massive health problem for humans and one that could be solved one dog or cat at a time through sterilization.

Spaying and neutering certainly are highly effective ways to prevent the birth of unwanted puppies and kittens but is a method that isn't used all that often in Mexico. For one, it can be very expensive.

In March 2000, a few months after we moved to Mexico, a bedraggled stray crawled, rolled or was thrown at our door. He was dying from hunger. The lack of food and either a severe beating or a car accident made his hind legs totally useless, and he dragged them along behind him.

Once we dealt with the major problem of his malnutrition, his ribs disappeared from view and he was able to stand up. Then we had to attack the persistent problem of his fleas. Once we had back on this feet (all four of the them), it was time to have him neutered.

It wasn't easy to find a vet willing to do the operation, and it ended up costing four times more than a similar operation for our rescue dogs stateside.

Sterilization on dogs and cats is performed infrequently in Mexico. A number of vets are not adequately trained in the procedure for small animals since much of their practice is still with large animals as opposed to pets. Many simply don't have the facilities. The risk factor, therefore, can be high. We were a few miles from the clinic before I realized our dog was lying in a pool of blood. He had been so content to have a lap to lie next to and someone to pet his head and scratch his back that he hadn't even whimpered. The incision had opened, and the dog almost died.

Luckily, he lived and now, fat and saucy, he shares the house with Monte, our rescue dog from Minnesota.

Not exactly the kind of thing that acts as a recommendation for sterilization.

When we acquired another abandoned dog in August 2006, I knew we had to have the operation done but where? Friends couldn't recommend a new clinic enough so we went.

A stellar recommendation and free to boot? What was going on? We surrendered Kauks (Latvian for howler, which he has been known to be) to the A.I.P.A. (Asociación Internacional para la Protección de Animales) at 11:00 in the morning with some trepidation. At four the same afternoon we picked him up as if nothing had been done. Kauks showed no signs whatsoever of anesthetic or the operation. The first thing he did at home was consume a bowl of dry kibble and strut about the house. There was only the tiniest of incisions. We had left the clinic with a sheet of instruction and free pain pills and antibiotics. Plus the assurance that we could call the veterinarian's cell phone at any hour if there were any complications.

We needn't have worried. There wasn't a hitch. It was only with reluctance that the vet accepted a donation from us. There aren't that many clinics that are so well-equipped. The building with its two rooms has been donated rent-free to A.I.P.A.. It is basic but serviceable for the time being.

The A.I.P.A. clinic became for me an interesting anomaly in a locale that has almost institutionalized an attitude prohibiting success in any innovative endeavor.

The story of the veterinarian in charge is one that jumps out of the pages of the Thousand and One Nights . Luis Hernández is Purepecha, a member of the Indigenous People of the lake region around Pátzcuaro, Michoacán. He graduated from the Faculty of Veterinary Science at the State University San Nicolas in Morelia .

Having no luck finding a job after graduation, he looked for work, any work, to the north and found it washing dishes in a restaurant in Chicago . A later “promotion” to salad chef, could not make him forget the idea of actually working as a vet. So he went back to Mexico .

Still no luck finding a job. Back across the border with only a small backpack. This time he went to California . There, even the dish-washing job eluded him. His hair and beard got longer, his clothes dirtier and his smell riper until the day two months into his new adventure when he made his routine walk along the beach.

“You look like a guy that could use a cup of coffee. Come on. I invite you.”

Pero no hablo inglés muy bien.” (I don't speak English very well.)

Tampoco yo.” The guy laughed. “Vámonos.” (Neither do I. Let's go.)

Not only did the fellow buy the coffee, he sprung for some fat donuts.

“Since I hadn't eaten for several days, those donuts sure tasted good.”

“Okay, looks like we've filled a gap here,” the fellow said. “Now what you need is a shower and a chance to wash those clothes of yours. I don't need to tell ya you're fairly ripe. Come on. We'll go to my house.”

“But I don't have any money. I can't pay you anything.”

Money was not a problem.

“So it began. Tony Padilla became my friend, my guru, my mentor, the best teacher I ever had. What I didn't realize until later was that he was also a vet. When he heard this was also my field, he said, ‘Great! You can come work in my clinic with me.' I went the next day.

“What a shock! The first thing I was asked to do was draw blood from a dog. I had no idea how to do it. No idea!

“It was then I realized I only had theory from books but simple, basic procedures like taking an animal's temp, doing a physical, drawing blood, were completely out of my depth. My knowledge was limited and certainly not on the level of what was expected in the clinic of Antonio Padilla, D.V.M ”

“Okay,” my new boss said. “You're now in charge of clean-up. But when I get an animal in here, you restrain it while I do the exam and just watch what I do. We'll see where all that book knowledge can take you.”

“So I started work with a broom. Little by little I learned, task by task, and ended up being a surgeon. He was one hell of a teacher.

“I stayed at the clinic ten years and would have stayed even longer...but my father became very ill, and I felt I should return home.” small bytes

will be back in two weeks with the second chapter out of Thousand and One Nights. As you will see change can occur one dog or cat at a time.

Kauks is one of of the 1,609 success stories to leave the A.I.P.A. clinic in Pátzcuaro as of the end of February 2007. The clinic opened less than a year ago, and Dr. Hernández has not lost one animal...a wonderful recommendation for the clinic and great news for the owners and the animals themselves.

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