Wherever we go in Mexico, we see lots of strays, a veritable downpour of cats and dogs.
We do what we can to feed them and make contributions to the various animal help organizations that abound here in Puerto Vallarta. Whenever we go out for a walk in the evening, Diane ensures she has a purse full of cat chow and usually at least a can of tuna.
At our condo complex there are two well-loved strays. A black and white cat has taken up residence in the unit across the passage and is well fed. Most days we’ll hear a miaow outside the front door. She’ll come for a visit and wander curiously around, checking out the cupboards. The first time Oreo did this, we thought she might be pregnant and looking for a spot to have her kittens, but it turns out she’s been spayed and just has a big tummy from all the people who feed her. It reminds me never to ask a fat lady if she’s pregnant, as Diane did with our rental agent. No, she replied huffily and that was the end of that conversation.
The other cat is a neutered tabby. He has been abandoned by his owner, a former resident now gone, but Rocky gets enough love, and food, from all the other residents that he remains a champ in top fighting condition. He too comes for a visit at the pool or in the condo and is always welcome. Neither of them accept our offer of food, for they are already sated, and we keep the goodies for their less fortunate cousins on the busy streets of the Zona Romantica. On trendy Basilio Badillio, which locals call la calle de los cafés, on one recent night alone, we feed five strays. The pop-top can of tuna is quickly scarfed by a ravenous long haired ginger street lady and her sleek black tom companion. A large packet of chow goes to three more skinny street cats. People are surprised that we are less charitable with the street beggars, although we slip a few pesos to an impoverished Indian girl-child peddling chiclets. We give all our change to the young man with one arm and no legs in a wheel chair who haunts the sidewalk on Olas Altas. I can’t even imagine what kind of hell he lives in.
On the way to the Saturday farmers’ market in the square, we see a distressing sight. A dog has been abandoned and tied to a tree in the night. Somehow, it has gotten its leash wound round the tree and is lunging at all who come near with teeth bared. It’s clearly terrified and a couple of people make matters worse by giving it a kick as they pass. Two ladies come to the rescue and are helping to guard it from the nastier humans, but they are keeping well clear too. We learn the animal pound has been called, which will likely not be a good end for the animal, as the municipal authority puts strays down quickly. Later, we learn all turns out well. A brave young man untangles the dog’s restraint, unties it from the tree and the dog is last seen trotting happily down the street, beside its rescuer, tail wagging. We talk to lots of gringos with dogs on leashes along the Malècon, and most of them are rescue animals. Many have travelled back with their new owners to homes in the US and Canada and return to winter here each year. Bravo to those who help the less fortunate.
Sitting in a bar on the Malècon, watching another flaming sunset, we watch a couple of locals with a Chihuahua on a leash, her teats swollen with milk. The man has two barely weaned puppies, one tiny creature in each hand, which he offers for sale. No takers here, so they move on. Throughout our stay we are amazed at the number of pet Chihuahuas we see on long leashes being walked up and down the streets, like rats on a string, many absurdly proportioned to their obese owners. But at least there are no stray Chihuahuas.
Driving to nearby villages in our cute little red rental Fiat 500 convertible, we see more stray dogs and less stray cats. It’s often hard to tell whether dogs are truly strays or just dogs with careless owners, who have neglected to put collars on their animals. On the beach in Mismaloya, just a few miles south, we come across two lovely Great Dane sisters, so these dogs are not always scrawny and neglected. One of these ladies takes a fancy to me, and after leaning heavily against me while I scratch her head – and I must say its rather like having a small pony trying to push me over – she sticks her head right through my legs, and remains that way for several minutes, as we chat with her owner, a pretty young Mexican woman hustling water taxi rides. When I ask to take her picture with her two pets, one of the dogs lies flat on her back and shows us her tummy. How can you resist that?
We spend a long lazy afternoon and evening in Sayulita, about an hour’s drive north of Puerto Vallarta. I first heard about the place from a dear friend who performed for many years at the Shaw festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake. She told me about this little fishing village in Mexico where she wintered, never spending more than $350 a month to rent a house on the beach. Twenty five years ago, there wasn’t even a phone in the village. Then the LA Times did an article entitled “Hidden jewel on the Pacific” and it wasn’t hidden much longer, especially when the surfing crowd discovered the permanent wave at the mouth of the river. Now, by her standards at least, it’s been ruined. Streets jammed with parked cars, the beach packed with loungers and umbrellas to rent, long-haired surfers everywhere.
Sadly, we see more stray dogs in the few streets and on the beach than anywhere else on our trip. While waiting at the beach bar where we have come to hear the amazing flamenco guitarists, the Blond Gypsies, a small orange and white dog gets our attention by sitting at our feet and rolling over so we can scratch her sandy tummy. Diane orders a burger-to-go for the dog and when it arrives the dog, and another that happens by, down the burger, bun and fries in seconds. Then, well fed, she’s off down the beach to play with a pack of other dogs. We watch these rascals for a while. Two of them dig holes in the sand and lie down in them to keep cool. The waves, big enough to attract dozens of surfers, roll in and swamp the holes and the dogs leap up and run around in the receding waters, then flop down in their holes again, or dig new ones with endless vigour. Life for the beach bums, the dogs and the surfers, can’t be all bad in Sayulita.
The pizza we share for dinner (costing less than the dog’s burger – which just goes to show that we Brits really are crazy about animals), attracts the attention of a big black part-Labrador, who mooches through the beach restaurant. He leans his head on the table and inhales the offered pizza crust. It’s probably not good for him, but we’ve already eaten all the good bits. On the beach, as elsewhere, it pays to be on time for dinner.
This article was originally published on March 13, 2014.