Let’s start this story out saying that my girlfriend Kristie and I are dog lovers. Real dog lovers. She has a degree in Veterinary Science and I worked 16 years in Veterinary Pharmaceutical Sales calling on vet clinics. We both have always had dogs and we flew 2 of them to Costa Rica to be with us when she made the full time leap in June of this year. She actually prefers the company of dogs to most people. Today, we are a little tired of dogs.
We have traveled together quite a bit. No matter where we go, one of the first stops is the grocery store for a snack, a cold beer AND a small bag of dog food to feed the street dogs we encounter along the way. Dogs on St. John USVI won’t come near you. Dogs in Belize would rather have a chicken bone and leftover rice and beans from a pot. Dogs in Nicaragua are in the worst shape and appreciated every morsel we gave them. Our last night in Granada we had run out of dog food so I had to buy a hot dog from a street vendor so she could feed the dogs on the way home after dinner. Funny thing, after 9 at night all the street dogs have gone home and settled in. We walked about 20 blocks until she found a couple of dogs to feed that hot dog.
Our travels in Costa Rica were closer to our travels and my time living in Belize. Dogs are everywhere, but they have owners and are mostly well cared for. In Costa Rica most have collars and nice full bellies. To the casual traveler’s eye, it looks as though all these places have stray dogs roaming the streets everywhere. Once you settle in and watch the dogs, they all have homes. I remember growing up in rural West Michigan and visiting my grandpa’s farm in Texas, dogs roamed free in both places. In my little town I knew every dog and who that dog belonged to. Some of the dogs I think I even considered as friends. It is no different here in Costa Rica. We North Americans have just forgotten that dogs are social and like to roam free.
The second thing you notice is the male dogs. I know because of our background in vet clinics, we have a different perspective. But we just are NOT used to seeing unneutered pets. I can’t remember seeing so many “family jewels”. Again, this does not mean they are not well cared for and they don’t have a happy life. Very few dogs are chained up and many receive veterinary care. This is just a Latin culture, and men do not let their dogs have their manhood cut off. We have talked to our neighbors and even offered to pay for the surgery to no avail. Our dear neighbor “Sugar” is the local bicycle repair guy. His little guy Congo is the neighborhood stud and continues to supply more dogs at his house. Sugar lives hand to mouth and can’t afford more dogs but that does not sway him. Plus, he can always sell a pup for $10.
Now to what has driven us to the dogs. We live near the beach in a very Tico neighborhood. On the whole road there are only a handful of gringos and most of them have been here for years and married to a resident. I would estimate 25 dogs and of that 15 are free roaming. Our two live in a fenced yard on the main street in the center of the road. This means our guys are on display to the dog world. Salomon is a 120lb Great Pyrenees so he is the main attraction in our little zoo. This often causes a barking event.
To add to the mix, our friend and neighbor has two dogs and suddenly decided to head to Canada for 4 months to visit some family. We kindly asked what he was going to do with the dogs. “Oh, they are part street dog, they will be fine”. Um, no. We like the dogs and really like him so we volunteered to care for the dogs at his house. Of course the dogs like people so it only took about 4 days before they were at our place full time. About the same time, our other neighbor suddenly decided to head to New Jersey to visit someone for 4 months. Of course she has a little Chihuahua named Cookie. Luckily she enlisted our 15 year old part time caretaker and neighbor to stay at her house and also watch the dog. Nope, Cookie likes us better. This mass of dogs creates even more barking events.
And did I mention Congo got one of them pregnant and she just had puppies. UGH!
Our daily walks to the beach have become a circus. Our two well behaved dogs are the only ones that are on leashes. Having a leashed dog here makes you a curiosity as well. You can see the looks on people’s faces on the beach, “Look at those crazy gringos with dogs on a leash. Those poor dogs look miserable”. The other dogs run around like crazy and it makes our dogs want to join in but we have seen what our boys do when running crazy and we don’t like the outcome. Those few times when nobody is around and we can let them run, they sure do enjoy it. Ahh, to be a Tico Dog for a short while.
The final straw came this weekend after a short bike ride to the store. Upon our return, one of our little foster dogs breeched the fence and greeted us out front. A very large neighbor dog that no one likes was walking down the road. “Our” dog, Ollie, was wiggling his rear end and turned to greet me. The big dog snuck up behind him and attacked him unprovoked. There was a huge dog fight in the street with squealing and barking and it was just an awful scene. Ollie is fine and recovering nicely.
The point of this story? I know there are lots of dog lovers out there with huge hearts like us. Just know that most Latin American countries do not consider their four-legged friends the same as you do. The owners love their dogs but for the most part, the dogs have no training except to be protectors of the property. They aren’t considered livestock but they don’t get “humanized”. If you do or don’t have dogs and you visit or live here in Costa Rica, get ready for mass barking events, lots of visiting fur balls and comparatively oblivious owners.