Making a difference one animal at a time is a theme Alison Sawyer Current comes back to time and again in her heartwarming, sobering, and ultimately uplifting autobiographical novel, “The Dog Lady of Mexico.” Based on Current’s actual experiences, this 2018 work is worth a first or second look as it shows just how much difference one person can make.
For Rose, it all starts when she and her husband Brad embark on a month-long honeymoon/working vacation in Mexico on the island of Isla Mujeres. One day while Brad is away, Kat, a fellow American at the condo where the couple are staying, asks Rose to help her with a stray, pregnant kitten. Soon after, Kat seeks Rose’s help again, this time to rescue a group of puppies. It’s not long before Rose becomes dismayed by the large number of wild dogs that roam the island. Often abandoned by their owners and breeding indiscriminately, these animals are forced to forage for whatever food they can find.
Initially ashamed at being one of the many who simply turns a blind eye to the dogs’ plight, and drawing strength from an ancient Mayan legend, which becomes her talisman in moments of stress, Rose soon becomes heavily involved in animal rescue efforts.
When Rose and Brad make a permanent move to the island, her rescue attempts increase substantially. She receives invaluable help from a local boy named Rudi, as well as from other Americans living on Isla Mujeres. All of these people sharing Rose’s passion for the dogs, if not always her almost single-minded determination.
However, Rose soon learns that saving dogs consists of far more than providing medical care and finding them decent homes. It also requires her to battle a deeply entrenched cultural mindset among the islanders. Many of them—especially those owning restaurants and hotels—see the dogs as nothing more than a nuisance to be eradicated.
This attitude causes Rose to explode more than once in anger and frustration at those who consider her either a foreign eccentric or an interfering busybody. Rose at one point is told by angry locals to “get off our island.” This attitude also makes any animal-loving reader want to shake some sense into those don’t understand how their actions (or inactions) make things even worse.
The book also illustrates the emotional toll of trying to take on more than you can handle. Rose eventually finds herself overwhelmed by her rescue responsibilities and has to be almost forcibly convinced to work out a cohesive plan for moving forward. She has to accept the importance of delegating tasks to those who may not care as much as she does (such as a veterinarian who joins Rose and her friends at a spay and neuter clinic), but who are each as important in his or her own way.
“The Dog Lady of Mexico” is by no means just a “feel good” story. Some animals’ fates do not end well, be it through neglect, cruelty, or simply that Rose or her team can’t reach all those they wants to help. One such case is in the aftermath of a hurricane that devastates the island and surrounding area. Both Rose and the reader learn the bitter reality: You can’t save every animal in the world, or even every animal on Isla Mujeres. All you can do is help as many as possible and that has got to be enough.
Fortunately, Rose’s (and you assume, Current’s) successes far outweigh her failures, as shown in numerous “before” and “after” photos of some of the dogs described.
While the thrust of Current’s this self-published novel is quite effective, it would have been nice to see more background given to those who help Rose in her work. Due to his quiet and steady support, Brad comes off well, especially because of some of the examples provided, such as his secretly feeding kittens that come around the restaurant where he works. But many others never come into focus, despite our knowing the fact that they all have a deep love for animals.
Still, there is no denying the tale’s emotional power as it details the efforts of someone who just wanted to make a difference and who ended up doing far more than she ever intended or initially thought possible.
‘The Dog Lady of Mexico’
Alison Sawyer Current
398 pages, paper
To learn more about Alison Sawyer Current’s efforts, visit IslaAnimals.org
Judd Hollander is a reviewer for stagebuzz.com and a member of the Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle.