MEXICO CITY—Pet dogs are extremely popular in Mexico. In the evenings, the parks of Mexico City are teeming with dog walkers often stopping to chat with those they only know through a shared passion for their pets. But there is a dark side to this picture of harmony between man and his best friend.
According to Mexico’s National Institute of Statistics and Geography, 70 percent of Mexico’s estimated 18 million dogs live on the street, either born as strays or abandoned by their owners. The country has the largest number of street dogs in Latin America.
The most recent figures from Mexico City’s health department estimate there are 1.2 million strays roaming the streets of the capital alone.
The Clinica Veterinaria Delegacional is a small shelter in Venustiano Carranza, one of Mexico City’s 16 boroughs.
Tucked away in the shadows of a raised subway track, it does its best to give a second chance to the small fraction of the city’s strays fortunate enough to end up there.
Jose Carlos Hernandez Trejo, 26, is a veterinarian at the clinic, which receives support from local animal charity the Antonio Haghenbeck Foundation. It is Trejo’s job to give all new arrivals a medical examination, administer any appropriate vaccinations, and carry out sterilizations, an important way of controlling the stray dog population.
The shelter currently has around 40 cats and dogs living in cages laid out across a concrete courtyard, but that can rise to 80 at certain times of the year.
“There are periods when there are going to be a lot more animals abandoned—February, March, April, and up until May,” Trejo told The Epoch Times.
He speculates that the reason is that many people receive pets as Christmas gifts in December, and later abandon them.
“People think they’re a thing or an object, not a living being that needs food, water, attention, washing, and plenty of care,” he said. “Later, they don’t understand when it goes to the bathroom or bites their child. They generate problems and then they end up here.”
The clinic has an arrangement with the Petco Foundation to help the animals find new homes.
Most stay an average of a month to recover from whatever illnesses or injuries they may have suffered and then are taken to another shelter or home, though some have stayed for almost a year in the past battling illness before being able to leave.
Jair Rodriguez, 30, has worked at the clinic for four years, keeping it clean, exercising the dogs, and compiling ethograms—reports on an animal’s behavior to assess their mental well-being.
He says the worst case of an injury to a dog he has ever seen was a pit bull that had its skull split open by a machete.
“There was a lot of blood. It was owned by a butcher who got annoyed with it running around his shop and taking bits of meat so he attacked it with a machete,” Rodriguez said, recalling an incident that happened over three years ago.
“Pit bulls are common here, but it’s also very common for them to be abandoned.”
Rodriguez makes it clear that the mission of the clinic is to give street dogs a second chance rather than resorting to euthanasia to control the population as some Mexican municipalities have done.
“We are here to save the animals and give them another opportunity,” he said. “The main problem with some of the dogs here is fear—fear of people because of the maltreatment they have suffered. They haven’t had good socialization with people and we try to rid them of this fear.”
In Ciudad Juárez, on the border of Texas in the northern state of Chihuahua, the stray dog problem is even more acute.
For a city of 1.3 million people, the number of street dogs is somewhere between 60,000 and 200,000, according to local authorities.
Former radiology technician Ana Gloria Hernandez Felix, 53, has run the Asociación Protectora de Animales (APAC) in Juarez on her own for six years. Her shelter is currently full, with 140 dogs, with each cage sheltering two dogs.
“Year after year, we can’t lower the number—on the contrary, we are increasing it, because [unlike in Mexico City] there are no sterilization campaigns here.”
Felix believes greater political will is needed to confront a problem mostly ignored by authorities in a city where levels of violent crime are again nearing nightmarish levels last seen at the height of drug war-related killings between 2008 and 2011.
“We need to involve the municipal government, the university, various associations—everyone,” Felix said.
“People don’t take responsibility for their dogs. I am not in favor of euthanasia, but if you don’t have a secure place where you can keep your dog safe, then it’s going to end up in the street and die of illness, of sadness.”
Dr. Claudia Edwards, program director of Humane Society International in Mexico, is fully aware of the country’s contradictory relationship with dogs.
“I believe what we can see is that many people love dogs a lot, and many people hate them a lot,” Edwards said.
“I think it has to do with a process of socialization in childhood. If a child growing up has a bad experience with a dog and their family doesn’t teach them how to interact with them properly, they develop the wrong way of dealing with the animal and that can last the rest of their lives.”
This lack of education leads to a population disinclined to see violence against animals as a crime, leading to a dearth of reporting.
“People get away with crimes against animals because there is no proper reporting of it, meaning the authorities don’t take it seriously,” she said.
“We want to prevent these things from happening in the first place, but when they do happen, we need reports made so the authorities will take the matter seriously.”
But Trejo sees hope in the efforts of the volunteers who give up their time to help at his shelter in Mexico City.
“Yes, there is the sad part, but there also are people who carry out activities which make people aware of how to value an animal,” he said.
“They try to help as much as possible and there are foundations like ours, and so many people who try to help the best they can.”
Correction: A previous version of the article incorrectly stated that Ciudad Juárez is located in the state of Coahuila, while it is located in the state of Chihuahua. The Epoch Times regrets the error.